Reaching Everyone God Have You To Teach
By Marlene D. LeFever
David C. Cook Copyright © 2004 David C Cook
All rights reserved.
What Are Learning Styles?
Each person is given something to do that shows who God is: Everyone gets in on it, everyone benefits. All kinds of things are handed out by the Spirit, and to all kinds of people! The variety is wonderful (I Corinthians 12:6). —Eugene Peterson in The Message
God made my mind right!" I end many of my learning style training sessions by asking participants to say this sentence aloud three times, "God made my mind right!" The first time they say it to themselves as an affirmation of their own special style of learning. The second time, they turn to their neighbor and tell him or her in no uncertain terms, "God made my mind right!" Finally they say it as a prayer of thanks to their minds' Maker.
Sometimes people break into spontaneous clapping after the three sentences. "I've never thanked God for my mind before," a Sunday school teacher said. "I've really got a pretty special one, you know!" Sometimes people will cry. "I thought there was something wrong with me. Now I know God can use my unique 'smarts'!"
Knowing about your learning style can change your opinion of yourself and what you are willing to attempt for Jesus. Knowing about learning styles helps you teach all the children, teens, and adults God put in your classroom.
A learning style is the way in which a person sees or perceives things best and then processes or uses what has been seen. Each person's individual learning style is as unique as a signature. When a person has something difficult to learn, that student learns faster and enjoys learning more if his or her unique learning style is affirmed by the way the teacher teaches.
Students learn faster and enjoy learning more if their unique learning styles are affirmed.
As Christian educators, teaching to our students' learning styles can help all students get more excited about the subject, explore and understand the facts, enjoy grappling with the implications and, most importantly, be more willing to put what they have learned into practice.
The heart of our curriculum, what we want to teach, is the message of Christ—His love for us, His willingness to accept us into His family, and how we live out our responsibilities as His family members. What a challenge! Christ gives us what we are to teach—the content—but the "how" of teaching He leaves up to us. We must make the most of what we know about learning and the methods that communicate effectively with students. Often the wrong "how" can keep our students from hearing the "what."
I was helping to serve a Thanksgiving dinner to a group of street people at a mission in Chicago. Throughout the meal a man wandered around the room muttering to himself. Much of what he said was gibberish. Then his eyes focused on me. He came charging at me, his voice loud and his English clear. "Who do you think I am?" he bellowed at me. "Somebody?"
I was too surprised and frightened to make any response, and almost immediately he went back to muttering words only he could understand. Later that day, I was rethinking what happened and wishing I had had the presence of mind to answer his question. "Yes, that's exactly what I think," I wish I had said. "I think you are somebody—somebody Christ loves. That's why I'm here."
His question is asked in many different ways by our students, and often by members of our own families—"Who do you think I am?" their participation, attitudes, and body language ask. "Somebody?"
We answer each one, in part, by the way we respond. When we teach in ways that capture a student's strengths, we are indeed saying, "Yes, that's why I'm here. For Jesus' sake, I believe you are somebody. I will teach you in a way that affirms your strengths and helps you believe, as I do, that you are someone special."
"When we decide we want to value differences," writes educator Pat Burke Guild, "we will make decisions that expand diversity rather than seek uniformity and inappropriate conformity." Successful teachers no longer believe that what's good for one is good for all. Likewise, we must stop looking for the one best way to do Christian education.
Enlarging Our View of Learning
Everyone has a learning style.
A person's preferred style has nothing to do with IQ, socioeconomic background, or achievement level. It doesn't matter if Janet, for example, has the potential to make A's or C's in school. If she has opportunities to show what she can contribute within her preferred style she is more likely to succeed to her full potential. Each person's style contains clues for developing natural abilities to the highest level. When Janet is successful in her preferred style, she will be willing to dare things that fall outside her strength area. On the other hand, if Janet is never taught within her preferred style, she may assume she's dumb or that her contributions have no value. She may give up, or even drop out.
Until recently, many Christian communicators assumed that the most effective ways to teach were teacher- centered—through lecture, story-telling, or sermon. If the teacher is talking, teachers thought, the students must be learning. We taught as if we could just slice off the students' heads and pour in everything they needed to know. That assumption contains some truth for some students, but is absolutely false for others. For most students, as we poured in the need-to-know stuff, it dribbled right out of a hole in their big toes! Learning styles is a new tool that Sunday school teachers, youth leaders, pastors—all of us involved in Christian education—can use to better teach all the people we serve.
Along with enlarging our view of learning, learning styles has also enlarged our view of our Creator. We've affirmed God's creativity and diversity in many aspects of life, but assumed for too long that all great minds worked pretty much alike. We were wrong; minds are uniquely individualized. What we now know about learning is just the beginning of what we may someday know.
Consider noses! Take a look at your best friend's nose and imagine what your face would look like if it had your friend's nose on it. The results are ludicrous. Minds are like noses—very, very different. It is just as silly to look at a group of students and assume that all of them are going to learn in exactly the same way. In actuality, what works for one may be incomprehensible to another.
