Jared Wright

Checking for Understanding

We cannot simply repeat what we hear word for word. Rather, we connect our understanding of the new information to our existing concepts or ‘schema’. . . However, when left on their own, many students make errors in the process of constructing this mental summary. These errors occur, particularly, when the information is new and the student does not have adequate or well-formed background knowledge. These constructions are not errors so much as attempts by the students to be logical in an area where their background knowledge is weak . . . ©hecking for student understanding, can help limit the development of misconceptions.”

(Principles of Instruction: Research-Based Strategies That All Teachers Should Know, Barak Rosenshine, American Educator: Spring 2012)

The small church room in the village was half-filled with grandmas and children staring back at me on a particularly rainy Sabbath morning. I had just finished reading the story from the sixth chapter of Matthew’s gospel, where Jesus taught His disciples how to pray, when I asked the group the following question.

“In this story, where was Jesus, and whom was He teaching how to pray?”

One grandma sitting near me wrinkled up her face and bit her lip. It was clear that her brain was working hard, scanning her database of knowledge to find an answer to my question. I waited patiently for a few moments. Finally, she responded timidly.

“Jesus was teaching angels how to pray in heaven.”

As I scanned around the group of believers, some of whom had been SDA church members for decades, it appeared to me that no one looked surprised by or seemed to disagree with the grandma’s answer. At this point, I probably had a puzzled look on my face as I tried to whip up a quick lesson plan in my mind to address the lack of knowledge about the context of the story.

“Did Jesus ever live on this earth?”

Again, there was a long pause before someone finally answered in the affirmative.

“How long ago was that? And what country did Jesus live in?”

“Teacher Jared, I think He lived in Israel, right? Maybe 3,000 years ago.”

“Yes, you’re correct that He lived in Israel, but only about 2,000 years ago.”

“Does anybody remember what his parents’ names were and what their occupations were?”

Again, there was a long pause.

“Teacher Jared, Jesus’ parents were named Joseph and Mary. I think Joseph was a carpenter. Is that right?”

“Yes, that’s also correct. Did Jesus ever work as a carpenter?”

“Teacher Jared, yes, I think He did.”

“Correct. In this story where Jesus was teaching how to pray, was He working as a carpenter?”

“No, Teacher Jared, I think he was a teacher at this time.”

“Yes. And where do you think He was teaching?”

The answers were starting to flow now as I could see the group accessing and reorganizing lots of disconnected facts that had been filed away in their minds over the years into a more complete background image for this story.

“Teacher Jared, maybe Jesus was teaching in Jerusalem or Bethlehem.”

“Those were both towns in Israel, so that’s a good guess. Actually, Jesus was teaching in Galilee in this story.”

“So, who do you think Jesus was teaching how to pray in this story?”

“Teacher Jared, maybe it was His disciples and other people who wanted to listen to Him teach.”

“Yes! That’s correct.”

After nearly 15 years of living and working in Asia, in cultural contexts where most people have matriculated through educational systems that emphasize rote learning without developing students’ independent thinking and reasoning skills, we have observed that there is a critical need for incorporating better teaching practices in evangelism and disciple-making, especially as it relates to the fundamental teaching method of checking for understanding.

Transmission of knowledge is only a small part of the process of teaching and, thus, only a small part of the process of making disciples. If we fail to check for understanding when we teach, there is a real risk that misconceptions can take root that are counter to the reality that Jesus is a real person, who really lived on this earth, and who actually knows about our lives and cares for us today. Please continue to pray for our team as we seek to develop local leaders and train them in good teaching practices that will help many children and families know how to read the stories of the Bible and apply them to their own lives in accurate and meaningful ways.

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