Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life. Put away from you crooked speech, and put devious talk far from you.
I am sure you are aware that teaching is a decision-making process. When you plan a lesson, you must decide such things as how to organize, how much of a story to tell, what visual aids to use, how to involve the children and how much time to spend on an activity. You make these decisions with the intention that all elements of your plan will result in children grasping the point of the lesson.
Decision-making does not stop while the lesson is being carried out. During the lesson, you must continue to adjust your plan such as tailoring the plan to the classroom circumstances, leaving something out, inserting another idea or activity, responding to management needs or using a teachable moment. You make these decisions with the same intention you had in the planning stage.
Just because you must adjust your initial plan while teaching does not mean that the planning part is unimportant and that you should begin teaching without any preparation. Rather, it means that you should carefully plan according to the specific group of children you are serving while realizing that the demands of interacting in a classroom always require ongoing processing, decision-making and adjustments. Let’s apply this to an example:
You plan to teach a lesson on the books of the Bible, and you plan on holding up your Bible and asking, “Who wrote the Bible?” Since your class is quite smart, you assume that the answer will be “God!” You can then confirm this and it will serve as a great lead into discussing the books of the Bible. However, when you actually carry out the plan and ask, “Who wrote the Bible?” the response is made up of a few “Gods,” some blank looks and one voice saying, “A bunch of people.” At this point you must decide how you will handle this circumstance. Will you just go on and use your planned confirmation, “Yes, God wrote the Bible” and assume the children will catch on? Will you deal with the blank looks and find out what they know or don’t know and adjust your teaching to them? Will you ignore the “bunch of people” comment or respond to it now?
There is no best answer. You, as the teacher, must be the decision-maker. As you evaluate the circumstances, you must figure out what will promote the most learning and growth in the children. Notice the emphasis on children and not on carrying out the plan the way you designed it no matter what. Nor is the emphasis on throwing away your plan entirely and simply responding to whatever happens. The solution is to do what will be most beneficial to the learning of your children; and that could be anything from stopping the lesson and reviewing right at that moment or moving on and doing follow up next week.
This brings me to a related topic. All teaching decisions involve a trade-off. There are no perfect choices. For instance, if you choose to have children look up and read Scripture as part of the lesson, it may be good practice for them and make the lesson more meaningful. The
trade-off is the amount of time required to do that in contrast to simply using an overhead read by the teacher. Or, if you choose to lecture, time might be saved and more information covered. The trade-off may be that your students lose interest and you have less confirmation about what the children have learned. In light of this, your goal is to make the best trade-off possible in order to promote the most learning and growth in children. In fact, this is the key to everything whenever and wherever decision-making and the balancing of trade-offs occurs: promoting the most learning and growth in the children.
Reflecting on your own teaching can be either profitable or disastrous. It is profitable when your focus is on assessing the efficiency or effectiveness of a particular activity, the impact of a story, the clarity of directions or the use of your voice. For example, after a lesson, using the question and answer approach, you might reflect on such questions as:
Were the questions I asked appropriate in helping the children learn what I wanted them to learn?
Did the discussion stay on track or did it get side-tracked and end up on “rabbit trails?”
Did my approach retain the children’s attention and get them involved?
Or, after telling a Bible story, you might reflect on the following questions:
Did I tell the story in enough detail to make the point?
Did I use my voice to promote involvement and interest?
Were the visual aids helpful in keeping the children’s attention?
Reflection like this after the class is over allows you to assess what needs to be altered and what can be kept.
Using the example of the question and answer approach, let’s pretend that during reflection you are considering whether the entire class could hear the answers to the questions. You realize that you are not sure. Therefore, you should make some personal notes so that adjustments in volume can be made the next time you use the question and answer approach. For instance, you could have the children speak louder, repeat their answers, write the answers on the board or employ a combination of all three. Remember that there will be trade-offs. The trade-off here might be that more time is required for questions and answers. So, you must assess whether this is a good or a bad trade.
Often a very valuable source of information about the effectiveness of your lesson is another person’s feedback. Their feedback will be based on what the person sees and hears when he or she watches you teach. This can be very helpful in confirming the things that were effective and should be re-used; or you receive insight into what needs to be adjusted. When someone observes you, they ask the same kinds of questions that you ask of yourself during personal reflection. It will be more profitable if you ask for feedback before you teach so that the observer will know what to look for in the lesson. Also, you should limit the number of areas that you want them to evaluate; otherwise, the whole process will become overwhelming for both of you. Your follow-up discussion with the observer should be entered with an attitude of openness, knowing that the information is valuable for reflection and not merely negative criticism. The observer should help you in this by giving feedback with a sensitive attitude, rather than one of condemnation.
Beginning to be aware of how to make effective decisions, considering the trade-offs and using focused reflection with input from others will result in significant and satisfying growth for you as a teacher.