As we seek to rediscover God’s design for learning, let’s think of teachers we have had.
What if we could break off some of the incomplete ideas about learning from our past and see God’s original intent through His eyes?
It follows, if we can discover His design for learning, we will learn easier and better and be able to influence others towards their highest and best. We will be working with Jesus, not against His design. Jesus calls His followers “disciples,” meaning “learners” fashioned in His image. Remember always that God designed you to learn. This means you are able learn at some level.
As we seek to rediscover God’s design for learning, focus on teachers we have had. Which of these two broad styles better represents your view of an ideal teacher? Please circle one before continuing. Don’t choose the one you think I’m looking for. It’s crucial we begin with active learning at the place we now are.
- Teachers teach more “put into by telling.”
- Teachers teach more “draw out by asking.”
Both reflect valid aspects of the teaching spectrum. Both can have incredible results.
My profs taught and modeled the first one, “put in by telling” (directive teaching and this style is much more difficult to perform well). My subsequent personal study and experience, especially in small groups, shifted me to value “draw out by asking” (discovery teaching with a default to discussion teaching if the group has not yet learned to pre-prepare) as the highest art of teaching to influence LifeChange because it’s…
- the most impacting for personal change in our lives,
- more effective in influencing change in others, and
- quicker and easier to learn so it’s easier to multiply servant-teachers,
Each style of teaching is effective to accomplish the specific results it’s designed for.
“It is only when truth is discovered that it is appropriated. When a man is simply told the truth, it remains external to him and he can quite easily forget it. When he is led to discover the truth himself it becomes an integral part of him and he never forgets” (William Barclay, and excellent Bible teacher).
So, what results do you personally desire when you engage God’s Love-Letter?
“Put in” (directive teaching) is more effective to pass on knowledge and information, and to envision a larger group, like in a larger adult classroom or all-church service. It’s also what we have most often experienced, so now expect. Most of us then come to a Bible-based group expecting to experience the teaching style with which we learned, “put in by telling.”
Although both are valid, “draw out” (discussion teaching and especially discovery teaching) best fulfills my purpose for engaging the Bible with adult learners. My goal is formation, not primarily information. We come to God through His revealed Word with our own uniqueness to experience direct communion with Him. Adult learners grow best together in community with the give-&-take of the more collaborative style of “draw out by asking.” Together, we all sit together and ask and answer questions with understanding, deepening insight as both learners and teachers. “Everyone gets to participate.”
Which style of teaching/learning do you prefer?
In order to shift how we engage Scripture, I believe the first change we need is right here, in our fundamental understanding of how powerful “draw out with questions” is. So, this page will focus primarily on discovery teaching with application to discussion teaching when the group is not yet prepared to collaborate at a higher level by preparing “fresh bread” prior to the meeting.
Israel taught naturally.
Paul taught naturally.
Jesus taught naturally in such a way to “draw out others with questions.” Read the Gospels. According to Bob Tiel, Jesus asked over 300 questions. Often Jesus asked provocative questions to get the people thinking. When others asked Him a question, He often ignored their question and directed His follow-up question to the heart of the matter. One man motes that Jesus only answered eight questions directly, leaving the balance for His audience to answer…including you and me. I could give you verses to support this but prefer that you dig and discover them yourself.
Let me give you one example of Jesus’ teaching style, the “Parable of the Good Samaritan” in Luke 10:25-37. Read this quickly and ask yourself how Jesus used questions in this representative passage.
On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”
He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
“You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.” But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
[Jesus’ one-minute “burst of teaching,” 10:30-35.]
“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise” (Luke 10:25-29+36-37).
Here are a few quick thoughts to whet your sanctified imagination.
- Jesus postpones answering the teacher’s question and counters with one of his own, beginning where the man is as a teacher of the law.
- Jesus affirms when He honestly can, and this man did answer correctly. However, truth must be connected to encounter life, so Jesus challenged him to count the cost and live it out.
- The teacher dodged Jesus’ answer. Our conscience either accuses or This man tries to dodge Jesus with another question. Beware of the “dodging question!” Jesus ignored this also.
- Is there a place for directive teaching in a question-based approach? Certainly! Jesus gave us a one-minute “burst of teaching” (time it yourself!!) I’ve heard forty minutes sermons on these six verses…and have taught them myself. For Jesus, one-minute suffices!
- Jesus followed up His one-minute “burst of teaching” with a question. The teaching set up the question.
- When the teacher accurately answered, Jesus simply pointed to the only way to experience “eternal life” (his original question). “Go and do likewise” points him, not to a works-salvation, but to a yielding our all to love God with our entire being.
How simple a use of questions with one “burst of teaching,” something within the reach of any follower of Jesus.
Where do you think Jesus learned this?
Jesus learned naturally. Let’s go back to observe how Jesus learned through a brief window when He was twelve years old in the temple. You’ll find this earlier in Luke 2:41-51. Read this and list the activities of learning that occurred in the temple in Luke 2:46-47.
I’m suggesting that this is a powerful way to learn. I want to continue to improve how I teach others because this will also reproduce discovery teaching in them.
- Sitting in a community learning culture.
- Carefully listening.
- Asking questions.
- Answering with understanding.
- And as we know Jewish training, the children pre-prepared, and so well that they memorized long sections of Scripture.
“Discovery Teaching” Examined
Let me apply these specifically to discovery teaching.
