This was a real ‘aha!’ moment

Barbara L’s First Story
Barbara L’s Second Story
Bryan’s Story
Ingeborg’s Story
Ross’s Story
Silke’s Story
Terry’s Story
Vreni’s Story
Wolfgang's First Story

 

Barbara L’s First Story

A Geologist was trying to teach me how to view a black and white aerial photograph of Norway as more than the flat lines and shading it appeared to be.

He instructed me to place two nearly identical photographs so that they overlapped slightly. I was then to peer through a view finder. As I did this I fell silent, struggling to see more than I had without the instruction.

His excited, “Can you see it yet?” prompted an attempt at an appreciative response, "Yes I think so". My words were rejected out of hand, “No, you obviously can't”. This dialogue happened several times with me getting more and more frustrated. I was sure that the image really did look clearer and features became more interesting as I focused on details. Although he was endlessly patient, nothing convinced him I could see what I was supposed to. There was also an irritating suggestion of amusement creeping into his tone.

Suddenly it happened. Some of the photo rose out of the paper and other parts fell away dramatically. It was breathtaking. I was seeing every steep crevasse and fjord, the sharp ascents and jagged peaks. I almost experienced a sense of vertigo as the picture took shape before my eyes. All I said over and over was “Wow, oh wow!” At last, my friend said “Good, you can see it” but I was too captivated to take much notice. This experience gave me a small taste of the thrill when something of a personal revelation transcends every other attempt to understand what is taught. The memory lasts.

 

Barbara L’s Second Story

At an HMI conference, a speaker held up a Perspex cube made up of compartments arranged in a sort of maze.  There were small openings between compartments through which a small ball bearing could pass. It was an illustration of the school curriculum and the parts making up the whole. He then showed us a living sponge with each part growing from and into the other. “This is what the curriculum should be like”, he said quietly and almost wistfully. “Organically connected and exciting”. I realised that if the curriculum was an expression of God's integrated creation, it could begin to be everything the speaker longed for it to be. From that moment over 20 years ago I have enjoyed and explored the creativity involved in the whole process of curriculum design.

 

Bryan’s Story (Surely it’s not the same person ...)

It happened in a classroom seven years ago, 20th May, 2002 to be precise. Over the preceding twelve weeks, my Year 9 Christian Studies class had been reading and ‘studying’ Mark’s Gospel. These 14- and 15-year-old boys and girls were not a particularly religious group. Of the twenty four in the class, only four came from a family which had any association with a Christian church.

Inspired in part by Philip Yancey’s book “The Jesus I Never Knew,” I had invited the students to assume the persona of first century journalist covering the life of Jesus from Mark 1 through to chapter 16. Their task was to file multiple stories based on imaginary interviews conducted with Jesus, each of his disciples and with each of the individuals and representatives of the groups he encountered.

With two fifty-five minute lessons each week, we had action-filled twelve weeks. Every student remained engaged with the gospel. They learned much about the customs of the people whom Jesus met; they were, at times, astounded by the way Jesus spoke to some people. But it was their very frank and unflattering assessment of Jesus’ disciples that I remember most clearly. Thinking that Mark might have had a prejudiced view towards them, they dipped into the accounts given by Luke, John and Matthew to see if there was not another side to their character, behaviour and evidence of learning. “Why are they so stupid,” some asked. “If Jesus has told them once, he’s told them a dozen times who he is and what he is about, but they still can’t get it and want to squabble amongst themselves as to which of them is or will be the greatest.”

So when it came to Peter’s denial of Jesus just prior to his crucifixion, they were beside themselves in amazement and disappointment at how he could be so cowardly and double-faced. We left Mark’s gospel with many positive insights into the person of Jesus, but not too complimentary a view of the disciples, especially Peter and Judas.

Our next Unit was based on the Acts of the Apostles. This time I decided to use the great speeches (though a more conventional teacher might refer to them as sermons) as the vehicle through which to learn how the gospel was spread after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension. I decided to do a dramatic reading of Peter’s speech in Acts 2 using JB Phillips’ paraphrase. The students listened attentively. Indeed this was the most attentive they had ever been. At the end of the final sentence there was absolute silence. It was as if we were reliving the actual event – till one boy raised his hand and exclaimed: “surely this is not the same Peter we encountered in Mark’s gospel!” To which another four or five students added, “he’s a new person ... his life has been changed ... do you think, Sir that the resurrection of Jesus might have led to this ... or was it the coming of God’s Spirit.”

If ever there was an ‘aha!’ moment, surely this was it!

