Educators today, whether Christian or secular, realize that people learn differently. Some of us learn best when we incorporate movement into our learning. We may listen to a lecture as we exercise. Movement helps us process information. Others of us are inclined to learn best through reading and writing. Give us a book, let us mark it up with underlined sections and notes in the margins, and we will thrive at learning.
Now, if you are an educator, think about how you tend to teach? Do you enjoy lecturing? Then you are probably the kind of person who learns best through this medium. Do you incorporate movement into your teaching? Then you likely prefer to learn through movement. We tend to teach the way we prefer to learn.
But this creates a problem. Not everyone learns the way we do. And this shouldn’t surprise us. The Bible makes it clear that we are all unique individuals formed and created by God (Ps 139). This includes the way in which we learn.
So how can we teach so that each of our students can experience genuine learning? Differentiated instruction is an approach to planning so that one lesson is taught to the entire class while meeting the individual needs of the students. Differentiated instruction is necessary because students are unique, in that, they have different strengths and weaknesses, and they bring their individual learning backgrounds to bear on any number of subject matters.
The Bible provides us with an example of the Master Teacher doing this very thing. Jesus chose multiple ways to affirm to his disciples that he had been raised from the dead. In Luke 24:13-35 we find Jesus on the road to Emmaus speaking with two unidentified disciples. Jesus uses Old Testament Scripture to show them that the things that happened to him, his arrest, trial, and crucifixion, were necessary. He does this while walking along with them. Later, he breaks bread and blesses it before these two disciples. He uses something they experienced in the past (Jesus blessing and breaking bread) to help them learn a truth about him. After having done this their eyes were opened and they recognized that the person they were talking to was the Lord. Later still (24:36-49), Jesus presents himself to all of his disciples. He asks them to touch him to see that he is really their among them. His body is real, although glorified. He asks them to look at him, and he even eats a piece of fish in front of them, in order to show them that he was bodily raised from the dead. He used each of these appeals to their senses, and perhaps the various learning preferences of the disciples, in order for them to realize he is the risen Christ of God.
As Sunday school teachers and small group leaders, the truths that we communicate to those in our care are of eternal importance. We need to make every effort to deliver the truths of Scripture in a manner that speaks to each individual person.
When you plan to teach do you take into consideration the uniqueness of each of your students preferred learning styles? What sorts of things do you do to help your students learn (differentiate instruction)?
Keith Marriner joined LifeSprings in 2009 and serves as executive editor of all IPHC Sunday school curriculum. Prior to that he served at Emmanuel College in a variety of roles, including admissions counselor and adjunct professor in the School of Christian Ministries. He received a B.A. in Christian ministries from Emmanuel College and an M.Div. and a Th.M. from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is currently pursuing an Ed.D. in Christian Education from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. Keith resides in Franklin Springs, GA with his wife Jennifer and their two daughters, Cora and Eleanor.