TEACHING FACTORS IN EDUCATION
By John R. Kennedy
"Every community that wants to last beyond a single generation
must concern itself with education."Walter Brueggemann
It is 7:30 a.m. on Sabbath morning. Though Tom is tired, he
manages to roll out of bed and get ready for church. Tom wants to
improve as his local church's Sabbath school teacher, but he
doesn't know where to start. He knows he needs to improve
because he observes a few of his students dozing off during
class; a few others talk among themselves as he lectures.
Although the pastor always assures him that he is doing a "good
job," he wonders if his students are learning anything.
Teaching is more than an art and a science in Christianity.
It is also a spiritual gift. And spiritual gifts are given by the
Holy Spirit for the common good of the body (I Corinthians 12:7).
Just as sanctification is a life-long process, so, too, is the
fine tuning of pedagogical practices. Because all truth is God's
truth, teachers in educational ministries ought to embrace the
findings of today's educational research in order to impact their
students' learning. This, of course, takes nothing away from the
Holy Spirit's job of personally convicting and guiding us. Just
as one who has received the gift of administration can take
courses and read up on effective administrative practices,
teachers in the church have an excellent opportunity to fine tune
[Pedagogy: the science or profession of teaching. Teaching is
more than an art and a science in Christianity]
skills through personal study, taking educational courses, and
dialoging about educational practices with other teachers in the
In his seminal work "What Works in Schools: Translating
Research into Action," educational researcher Robert Marzano
identifies three factors that affect student achievement: school
level factors, teacher level factors, and student level factors.
This article focuses on the importance of teacher level
factors in Christian educational ministries. The three aspects of
teacher level factors are instructional strategies, classroom
management, and classroom curriculum design.
What we do or don't do in the classroom impacts our students'
learning. It is important not to rely on only one method because
"that's how we've always done it," but a wellrounded teacher must
be inclusive of a variety of learning modalities. In other words,
how people learn ought to determine how we teach them. Though we
all have the potential to learn through any modality, most of us
have a preferred one or two. Here are some of the most common
learning modalities that exist:
Visual (charts, diagrams)
Print (books, notes, study lessons)
Aural (hear the message)
Interactive (collaborative groups)
Olfactory (smell and taste)
Kinesthetic (work with the hands)
Teachers can simply ask their students which modalities they
prefer. Generally speaking, the broader the teaching methods are,
the more likely all of your students will have opportunities to
learn. Share your approaches with other teachers in educational
ministries. Christ the Master Teacher used a number of
pedagogical strategies in His ministry such as object lessons,
parables, story telling, direct instruction, one-onone mentoring,
The following table represents Marzano's findings related to
the categories of instructional strategies that affect student
achievement in the public school setting. Of the following 9
essential instructional strategies, the skill of identifying
similarities and differences had the most impact in terms of
student achievement. An effective teacher uses a variety of
instructional strategies for the benefit of all students.
Nine Effective Categories of Instructional Strategies that Affect
1. Identifying Similarities and Differences
2. Summarizing and Note Taking
3. Reinforcing Effort and Providing Recognition
4. Homework and Practice
5. Nonlinguistic Representations
8. Cooperative Learning
7. Setting Objectives and Providing Feedback
8. Generating and Testing Hypotheses
9. Cues, Questions and Advance Organizers
Classroom management includes all of the procedures and
practices that ensure quality instruction takes place and make
learning more predictable. A well-managed class has several
components. All students are involved and on task in an
environment conducive to learning. Students know what is expected
of them and how to meet their teacher's high expectations.
Well-managed classes are not boring. Students are actively
involved and engaged in the class and remain on task during
independent work time. Little time is wasted because these
classes are very well prepared.
Well-managed teachers treat their students as subjects, not
objects. Students should never be humiliated, regardless of their
age. Because students have feelings, it is important not to give
too much praise to any one of them. Showing favoritism alienates
others. James wrote, "My brothers, as believers in our glorious
Lord Jesus Christ, don't show favoritism" (2:1 NIV). However, it
is important to recognize and celebrate milestones in spiritual
growth. After all, the purpose of educational ministries is to
equip the saints for service and to facilitate spiritual growth
through the indwelling work of the Holy Spirit (See Ephesians
4:11-13; Romans 8:9-11).
The bottom line is that teachers need to know their
students. It is important to know what they like, what they don't
like, where they live, their family situation, and special dates
of the year like birthdays and anniversaries. In "Teaching to
Change Lives" Howard Hendricks, longtime professor at Dallas
Theological Seminary, reminds teachers not to confuse what adult
students do for a living with who they are as people. Overall, a
well-managed class holds students accountable for what they do or
don't do and maintains high expectations while providing an
opportunity for growth and fellowship.
Classroom Curriculum Design
Just as sermon preparation is essential for a preacher, so
is class preparation for the teacher. Teachers in the church
should not blame the Holy Spirit when a class goes awry, when in
fact it was poorly prepared; resulting in an undesired delivery.
