We all want the things we are teaching to last longer than the back door of our youth area. We teach lessons that need to last and become foundations for life. For us to do that, we must create youth ministry learning environments that give students the building blocks to construct for themselves the truth that will last a lifetime. We must consider an intentional approach that is less “preacher” and more “teacher.”
It is an educational model that allows us to come beside students and hand off the learning process called “Constructivism.” “Constructivism” is a philosophy of education that tries to define how knowledge is constructed in the mind of a learner when new information encounters existing knowledge that had been developed by previous experiences.
At the core of constructivism is the idea that a teacher must understand the way knowledge is created in order to adapt it to the world of the student. It’s based on the idea that a teacher uses “constructs” (or building blocks) of discovery, hands-on, experiential, collaborative, project-based and task-based learning to fully engage knowledge.
CREATING A TEACHING MODEL THAT’S BUILT TO LAST
Here’s how to begin, ask simple questions of what you want to teach, like:
- What do I want my students to discover on their own, and what do I want to teach from the front?
- What are the ways I could teach the contents of this lesson kinesthetically, through a physical activity or game that would further solidify this information in my student’s minds?
- How would I like my students to experience this truth both during the lesson and teaching time and later in the ministry year? (Like with retreats, events, trips…)
- When would be a good time for me to stop or pause in teaching, to allow students to collaborate in “teaching each other” this truth?
- How am I taking what I am teaching and allowing students an opportunity for “high end” thinking through direct application in projects, tasks or other ways of practicing this idea?
TEACHING USING OUR SET OF SPIRITUAL BUILDING BLOCKS
Beyond the above educational questions, we have a set of spiritual building blocks that will help us (as communicators) construct teaching that is “B-U-I-L-T” to last?
B: The Bible
The Bible is our foundation for truth and our lessons. Are we successfully handing Scripture off to our students? We prepare “talks” for our students, that is what they are – us talking. We need to be aware how easy it is for us to drift toward delivering sermons instead of actually teaching. It is easy to be a preacher at the front telling students what the Bible says. It’s more difficult to help students discover for themselves what the Bible says. If we want the truth of God’s word to last, it must become personal and real to our students.
Collaborative learning is the basis of how our students are educated at school. This method needs to be a building block in our ministries as well. Most youth ministries have embraced small groups because students need to be in a place where adults lead students in working together to discover truth. This is not about defining their own truth or learning truth from the biggest mouth in the room. Instead, it’s about being allowed to take the pieces they have been given and together discover truth. We are the “body” and we need to allow each part to work to strengthen the others.
Initially, it may seem like “intelligence” isn’t a spiritual issue but an educational one. But we are created in the image of God, and that includes our intelligence. If we want to help students build something that is going to last, we must incorporate high-end thinking and processing into what we do. These are the years of transition intellectually. Our students have moved from concrete to abstract thought. They need to be challenged to wrestle, question, think and then apply what they are learning.
If we are talking about building a building, love is the cement that holds it all together. It is like the old adage, “They don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” After the specifics of exactly what we’ve said are forgotten, the relationships and love behind it will remain. When we not only teach our students but cement our teaching with love and relationships, the things they learn will go deeper.
Only time will tell if what we try to teach our students will last, but how we spend our time right now will also be a good indication. Not the time we spend in the office preparing a lesson, but the time we spend outside the office with students living the lesson. As much as we can’t rush through our teaching outlines, or hurry along a discussion in a small group setting, we must put in the time to teach by being present in the lives of students.
My prayer for you is a discovery of your own style as you make this your own. Beyond educational theories or thoughts are flesh-and-blood students with hearts seeking truth. That is what’s going to last a lifetime, and into eternity!
DAN ISTVANIK is the 5th to 8th-grade pastor at Victory Church in Lancaster, PA. He has been working in youth ministry for over 20 years serving churches in Pennsylvania, Louisiana, Wisconsin, Ohio, and Virginia. Besides serving in the local church setting he is also the youth ministry content writer for Parent Ministry.Net, along with being a contributor to a variety of other great youth ministry resources like Youthworker Journal, Group Magazine, Download Youth Ministry, and more. Additional he shares daily Jr. high/middle school ministry specific resources, and hints on his own blog “The Middle Years” at: WWW.MIDDLEYEARSMINISTRY.COM