 

Emilia’s Story

It was a regular 11th grade class. Besides teaching Literature to the students, my task as a form tutor was to discuss and offer them some reference points on different topics such as personal skill development, health issues, cultural values, human rights, sustainable future, etc.

The main theme for the weekly meeting was the right to life / the right to death as fundamental concepts of our society, and the debate was on abortion. In fact, it did not really seem to be a debate, because everyone in the classroom seemed to share the same perspective, based on biblical principles. Pleased to observe their mature approach, their ability to discern the truth, I even got a sense of relief thinking that such an issue could not affect them directly, since their choices would be the right ones, from the beginning.

Then one of the boys asked for the permission to say a few things and he started his testimony with an astonishing statement, which put the whole matter into a different perspective: “If I am standing here in front of you, it’s because 17 years ago my mother decided not to have an abortion. She was exactly my age, an excellent student at the best high school in town, just a few months before graduation and college admission, when she became pregnant”. Her whole world was turned upside down, her promising future compromised. She had to face everything alone, ostracized even by her parents, who insisted that an abortion was the only choice.

Listening to the thrilling confession, I felt overwhelmed by a deep sense of responsibility. The boy who was talking was one of the most intelligent pupils I met in my career, a lovely teenager, a dedicated Christian, a born leader, involved in the children’s ministry at his church, full of compassion, with a cheerful spirit, always ready to help and to encourage. He went on to graduate from high school, he also graduated from a Bible Institute, then he got a Master’s degree in theology at a British university. Now he is working in the mission field, being also involved in translating and editing theology books and devotional literature. God is leading and using him in a tremendous way.

Commentary

The story creates the opportunity to talk about choices and consequences, to reconsider the way one teaches certain topics; what looks like a simple issue for the teacher might be a matter of life and death for a pupil – an approach with humility seems to be the best option.

Right decisions may be tough, but their ultimate consequences should be considered and discussed; because there is more to a thing than saying “it is right / it is wrong”.

What a loss if …! How many special moments, how much beauty and joy, how many transformed lives would have been missing just if …!

When facing such living miracles, I keep telling myself: I am not allowed to be superficial, to fail in giving the best to the others, in serving “as for the Lord”.

 

Ingeborg’s Story (Prayer as an Important Aspect in Christian Literature)

In forms 12 and 13 at our secondary state school at Herzberg am Harz, I often dealt with the subject of  family life in the English language courses. The pupils were given the tasks of comprehension, analysis of theme, characters, structure and style, comparison of the views of family life held by different persons in the selected texts.

In one form when the pupils had already read some chapters of the novel “When breaks the Dawn” by Janette Oke, a Canadian Christian authoress, I asked them what struck them most. Some were enthusiastic about the author's descriptions of nature, others loved the kindness of the main male character towards his wife, some others admired the courage of a civilized woman following her husband into the wilderness.

One girl remained in a reflective mood, but then spoke in a voice revealing how much she was moved in her heart by what she had discovered in the novel, “I am so astonished to find out that Wynn and Elisabeth Delaney pray very often, in almost every situation, about all their concerns. In the drama ‘Look back in Anger’ by John Osborne the young people do not pray, on the contrary, the young angry husband mocks at the church and all it stands for.”

This girl focusing on prayer spoke so frankly and without any fear of possible negative reactions of her classmates. The girls and boys listened with respect and curiosity. One courageous girl had taken the first step and thus opened the door for me and for her classmates to have a close look at the exciting adventure of prayer in the lives of the characters in the novel.

This special girl deserved to get the first chance to speak a bit more about what impressed her, before I opened the discussion to the whole class. To help the pupils penetrate more profoundly into a subject seldom dealt with in courses of literature I thought that a guided interpretation would be appropriate and dictated a few sentences. The pupils got some time for quiet study and for writing down their discoveries so that also the slower ones had the chance of offering some results. Then I asked them to exchange what they had written with one another for mutual appreciation, correction and comments. Later, as many results as possible were read aloud and discussed. The pupils recognized the prayers as revealing a lot about the characters' faith and confidence in God, their close contact with God in all vital parts of daily life, in joyful and difficult situations.

 

Ross’s Story

As a teacher in a small Christian school, about five years ago, I was in the unusual position where I could teach the same Geography topic to two groups of pupils aged 13-14. Having recently attended a training course which focussed on learning styles, I decided to teach the one group in a more formal and traditional style and gave the other group the opportunity to follow the same unit of work but gave them much more freedom to work in a way that suited themselves, having previously talked to them about learning styles. They could make their own notes, use diagrams, colour etc with the intention of encouraging them to develop their own learning styles.

