Much has been written about the teaching process; many teaching methods and techniques have been developed, so that our behaviors reflect what has been learned. Well-known writers, psychologists, and educators, such as Jean Piaget, Rousseau, Decroly, Lev Vygotsky, Freinet, Thorndike, Skinner, and Bandura, among others, have written much about teaching. Their contributions are still relevant today, and all of them agree with this paraphrased major premise: “If children cannot learn the way we teach, maybe we should teach the way they learn.” This means that learning is simple and natural, an innate process in the human being. We adults are the ones who complicate the process.
The teaching and learning process is described as the act whereby a facilitator (educator) offers content and relevant information about any subject to a receiver (learner), using different methods to teach and/or to educate. This process is extremely important in our lives because we learn from the moment we are born. From then on, we use learning techniques unconsciously and innately to reach our goals. However, we forget the way we learn as we grow. As our lives become more complicated, the learning process becomes more complicated also. All of this generates a feeling of frustration that is shown as we listen to or say things like “I can’t,” “I don’t understand,” “no learning method works for me,” and so on. But have you ever thought about whether you yourself are really motivated? Is teaching others a fulfilling experience for you personally? Have you ever wondered how you learn in a meaningful way and how you can help others do so as well?
There is a method that has been used for a long time now–probably you have also used it–and it continues to be used successfully by so many. We refer to it as “The Stimuli, or Reinforcement, Method.” It is basically the type of teaching and learning process that associates a certain behavior with certain stimuli. But what kind of stimuli? Not all motivations are valid, for true stimulation goes beyond “do this, and I will give you that.” That is merely an exchange, neither meaningful teaching nor meaningful learning.
How can a teacher ensure meaningful learning that leads to meaningful behavior? That is quite simple if you take into account the following factors during the teaching/learning process:
- The environment where teaching occurs is not a physical place. Rather, it is the emotional condition of students, including their genuine needs in real-life situations.
- The starting point for the process must be the student’s previous knowledge. Associate that with some illustrations or stories to capture interest.
- Then, we continue to build new learning through meaningful, motivating lesson content, based on the student’s current needs. It is also important to reinforce learning by giving students proper feedback.
An example for this is that of a moth- er who trains her baby boy to use the toilet. She sets up the restroom nicely, accompanies her son to the toilet, and tells him a story while they wait. Later, she will congratulate him when he asks to be taken to the toilet or just because he lets her help him go there. She says things like “you did very well,” “I congratulate you,” “this is a good start,” and “you’ll get it!” Such teaching boosts a meaningful learning, with positive motivation. In the end, the child will be confident enough to use the toi- let by himself and leave diapers behind.
The most relevant example of motivational teaching and learning is found in the Holy Scriptures, the Bible, especially in the teachings of Jesus, who usually used real-life illustrations. He applied the method as follows, as He:
- Gave simple and practical lessons.
- Paid attention to the different stages of human development.
- Understood that learning is quite a process.
- Created the ideal environment for improvement.
- Took advantage of life opportunities.
- Promoted learning.
This method is reflected in the conversation Jesus had next to the well in Samaria, as told in John 4.
- Jesus started the conversation by simply asking a woman for a drink of water.
- Every time she tried to change the subject, He wisely led her back to the point He wanted to make.
She finally understood who was talking and what He wanted to teach her.
This exemplifies the teaching and learning process that, along with stimuli, leads to positive results. It works for me as it works for so many others. It is useful to educate and redirect and change behavior patterns permanently. Jesus usually used positive stimuli, yet sometimes He had to use negative motivations, ones that aroused opposition. Remember what happened to the apostle Paul on his way to Damascus. His behavior was dramatically changed. Negative motivations help to decrease, then eliminate, inappropriate behavior.
There is much more to be written on this subject but, as a highlight, we can say that Jesus is the best example of using stimuli when teaching. He used and continues to use the “Stimuli, or Reinforcement, Method” in his teaching and learning plan for us.
Not everyone can be a good teacher. Professional teaching is for those only who are willing to strive to make sure that what they teach will reach the hearts and change the lives of their students. No excuse is valid when it comes to lack of commitment. Subject matter that does not awaken interest and motivation is not worth teaching. We find invaluable lessons in the methods that Jesus used, and it is our duty to introduce subject matter clearly and simply so that students are willing to listen, learn, modify their behaviors, and truly to grow.