Adaptive Teaching (27-1)

Adaptive Teaching
Roberta Hestenes

Great teachers give attention to the little things that make for a valuable learning. I Corinthians 9:19-23

A veteran Christian educator. Roberta Hestenes has spent decades preaching, teaching, and training others to communicate the truths to all levels of listeners. Below she sets forth six principles for a great adult-education class.

1. Treat adults as adults. This obvious point is, unfortunately, sometimes overlooked. In one church a teacher whose class was practically evaporating before her eyes came to me in a panic and asked for my help. I visited her class as an observer and in the First minute I knew exactly what was wrong. Her tone was patronizing her word choice condescending. Together, they were like a Fingernail on a chalkboard. No wonder tinder her class was evaporating!

Of course there’s more to treating adults like adults than voice or teaching style. The room itself must respect adult tastes. As we look at our churches we must ask ourselves, is this a place where adults would enjoy gathering and spending time together? Does it look clean and comfortable? Are the aesthetics pleasing to adult sensibilities?

2. Diagnose needs. I am constantly in the process of examining where my people are and what they need. There are three primary ways I do that.
Interviews. I suggest that people from various categories in the congregation he interviewed and asked questions like:

• In the last two years have you undergone a transition, change, or crisis? Flow might the church have helped you to cope and grow during that time’?
• What stage are you at in your spiritual pilgrimage? Beginner? Stumbling along? Mature. How can the church help you grow as Christian?
• What are some needs your acquaintances have that the church could address? I low could we equip you to meet them?
• When the answers are gathered, they shed a great deal of light on how to best teach adults so that their needs are addressed.

Pretests. Another way to diagnose needs is with a pretest. The first Sunday of a new series, I often give a little test that lets me know the general level of biblical understanding in the group.
For example. I might give the class a live-minute quiz, asking them to define a few key concepts from the book of Romans. This helps me to know whether I need to do factual teaching or can move on to application.

Observation. Too often we only look at the size of the class after it’s full. At that point, it looks like a community because e\ cry chair is full. But when I notice how those chairs were filled. I learn a lot about nib class. For example, based on how adults enter a room and where they sit, I can pick up signals about how well people know each other, whether or not the class is a little “eliquish,” or if this group is comfortable with itself.

3. Involve the learners in planning their own learning. The effective courses always begin this way. Several years ago. I was preparing to teach a course on women in transition. Although I had taught this subject a number of times and considered myself an “expert,” I decided to involve the learners in the planning process. I’m glad I did.

I had originally planned the class for 20 women, but by the time the planning was through and we had shaped a class about the unique specific needs of’ women in our church, word had gotten around 110 women signed up. Planning with people helps them stay in control of the learning process helping them address their concerns.

4. Make adults responsible for their learning. I avoid coaxing adults into learning. Instead, I make them responsible for the learning they want to do, I might begin a class on John’s Gospel by saying, “There are three levels at which you can take this class: Level One: You can come and receive whatever is presented. Just be willing to enter into the discussion. Level Two: As you take this class. You will read a commentary on John. Level Three: Bring a notebook and plan to do your daily devotions and meditations in John. You may even want to do your family des devotions in this book.”

Then I hand out a simple questionnaire and ask people to make a commitment.

This way I get a sense of the overall character of the class. If I have a class full of people who just want to sit and absorb. I structure the curriculum to meet their needs. Other times I may have seven people who want to work with the commentary, four who are linking the class to their daily devotions and one who actually wants to put out a graduate-level effort. It’s extremely helpful to know your audience.

5. Help adults see learning as a lifelong endeavor. One of my goals is to encourage a lifelong love and fascination for the subject I teach. Classes should not just stop. They should reach an emotionally satisfying conclusion vet suggest that there is more to learn.

Guided reflection on the learning process is one way I’ve brought a class such closure. I ask, “What’s the most important thing you’ve learned in this course’? What is one thing you’ve learned that you intend to put into practice in your everyday life? What is one issue arising from this course that you still don’t understand’?'” Participants either respond verbally in small groups or write out answers on paper.

In this way. I’ve communicated clearly that we haven’t learned everything there is to know about the subject, yet I’ve helped them see what they’ve learned and what difference it will make.

This, to me, is what adult Christian education is about. It’s a dynamic interactive process where both teacher and learners have a meaningful and ongoing relationship with each other and with biblical truth. We share a journey together and we each come away not just better informed but truly changed.

ROBERTA HESTENES is an internationally known teacher who has served as a seminary professor and college president.

Excerpted from Mastering Teaching, ©1991 Christianity Today International. For more articles like this, visit

The material is copyrighted and should not he reprinted under any other name or author. However, this material may be freely used for personal study or research purposes.

This article may not be written by an Apostolic author, but it contains many excellent principles and concepts that can be adapted to most churches. As the old saving goes, “Eat the meat. Throw away the bones