Improve Bible Teaching Through Cooperative Learning

by LifeWay Staff

Teaching adults in a learning experience that is exclusively voluntary — meaning that learners come because they choose to rather than because they must — sometimes can be frustrating. As a teacher I wonder sometimes when the proverbial light will come on in some learners.

Teaching adults the Bible or how to live as a Christian in today's world should be intentionally transformational. When I teach, I want change to occur in each learner's life. The Word of God is infinitely powerful, providing every learner with everything he or she needs to cope with and grow through the challenges life places in our paths. Without some way of determining whether learning is taking place, we cannot know whether what we teach is making a difference. But in voluntary learning situations — adult Sunday School and discipleship classes, for example — assessment and evaluation at best may be rejected.

Cooperative learning experiences provide teachers a natural way to enhance learners' interest and motivation levels while providing teachers simple and tangible ways to determine whether participants are learning. Cooperative learning is not just small-group learning. Although facilitated through small groups, cooperative learning calls for individual participation within the group in meaningful and identifiable ways. In other words, when a participant does not participate, everyone suffers and the lack of participation becomes obvious.

Learning groups that embrace cooperative learning require more planning and time on the front end, but the results are worth every bit of the investment. When teachers become skilled at leading cooperative learning groups in class, the teacher then functions as guide, advisor and resource person rather than the sole possessor of infinite knowledge and authority in the class.

Cooperative learning in practice leads to higher levels of content interaction and retention. Learners form subgroups — often determined by the learners themselves — whose participants must work together to achieve goals and results. Each learner is responsible for specific portions of the learning content and experience. Assignments are made to participants who in turn prepare part or all of their assignment independently. When the group comes together, each person provides an explanation, interpretation, concept or content for other group members. As each person presents his or her assignment, the content comes together much like the picture on a jigsaw puzzle takes form as pieces lock into place.

Most teachers with basic teaching skills can develop cooperative learning assignments and processes.

Consider these steps for developing more transformational teaching-learning experiences.

Understand the difference between group assignments and cooperative learning. The latter requires creative thought and more freedom to explore solutions by which people can cope with life experiences. Group assignments often fall short as participants merely follow instructions that lead toward pre-determined results.

Form groups small enough that allow everyone to participate.

Groups of three or four may be ideal for cooperative learning groups.

Communicate in advance with group leaders.

Informing small-group leaders of your plans and what kind of results you want the group to achieve will make the group process more effective.

Move through the room during discussions.

Keep participants on track. Provide advice and information as needed. Affirm participants as you move through the group, particularly those persons who generally are quiet and non-participative in large-group activities.

Be sure all reports are presented.

You may have to set time limits for reports, but be sure everyone has a chance for their work to be presented. Affirm all presentations and ask other groups whether they have a question or comment on the presentation.

Encourage brainstorming and creativity in the groups.

Some people may prefer an artistic approach to presenting their reports, so provide materials that allow them to create visuals or objects that help communicate their ideas.

Teaching adults is a process, not an event. Participants in adult discipleship or Bible study groups are not studying for weekly tests or final examinations; they seek help for living each day in Christ. Personal participation in meaningful ways long have been shown to increase the retention and application of learning in adults. Give adults the opportunity to grow by engaging them in learning experiences rather than learning events.

Choose a Bible Study for your group.

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