There are several carpenters and woodworking enthusiasts in my family. One of the lessons they always taught me is that you must sand with the grain of the wood. Likewise, if we are to create something beautiful in our teaching, we must work with the grain of both the thing we are learning about and the person we are teaching. We have all of these glorious arts and sciences at our fingertips to learn from and be transformed by, but how we teach them can mean all the difference. Cultivating wisdom and virtue in our teaching happens through the classical modes of teaching named mimetic and Socratic instruction.
First, the teacher invites the student to join in the learning experience. The teacher does this by showing the student what they already know about the topics being learned. For example, if you are about to teach double digit addition, you may review single digit addition or if you are going to teach simile then you may spend some time discussing comparisons. About forty percent of the lesson should be spent in the invitation stage. During this stage the student’s attention, ability to perceive, and imagination are all activated, this is vital for learning.
Second, the teacher presents examples –or as the mimetic sequence calls them –types –of the thing she is teaching the student. So if you are teaching double digit addition you would show at least three types or examples of you, the teacher, working out double digit addition math problems. If you were teaching simile you would show three types of you creating a simile. It is welcomed for students to help by giving answers/participating and acting as scribe during any of these three types. About twenty-five percent of the lesson should be spent in the presentation stage. During this stage, the student is compelled to use their faculties of memory and recollection as they work through the examples using their imaginations.
Third, the teacher leads –through the use of questions –the student to compare the types that were modeled by the teacher. This whole process is again grounded in the student’s use of their imagination as they compare and contemplate the relationships between the types. This stage is where the magic happens. It is in the process of comparing similar –yet different –types that the “light bulb goes off” so to speak. This apprehension is the 4th stage of mimesis. Sometimes it happens almost automatically, even before you are done giving the types. Our minds are created to resolve tensions. If there is a double digit addition problem in front of us and we have never seen one before, our minds will automatically go to work trying to make sense of it. The mind automatically does this through comparison. Many times we do no know the right questions to ask, this is where the teacher comes in. You are there only to guide towards apprehension. The teacher can never make the light bulb go off; only the Holy Spirit can bring revelation. Each apprehension, light bulb moment, or revelation is a mini Pentecost where the recipient is given new eyes to see. Some of the questions you can ask are: “What did we do first in every problem?”, “Can you tell me what we did the same and different in each problem?”, or “Can you tell me which side we added together first?” All of these, plus similar questions can be used to lead the student through the comparison stage.Once you are sure your student has apprehended the concept then ask them to explain it to you. This seals the apprehension by asking them to externalize what, up until now, has only existed on the inside. This stage of explanation is the bridge between comparison and application because it requires the students to solidify the apprehension and then to take the beginning steps of applying the concept by articulating the idea. You can ask them questions like: “Can you tell me how to solve a double digit addition problem?” or “If your friend needed to know how to solve a double digit addition problem, what would you tell them?” or “What are the steps to solving a double digit addition problem?” If your student cannot do this they most likely did not apprehend the logos you were trying to teach. If this is the case, go back to the types and follow with more comparison. Work through steps two and three as many times as needed. In addition to revisiting types, there may be an appropriate moment to engage your student socratically. I will go over how to do that next. If the student still has not grasped the idea, it might be that the teacher does not have a strong enough apprehension of the logos being taught. At this point, the teacher should go back and work through types until they are confident they have apprehended the concept for themselves. Only then should you revisit the lesson with your student. Do this until apprehension occurs and your student can communicate to you the concept being taught.After the student expresses the concept to you, the student is ready for the final application stage. This is simply where the student embodies the concept being taught into their own work. For example, if you taught double digit addition your student may have several double digit problems they are assigned to work through on their own. If you gave a lesson on simile, then your student would apply the lesson by creating their own simile and including it in the next writing assignment.
For the teacher, this is all about stewarding the moment. The best way to steward the moment and the best chance our students have to encounter apprehension is through the classical modes of teaching. This approach to teaching works for every subject, learning style, and personality . Even though we cannot make Pentecost happen, we can go to the upper room prayerfully and patiently. Mimesis and Socratic dialogue is the upper room for learning every subject.