God's creation is much more creative than we realized even just fifteen years ago. Now we need to expand our elite measure of who is smart and who is not. Janet's teacher was wise to learning styles. She said, "I didn't want to know how 'smart' Janet was according to some predetermined standard; I wanted to know how Janet was smart."
Previewing the Four Learning Styles
Educator Bernice McCarthy identifies four primary learning styles: Imaginative, Analytic, Common Sense, and Dynamic. None of these four styles will fit a student perfectly. (Just as God did not use just four types of noses on our faces, He didn't create just four mind patterns.) We are all mixes of the four styles, but most of us will have one that feels like our best fit. For some of the students we teach, one style will be so predominant that they will not learn if that style is left out of our teaching plans.
Imaginative Learners are feeling people who get involved with others and learn best in settings that allow interpersonal relationships to develop. These curious, questioning learners learn by listening and sharing ideas. They see the broad overview or big picture much more easily than the small details. They learn by sensing, feeling, watching. They can see all sides of the issues presented.
Analytic Learners learn by watching and listening. They expect a teacher to be the primary information giver, while they sit and carefully assess the value of the information presented. These are the students who learn in the way most teachers have traditionally taught, and so they are often considered the best learners. They are strategic planners, and they aim for perfection—the right answers, the A's in school and in life. These learners want all the data before they make a decision.
Analytic Learners are often defined as the best students since they fit the teaching/learning methods traditionally used in Western education. They grow uncomfortable when a teacher veers from these methods. Exact and accurate in their thinking, they are mainly interested in "just the facts, nothing but the facts."
Teacher William Davies told of a classroom encounter with a girl who may have been an Analytic Learner. "As I began to say, 'I'm going to divide the class up into ...,' the plaintive voice of a girl in the middle of the room called out, 'Please don't do that. Everyone's doing that. Couldn't you just teach us—like a real class?'"
Common Sense Learner
Common Sense Learners like to play with ideas to see if they are rational and workable. These students want to test theory in the real world, to apply what has been learned. They love to get the job done. They are hands-on people who, using their own ideas, can analyze problems and solve or fix them. Common Sense Learners, as the name suggests, excel when dealing with what is practical and of immediate importance to them. They learn best when learning is combined with doing. They would agree that Jesus "was not a sweatless wonder, but a hard-working savior." Until the late sixteenth century, "faith" was a verb in the English language; to the Common Sense Learner it still is.
Dynamic Learners also enjoy action as part of the learning process, but rather than thinking projects through to their rational conclusion, Dynamic Learners excel in following hunches and sensing new directions and possibilities. These risk takers thrive on situations that call for flexibility and change and find real joy in starting something new, or putting their personal stamp of originality on an idea. Dynamic Learners might agree with Frederick Buechner's character Laughter who affirms that God has a "fire He is trying to start with us [that] is a fire that the whole world will live to warm its hands at. It is a fire in the dark that will light the whole world home." Dynamic Learners feel that fire and come up with an amazing array of ideas for fanning the flame.
Teaching to Styles Helps Students Succeed
As teachers of God's Word, we must give each student an opportunity to demonstrate his or her preferred way of learning at some point in every lesson. Such affirmation helps each student:
believe that God made his or her mind right.
be motivated to learn.
actively participate in the class.
understand others better and find ways to communicate effectively with them.
affirm personal gifts and talents that he or she can use for God's service.
relate better in group situations.
make career choices in which he or she has the best chance to be successful.
build tolerance and empathy for those who are least like him or her.
Four primary learning styles! How does a Sunday school teacher, for example, teach all four every Sunday? "I've got just forty-five minutes every class period to raise the dead," a teacher quipped. "Help! I don't want to miss anyone."
The four different learning styles actually fit together into a learning cycle. If this teacher follows the four steps in the cycle, every student will have an opportunity to learn and share his or her contributions with the whole class. Chapter 2 will take us around that cycle.
Teaching to All Four Learning Styles
Don't be afraid to take a big step if one is indicated. You can't cross a chasm in two small steps. —David Lloyd George
Did you see the cartoon of a Sunday school teacher with her class of very young children? The teacher is announcing, "Okay, kids, have these verses memorized by next Sunday or you can kiss your snack time good-bye!" We all laugh, but many teachers have the same mindset. They think, If I just teach the content of the Bible, its facts, stories, and principles, my students will have learned.
Wrong! Students may be able to repeat the facts, stories, and principles—although even that is doubtful—but they won't have learned how they might use those facts today. At best, teachers will have reached some Analytic Learners, but what about students in the other three styles? Real learning requires teaching around the Learning Style Cycle. Real learning requires each student to succeed in his or her preferred style and to participate in the other three styles as well.
A Curriculum Pattern
David Kolb and Bernice McCarthy have provided educators with a basic learning style model. Their research provides a structure or pattern that can help us be more effective.
