Academic journal article Journal of Catholic Education

What Can Jesus Teach Us about Student engagement?/Qu'est-Ce Que Jesus Peut Nous Apprendre Sur L'engagement Des eleves?/?Que Nos Puede Ensenar Jesus De la Motivacion del Estudiante?

Academic journal article Journal of Catholic Education

What Can Jesus Teach Us about Student engagement?/Qu'est-Ce Que Jesus Peut Nous Apprendre Sur L'engagement Des eleves?/?Que Nos Puede Ensenar Jesus De la Motivacion del Estudiante?

Article excerpt

At a Catholic college grounded in Incarnational Spirituality, what could faculty learn by studying Jesus as an engaging teacher? At the authors' university, a campus-wide initiative on student engagement led us to this question as we sought ways to further develop our skills to involve students in their own learning. Was there anything Jesus did that could apply to today's modern classroom/learners? Would His teaching strategies translate?

We explored the Gospel stories for accounts of Jesus's teaching that suggested a deliberate approach to engaging His listeners as students. We compared our findings to modern sources on student engagement, including Jesuit references, seminal writings by American leaders in the field, and more recent discoveries rooted in the biology of learning. What was lacking in these references was a comparison of those results to modern research in the practice of student engagement, as well as any generalization to allow a modern college instructor to apply the methods that Jesus demonstrated. This is the gap we aim to address here. The flow of this article mirrors the authors' own journey of discovery as we identified meaningful similarities between Jesus's example and the modern material.

Literature Review

Our exploration resonated with Robert H. Stein's book The Method and Message of Jesus' Teachings (1994), which includes an extensive chapter on ways that Jesus captivated His listeners. Stein (1994) offers an overview of the Gospel accounts of Jesus's teaching, somewhat broader than the focus on "parables" in many classic texts, for example, those by Dodd (1961) and Jeremias (1963). Stein (1994) deliberately avoided any analysis of how to attribute Gospel episodes distinctly to Jesus, to the Evangelist author, or to the church, allowing him to present a broad perspective of the teaching methods described in the Gospels, as well as of the content of Jesus's lessons.

From this perspective, Stein (1994) detailed many of the rhetorical devices Jesus used that made Him an "exciting" teacher (1994). Stein (1994) thoroughly explored methods addressed by other authors, looking closely at Jesus's use of simile, metaphor, proverb, and paradox, and His use of questions (Dodd, 1961; Hultgren, 2000; Jeremias, 1963; Schottroff, 2006; Snodgrass, 2008). Stein (1994)--like Keener (2009)--has analyzed the Gospels in their original language, leading him to identify more specific literary forms not found in some other sources--examples of which include accounts of Jesus's use of puns, riddles, irony, and poetry.

The Use of Parables as a Primary Teaching Strategy

Most modern analyses of Jesus's use of parables trace back to C. H. Dodd (1961), whose revised book derived from seminal work conducted in his 1935 course at Yale. Dodd (1961) delivered a meticulous study of the nature of the parables and what they tell readers about the kingdom of God. Although Dodd (1961) did not explore any evidence of how Jesus's listeners responded to the parables, he did note the engaging nature of a parable, "leaving in the mind sufficient doubt about its application to tease it into active thought" (p. 5). Jeremias (1963) took the next step in the classic progression of parable analysis, based on detailed implications of early translations and deeply ingrained with his personal familiarity with ancient Palestine. Like Dodd (1961), Jeremias (1963) noted the active nature of Jesus's teaching, pointing out that "the parables of Jesus compel His hearers to come to a decision about His person and mission" (p. 230). Jeremias's (1963) great contribution was to illuminate the study of the Gospel parables by placing them in the setting of the life of Jesus. Even more valuable for our study, Jeremias's (1963) analysis of first century Palestine pointed to several examples in the Gospel texts in which Jesus's listeners were very familiar with the characters and the contexts of the parables, particularly the nature of land ownership and landlords, and experiences surrounding meals and the Passover. …

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