Teaching involves a basic three step process: preparation, delivery, and evaluation.
Preparation involves activities associated with determining learning outcomes (objectives), researching the topic, lesson planning, and selection of delivery methodologies. Each of these are important to effective teaching and must be given adequate thought and preparation to ensure we are presenting the best lesson and most useful for our learners.
Learning outcomes are what we wish for learners to demonstrate based on our teaching. Although we might have personal reasons as teachers for why we are teaching the topic, the learning outcomes for our lessons must always be written from the learner's perspective as to what they will gain and demonstrate.
A learning outcome should have three parts, either implied or directly communicated: the condition, behavior, and standard. Conditions are the elements that learners possess (physically or intellectually) that enable them to behave in a certain way. The behavior is the observable outcomes of the teaching, whether as knowledge, behavior, or attitudinal. The standard is the level of performance against which we determine learners' have been successful. A condition and standard may be implied in some situations, but the desired behavior must be clearly stated. Here is an example of a learning outcome demonstrating this:
"Given a Bible version of the student's choice (condition), the student will list the 10 commandments (behavior) as found in Exodus 20:1-17 (standard).
Researching the topic is the next step after learning outcomes have been determined. Researching the topic flows out of the desired learning outcomes. This involves deciding on the main points of the lesson and gathering materials to support the main points. Normally one does not collect a mass of information and then develop learning outcomes to match the information. However, sometimes as we research a subject, the idea of a class flows out of it. When ideas not related to the learning outcomes occur, make note of them and save for later lessons. The research will also provide insight into the need to change or modify instruction.
There are two elements critical to the selection of relevant material. First, the material must be appropriate to the learning outcomes and it must have usefulness. Usefulness means that it will aid both the teacher and student in reaching the desired learning outcomes. We frequently find interesting information, but it may not directly support the learning outcomes. Use of this type of information is not inherently wrong but should be used judiciously so it does not prevent proving sufficient information directly tied to the learning outcomes. This is also referred to as, "chasing rabbits."
Once learning outcomes have been developed and adequate support materials gathered, we now move to lesson plan development. A lesson plan is a plan for learning. Lesson plans take on many forms depending somewhat on the experience of the teacher and the methodology chosen to present the material. A lesson plan also serves as a guide for the teacher to follow and assists with overall organization and timing of a lesson. It is a good idea to physically write out the information in a lesson plan so that later we can re-teach the lesson and have our notes and information from the previous class.
A lesson plan has two basic parts: a strategy and a body. The first part, the strategy, deals with the "what and how" of the lesson. This is perhaps the "planning" part of the lesson plan. It contains sufficient detailed information about the lesson such as title, time, learning outcomes, necessary support materials such as texts, audiovisuals or handouts, and method of delivery and evaluation. How much detail a teacher provides in this part depends on the teacher and his or her desire to document this information.
The body is the information of the lesson and is comprised of three basic elements: the introduction, the content and the conclusion. The introduction is designed to communicate to the learners what is to be taught and why it is important. How the teacher chooses to introduce the lesson will vary with purpose and content of the lesson. Common examples are anecdotes, examples of a problem, relevant questions or overhead statements of the situation. Teachers should use their imagination on how to introduce the lesson. The intention is to gain the interest of learners and help begin the learning process. As part of the introduction teachers should provide an overview of major points of the lesson to enable learners to begin organizing their thoughts thus facilitating learning. It is also advisable to communicate the desired learning outcomes to help learners organize their focus.
The content is the substance or material portion of the lesson. It may be presented in several forms, depending on the desired learning outcomes and chosen methodology. It might be in the form of topical, problem-solution, demonstration and performance, or a combination of methods. Again, content must be designed to facilitate student's meeting the learning outcomes.
How content is documented in a lesson plan depends on the teacher's preferences. It can range from listing key points or a detailed outline with complete sentences and listings of examples, questions, and exercises. The intent is to help teachers cover material in a systematic and logical process and to ensure all critical information is presented.
