The first question Ken Bain discusses in his book, What the Best College Teachers Do, is “what do good teachers know about how we learn?”
How about some feedback from pastors and Sunday School teachers about this stuff.
You’d be surprised how many teachers, pastors, and parents think that learning takes place in a simple two-step process:
The teacher figure (teachers, professors, pastors, parents) informs;
The student absorbs and practices it.
And how many of them think that if Step One has been done (“I covered that, don’t you remember?”), Step Two is inevitable.
Wrong. Evidence proves that this is not how we learn.
Good teachers, pastors, parents know how people learn: we learn in context.
First, good teachers know the history of their discipline.
Second, good teachers cobble together from experience the rudiments of recognizing the best insights on how humans learn.
The key concepts Bain and his associates discovered are these:
1. Knowledge is constructed, not received: as we put things together on the basis of experience, so do students. So, teaching is helping students construct models on the basis of what they already know.
2. Mental models change slowly: good teachers create environments where change can take place progressively. Facts need to be learned as a student learns to use those facts. I recently had a pastor tell me this very thing: I’m giving folks time to think this through themselves. The authoritarian model and the learner model are not always friends!
3. Questions are crucial: good teachers stimulate students to discover and ask and answer their own questions. Our questions, we must remember, are not always the questions of others. Perhaps I should say this more forcefully: often our questions are not theirs!
4. Caring is crucial: good teachers know students must care about the discipline if they want those students to develop and grow and learn. Good teachers get students to care about the discipline.
Here’s another point this chp makes: external motivating factors, like good grades, can spoil the conditions of the internal dynamic of learning. How the students see the rewards shapes the whole process. If they feel they are being manipulated, learning decreases.
So he gives this kind of advice:
Avoid extrinsics; focus on intrinsics (the value of learning).
Give students as much control as possible.
Be interested in that student’s development.
Nonjudgmental feedback that can help students learn and improve.
Encourage cooperation and collaboration; minimize competition.
Give everyone the opportunity to achieve the highest standard and grade.
A final point — this is one of my lines: the difference is whether we are teaching a “subject” to students or teaching “students” a subject.