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Wouldn't it be nice if teaching were a science? You could do A and B, and then C would always result. But even the perfect teacher, Jesus Christ, sometimes had to ask His disciples, "Do ye not yet understand?" A teacher can present information flawlessly and still not get through to the student. Yet, improving your teaching strategies can yield great improvement in student learning.
Are you having difficulty teaching a subject to your children? By simply understanding your children better, you can improve your teaching. Christ knew what to expect from each of His disciples, and He knew which teaching methods would work best with each of them. He constantly evaluated the effect of His instruction and altered His methods accordingly. You can help your children immensely if you will find out what kind of learners they are and which learning techniques work best for them. This knowledge will help your children know how to study and will help you know how to teach.
Before looking at the differences in learners, consider two needs that all learners share. First, children learn better if they can place new information in the context of what they already know. You, the teacher, need to connect new facts to your children's past experiences and past studies. When Christ presented His teachings to the Jews, He explained His teachings by contrasting them with the Old Testament: "Ye have heard . . . . but I say . . . ." He also referred to Old Testament passages, and He developed parables based on everyday experiences.
The second area of similarity is that all students learn better if they have a clear picture of the goal toward which they are striving. Learning facts is like putting together a puzzle. A parent does not just hand a child a thousand pieces, one at a time, and expect him to put the pieces together. It is much easier to start with the borders and lump pieces together around similar themes, such as a blue sky or a red barn.
Before you begin each lesson, prepare the child's mind for what is to come by summarizing what you plan to cover in that lesson. Then at the end of the session, restate the main points you have taught, not only for each session, but also for the entire subject. You need to keep reminding your child of what he has learned and where he is going. Similarly, a child working a puzzle must stop what he is doing periodically to look at what he has put together and what he has still to finish.
Christ patiently taught His disciples what they were ready to learn. As He went, He often repeated what He had said and asked questions to evaluate the progress of His disciples. "Whom do men say that I am? Whom say you that I am?" As Jesus uncovered their continued lack of understanding, He used new approaches. He forewarned them about His coming humiliation and death, even though they did not yet understand and were too afraid to ask (Mark 9:31-32). He told His disciples to let His saying "sink down" (Luke 9:44). Observing their actions as they argued over who would be first in the kingdom, He knew He was not getting through to them (Mark 9:33-34). Nevertheless, He kept reminding them about His coming death, knowing that once the event had passed, the disciples would be able to understand.
Yet, each child learns a little differently. God has given human beings five senses, give gates through which knowledge enters the brain. Smelling and testing usually play a minor role in education, but the other three senses--hearing, seeing, and touching--are the gates through which almost all information enters the brain. A parent must be constantly aware of how information is fed to the student's senses. Students are more likely to learn a lesson that appeals to all the senses, even taste and smell, when that is appropriate.
This method can be used to review any list of information for any subject. In practice, most children should concentrate their study time on the approach that works best for them. Some learn best by reading and rereading their lists, visualizing the letters each time in their minds; others rewrite the list over and over; some read the words and the letters aloud and remember the sounds. When they are tested, some remember what they have seen, others what they have heard, and still others what they have done.
You will also want to appeal to as many of the senses as possible while you teach. Audio-visual aids and manipulatives can help you accomplish this objective. Children have a richer, more meaningful learning experience when they can see what the teacher is talking about and can participate with both hands and minds. Children have a better chance of recalling information that is acquired in more than one form. If they are studying a B-flat musical note, for instance, they will have a better chance of recalling what it is if they know (1) what it sounds like, (2) what it looks like, and (3) how to play it on a piano. Simply memorizing the definition is not enough. Keep this fact in mind as you develop lesson plans. Some students do very well with simple lectures; others need to see the lesson in print or take part in the lesson themselves. Teaching that promotes interaction between student and teacher within the lesson is almost always preferred over straight lecturing.
In addition to their dependence on the senses, children also differ in how they put facts together. The way one child learns something may not be the easiest way for another child to learn it. One way to study spelling is to learn rules concerning vowel and consonant combinations and then to apply those rules. But children who have difficulty grasping concepts might find it easier to see examples and then learn the rules that apply. One method of learning is deductive: the children understand the rule or concept and are able to deduce specific examples. The second method of learning is inductive: the children observe or experience examples and are able to induce or infer the rule or concept. For elementary students, materials presented in a way that facilitates inductive reasoning are generally more effective. In the upper grades, however, both methods may be used, depending on the student and the subject.
Another difference among children is whether they think in abstract or concrete terms. Most children understand the concept of fractions much better when they see them demonstrated with manipulatives of some type (e.g., paper, coins, blocks, pies). Other children can easily manipulate abstract numerals in their heads. As a rule, all children start out as concrete thinkers, but as they mature, some develop abstract thinking abilities to a greater extent than others.
Perhaps you never thought about your children in these ways before. Do they learn best by sight, sound, or activity? Do they profit more from deduction or induction? This information about your children can be used to modify and enhance your teaching so that you can help your children realize their full potential.