When I teach a class, I want to affect the whole person, not just the mind but also the heart, and not just the heart and mind but also the will. So as I prepare, I ask myself three questions.
1. What do I want them to know?
It never hurts to remind myself of some of the fundamentals of learning; for instance, we must learn at foundational levels before we can learn at higher levels. We need knowledge before we can apply it; we need to dissect material before we can put it together in a new way.
Too often, in our hurry to get to the application, we design courses that assume knowledge that the people don't have. The result is that we give people more than they can handle, and they don't learn. We can also fail if we underestimate what people know.
I know one pastor who taught a class on Galatians, hoping to introduce the class to Paul. By the time the class was over, he realized he had failed to capitalize on his people's knowledge: they already knew Paul; they were ready to grapple with the deeper texture of the book. He had misread the hearers' knowledge.
I also have to make sure that I teach what people need to know, not just what I find interesting. For example, one fifty-year-old man in a new members class I was teaching told me he didn't know any prayers except the one his mother taught him as a child: "Now I lay me down to sleep … " He was embarrassed, but he didn't know anything else.
Since there were others like him in the class, I had to resist my urge to talk about prayer at a deeper level. Instead I focused on the fundamentals, answering questions like: What kinds of prayer are there? What is intercession? How do you do it? How do you carve out 10 minutes a day? What do you say when you pray? What does the Lord's Prayer mean? What are some patterns of prayer that work for people in the midst of their busy lives? How do you pray when you're in the car all day?
So I can't start teaching until I'm clear about what the people need to know.
2. What do I want them to feel?
Learning is more than assimilating and applying knowledge. I'm teaching people, after all, not programming computers. So I also want to design the class to make a difference in how the attendees feel. This happens in two ways.
First, depending on the topic of the class, I want the class to feel the emotion the Scripture text conveys. If we're studying a Psalm of lament for example, I want them to feel some of that lament. If the passage is about praise, I want them to feel like praising God by the end of the class. If I'm talking about Christian community, I want them to experience at least a little of that by the end of the course. At the most basic level, I want them to "enjoy" God.
Secondly, I want people to enjoy the learning experience so they will continue to want to learn. If people feel attracted to the subject after the class, and pursue it on their own through reading or research, I know I've done my job. If they finish the class with a sigh of relief like, "I'm glad I'm done with that. I will never study that again!", then I've not engaged their emotions effectively.
3. What do I want them to do?
I watch for what people do inside and outside the classroom as a result of the class.
In a class on the spiritual disciplines, for instance, I will not only want people to know what the disciplines are and to be intrigued about practicing them; I also want to help them to begin practicing them. Knowing that accountability helps to promote action, I might have individuals pick partners from the class to discuss week by week how they are doing with their Bible reading or prayer.
Whatever the course subject, I want them to practice what Paul in Romans calls "the obedience of faith." I want them to love and obey God more faithfully.
Mastering Teaching; Earl Palmer, Roberta Hestenes, Howard Hendricks; Knowing What to Teach, and How, pp27-29.