this year at our junior high pastors summit, we invited psychiatrist and adolescent brain specialist, todd clements, to join us. this is part 4 of a 6-part series of the notes from that time. this particular section is notes from our discussion on teaching implications from what we learned about early adolescent brain development. the notes are a bit cryptic at times, i admit. i’ve cleaned them up a bit from what was useful for those who attended, but it would take too long to fill in all the gaps — so i’m posting them somewhat as is, in hopes that they’ll still be stimulating to some.
Teaching & Experience Implications of brain development and “The Primal Teen”
Questions this raises
– How does teaching lead students to action? It seems like there’s a disconnect between sitting and listening and doing.
– How much can a student retain?
– What are the best ways to build the synaptic pathways in a positive way?
– Do we need to do more experiential and kinetic learning vs. the up front learning?
– What is our end goal with teaching?
– What neural pathways do we want to create?
– What are the implications of the environments we set and how these impact what we say and teach? – “the feel is more important than what we say”
– Topics – what topics are most appropriate or what should we step up on based on this information?
– “40 developmental assets” (from Search Institute) — how do these intersect this information?
– Space for varied outcomes. Do we vary our approach enough for all kinds of kids to learn? Large group teaching coupled with small group experience.
Is the large group “master teacher” approach THE way to teach? What kind of outcome are we expecting in this style of teaching? In the camp setting, is the general session speaker the most important role, or is the cabin counselor more important?
A good speaker is a great set up for the cabin leader. You can either set up the small group discussions well or not.
Marko: In Africa, there is a group using “storying the Bible” as an alternative to traditional theological education. This is a way to use a set number of stories of the Bible to teach the Bible. After two years, those who learned the stories had a better understanding of the overall picture and theology than those who were for the same two years in a systematic approach to this same material.
We think in terms of illustrations – it’s bigger than this. The story can speak for itself.
Kurt J: We may tend to dismiss the “cheesy” super simple teaching methods in favor of “cool” big ideas. Kurt J’s daughter does a coloring project for Bible class and through this exercise knows more of the Bible in a deeper understanding.
Scott R: Do we cop out of these experiences because they are a lot harder and a lot more work?
Kurt J: Remember, what we do may be “old” to us, but it’s new to the students because they change every two years in our ministry.
Nate R: Remember the cone of learning where we retain more of what we do than what we say. Experiences are king.
Eric V: How do these techniques, stories, etc…. Why are these things better according to our reading? Why will these things connect more pathways?
Jim C: Do we loose some effectiveness when we do the same “creative” thing every week? Do we need to vary our approach from week to week?
Christian: We must keep from seeing the brain as a segmented thing. The big word for us should be connections. How are we trying to get kids to wrap their arms around the truths were communicating. All these ideas and experiences and teachings play together to get this point across. Each thing might appeal to a different part of the brain.
Eric V: Kids have a ton of stimuli and are busy. We are trying to give times of quiet and silence. Many say this is the best part of the camp week. What role does this play?
Marko: This is an experience. It engages the minds and bodies of the students in totally different ways. This brings us back to the end goal. If we could do only one thing with students, what would we pick? Would the practice of spiritual disciplines be more impacting than if we focused on the great lesson?
Eric V: We already know the results – 50% of our kids are leaving the church after high school, so what we are doing does not work as well as we think it is.
Alan M: But many jhigh pastors don’t think this is possible. As I talked with pastors on my sabbatical, many don’t think the more traditional disciplines are appropriate for this age group.
Christian: We end every day of ministry with 10 minutes of silence and journaling.
Andy J: If you play dodge ball every week and then try to engage in silence, it’s harder to get them to engage.
Eric V: Most of what we do as a group is passive.
Johnny: experience is what matters – I can remember experiences and what I learned over time, but I can’t remember when I heard it for the first time. I can’t get over the kid that keeps interrupting the experience. The kid in the large group setting who disrupt the group quiet.
