Moving Adults Toward Deeper Levels of Learning in Sunday School

Wednesday 12th December, 2007

Our Lord has commanded us to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19-20). In order to for Sunday School to be an effective tool for the church to use in the process of developing disciples, teachers must move adults toward deeper levels of learning. Discipling for life-change requires "teaching them to obey" which is more than teaching them to know.

I like what Christina Crawley said in an article entitled Powerful Teaching Practices for Spiritual Transformation. She offered some advice for pastors and Sunday School directors working with teachers:

Once Bible study teachers gain an understanding of who they are teaching by getting to know the needs and characteristics of the learners, lead them to develop dynamic teaching skills. Bible study leaders need to understand the type of learning they want to take place in the Sunday School class so that learners can adequately apply biblical knowledge to life situations.

Crawley shared that Lawrence Richards and Gary Bredfeldt identify five different levels of learning transfer in their book, Creative Bible Teaching. Their five levels are in all capitals followed by my commentary:

  • ROTE LEVEL. This is communicating primarily biblical facts. Learning is primarily done through listening and memorization. I agree with Crawley when she said, "Much of the learning in our Sunday Schools begins and ends here." Many teachers dump content through lecture and expect learners to figure out what to do with it. Spiritual transformation begins here but does not stay here. Application: summaries are helpful and review can reinforce.
  • RECOGNITION LEVEL. This moves a bit beyond rote level. I like Crawley's illustration here: "It is at this level for instance that a song title can be recalled after hearing the music or lyrics." It is recalling something that has been previously learned. It includes connecting things learned. Application: good questions (beyond yes, no, or one-word answers) during review can include the recognition level.
  • RESTATEMENT LEVEL. This level is more than repeating what has been learned. It is paraphrasing learning--putting it into their own words. It is understanding what was learned well enough to share it with someone, to use what was learned in life outside the classroom. Application: pair off attenders and have them restate what was learned.
  • RELATION LEVEL. At this level, learners start to understand that biblical truth relates to life and more importantly to their own life. Application becomes more concrete. This begins frequently with an examination of how the truth applied in the lives of the original actors and hearers in the biblical drama. A second step is to examine how the truth applies in circumstances today. Again, I liked Crawley's statement: "Biblical learning that has not reached the relation level is inadequate." Application: lead attenders to explore the possibilities for connections with their own lives.
  • REALIZATION LEVEL. At this point, the learner has heard, understood, and assimilated the biblical truth into his/her mindset and practice. They know how and why and are committed to doing it. The learner knows how to adapt the learning in real life situations. And they not only know how to do so, they actually do it!
Evaluate your last lesson. How much of it was Rote? How much of it was Recognition or Restatement? How much was Relation or Realization? If we are going to be agents of change in the lives of the disciples in our classes, we must move them to deeper levels of learning. How can you do so in your next lesson? Don't teach them to know; teach them to obey! Be revolutionary!

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