Addressing Active Sunday School Learners Through Projects

Sunday 2nd September, 2007

Today, learners may have hands-on experiences at work, at school, and in conferences. But often when they come to Sunday School, they experience our motto: "Sit still while I instill." We lecture. We may spice up lecture with a little question & answer or discussion. One of the problems is that learning by hearing only results in about 20% retention within 72 hours. Of course, when we "say and do" what we are learning, retention goes up to 90%.

And even increasing participation through question & answer or discussion still does not address the fact that these are verbal methods. Some learners are visual and others are kinesthetic (active). They enjoy and learn more through teaching methods which are visual or active than ones that are verbal. Interestingly, it is often easier to address two or more of these types of learners than only one.

One method that can involve elements of all three learning styles is the use of projects. Kenneth Gangel wrote an article entitled Using Projects in Teaching. The article contains lots of practical suggestions and ideas. I love his illustration in the fourth paragraph about how the project method is used frequently in university education classes. In order to prepare students to be teachers, it is necessary to give them lots of hand-on, demonstration projects. And in Sunday School, we should be preparing the learners to live as disciples of Jesus Christ. We should help them to practice what they are learning. We should hold them accountable to practice it in their daily walks.

Gangel lists five types of projects that had been shared in an interesting way by his former colleague, Elmer Towns:

  1. Search-out-the-experience-of-others project. Illustration: read about others who baptized;
  2. Seek-the-factors-of-an-experience project. Illustration: analyze the steps of baptizing;
  3. Recreate-the-experience project. Illustration: diagram a specific baptizing situation;
  4. Observe-the-experience project. Illustration: watch a baptism; and
  5. Go-through-the-experience project. Illustration: baptize someone.

Take a moment to evaluate each of the five types of projects listed. Which are verbal? Which are visual? Which are active? From which of these five project types would more learning take place? The first one appears to be more visual (reading). The second appears to be more verbal (assuming discussion in analyzing). The third is visual and active (sketching a diagram). The fourth is visual and verbal (listening counts). And the fifth is visual, verbal, and active. Most likely the fifth type of project would produce more learning. But what if you did all five types in a month? Can you imagine the learning?

Gangel says that "the project has two dimensions: the learning process which results from the participation, and the end result which has value to the class and/or other people." Again, projects can be valuable in bonding learners and in leading learners to become practicing disciples of Jesus Christ! We want to lead them to meet God in Bible study, struggle with and apply the truths of His Word to their lives, and to change as a result. Projects can be great tools for learning, interaction, and practicing for application.

Gangel closes the article with principles for effective use of projects. He suggests three: preparation, encouragement and resource, and evaluation. (1) Make sure you prepare for the project well. Gather resources. Understand th e process. Count the cost. (2) Then, offer encouragement as the group works on the project and provide the resources necessary to accomplish it. (3 ) Remember to debrief the project with the group. Lead them to assess the project and what they learned from it. Lead them to take the next step to live it!

Do more than lecture! Discover more about your learners. Engage more of their senses. Seek to increase their learning retention. Get them involved. Set up projects. Be revolutionary!

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