The results were very revealing. The second group worked harder and produced the more creative work, work that was worthy of display, but they did not necessarily complete the set targets. The first group generally completed the work set but then sat back and waited for the next instruction. They were passive learners, completing the work but no more. Within the groups, gender differences also appeared, the boys completing the work in the shorter time with less interest in presentation and the girls presenting work much more attractively, albeit with an over-use of ‘pinks’ and ‘glitter’ pens!

In order to complete the unit with an assessment (with a parents’ evening in mind!), I gave them the same ‘formal test’, Group A, the formally taught group, scored better on specific factual questions but less well on the more open ended questions.  Group B who had presented the work as they wished scored better on the open-ended questions, giving much fuller answers. The exercise has brought home very clearly how differently we can set tasks and assess students, and has raised the issue of fairness in terms of the tasks set, given the differing abilities of the students.

This example from personal experience above brought into focus the question of how do we assess, in order to take account of different learning styles and fairness  and whether by writing reports or giving verbal reports, how do we convey our conclusions to the students in an understandable way, which is meaningful and honest. 

It has shifted me towards more reflection on activities set and on the use of alternative ways to assess. I see the need to introduce more opportunities for the pupils to use their own styles, to get over the novelty of a different approach and to encourage the students to understand that there are different ways to assess, and they need to take them seriously. It was a quite unexpected learning experience for the teacher!

Commentary

Teaching in a variety of ways expresses the belief that God makes us different and that is something that our teaching can reflect. It is not making pupils selfish for they will not always be taught in the way that they like best. Students learn graciousness by knowing that the way they are being taught today may not be their favourite style but it will suit someone else. Assessment matters - what you have just taught can be under-mined by the method you use to assess it.

 

Silke’s Story

I was writing a reinterpretation of the Montessori method. I had been taught that the different aspects of the method used helped children to learn better. However, reading about the philosophy behind the method made me realise that some aspects reflected more the underlying philosophy rather than a good teaching method in itself. This led me to my still continuing search for teaching and learning styles that best suit the biblical worldview.

Commentary

Realising that Montessori expressed her worldview through how things were done made me look at pedagogy. I had been so focussed on worldview and content that I had not really thought about pedagogy. I, as a learner, needed time to think and reflect in order to discover this. Learners need this too. Pedagogy is much more than method, it is a way of being and it makes a difference.

 

Terry’s Story

I was in the Southern States of USA working with teachers on method. One wanted to teach the difference between right and left and used cut-outs of each hand with right and left written on them. I then turned over each hand and suddenly she realised the right and left became the opposite. This transformed her perception that what looked like a closed piece of teaching with a clear outcome depended on how you looked at the issues. Perception was critical. This influenced her understanding of the race issue. It wasn’t words that communicated this, but flipping a piece of paper worked.

 

Vreni’s Story

I was teaching a class with children with learning disabilities. We studied geese and how they behave. We talked about the V-formation when they fly and how it is a very efficient way of flying. If a bird is injured, others stay with it.  The birds at the back come up to relieve the one at the front. They also change the leader of the formation. This really helped with teaching cooperation to the class. The children were really impressed by the geese. An ADHD boy could work better when he sat next to the geese.

Commentary

This showed that pedagogy is community. Seeing and working with animals and birds brought home lessons about human relationships.

Wolfgang’s First Story

Patrick Spottiswoode is the pedagogical director of the New Globe Theatre in London. One of our English teachers had heard about him and invited him to our school. The first thing he did was to give a 90-minute lecture on Shakespeare to all the older students (about 200). A lecture?  Mr Spottiswoode didn’t use any of the new audiovisual devices. The only devices he made use of were his voice, his gestures and facial expression. And he used all the space that was available. He didn’t just stick to the stage of the school hall, no, he walked through the auditorium, addressed individual students and teachers. He didn’t talk abouthistory, he made us enter Shakespeare’s world and made us forget the centuries between the Bard’s Age and ours. I have never experienced a shorter lecture that lasted one hour and a half. This was followed by a workshop: Hamlet, Act I, scene 1. I still remember Spottiswoode’s directives: Act frightened. Act cold. Act dark. Make the guard’s question “Who’s there?” believable in a room where there is neither darkness nor fog.

I learned at least two things that day: A lecture can be breathtaking. And Shakespeare can be fun. Whenever I teach Shakespeare to a new class I start with Hamlet Act 1, Scene 1 and with act dark, act cold, act frightened. And when everyone can see apprehension in the guards’ faces in brightly lit darkness, I know that the door to the world of Shakespeare is opening to yet another group of students.