Jul 21, 2011

What Makes for Effective Teaching?

The psychologist, Dr. David Pelcovitz, often tells audiences of the following experiment. A school showed a video to young children about "stranger danger". The message was simple: don't accept rides from a stranger, don't accept gifts, etc. There was a brief question-and-answer period. The children seemed to "get it".

At the end of the day, the children exited the school where they saw a man with a van, who was asking some children to enter his van where he would show them his cute puppy. Most of the same children who saw that video entered the van!

I'm not going to address the topic of "stranger danger" here.  What I'm wondering about is why did the lesson fail? And it did fail.  The message did not get through.  And I don't think it's because (or only because) kids will be kids and they needed to hear the message many more times for it to penetrate.  Is it because the children were shown a video and that medium did not work for this message? How old were the children? Would the video have been more effective for a different age child? Maybe the factor that was missing was role playing.  If they would have asked the children, "What would you do if when you left school there was a man in a van who wanted to show you a cute puppy," would the same number of kids have entered the van?

An experiment like this should have educators questioning what makes for effective teaching.  We can't always measure that, particularly in the areas of emuna and yiras shomayim.  In this case, if all the children would have rejected the man's overtures, the lesson would have been proven to be a great success.  However, since most children entered the van, it was easy to see that the lesson failed.

We read so much these days about how girls and boys go through 12 years and more of Jewish education and too many of them emerge lacking basic knowledge of fundamentals.  Maybe the lesson from this experiment is that teachers and parents have to think of ways of really getting through to children and figuring out ways of assessing whether their lessons were effective and finetuning them if necessary.


  1. Today, much of education is books and videos rather than real life. Jewish life today also views separating the parents from the children as highly desirable. Sleep away camps are looked at as necessary for developing independence as well as indoctrinating Torah precepts 24/7 whereas at home, we assume that would not occur with much excitement. We also see the parents as needing a respite from child care. Later, kids spend most of their day or they dorm in yeshivas and don't have much exposure to life outside the yeshiva including family life at home. They may be missing out on vital family experiences that are necessary for a happy family life later. We also like to park kids in front of videos to get some time for other things but we have no clue as to what the children internalize from the videos.