This pattern does not tell us anything about the content we want to teach. Instead, it helps us better communicate any subject matter. When we place Christ's message at the core of our teaching, the Learning Style Cycle becomes a structural, methodological tool that can help us teach every child, teen, and adult, each made in the image of God and each made uniquely.
Each teacher is responsible for doing the best job possible. We use all the research and tools at our command. These don't diminish our affirmation of the power of the Holy Spirit in our classrooms. He can use everything, including learning style research, to make us more fit to teach. Through learning styles, He may help us reach students that no one has reached before. Just as surely, He can choose to work in students' lives in spite of what teachers have not known or have done wrong.
The Learning Style Quadrants
Bernice McCarthy's system, called the 4MAT System, divides learners into the following four quadrants. Her process is a tool that helps us better teach the Christian message.
The Learning Style Questions
"How can I possibly teach a lesson that meets the needs of Imaginative, Analytic, Common Sense, and Dynamic Learners?" a teacher asks.
The answer is, "Knowing there are learners in each of the four learning style quadrants can actually give you a teaching structure that helps you succeed class after class." The four styles provide a skeleton on which learning can be hung.
An individual lesson or an entire curriculum can be built around the four types of learners. The lesson starts with Imaginative and moves to Analytic, then on to Common Sense, finally finishing with Dynamic. You can see how this logical progression works by looking at the questions each learning style group is best at answering.
The strengths of all students come to the fore when the teacher follows this four-step pattern in each lesson. Every student participates in the whole lesson. Every student is affirmed because there will be one part of that lesson that spotlights his or her strengths. A Dynamic Learner will enjoy the fourth section of the lesson most. However, he or she will be willing to first participate in the other three sections of the lesson to get the information needed to do his or her part. Throughout the lesson, the student knows that the chance to show his or her unique intelligence is coming.
Note that in a natural sequence of teaching, you develop a lesson by starting with 1 and progressing to 4.
By examining the primary characteristics in each quadrant of the cycle, the role shifts of teachers and learners become apparent. Each quadrant has a different emphasis. Quadrant One's emphasis is on meaning, or how the material to be learned is connected to the learners' immediate lives. Quadrant Two's emphasis is on content and curriculum and the importance of delivering instruction through an integrated approach. Quadrant Three addresses the usefulness of learning in the lives of the learners both in and out of school—it emphasizes the transferability of learning. Quadrant Four encompasses creativity, how the learner adds to the original learning in new and unique ways.
1. Imaginative Learning: Part 1 of the Lesson
Question: Why study this lesson? Why do I need to know this?
In the first quadrant, you, the teacher, will begin by using what students already know. Students approach a subject with a wealth of knowledge. Starting with students' prior understanding gets their attention immediately. It focuses them on the direction you wish to take them.
The Imaginative Learners can help the whole class establish the "why" of the lesson. Why study this subject? Why is it important? They can draw on past knowledge and experiences and share with their peers why everyone should pay attention to this subject, because it's really important.
For example, let's consider how a teacher might structure a lesson on a Christian's responsibility to grapple with the problem of world hunger. The teacher asks the students not to eat supper on Saturday night or breakfast on Sunday. When they come to class, the obvious topic is hunger. What does it feel like? What were some of their thoughts about going hungry? Everyone in the class participates in this discussion, but the teacher usually finds that Imaginative students take the lead. The learners find it easy to discuss feelings and give the context into which the rest of the lesson will fit.
2. Analytic Learning: Part 2 of the Lesson
Question: What do I need to know?
In this second quadrant, the teacher needs to add new facts and concepts to what is already known. Analytic Learners will excel in learning information in Scripture that brings content to feelings. Now the students have seen that not only is the subject relevant to them, but they also have new information to help them deal more effectively with the subject.
In our classtime on world hunger, Analytics would be interested in studying what the Bible has to say about hunger. How involved are Christians supposed to be in helping the poor, powerless, and oppressed? What did Micah say? Are there specific principles that Christians need to know before they can make moral choices? The teacher guides students in finding what they need to know or, depending on the age level, provides direction to students to study God's Word for themselves.
3. Common Sense Learning: Part 3 of the Lesson
Question: How do I use what I know? How does what I've studied actually work today?
The third quadrant students would pick up on the practical side of the problem. The Common Sense Learners do not feel that it is enough to know the content about the subject. They must find how to put what they know into practice, to make it usable. "Okay," the Common Sense Learner may say about this study on hunger, "we've been through a mini- simulation on hunger and we now know what God has said about the subject. So what is this class going to do about it? Let's see more action around here." Common Sense Learners might get excited about marking the hunger spots on the world map and using biblical passages to suggest some possible solutions in which this class might get involved. The teacher could help students check if the direction in which they are going is valid. (Continues...)
Excerpted from LEARNING STYLES by Marlene D. LeFever. Copyright © 2004 David C Cook. Excerpted by permission of David C. Cook.
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