Thursday, 26 September 2013

Teaching: It's more than what you think.

A teacher imparting information to his students.

Ideas have consequences. 

It has been said before that whatever you circulate as accepted thinking will typically result in the creation of accepted culture norms and patterns of behaviour. This is to say (in some sense): You become what you think. The way we might put this in a theological jargon is to say: Our orthodoxy informs our orthopraxis. I believe this to be true, but I have discovered that it is not exclusively true. 

There was a time where I might have thought that the best, if not the only way to 'teach' (train//disciple//convince) a person would be through extensive appeal to the cognitive approach. This approach to teaching is grounded in what some scholars label the ‘Socratic method’, that is aptly named after its originator Socrates. The Socratic Method seeks to arrive at a solid, tenable conclusions by the use of critical thinking, reasoning, and logic. I get a lot of satisfaction with working out the truthfulness of an idea. It is a strong conviction of mine that change often takes place at the root of an idea. But, as we will soon discover: Logic has its limits. We cannot for instance measure the true impact of  teaching on the ability to recite information alone. Observable behaviour should also factor into our teaching methods. This is to say that learning can be manifested by a change in behaviour.

Gandhi put it this way: “Your beliefs become your thoughts, Your thoughts become your words, Your words become your actions, Your actions become your habits, Your habits become your values, Your values become your destiny.” I am convinced that the way to discern the effectiveness of teaching is to assess a change in behaviour. Behaviours do matter. Our actions are indicative of how well we have processed the material. This is why good theology must be lived out. 

Israel Galindo in his book, The Craft of Christian Teaching, suggests that what we learn will change us in three primary ways: knowledge, attitude, behaviour. 

L = __C__
       (k, a, b) 
L: Learning, C= Change; k= knowledge a= attitude; b= behaviour.

Learning creates changes to our cognitive, affective and effective abilities. Galindo believes that, "Knowledge is the easiest to change." We can assimilate facts, data, and concepts with relative ease and subsequently allow new information to inform and correct old information. The hardest area to change, according to Galindo, is our attitude (emotional//affective). Good teaching, according to Galindo, must seek to address our knowledge, attitude and behaviours. This will result in ‘different’ hopefully better persons. All learning, according to Galindo, should result in change. Learning is change!

A recent research paper published by  Dr. Dan Kahan, a Yale Law School professor, appears to have confirmed Galindo's hunch about attitude being the most difficult area to effect change. 
In Kahan’s experiment, some people were asked to interpret a table of numbers about whether a skin cream reduced rashes, and some people were asked to interpret a different table – containing the same numbers – about whether a law banning private citizens from carrying concealed handguns reduced crime.  Kahan found that when the numbers in the table conflicted with people’s positions on gun control, they couldn’t do the math right, though they could when the subject was skin cream.  The bleakest finding was that the more advanced that people’s math skills were, the more likely it was that their political views, whether liberal or conservative, made them less able to solve the math problem.

Dr. Kahan demonstrates in the study that, "partisanship (emotional attachment) can even undermine our very basic reasoning skills." Kaplan commenting on Dr. Kahan's study asserts, "We want to believe we’re rational, but reason turns out to be the ex post facto way we rationalize what our emotions already want to believe."

It would appear that teachers (those who desire to effect change) really do have their work cut out for them! Galindo admits this when he writes, "Change is difficult, sometimes painful, and often resisted." I believe that Dr. Kahan's research has proven that teaching must address more than just the cognitive faculties. Teaching is not merely the relaying of data. Or as Galindo puts it,  "receiving  new information is not a sufficient definition for learning." Successful teaching needs to have a holistic commitment to every faculty and component of learning. As Kaplan asserts, "When there’s a conflict between partisan beliefs and plain evidence, it’s the beliefs that win. The power of emotion over reason isn’t a bug in our human operating systems, it’s a feature." This means that teacher's everywhere must ask afresh the question, "Am I teaching to effect change in all domains of learning?" 

Guidelines to help teach for change:

  • Determine the change in the lives of your learners that your teaching will call for.
  • Write a learning objective that focuses on that change in the domains of knowledge, attitude, or behaviour
  • Teach one thing. One thing only per lesson
  • Teach to effect change in one domain. (knowledge, attitude or behaviour)
  • Use learning methods that will help the students reach that objective
  • Determine how the student will demonstrate that learning has taken place. 
In order for someone to believe (holistically learn), four components must be operative to some degree:

Affective (feeling, emotional)
Cognitive (Knowledge, understanding)             
Behavioural (Action, conduct)
Volitional (will, conviction, passion)

"Knowledge plus feeling leads to a volitional conviction that is evident in behaviour." - Galindo

Did Jesus subscribe to the idea that learning equals change? Did Jesus address the cognitive, affective, and behavioural in his teaching? Yes, I think so. There is a case to be made that the Sermon on the Mount is the culmination of effective teaching. 

Attitude ("don’t even hate your brother/sister", "do not judge", "do not worry"), 

Knowledge ("you have heard it said", "those who hear these words of mine", "therefore I tell you") 

Behaviour ("turn the other cheek", "pray for those who persecute you", "put this into practice").  

Jesus does not let us off the hook. Christ’s teaching is meant to apply to the domains of knowledge, attitude and behaviour. The call for a disciple is to follow Jesus. It is important to note that Jesus ends his body of teaching on the Mount with the example of the wise and foolish builders. The wise builder is the one who "hears Jesus' words (meaning the previous body of teaching) and "puts them into practice".  Jesus expects his disciples obey and to enact the teaching of the Sermon. Jesus does not appear to regard the discipleship of the Sermon as an 'impossible ideal'. (Luther) Jesus' last words in Matthew's Gospel are a reinforcement of the Sermon. 

When they saw him, they worshiped him (attitude//behaviour); but some doubted (attitude). Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me (attitude//knowledge). Go (behaviour) therefore and make disciples (behaviour) of all nations, baptizing them (behaviour) in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them (knowledge) to obey everything (behaviour) that I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always (attitude), to the very end of the age." - Matthew 28:17-20

The early church took the teaching of Jesus and the Apostles so seriously that potential converts to Christianity were expected to practice that teaching before joining the church or having been taught the Sermon on the Mount. Alan Kreider comments:
This may seem severe and legalistic to us today, even perverse. How could a community rebuff people as potential members for not living according to the standards of the group before they had been taught? But the early Christian catechists were attempting not so much to impart concepts as to nurture communities whose values would be different from those of conventional society. Christian leaders assumed that people did not think their way into a new life; they lived their way into a new kind of thinking. [1]
The early church recognized that inhabiting a new way of thinking (indeed, a new way of living) is essential to full reception of the teaching of Jesus and genuine conversion to the way of the cross. Potential converts to Christianity were coming for baptismal instruction having their thinking already conformed to the scheme of the age. 

What would change in the church today if we "lived our way into a new kind of thinking"? (Check this video out)

May you be challenged to love the Lord your God 

With all your heart 
With all your soul 
With all your mind 
With all your strength! 

Works Cited

1. Alan Kreider, The Change of Conversion and the Origin of Christendom (Harrisburg, PA: Trinity Press International, 1999), p. 23.

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