I strongly encourage the group to go through the Mining God’s Word webpage and the 7 Essentials for a Natural Learning Community. These seven essentials develop the type of learning culture I want to develop. These can be great conversation starters to form the spiritual environment for your group to thrive. Feel free to experiment with the group dynamics, although keep God’s Word and authentic relationships at the center.
As we have been learning naturally for a while, I wonder if you can jot down a few reasons why active-learning is such a natural and powerful way to teach. Can you feel your mind leaping to find support from your personal experience for active-learning? What are the benefits?
Jot down some thoughts before continuing.
- There will ultimately be less preparation time for the lesson to develop more impacting teaching so we have more time to study to deepen our lives.
- Provides feedback for the teacher to evaluate the group and members; to know where each one is personally; to know if they understand the teaching; to know if the teaching brings change.
- Helps allow the leader to learn from others and lessens the “answer man” syndrome.
- Develops questioning skills in the leader for teaching and life in general.
- Teachers will develop peer relationships and friends in the group more quickly as we become a group who are friends of Jesus.
- Since our methodology in teaching is not value neutral, our style is a “hidden curriculum” that communicates powerfully through a slow, steady formulative pressure on the group. This style of teaching forms the members to learn in freedom and live freely. It communicates their high value/worth as image-bearers of God…our purpose as teachers.
- It’s lots more fun!!!!!
I want to develop a style of learning that is simple, yet not simplistic. When we tap into how God wired us to learn, we release powerful motivations for learning, especially when we discover how God’s truth impacts our life-experience. Here are the four integrated points that I do most every week. This provides a low hurdle to release such teaching more quickly in others.
- One thing this week you are grateful for. And/or review previous week. A gratefulness experience turns our thoughts from our busy day to a God-focus.
- Read the passage out loud in a circle, a few verses each. Insight often comes to me as we read around out loud, even after studying the passage during the week.
- Debrief insights from pre-preparation in D-O-I-N-G. Then we each coming as both a learner and a teacher. The first question I ask is: “What did you do about what you saw in the passage this week?” Consistent LifeChange comes as we put truth into practice.
- Share a 15-30-second personal request. Then pray our best 30-second prayer. Also pray at times for our city. Work hard to keep the explanation of the prayer request shorter so we have more time for prayer. We don’t need all the nuances since God already knows.
I do this each week for the assigned passage. As Jesus His disciples, He thought more formation than information. He focused on how to think (Romans 12:1), not just what to think. He led them to how to do, not just storing up info. As we open up authentically with each other, and put truth into life, we experience koinonia in community. Lasting change happens. This is the type of learning culture I want to develop. These can be great conversation starters to form the spiritual environment for your group to thrive. Feel free to experiment, although keep God’s Word and authentic relationships at the center.
This takes very little time to prepare to teach through discovery teaching because our primary task is simply to keep the group on track. Since it’s a group-centered teaching dynamic, we all are responsible to come as both learners and teachers. We invest our time into knowing the passage well. Then prepare one launching question, several guiding questions and one applying question, in case they are needed to keep things flowing. Once you begin to learn by bombarding the text with questions, it’s easy to come up with empowering questions to “draw out” the group. For more on this, go to the webpage Employs Questions to Mutually “Draw Out.”
Jesus, the Master Teacher, was totally dependent on His Father through the Spirit for what to say and for how to say it. We are called to the same, life-producing teaching style. I’m suggesting that discovery learning closely aligns with this because the community is now the center, each one dependent on the Spirit. The Spirit does a wonderful job of teaching every Christian. So let’s be sure we align our learning to release His ability.
“For I did not speak of my own accord, but the Father who sent me commanded me what to say and how to say it” (John 12:49, emphasis).
Are you willing to risk and gather a group to begin to learn a discovery teaching style?
“Most people never win because they’re afraid of losing. That is why I found school so silly. In school we learn that mistakes are bad, and we are punished for making them. Yet, if you look at the way humans are designed to learn, we learn by making mistakes. We learn to walk by falling down. [Failing] is part of the process of success. People who avoid failure also avoid success. [Failing] inspires winners. And failure defeats losers. It is the biggest secret of winners” (Mr. Kiyosaki, Rich Dad Poor Dad p. 125 + 150).
“OK, Jim, but what if no one comes prepared? And this has happened a few times for me.
I shift then to discussion teaching and add several “bursts of teaching” to classic discussion teaching. I call this “popcorn teaching.” I know it’s a bit corny but ask empowering questions to set up this short burst of energy followed by the entire group leisurely savoring the results together. For me, this is the next best thing to “discovery teaching” and often provides the impetus to move there. Developing the questions I mentioned previously, and several “bursts of teaching” take less time than we may imagine to be ready for the possibility of few or none coming prepared. If you have learned to study as we shared in Mining God’s Word, our personal study of the passage for ourselves as we use something written like D-O-I-N-G has the raw material. It only takes a few minutes to hone it.
This more community-centered learning is based on the mutual respect of fellow image-bearers. We approach learning with the profound belief that each person within the group has a vital piece to bring to this learning mosaic. If that piece is withheld, the mosaic is incomplete. Learning is no longer primarily based on expert-centered input (although gifted teachers still play a vital role). Learning is shifted to the more natural community-centered approach with the belief that God fashioned us in Genesis 1 and 2 as community-persons.
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