Sensory Engagement During Learning

Learning and brain research reaffirm that people learn best when they are actively involved in interesting and challenging situations. Plus, they need to talk about the learning!

Task-centered talking helps maintain focus while enhancing sense and meaning, thus improving the memory process. Yet, in most Sabbath School classes I have visited, the members sit quietly and passively for long periods of time in rooms with little visual stimulation, listening to the teacher lecture. Most interaction involves only one or two others, besides the teacher.

Teachers need to use a multisensory approach consistently so that all members are actively involved. Sabbath School classes should be taught in visually appealing places. At appropriate intervals, learners should be standing up, moving about (there’s 15 percent more blood in the brain when we stand), and discussing with one another what they are learning—while they are learning it. The social interaction, while emotionally stimulating, also enhances learning.

David Sousa (Learning Manual for How the Brain Learns, p. 22) offers a strategy to get learners moving and talking. It is called “multimodality,” and uses active participation, stimulates the emotions, and encourages socialization. This method can easily be used by adult Sabbath School teachers to give class members a better understanding of the lesson.

Time for Reflection. After teaching the lesson or a concept, ask the members to quietly review the lesson in the Sabbath School quarterly and be prepared to explain what they have learned to someone else. Be sure to allow sufficient time for this mental rehearsal to occur.

Stand, Move, and Deliver. Ask the members to walk across the room and pair up with someone they don’t usually work with or know very well. Have them stand face-to-face and take turns explaining what they have learned. When they are through, all members end up with more information and ideas than they would have had if they had not discussed it together. If they cannot agree or do not understand something, they are to ask about it when the activity is over. (Note: Make sure they are standing face-to-face so that they must talk to their partner. Allow pairs only one trio, if you have an odd number of members.)

Keep in Motion. Move around the room using proximity to help members stay on task. Answer questions to get them back on track, but avoid re-teaching the lesson. Otherwise, members will become dependent on your re-teaching rather than on one another’s explanations.

Provide and Adjust the Time. Be sure to allow adequate time for this process to be effective. Start with a few minutes, adding more time if they are still on task and reducing the time when you sense they are done.

Accountability. To help keep members on task, tell them you will call on several members at random when the activity is over to explain what they discussed.

Clarify Any Misunderstandings. Ask if there were any misunderstandings or items that need further explanation, and clarify them.

Use Variety for the Pairing. Use a variety of techniques for the pairing. Aim for random pairing as much as practical to enhance socialization and avoid monotony.

An effective variation on the above exercise is Think, Pair, and Share (Tools for Promoting Active, In-Depth Learning, p. 10). This simple technique gets members to think and communicate cooperatively in a short amount of time.

First, the teacher poses a question for consideration. The members generate responses and share them with their neighbors in pairs. The teacher then calls on members to share their responses with the whole class.

Example: Adam and Eve, as originally created, bore the express image of their Maker. Think about what that means, what happened when that image was defiled, and what we can learn from the sad story of their fall. Discuss your ideas with your neighbor and be ready to share.

Learning is not having information poured into someone’s head. At best, to learn something well, the learner needs to hear it, see it, ask questions about it, and discuss it with others.

Active learning is more than engaging learners in activities, however. In the natural cycle of learning a learner moves between periods of action and periods of reflection. People learn by doing, but learning will be deeper when folks take time to reflect upon their actions.

When teachers create lessons that employ each of these four steps, all members of the class will be honored and reached. But more important, nearly everyone in the class has the chance to be involved.

That can make a Sabbath School class more alive. Enough of dead lectures. Stand up, stand up . . . for Jesus!

Eugene Brewer
© 2014 General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists