Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Whimsical Wednesday

I've been meaning to rant about this ever since I heard the news last week. Here's what's buggin' me. On Monday night the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inducted Madonna.

Muh-DON-nuh?! . . . In the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame? . . . While folks like the Steve Miller Band are still waiting in line? I just don't get it.

Hey, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame: Madonna didn't record rock and roll. Of course, neither did Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, and they're in too. But I guess my question is, Why not induct the people who performed and recorded rock and roll? Just a thought. Oh, and what's the impeachment process?

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One of my weaknesses in teaching is that I don't often ask good questions. For a lot of my class sessions, I prepare a lecture that doesn't exactly want or invite interruption. So I don't often stop to ask a question. It's not that I don't want questions. And sometimes I do stop and ask, "Okay, what questions do you have?" But that's not the same thing as asking questions that actually involve the students in exploring the topic.

Yes, I've read that when students passively sit and listen, they don't take much home. They're much more likely to learn and retain something if they become active in responding to questions, or if they state what they know and think about the topic of the class. And I've accepted all of that. From the neck up. But I don't do much of that.

Oh, I guess I could blame my former teachers. Some of them presented straight lecture for hours on end. Class sessions were often a matter of us students writing down notes as they were read to us by the professor. It was like we'd signed up for a course in copying dictation. In one graduate course I took, students asked a grand total of two questions all semester long. In both instances, the question was an awkward interruption of the professor's reading class notes to us.

And then there's my preaching experience. Most sermons don't invite or want any sort of question, feedback, interruption. Our inherited definition of "preaching" means that nobody talks but the preacher, which is why many churches marvel at how smart the preacher is while everyone else feels sort of dumb and inadequate. (Ever notice that virtually all of the sermons in Acts get interrupted?) I think this point is connected to the health and growth of churches, but I digress.

I don't want to revert to the teaching models I've always known. A lot of them are weak and ineffective. I feel compelled to do better. But it's hard for classroom teachers to throw off the dream of being the sage on the stage. That's part of the problem. Another part is that teachers sometimes just don't know how to change for the better. So I want to begin by asking more, and better, questions in class. I'll begin by practicing on you:

1. You teachers out there, do you ask probing, open-ended questions when you teach? Did this come naturally to you, or did you have to develop it?

2. Who is the best "question-asking teacher"you know? What are that person's class sessions like?

3. Are there benefits and good uses of more less straight lecture or speeches? What are they?

4. It's assumed that today's Christian preaching is much more "conversational" than the preaching of a generation ago. If that's the case, do you church-goers have any experience with talk-back sermons? (that is, where listeners ask questions, pose problems, during a sermon).

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I'm teaching from John chapter 7 tonight. I've read and studied and thought. Guess I should pray too. Take a look. What questions sort of raise themselves when reading this passage? What's most conspicuous? Troubling?

Ideas? Thoughts? Suggestions?


Matt said...

The way to motivate yourself to ask questions rather than straight lecture is to ask yourself this question, "What do I really want my students to walk away from my class with?"

A mere regurgitation of facts does not usually change the heart. A personal examination of the text, how it challenges our lives and our thinking and how it is intended to transform us is best undertaken through investigation rather than listening to a lecture. If your aim is to impact your students it is best done by letting them wrestle through the questions as individuals but also in community rather than the wise teacher sitting as sage before the class. So by all means lecture away but don't be surprised when people aren't very moved by the text. Remember, the smartest sages didn't lecture. They asked questions. Even Jesus answered questions with questions.

John 7:

Observation questions:
- Things like what did Jesus tell his brothers about going to the feast?
- What did the people say about Jesus when he arrived at the feast?
- etc.

Interpretation questions:
- Why did Jesus tells his brothers no and then go anyway?
- Why can't the world hate Jesus' brothers?
- "the Jews?" [see Bob Turner's recent post on that question].
- Why does Jesus link doing God's will with understanding God's plan (7:17)?
- Circumcision and the Sabbath? See N.T. Wright's John for everyone on that passage (seems like you have a copy?)
- Why did they think no one would know where the Messiah would come from?
- How did it work that they tried to seize him but couldn't? (speculation there).

- What do we do with Jesus when he doesn't meet our expectations?
- What practical implications does being filled with the Spirit have on living the Christian life?

I will say one more thing and then shut up - it is important in teaching to make a shift from inductive to deductive.

Anonymous said...

I have also tried to learn to ask better questions in classes (and sermons, even without expecting a response)

I like to ask, "How does that make you feel?" about any variety of things, just to engage more of the person in the text.

"Why?" questions are okay, even if there isn't a clear cut answer.

nothing kills a class/discussion more than obvious, softball questions. I continue to learn that the hard way.

my one cent

Darin L. Hamm said...

Sounds like you have had good feedback.

One thing that I try to remember is that it is always better for the class to make the point I am looking for.

My goal is for them to get a point, not to show how much I know.

Frank Bellizzi said...

Thanks for your responses, guys.

Regarding the current unpopularity of lecture (while it continues to be used a lot in classrooms), I don't want to give the wrong impression. I do think that there are times and places for lecture, provided that it's done well.

In W. McKeachie's. "Teaching Tips," a classic handbook for college teachers, under "What Are Lectures Good For?" they include:

1. Summarizing material scattered over a variety of sources

2. Helping students read more effectively by providing an orientation and conceptual framework

I think that when teachers speak clearly, even enthusiastically, about their area of expertise, it has the effect of not only teaching, but also modeling what it means to be a scholar. And this can be done in a lecture format. When I'm leading a discussion in class, espcially if the question is open-ended, still unresolved, often some student will ask: So where do YOU come out on this? That presents me with the opportunity to explaining my choice, why I have chosen it, how tightly I hold it, etc. Those turn out to be some of my best "lectures."

Yes, Matt, Jesus asked a lot of good questions. And that, by itelf, is a good reason for learning how to do the same thing. But if we're using him as a model, wouldn't we have to include passages like Matthew 5-7?

For a good example of effective lecturing, check out Dr. Paul Bloom teaching Intro. to Psychology at Yale. (Google "Yale Open Courses" and follow the links). His 75-minute lectures are excellent.

Matt said...

I am just swinging the pendulum the other direction as far as I can so that it ends up somewhere in the middle :)