1960 Can Be Different
This the fifth in a series of Sunday school articles begun in the issue of September 1959. “Five-sense teaching” will be featured next month.
Should Sunday school teachers make New Year’s resolutions? Well, if 1960 is going to be different, there is no alternative to making several!
If we genuinely want to glorify God increasingly in the coming year, we must resolve that we will seek Him with all our hearts as never before, and that we will devote ourselves afresh to Him in the service to which He has called us! (Josh. 24:15. 2 Chron. 34:31. Mic. 6:8. Mal. 3:10).
In the practical aspects of serving the Lord amongst children, there are many ways in which we can express such a spiritual resolve. To resolve, after all, is simply to determine, decide, or to choose; and until we make up our minds that we really want to do a better job for the Lord, the chances are that our Sunday school teaching will never improve; indeed it is liable to degenerate.
As the greatest Teacher of all time, the Lord Jesus Christ is the supreme example to every Sunday school worker today. Outstanding amongst the exemplary characteristics of His teaching technique is the coherence in each lesson that He taught. Amidst the detail, a single central thought provided the essential element of unity throughout every discourse.
To the murmurings of the Pharisees and scribes that “This man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them,” the Lord responded with the classic parables of the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son (Luke 15:1-32). While some considerable detail is given in each of the three stories, throughout the chapter a unifying thought recurs periodically: “Joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth” (v. 7); “There is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth” (v. 10); “They began to be merry … It was meet that we should make merry, and be glad” (v. 24,32).
“One thing at a time” is a maxim as applicable to teaching as to any other human activity, for unity in the lesson facilitates comprehension and strengthens memory. If the student fails to understand and to remember, the so-called teaching is in vain!
To avoid such a tragedy as ineffective teaching of the Scriptures, the teacher must of course be prepared to study his lesson thoroughly and to think it through carefully. The lack of coherence is largely the result of inadequate preparation on the part of the teacher.
Here, then, is the first step that every teacher can take to ensure that 1960 will be different: resolve that no effort will be spared in seeking to prepare each lesson with a single unifying thought. For examples of such coherent teaching, resolve to make a careful study of the parables and other discourses of the Lord Himself, and follow His example week by week.
Just as every Sunday school lesson should have one main objective, so each weekly session as a whole should be characterized by the maximum amount of coherence amongst its various elements.
The correlation of music, Scripture reading, lesson, visual aids, handwork and/or written exercises, memory verse, and Sunday school paper or tract, is a major contribution to more effective learning amongst children.
If the main object of a given lesson were to teach that “God is love,” a chorus on that theme could be taught before the lesson; e.g., “For God so Loved the World.” Then a public reading of I John 4:7-12 might follow, either in the presence of the whole school, or in the individual classes, as deemed appropriate.
The story of the Saviour’s birth might be the lesson chosen to demonstrate (as none other could) that God has manifested His love in the gift of His Son. A visual aid to illustrate the story might be either a flannelgraph or a filmstrip presentation; and the hand-work, a picture-colouring project, at least for the more junior grades.
The memory verse could be John 3:16, and the tract or Sunday school paper might be chosen to carry the same message of God’s love into the home, for the sake of the parents as well as the children.
This kind of correlation in the program provides the repetition so essential to learning, but avoids the monotony of rote. Furthermore, not only does the message reach the individual child through various channels, thus impressing his mind more strongly, but also the varied approach provides an appeal to a wider range of types amongst the group. What appeals to one child may not awaken a good response in another; but with a correlation of elements as described above, there can be no doubt that each child will be reached by at least one approach that appeals to his particular make-up.
Again, however, correlation requires thoughtful preparation on the part of each teacher; and, in addition, co-operation amongst the entire staff. Hence the need for a further resolve that could make 1960 the best year yet!
Often overlooked in a great many classes is one of the most important principles of efficient teaching: namely, that learning is largely proportional to the intensity of the learner’s mental activity in relation to the lesson.
Mental activity is exceedingly low when the child is forced to do nothing but listen, and yet this is the most common approach to our Sunday school work. There is probably no greater single need amongst assembly Sunday school teachers today than the need for a godly resolve to make the pupil’s mental activity increasingly intense.
This is done simply by providing for pupil participation in the lesson, and there are several ways in which this can be done. For example, when a story is told by flannelgraph, the children can participate in the review by sharing in the re-telling of the story and in the re-placing of the figures on the board.
If properly controlled, class discussion can be a useful method of stimulating pupils’ mental activity. Oral questions and written tests on the subject matter taught not only make the children think but also indicate to the teacher how much has been learned.
Work-books and hand-work projects also give opportunity for pupil expression that intensifies mental activity. It is important, of course, that these methods be carefully applied and closely correlated with the main objective of the lesson.
This takes time, effort, thought, care, patience, and godly resolution!
Review and Re-Teaching
Pupils seldom appreciate having a lesson reviewed; but, nevertheless, review is essential if learning is to have any degree of permanence in the child’s mind. Teachers often dislike and overlook this important phase of teaching, thus contributing to the widespread ignorance of Bible truths amongst Sunday school “graduates.”
A thoughtful resolve to take a fresh look at methods of reviewing and re-teaching our Sunday school lessons would help enormously to improve our teaching in 1960.
Most pupils dislike review because it is presented in a dull, uninteresting fashion. Review must be not only frequent and repeated, but also varied and attractive.
Previous lessons must be reviewed again and again if the learning is going to “stick”; but monotonous repetition and “harping” must be avoided like the plague, for they are liable to cancel out even the impressions made by the first teaching.
One of the best methods of review is inherent in the planned curriculum which embraces a series of lessons spread over several months, and preferably over several years. When a lesson is taught as one of a series, there is a natural link between the present and past, and furthermore between the present and future. Re-view thus constitutes a part of the new lesson week by week, and the previous teaching can be consolidated with little or no danger of monotony.
When hymns and choruses are taught as correlated elements in the over-all program of the Sunday school or department, they provide a continuing form of review as they are sung for many months after the original lesson.
Work-books and hand-work projects are often prized and kept by youngsters; thus the lesson is constantly brought to mind again by association.
But in addition to these methods of review which are somewhat implicit, review must also take more explicit forms such as direct questioning. Even here, however, quizzes and tests can be used to introduce the element of interest through pupil participation; thus reinforcing the impressions made in the past.
A continuing effort must also be made through questioning and testing to discover erroneous or inadequate concepts of scriptural truths. When these are found — as they are bound to be if the search is efficient — they must be corrected through a very careful re-teaching of the lesson. This must be done, of course, by using a method to which considerable prayer and thought has been directed so that it will be both interesting and effective.
Lesson unity, program correlation, mental activity, review and re-teaching are all essentials which no spiritually exercised teacher can afford to overlook or neglect. Without them, teaching is inadequate and therefore fails to glorify God. With them, 1960 not only can be, but will be, very different indeed!
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The water without the ship may toss it; but it is the water within the ship that sinks it. Because we have “fightings without” there is no need to have “fears within.”