In Part 1 of this series, I mentioned that there are positives and negatives about using discussion as a teaching method. In fact, most teaching methods have both. Kenneth Gangel has written a great article entitled Teaching by Discussion that I encourage you to read. In the article, Dr. Gangel says, “Basic to a good discussion is a problem which is clearly defined…[and] limited in scope so it can be understood by members of the group and satisfactorily dealt with in the allotted time.”
In Part 1, I shared the values that Dr. Gangel shares about discussion as a teaching method. In Part 2, I will address problems with discussion that he identifies. The problems he identifies are in all capitals, and my commentary follows:
- THE LACK OF A TEACHER-GUIDE WHO GENUINELY KNOWS HOW TO USE THE BIBLE. A teacher who does not know how to guide a class to seek out answers in God’s Word to the problems that are proposed for discussion will have difficulty avoiding a pooling of ignorance. This often requires familiarity with the passage and often the book it is in as well as God’s Word as a whole. A teacher using discussion may spend time researching the discussion problem in addition to the time spent preparing for the rest of the lesson.
- THE LACK OF COMMITMENT ON THE PART OF GROUP MEMBERS TO SEARCH FOR BIBLICAL ANSWERS RATHER THAN EXPERIENTIAL OPINIONS TO PROBLEMS. To me, the key word here is “commitment.” This can be an ongoing struggle for easy answers versus biblical ones. Leading the group to commit to work through the struggles that will naturally come can overcome this problem.
- THE AMOUNT OF TIME REQUIRED TO COVER ANY GIVEN MATERIAL WHEN USING DISCUSSION. While more material can be covered with other teaching methods, such as lecture, that does not mean that more material will be understood or applied. Discussion does take more time, but as mentioned in part 1, the benefits (involvement, correcting wrong conclusions, teaching problem-solving, stimulating creative thinking, enhancing relationships, showing the teacher as more approachable, checking on understanding, and keeping attention) are worth the time.
- RETICENT OR BASHFUL STUDENTS MAY BE EMBARRASSED IN A DISCUSSION SITUATION. The key here is that teachers should get to know all students. Not placing such a student in the spotlight can avoid these moments. Some quiet students are more willing to speak up when the group is paired off or broken into small groups of 3-6.
- RAMBLING OR WANDERING FROM THE SUBJECT. This is an indication of a teacher who does not know how to lead or take charge of the class during the session. It is also likely an indication of the lack of commitment mentioned above. Teacher, your job is to keep the group focused and moving in the direction you planned. The exception was mentioned by Dr. Gangel: “Sometimes teachable moments will arise, and the teacher will deliberately allow discussion to wander into a bypath that might seem profitable for learning.” But avoid letting this habit develop.
- A TEACHER WITH ONLY A SHALLOW UNDERSTANDING OF THE SUBJECT OR INADEQUATE PREPARATION MAY FEAR STUDENTS WILL ASK QUESTIONS HE/SHE CANNOT ANSWER. Immature individuals should not be enlisted as teacher. On the other hand, God-called teachers who understand what it will take to prepare, lead, and teach should be sought. T hat means that a teacher should be willing to invest in study when those times occur when there is a shallow understanding of the subject. A teacher could even make assignments to one or more individuals during the week to complement the time he/she has to prepare.
- A CLASS SHOULD BE REASONABLY SMALL IN ORDER TO USE DISCUSSION. It can be frustrating to want to contribute to the discussion but too many others have something to say. Dr. Gangel says the maximum for involvement in an hour is probably 20-25. In my experience, very few teachers are able to involve that many students. However, breaking the group into subgroups to discuss problems can involve a higher number.
Which of these problems is more of a challenge for you or your class? Pray and ask God to help you avoid these problems in order to use discussion effectively as you teach His Word. In part 3 of this series, I will address principles that will strengthen discussion in our classes. As you prepare for Sunday, think about how you could use discussion to lead your class to address a problem. Watch what happens. Stretch yourself and group members through using discussion effectively. Be revolutionary!