Are You Sure You Covered the Topic?

By Scott Knecht It is satisfying at the end of a class to sit back and think how well I covered the material for the students. Teachers love to cover things and to say things like “we covered that really well in class today and the students are all ready for the test.” I think we feel victorious when we can acknowledge that our coverage was great.

But here is the problem with that thought: we really don’t cover much of anything and to continue to think we do leads us to a place where we are not teaching well. We tend to pull back and soften our teaching because we feel so confident in our coverage.

For example, I’ve read the New Testament multiple times and feel comfortable that I understand what it says about the life of Christ. Beyond the New Testament I have in my bookcase many books about the life of Christ. There are well over 3000 pages of material on His life written by men who have studied and know much more than I do. I’ve read those books. Is it safe for me to say that I have now ‘covered’ the life of Christ in my personal study? Not by a long shot. In another year, or two, or five, someone will publish another book about His life and there will be more to know. Indeed, the very last verse of the Gospel of John says that if all that Jesus did was written down, “I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written.”

Why does the idea of coverage cause us to not teach well? Because it leads us as teachers to stop asking questions which results in no thinking, just mechanical teaching. When you believe that you have written a lesson plan that covers the material for the day, then your thinking usually stops. Even if you think the lesson does what it should do, how do you react when a student raises a question that you had never even thought of ? What do you do when a student gives a wonderful answer to one of your questions but it is an answer that you never considered? Suddenly, there is more to cover.

I read an essay once about the proper way to travel. The author said that most people are satisfied to quickly see the thing they came to see and then leave, grateful that they can now say “I’ve seen the Grand Canyon” or whatever it was. His suggestion was that unless you spend some time with something and look at it from multiple angles you’ve never really seen it.

We went to Mt. Rushmore with some friends a few years back. We arrived in the area very late in the afternoon and by the time we got to the monument it was almost dark. We saw what we could see with the remaining light and then watched as the faces on the mountain were artificially illuminated. It was very impressive but we all decided to come back the next day and see it in the sunlight, which we did. It looked quite different and I was grateful that we saw it in another way. We were able to hike around the area and experience more and come to understand it better with more time.

We could have been satisfied with the night time visit and could have honestly said that we had seen it. But to see more of it differently gave me another experience, for which I was grateful.

So it is in the classroom. You can teach a lesson and feel like you’ve adequately covered things, or you can understand that coverage is an illusion.

So if you can’t honestly cover things what then can you do? You can ‘expose’ your students to new ideas and thoughts. You can ‘address’ the ideas found in the material for the day. To address means “to direct to the attention of” or “to deal with or discuss”. That’s what I want my students to do, to learn to deal with things, to think and to act and to make responsible and valid judgments about issues. They will never learn to do that if I’m busy covering things for them.

Rather than having you the teacher try to cover things, how about this thought: don’t try to cover things; rather, seek to have your students ‘uncover’ some of the material each day, so that they can learn for themselves.

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