“Teaching Naked” in the Church, Idea #2: Focusing Class/Group Time on Interacting with and Applying What We Learn

This is the third in a series of four blogs on José Bowen’s book, Teaching Naked: How Moving Technology Out of Your College Classroom Will Improve Student Learning (Jossey-Bass, 2012). I shared in my first blog that his main thrust was for teachers to use technology to deliver content outside of class sessions and shift the use of class time to processing that information, promoting critical thinking and the application of knowledge to real life situations. There are three ideas from Bowen’s work that I think have the potential of deepening the impact of our teaching in the church. In my second blog, I put the focus on his first idea, finding ways to use technology to provide content to group members, preparing them for active learning in your Bible study group. In this blog, I want to focus on how to use your class time to help students in processing and applying the content of the Scripture you are studying together.

Bowen’s perspective is that because technology can deliver content well to our students, it can free the teacher up to use class time to lead students in reflecting on the content, its relevance to the group, and consider ways it can be appropriately applied in students’ lives. He shares an observation that most of us understand to be true, yet we don’t always allow it to shape our approach to teaching.

Delivering content alone has virtually no effect on students’ beliefs about the world. Students can memorize data that conflict with their beliefs, but without active engagement with the new material, in the form of discussions, writing, debates, projects, and hands-on application, they do not really confront the implications of the new content. (p. 92)

Does knowing the content of a Bible passage automatically impact students’ beliefs about the world? Does rote memorization of Scripture verses cause student attitudes and behaviors to change? Too often this is not the case, and a reliance on just getting students familiar with the Scriptures will not in itself lead to the transformation of their lives toward greater obedience to God. The challenge is that too often our group time is taken up with reading and understanding the meaning of the Scripture we are studying, with little to no time left for reflection and prayer together to help us discern where and how it ought to make a difference in our lives. Bowen believes that class time should mainly be reserved for processing the content the group is focusing on, not being introduced to it.

We need to adjust our classrooms to focus less on content and more on application of material to new contexts, development of intellectual curiosity, investment in the material, evaluation, synthesis, challenging personal beliefs, development of higher level cognitive processing, oral and written communication skills, construction and negotiation of meaning, information literacy, connection of information across disciplines, teamwork, and reflection on the significance of content. (p. 21)

It is in these kinds of interactive activities, with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, that deep, transformative learning can take place. This is where old understandings get challenged, old patterns get exposed and evaluated, new possibilities are imagined, new insights into self emerge, and new desires to live more faithfully are nurtured. This takes time, and if our current use of group time does not allow for this kind of interaction and application, then we are short-circuiting the learning process.

In my last blog I wrote about ways of using e-mail, social media, and Google searches to help group members read and become familiar with the Scripture that the group will be studying when they meet together. This can free up the group’s meeting time for more reflection, sharing insights and questions, and exploring the implications of the passage for their walk with God in their daily lives. When this is done, it can give a new motivation to come and study together. As Bowen shared,

Nothing has more potential to eliminate boredom and create an incentive for students to come to class than a complete rethinking of the use of class time, overhauling it from a passive listening experience into a transformative learning environment. (p. 185)

Here are a few ideas for using your group time well for reflecting on implications and application together, making it more of a transformative learning experience:

  1. Pray for discernment together: Begin with inviting God to teach you through his Word, to help you both understand the importance and value of what the Scripture teaches, and to better understand how He wants to use it to help you grow to be more like Christ. Prayer helps set your focus and builds expectations of God’s work among you.
  2. Begin with clarification questions: Take time to review quickly the main message(s) of the passage, and to help group members better understand any aspects that are unclear or challenging to them. Invite their questions about the meaning of the text. Come prepared to help them with aspects that may be difficult to understand.
  3. Invite the identification of relevant connections: In light of the group’s growing understanding of the text, encourage them to prayerfully reflect on areas of their own lives, or the church in its community, where they see the relevance of the Scripture for better obedience. What connections do they see? Explore these together, including ones that you may have identified as you were preparing to teach/lead the group. Keep taking the group back to the passage and its meaning to help in sifting out those connections that are clear and strong from those that do not really fit the meaning and message of the passage.
  4. Explore implications of the passage: For the connections identified by the group, take time to explore together the implications of the passage for faithful living. Here are some example questions you might use: How does the message of this passage challenge you? If you were to desire to live it out more faithfully, what would need to change? What help would you need from God, or from others in this group?
  5. Encourage the development and sharing of personal convictions: It is one thing to identify the implications of a passage, and another to act upon them. From the various implications shared within your group, which ones are group members willing to seek God’s help to pursue? Encourage your students to share what they feel convicted to do as an appropraite response to God’s teaching.
  6. Pray for empowerment: Bible study together is not a “self-help” group. Instead, it is God’s people gathered to learn from his Word and, in light of it, live more faithfully with God’s help. Pray for each other, that God will guide you, give you opportunity to put into practice what you have discerned, and empower you to do it, trusting him for the results.
  7. Revisit when you meet again: Finally, prayer is not where the lesson stops. Follow up is key for learning and for putting new life patterns into practice.

In my next blog, the last in this series, I’ll talk about ways to follow up on the lesson to promote both faithful application, and deepening learning over time. As Paul said in Romans 12:2, we are to be transformed by the renewal of our minds, testing and discerning God’s will, learning that which is good, acceptable, and perfect. This does not come all at once, but through obedience over time. More about this in the next blog.