Reflections on Teaching the Bible to High Schoolers, Pt. 2: The Minimal Value of Lecturing

As I mentioned in my previous entry, I chose to avoid using the traditional textbook with my students, opting instead for a collection of short essays from Bible Odyssey. The second change I made was to move progressively away from lecturing. I did not do a "flipped classroom," but it did become more and more student led as the semester progressed. This was more difficult than lecturing, because its success rests upon (1) student leaders and (2) peer-to-peer cooperation. I taught five periods. In three of them there were students who naturally stepped up to keep conversations on track even when they were not assigned that role. In one of them it really did differ day-to-day. In another, I never really figured out how to get about a third of my students invested, including several of the more prominent personalities who could have helped me had they become allies in the work.

I was told during my interview process that it is beneficial to change ones mode of communication every twenty minutes when teaching high schoolers. I would suggest that may be closer to every fifteen minutes. So, let's say I am introducing the Apostle Paul during one 45 minute session. I may take role and then give information concerning Paul for 15 minutes. Then I may shift over to a video that will reinforce and add to what I just said. Then, ideally, I would use the last 20 minutes to divide the class into groups, giving them worksheets, assigning discussion leaders, and letting them discover things for themselves. 

If you lecture longer than 15 minutes, you are basically talking to yourself and a few students, at best, for every additional minutes. Now, it is true that some students will tune you out after about 5 minutes, but as the expert in the room you still have to provide the rest of your students with information they likely will not retrieve without your help.

But that is far from the bulk of what they should learn.

For one, they should learn to engage the primary sources themselves (i.e, reading the Bible in this case). Not just for homework, but also for class work; not just alone at home, but also in groups where interpretive differences can be recognized.

In other words, you do not want them to just learn about the Bible, but how to engage the Bible critically and thoughtfully, individually and corporately, and for those for whom these texts are sacred, both academically as well as devotionally/philosophically/theologically. 

Lectures allow students to hear my voice, but my voice ought to be more or less the guide. I tell them where to look, but not what to think of what they are seeing. I give them options for where to go on their intellectual journey, but I try to avoid telling them how to handle the first crossroad, or the hundredth. 

My students seemed to learn far more when they were asked to engage the text. When I lectured, I often lost them if it went too long. I do not blame them though. I am the same way. I much rather be given work to do than asked to just listen for hours on end.