How do good teachers conduct a class? This is the central question for chp 5 of Ken Bain’s What the Best College Teachers Do, a book I consider the best book I’ve ever read on education. He gives seven principles at work in the classrooms of the best teachers:
Think about two things with me today: What would a high school church education program look like with this as the kind of environment created? What would an adult Sunday School class look like? And think of the difference that the download-the-information from-expert-to-student model makes for each as well. This stuff excites me for the church. Do we have some takers?
First, good teachers create a natural critical learning environment. He develops this at length, but I’ll wait until we’ve sketched all seven before we get to that development.
Second, good teachers get the students’ attention and keep it.
Third, good teachers start with the students rather than the discipline.
Fourth, good teachers seek commitments from the students.
Fifth, good teachers help students learn outside of class.
Sixth, good teachers engage students in the discipline’s way of thinking.
Seventh, good teachers create diverse learning experiences.
Now back to a “natural critical learning environment.” I’m glad Bain expands on this one the most since I think this is also what churches need the most. As I list his five features of learning environment, think of what this might look like in a local church … and make some suggestions of what we might do to create learning environments:
1. Begin with an intriguing question or problem.
2. Provide guidance for the significance of the question. “Many teachers never raise questions; they simply give students answers” (101).
3. Engage students in higher-order intellectual activity: compare, apply, evaluate, analyze, synthesize … but only listen and remember.
4. Help students answer the question.
5. Leave the students with a question: What’s next?