In the spring of 1997 I was finishing my last semester of a bachelor of arts in linguistics at Indiana University. My studies included a research project that set out to find which instructional activities best achieved mastery of the target language in a high school foreign language class. I observed a first-year Spanish class twice a week for nine weeks to gather data for my project.
The teacher, Mrs. Diaz, wasn’t much old than I, and we had similar ethnic backgrounds – one parent from Mexico, the other melting pot American. However, she was fluent in Spanish, and I still am not.
Toward the end of the nine weeks I realized that it wasn’t the daily homework, carefully laid lesson plans or vocabulary drills that helped these 14 and 15-year-olds learn Spanish best. It was one of Mrs. Diaz’s classroom policies. Anytime a student blurted out something in English, she had to repeat the phrase in Spanish. In addition to the Spanish she already knew, the student could use a dictionary, her textbook, help from another student, anything. Having to apply the language in a meaningful, everyday circumstance gave the student purpose for her studies and thus helped her learn better. A novice in this area, I was shocked by my findings. Mrs. Diaz, on the other hand, either had a really good poker face or was too busy maintaining order in her classroom to reveal any surprise.
These days the only students I see on a regular basis are my 12-year-old daughter and 7-year-old son, and they speak even less Spanish than I do. But the principle I learned from that research project is useful when teaching my kids the most important subject they’ll ever study – living God’s way. I can read chapters of the Bible to Gabriela and Diego, and sooner rather than later they’re fighting because “She touched me!” or “He looked at me funny!” And when I pull out an appropriate Bible verse to address a sinful behavior, my recitation is often met with a roll of the eyes. But when we’re just talking, sharing our daily experiences, and I interject Truth – they listen!
When I apply what I know about God and what His Word says to their meaningful, everyday experiences no eyes roll; they don’t get distracted. Instead, they seem to drink it in. They’re receptive.
Maybe this is why God had Moses tell the Israelites to teach their children His words while they were sitting in their homes, walking along the road, when lying down, and when getting up. Our Abba Father has always known that His children learn best when we apply His Word in a meaningful way – to everyday life.