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Direct the Learning Focus
The first question we ask when we approach any educational experience is “What do I want my learners to learn?” It may seem a no-brainer, but I submit that this question is often overlooked. Instead (and I’m speaking as a pastor here), the primary question we often fall back on in the parish is “What am I going to teach?”
Why is this such a dangerous question? It’s problematic not only because it’s me-centered (i.e., it isn’t focused on the learners) but also because it confuses what success looks like. If your focus for an educational opportunity is what you’re going to teach, then success looks like you covering material or leading activities. Instead, ask yourself what you want the learners to know and be able to do by the end of the session, class, or devotion. If you do this first, then you can properly ask, “How will I know if the learners learned anything?” This question will help you look to results and truly direct the learning focus.
Tips for Success
So, when preparing to direct a learning focus, ask yourself these two questions:
- What specifically do I want my learners to know or be able to do by the end of this?
- How will I know or measure what’s been learned?
Consider some of these tips to help you enrich your parish educational setting as you tackle these two questions:
- Try to be as specific as possible in thinking through or writing out these objectives before the event starts. Begin by thinking of just one objective per event. Use phrases like “the learners will remember . . .” or “the learners will be able to reflect upon this [Bible verse] and share their reflections out loud with one other person.” Repeating these phrases may feel silly at first, but doing so will help get your attention away from your teacher activities and focused back on the learners and their engagement.
- Begin with God’s Word. (As Lutheran Christian educators, this should be a natural thing to do.) Read over the text or idea you want to teach, and think about what kinds of objectives would work best for understanding the big ideas behind it. Put yourself in your learners’ shoes.
- Do an online search for “educational objectives” if you’re stuck on how to phrase those objectives. Seriously. Sometimes it’s good to jog the brain and get a good word that’s useful, attainable, and directive in order to better guide and direct the learning focus.
- Consider how you’ll assess learning. Many people are afraid of assessment, but it’s an important way that teachers and learners communicate. In the parish, we have a great opportunity to teach self-assessment. This occurs when learners are educated on how to reflect on what they are learning without fear of test grades. Put yourself in your learners’ shoes once again and consider how they could demonstrate their learning.
- Search online for “formative assessments,” if you are stuck for how to check what has been learned. These are sort of on-the-fly checks for understanding. Teachers post online lots of strategies. Do a quick search for something that’s age appropriate for your learners. Then try matching the assessment tool to your learning objective(s) for your lesson.
- Remember that time and effort are usually limited. So if you want to check for understanding in a group, keep it simple. If your objective revolves around the learners remembering something, try having them write it down on a piece of paper. If the objective is for the learners to reflect on a text, give them time to actually reflect (in their heads or on paper). Again, you can make the assessment as complex as you’d like, but don’t be afraid to keep it simple.
In a later step of the process of teaching and learning, there will be a place for teacher feedback. It doesn’t all have to happen in this stage. What should be emphasized, though, is what you want the learners to know by the end of the lesson or activity. Then consider how they’ll be able to demonstrate that learning for themselves and for you.
Hopefully this helps your thought process. Next, I’ll provide some examples of practical learning experiences for use in the parish.
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