Unfortunately, many teachers in educational ministries are still
asking a basic question, "How to prepare a class?" The following
is not meant to be an exhaustive list of all instructional
components, but it does include some essential parts.
A well-written objective is not too broad or too specific
but is measurable and "just right." It states what the students
should know (declarative knowledge) and/or be able to do
(procedural knowledge) after the class. One example of a lower
level objective is: Students will be able to know the names of
Jesus' 12 apostles by telling the story of how He selected them.
A higher order objective for an adult class is: Students will be
able to compare and contrast the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20
with Deuteronomy 5 by using a Venn diagram. Notice the word "by"
in each objective links declarative knowledge with procedural.
The principle of the anticipatory set works the same as the
warm-up exercises a runner does before he runs the race. An
anticipatory set allows students to focus on the objective(s) of
the class by capturing and holding their attention. It can take
many forms like an anecdote, a joke, a video, a song, a specific
prayer, a demonstration, or an essential (guiding) question. Once
a teacher has his student's attention, the next key is to
determine how much they already know about the topic.
Check for Prior Knowledge:
Because it would be a shame to teach a lesson that students
have already mastered, it is important to check students learning
and progress continuously throughout the class. One opportune
time to check what they already know about a given topic is at
the beginning of the lesson. This could be done simply by asking
a question, "Raise your hands if you can tell me the significance
of the word atonement," or by asking them to write a one-minute
paper on the meaning of atonement. Plus, by checking for prior
knowledge, teachers can assess how much was learned from the
previous class and can link the previous class with the current
class to build a sense of continuity.
Covert and Overt Active Participation:
Talking is not teaching. Although there are many benefits
from a strong lecture, not all teachers are strong lecturers.
Furthermore, plenty of research suggests that students should be
engaged in meaningful activities. One Chinese proverb captures
this: "I hear, and I forget. I see, and I remember. I do, and I
understand." Covert active participacion is not observable. An
example of this includes "think about how Joseph felt when his
brothers sold him into slavery." Overt active participation, on
the other hand, is observable and would include "think about
how Joseph felt when his brothers sold him into slavery and write
a song or poem that captures this." The most powerful combination
of active participation is to begin with covertand then couple it
with overt participation.
Taxonomy of Questions and Wait Time:
Not all questions are equal. Teachers must be aware of both
the kinds of questions they ask their students in large group
discussions and the amount of wait time given, that is, the time
a teacher allows his students to process the meaning of the
question and come up with an answer. A general rule of thumb is
that the more difficult the question, the longer the wait time.
Remember that our classes are not versions of Jeopardy! The more
time a teacher gives his students, the more detailed the answer.
Even extending wait time from 2 to 5 seconds can produce richer
responses from students. A classic resource to consult concerning
the taxonomy of questions is Benjamin Bloom's taxonomy of
question based on his 1956 study.
Level of Concern:
One way to keep students interested in the class is to raise
their level of concem. For example, how do most students feel
when a teacher calls on them in front of their peers? Their level
of concern raises and it is usually quite noticeable (perhaps the
student's face turns red). Thus, it is important to call on
students, giving them ample wait time, to make them concerned and
ready. Or ask one student to call on another student. That
usually adds some intrigue! A teacher who uses different
modalities and activities tends to have more concerned students
than one whose style is predictable. Be creative and surprise
them! An appropriate level of concern keeps students engaged but
not afraid of the class or teacher.
Although many teachers in the church rarely feel they have
enough time to do this step, it is too important to leave out.
Effective planning and classroom management ensure time for a
proper closure. Closure allows the teacher to reiterate the
objective(s) of the class, clarify any doubts, summarize the most
important point(s), check for understanding, preview the next
lesson, and engage in corporate prayer. Some type of short
reflective activity works well by allowing students to think
about their new declarative and/or procedural knowledge and
determine how it will affect their spiritual lives.
As the beginning quote by Old Testament scholar Walter
Brueggemann correctly points out, education is integral for the
existence of a faith community. Karen Tye of Eden Theological
Seminary agrees by making this observation in Basics of Christian
Education: "The gospel must be heard anew in each generation, in
each setting, and in ways that speak to that day, time, and
place." Teachers play an essential role in proclaiming the "old,
old story of Jesus and His love" yet communicating it to a
twentyfirst century audience. Teachers like Tom who seriously
want to improve their pedagogical skills can do so through
earnest study, practice, and a close relationship with the Lord.
Spirit-filled and effective teachers in educational ministries
translate into an army of servants for God's kingdom. May God
bless our teachers.
John R. Kennedy is the Editor of ACTS. He is currently pursuing
an M.Ed. in International Education from Framingham State
May 2007 ACTS magazine, a publication of the General Council of
the Churches of God, 7th Day, Meridian, ID, USA