Closing the Gap between Teacher and Learner

Today’s blog post, like those on Mondays, is centered on a quotation from a book. Today I’ve chosen to introduce you to Jossey-Bass, an academic publisher from San Francisco. Jossey-Bass has long been a leader in publishing high-quality (and expensive!) books on education. I am unable to link you to this book because it is out of print at the moment.

From Janet Donald’s book Improving the Environment for Learning, here are her thoughts about closing “the gap” that can exist between teachers and learners. Remember she and her publisher are saying this from a secular vantage point:

In the last thirty to forty years, the distance between teacher and learner has gotten greater and greater, and if you want to improve teaching and learning, you have to put students and teachers closer and closer together. The teacher can then make a much better assessment of what kinds of strategies and approaches are successful with particular kinds of students and vary his or her actions accordingly. All of my experience tells me that to the degree that faculty get to know their students as persons, they find teaching more satisfying. It’s not just that students learn more and like it better if they know their teachers, but that teachers like teaching better if they know their students. That makes for expensive instruction, but it gets results. The inexpensive instruction we so often expediently practice today is a great waste…because it produces so little meaningful results. Its main product may be alienation (p.112).

For those of us who are teaching a Bible study group, we must still contend with the idea of closing the gap between us and our learners. This is not just a challenge for teachers in a secular environment. Closing the gap requires one thing: smaller class sizes. I’ve recently spoken with church leaders who have a philosophy of medium to large-sized Sunday School classes. It would not be unusual to see 75-150 people in these kinds of groups. I know of others who are currently recommending mid-sized groups, and this is a terrible mistake in Sunday School. Jesus did not make disciples by teaching this way. If it worked for making disciples, we’d simply have preaching services and nothing else. We’d also see Jesus preaching to large gatherings of people all the time. We don’t. Instead, you see Christ spending the majority of His waking hours with a small group of men, 12 of them.

Secular education leaders have realized the benefits of smaller groups: enjoyment on the part of the teacher and students, results (learning), relationships, and the ability to tailor teaching to the members of the group. It’s all in the quote above!

If you are the teacher of a large group of adults, students, or kids, consider working with your pastor or other staff leaders to create smaller groups out of your larger group. You and your learners will be glad you did.

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