Alan R: Experiences tend to change kids more than anything else. It seems like this goes better in smaller groups, but harder in larger groups. Is this something that is for the few? How do you provide experiences for those that don’t seem to care about much of anything through this?
Nate S: every Wednesday we do something different. Last week of the month we do service. This is the night more kids bring friends. This monthly experience has changed the kids who go. One example is LeRoy a homeless guy who the students see every month. The students have purchased him a Bible and look out for him. “Midday” prayers at camp, a time of silence and prayer, these kids don’t forget this experience.
Jeff: is variety a good thing?
Scott R: Do all kids love this silence and “midday” experience? What do they like and what don’t they like and what kids like it and what kids don’t like it?
Johnny: Are we planting seeds or hoping to see the seed come to fruition
Christian: Are we spending more time talking about the disciplines or are we actually doing it with them?
Andy J: The core of fear in a young teen is thinking they are missing something. Can we have a group of students do this together and then talk about it? This gives them the security of doing them without missing out on something that is going on.
Christian: Discipline in community – we say things are important, but we must do it or it’s not taken seriously. Silent retreat as a staff – this is experienced from the top down. Students can be excited about something when they see our staff doing it.
Kurt J: A couple of questions I’m wrestling with. 1) Why have spiritual disciplines suddenly become what “has” to happen for youth ministry to be effective? 2) Seems like the spiritual disciplines are going to be contextual, how do you decide what one is? If I can get my kids to get the discipline of generosity I’d have a win. We would love them to be “habitually generous.”
Are the disciplines contextual? i.e. in the urban core, maybe the antithesis of their lives is silence, but in Orange County the antithesis is generosity.
We must remember that anything can be faddish – we are not trying to swing the pendulum to something “new”
Are spiritual disciplines the “new thing”?
Kurt J: This is a total paradigm shift – trying to think about how to put the spiritual disciplines into practice. Moving to a place where these are more central.
Kurt J: If the “feel is more important than the message” – if this is true, our ministry must radically change. It does not matter if our ministry is lecture driven or contemplative, if the feel is wrong, we miss.
Corrie: We must remember we only have kids for a few hours a week. Is our focus and our time and our energy being used to its fullest? How are we communicating to families and getting this stuff out to them because they are the ones who are in the lives of the students all day every day.
Scott: Yet some families will not jump on board with this and will never be involved
Corrie: That is where we need to fill the gap
Mark J: teaching is immediate, experience is longer – it takes time to percolate. If we teach without experience does not put something into motion for a lifetime.
Marko: This goes back to frontal lobe development – it goes back to their ability to see consequences, both good and bad. It is those who actually do or experience this we may grasp something more, but we must actually do it – we must see and experience the consequences.
Judy: The more we use our senses, the more we learn. We underestimate our teaching. We don’t remember our teaching, but we remember principles. Narrow down our focus, slow it down, celebrate the win – reinforce the handful of kids who “got” it, celebrate the good things.
Phil: the book said we should be their “surrogate prefrontal cortex” – can we help students have these kinds of thoughts? We need to help them have thoughts they would not typically have on their own. When we do this consistently, we can really make an impact.
Marko: I try to lead my small group collectively down an implication or decision making path. They need to wrestle with what comes next, what would happen if “A” and what would be the consequence. When we do this as a group, they can each help and move the discussion forward as opposed to saying this as the teacher. Take them to the “shores of speculation”
Sean M: What is the value of relationship in all this? Our dinner last night was a great experience, but the relationship with D’Arcy makes it even better. Marko’s small group is good, but it’s made great because of the relationship with the students. The role of relationship to empower experience must not be ignored.
Marko: Hopefully this is just the starting point and they eventually move to doing a discipline because they want to and see the value in it.
Steve F: The (http:PBS Special Andy J sent us substantiates this relationship value and the importance of parents in the lives of the students.
book recommedation: Teaching with the Brain in Mind – Eric Jensen