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Moving Past Your Dominant Teaching Style

When I was in college getting my teaching degree, we learned about teaching styles. You know, the  differentiation in how people supposedly learn, for instance visual, auditory, kinesthetic, read/write, verbal, etc.

Turns out, the evidence for teaching styles isn’t all it’s claimed to be. That is, research suggests people do have preferences in their learning styles. But the bedrock of the learning styles approach is that teaching people in their preferred style improves the learning results and sadly there’s no evidence for that.

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use the learning styles approach, though. A little variation never hurt anyone and makes your small group or youth group more interesting. Also, using different methods in your teaching can help students to see things in a completely different light, from a different perspective.

Dominant Teaching Style

It all starts with knowing what your dominant teaching style is, which is probably the same as your preferred learning style. For me, that’s a highly verbal approach. I love reading and writing, I process things through writing or talking about them, and I dislike learning by watching. I’ll take theory over a demonstration any time.

But if I were to only use my own preferred learning and teaching style, it might get boring. Plus, there are bound to be students who don’t like reading, or have trouble processing huge amounts of information that way. I’m also highly aware of the fact that my teaching style tends to aim for the head and not the heart.

Mix it Up

No matter what your preferred style is, get creative and mix it up. The results may surprise you.

A while back,  I attended a workshop from Michael Novelli. If you’ve never heard of him or his storying-approach to the Bible, buy his brilliant book Shaped by the Story. Anyways, he did a sort of intro in his workshop where we had to draw a ‘storyboard’ of ourselves, based on six ‘prompts’:

  • my childhood life and growing up…
  • the most important people in my life…
  • the most difficult challenge I’ve faced…
  • how I would describe my faith…
  • the best ways to describe me are…
  • what I hope to see in my future…

Six prompts, six little squares to draw in. I was amazed at the emotional response it invoked in me. From the very start, I was emotionally invested and was thinking hard and deep about how to visualize each of these prompts. It’s now over two years later, but looking at my simple drawings (clearly, drawing is not my talent!) I still recognize what I wanted to get across. Powerful.

The Benefits

Moving past our dominant teaching style isn’t always easy. It takes more time, it’s risky, messy, and uncomfortable, and we may fail spectacularly. But it’s worth it when we see students engage who normally stay aloof, when we see emotional responses from students we’d never expect it from.

During a 48-hours prayer chain, we invited participants to paint something as a prayer to God. Afterwards, I looked at the art students had made. One girl had made a powerful, beautiful painting depicting herself kneeling at the cross and leaving all her baggage behind. She had painted what she hadn’t been able to express and it touched me deeply.

So the next time that you are preparing a small group study or a youth group session, step outside your comfort zone and embrace a different teaching style. We’ll talk more about how you can mix it up in a next post.

How are you experimenting in teaching styles? Have you seen benefits to moving beyond your own dominant teaching style?


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