The conclusion is designed as a wrap up to the lesson. This portion of the body generally contains a summary of key points presented by the teacher and perhaps those provided by learners. It should also contain a statement about the importance of the lesson. This helps facilitate learners taking ownership and applying the lesson. The conclusion also contains some form of statement of finality indicating the closure of the lesson. If the lesson is presented in a series of lessons, it is common to state what the next lesson in the series is.
There are generally three categories of delivery methods for teaching: presentation strategies, action strategies and inter-action strategies. None of these methods are inherently better than the other but are selected depending on several factors such as learning outcomes, learning environment, and experience of the teacher, and maturity and readiness of the learners. Using a variety of delivery methods as appropriate enhances the potential for learners to be successful in meeting the objectives.
Presentation strategies are methods most commonly associated with teaching. Examples are formal and informal lectures. These are generally used in larger settings such as an auditorium or other large classroom, when a large amount of information must be presented in a limited time, or when learners need to be provided with basic information. This method commonly involves one-way or limited two-way communication. The responsibility is heavy on the teacher to communicate content. Learners are mostly passive in the learning process.
Action strategies are those that allow learners to be physically as well as intellectually involved in the learning process. Examples are physical skill building activities, simulations, and role playing. These allow learners to engage multiple senses in the learning process and facilitate long-term retention and observable mastery of content.
Interaction strategies are teaching methods that rely heavily on discussion and sharing among teachers and learners. Examples are discussion classes, panel discussions, brain storming, problem solving, forums, and committee activities. These activities require learners to be directly and actively involved in the learning process. Like action strategies, interaction strategies engage multiple senses and facilitate long-term retention and mastery of content. The teacher guides the learning process and may engage on an equal level with learners.
It is also advisable to consider using a combination of these methods. For example, if the class is on evangelism, instruction might begin with an informal lecture on the importance of evangelism and an overview of various methods. It could then involve a guided discussion or panel discussion to gain insight into learner's acceptance of the importance and their view on preferences for a given method. Finally, students can gain skills by role playing.
Evaluation is often overlooked, especially in Bible class programs. Evaluation is the process of determining that learners have achieved the learning outcomes of the lesson. When we think of evaluation it is usually in the form of determining pass or fail of some form of written test. Evaluation takes on many forms from formal evaluations such as written or performance evaluations or informal types such as overhead questions and observation.
There are many reasons for evaluating but whatever form, evaluation must always have the purpose of determining that learners have met the learning outcomes of the class. One reason for evaluation is to improve our teaching. Many would argue that this is the most important reason for evaluating. This reason is designed to validate what we have taught. To validate means it achieves the desired purpose, as stated in the learning outcomes.
Another reason for evaluation, especially in adult learners, is to provide learners with confidence that they know the material or have obtained the skills desired. This also leads to positive reinforcement and incentive to learn more. It provides a sense of one's merit or worth through meeting with success.
A third reason to evaluate is to continue the teaching process. The term "testing" does not always mean an evaluation of learning. It may also be a teaching activity. As an example, James makes an interesting point:
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
- James 1:2-4
James is stating here that the trials (tests) we endure serve to teach us when we are successful. The concept of steadfastness is that of reinforcement of our faith. Jesus also used this method in John 6:1-15. John states this clearly in verses 5 and 6,
"Jesus said to Philip, "Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?" He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he would do."
In this example, Jesus knew what He would do but wanted Philip and the disciples, to grow in their faith of Him. The point is, sometimes challenge learners to determine what they know or can do. This illustrates to them what must be learned based on what they may not know or be able to do. It also serves as a quick "needs analysis" to determine what the teacher needs to reteach, or emphasize, and what is already known by the learners. Given the limited time and opportunity we frequently have in our Bible classes, we should focus on taking learners from the known to the unknown. This is easier accomplished if we know what they know.
We must take the responsibility of being a Bible class teacher very seriously and do all we can to improve our effectiveness. There is no greater and more important and rewarding role than to be a successful Bible class teacher. Success is defined as facilitating learners in reaching the learning outcomes. In the case of our Bible classes it is summarized by II Peter 3:18, "But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen."
We have a greater chance of achieving success if we define where we want learners to be at the conclusion of teaching, a plan to achieve our learning outcomes and a method to determine what has been learned.