An Attempt in “Case-in-Point”

After reading Sharon Daloz Parks’ book, Leadership Can Be Taught, about the alternative teaching methods of Ronald Heifetz, I have squeamishly attempted to instill some of his techniques within my own teaching environment.

One of those techniques is what Heifetz calls, “Case-in-Point,” in which one uses a case study for learning. The difference with this case study is that the teacher doesn’t bring one to class for discussion, but simply begins a dialogue with the students to uncover the case study right from the conversation and immediate experiences of the learners.

Using Heifetz’s playbook, this is how I attempted teaching from this approach at the first class of my undergraduate course, “Creative Bible Teaching.”

(At the start of the class time, stand up and allow for there to be a moment of awkward silence)

SMITH: How many of you have been in a position where you were given a class of learners, and you walk into the room for the first time to teach them?

(Raise of hands from about 1/2 the class)

SMITH: Good, then you now what position I am in right now…so you can help me. Maybe we can start the learning process about teaching right now, by studying the position I am in.

What are my options?

STUDENT #1: You can start off with something to get our attention?

Why would I do that?

STUDENT: #1: Because it helps us want to hear what you have to say.

SMITH: Good. Yes, I could start off this way, because as you know when you are teaching within the formal, classroom setting at a church your learners are coming from many different directions and experiences, having multiple thoughts and emotions going through their minds. Many have worries of the week or just had a argument in the car on the way into church. The question will be is how can you gather their attention towards the focal point of the passage you are teaching that day. Good.

However, is that needed for this class? Aren’t you a little different than your typical church congregant where you are eager learners, within a scholastic setting, paying to be taught? Is an attention getter really necessary?

STUDENT #1: I think so (student goes on to explain why)

SMITH: What are other options? (Silence)

What have you seen other teachers do? (A secondary question to help pull out more discussion)

STUDENT #2: You can have us all introduce ourselves.

SMITH: Why would I do that? What benefit can be gained by knowing me or the other people in your class. Aren’t you here simply to acquire information to later be applied within a teaching setting of the church?

STUDENT #2: Well, if we know each other it helps us know the content better.

SMITH: How so?

STUDENT #2: I’m not sure how, but I just know it does.

SMITH: Sure, we know from the social sciences, and in particular within social development theory and cognitive development theory, that the subjective, relational component of the teaching environment is just as important as the content-objective. Especially within our teaching context, that relationship extends to the spiritual realm in which all of us are connected by the Holy Spirit (assuming your audience is mostly Christian).

From there the discussion went on for a few more minutes determining my approach, but in turn unvieling how one should first approach learners within the classroom environment. This discussion not only allowed them to critically reflect on the task for teaching, but allowed me, the teacher, to assess the readiness of the group, determining where they stand on philosophical and methodological issues of education.

If you teach within a growth group of your church community, try this approach every now and then. Present them with a problem or issue that you are dealing with, or foster discussion among the group and see what “case study” surfaces for discussion to filter through Scripture.


~ by Dave Smith on August 31, 2008.

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