Sharon Bible School Teaching Method
There are many sources of Bible study on the Internet, many of them providing accredited online degrees. But many indigenous pastors, evangelists, or other Christian workers in "third world" countries cannot afford a computer, or even cybercafe fees, to access these sources. Sharon Bible School is developing a new method of teaching that aims to reduce these costs and limitations of computer access, while using the Internet as the main method of access. Here we explain the basic concepts of the method.
(1) We use lessons that have a format similar to this:
The student is asked to read a Bible passage, or perhaps two passages for comparison.
The student is asked a series of questions about the Bible passage(s).
Blanks are provided for writing the answers. In some cases, a table form may be used, or sentences with missing words or phrases to be supplied.
This pattern (Bible passage, question, answer, question, answer, question, answer, etc.) is repeated throughout each lesson. Occasionally, there may be introductory text, definitions of terms, an outline of a book of the Bible, or other auxiliary text, but the lesson primarily follows this pattern.
(2) Each lesson is published on the Internet as a PDF Forms document. The PDF format provides a predictable format of the printed document, independent of the computer and operating system, because a free PDF Reader program is available for all computer systems. But the PDF Forms format goes a step further. The lesson can be printed and the answers written in 'by hand', OR the blanks can be filled in on the computer, using the same free PDF Reader. Here is a sample lesson page.
(3) We use a mixture of two methods of scoring (grading) lessons. (This involves some fancy mathematics, but we won't try to explain that part.) This innovative approach enables us to reduce the amount of computer usage, and thus, to reduce the cost.
(3a) For each lesson, only 20% of the students enter their answers into the PDF lesson form on a computer, from where it is emailed back to SharonBible@comcast.net for scoring by home administrators. We call this home scoring. A different 20% (one-fifth) of the students is 'randomly' chosen (by computer) for each lesson, so that in every sequence of five consecutive lessons, each student has returned the answers for one lesson this way.
(3b) For each lesson, the other 80% of the students score the lessons of four other students anonymously. (The scoring is anonymous because the lessons are identified only by a four-digit Student ID number, and each student knows only his (meaning his/her) own number. Also, the choice of who scores whom is chosen 'randomly' by computer so that it will be a long time before the same choice is made again.)
We call this peer scoring, and it is done at the end of the teaching process (described later), so that the student at this time should know and understand the difference between good and complete answers, and poor or incomplete answers. His scores will be compared with those of other students and with the home scores.
Here is what it does:
It demonstrates his ability to discern between good and poor answers, and can earn 'extra points' for the scorer.
It causes the student to think about each question four more times, providing greater memory retention of the material.
It prepares the student to become the teacher, when teaching the lesson to others.
It reduces the amount to computer time, because the peer scoring is done on paper. This reduces the number of computers needed to be shared by the students.
This is how it works:
Each student not chosen for home scoring is given a peer scoring form. This form identifies the scorer student only by number, and lists four other students by number whose lessons he (meaning he/she) is to score. The student is given a guide for scoring, that is, a definition of the scores from 1 to 5. For each place on the scoring form where a score must be entered, the form has "1 2 3 4 5" printed there, and the scorer crosses out the number with represents the score. So, to enter a score of 4, the scorer crosses out the 4, and that area of the scoring form looks like "1 2 3 █ 5". (If there is no answer at all, nothing is crossed out, then the missing answer is represented by 0.) Here is a sample peer scoring form page.
After the scoring forms have been filled out (except, perhaps, for absent students), the scoring forms are scanned with OCR (Optical Character Recognition) software into a text file. A special program examines this text file, finding the missing digits to determine the scores, which it puts into peer score files. The peer score files are emailed to SharonBible@comcast.net for comparison with the home score files. (Every lesson that has been home-scored has also been peer-scored by four other students.)
Here is where the 'fancy mathematics' comes in, but we won't confuse you with details. Actually, the math started with the generation of the scoring forms with 'random' assignments designed for uniformity and fairness. Now, the comparison of peer scores and home scores evaluates the quality and bias of the peer scorers. This is used both to give credit to good scorers, but also to adjust the peer scores to simulate home scores. Thus, 20% of the lessons are directly scored by the home scorers, and the other 80% are indirectly scored by the home scorers. (If you understand statistical sampling methods and regression analysis, I can give you the details.)
Multiple Learning Phases
The student goes through these five phases of learning for each lesson, and the varied repetition helps the student retain what he has learned:
Working with the printed lessons at home, reading his Bible and writing his answers.
Meeting with a small discussion group, comparing and discussing answers.
Meeting in a large group. A lecture format adds authority and depth, with additional material.
Updating his answers, based on what he remembers from the lecture period.
Doing peer scoring or typing answers into the computer, depending on the scheduled choice.
Details of the Method
We will explain next each of these learning phases in more detail.
Working at Home:
Usually, the printed lessons are obtained at a previous school meeting, and the student takes several lessons home at one time. The student should have an English Bible, preferably the King James Version, and at least a translation, not a paraphrase. If another language is more familiar to him, he may also use a Bible translation in that language. At least, he reads his English Bible and writes his answers in English, at home. For each meeting at the school location, completion of certain lessons are required before the meeting
A meeting at the school location will typically include study sessions mixed with other activities (more on this later), and a study session may sometimes begin by completing a lesson that not completed at the last meeting. But when a lesson begins at the school, it begins with students divided into small discussion groups, typically five to ten students in each group, There is a randomly different division of the students into discussion groups for each lesson, so that over the course of several lessons, each student will have met with each of the other students.. At the start of each course, each student is given a group schedule that assigns him to a group for each lesson. Here is a sample student group schedule. The school director has a group schedule for all students, and he assigns meeting areas for all discussion groups. Here is a sample page of the director's group schedule.
The purpose of the discussion group is to compare and to discuss answers. The lesson usually begins with a Bible passage, so the group begins by taking turns reading verses until the passage has been read. Then two or three read their answers to the first question, and the leader asks if anyone else had a substantially different answer. Then they discuss if they can agree on the best answer to the question, showing respect to anyone with a different opinion. They proceed like this with the other questions. They may be sitting in a circle, or perhaps on two facing benches, and to help keep track of whose turn is next, an object may be passed around the 'circle', held by the one who is next. This is especially helpful when turn-taking has paused for discussion and must continue with the next question or Bible reading, Also, one of the members of the group, the first man on the list, will lead the group while taking his turn like any other. The director will visit the discussion groups, and if he notices that one group is far ahead or far behind the other groups, he will advise them to try to go faster or slower, so that there will not be too great a difference of stopping times when the groups finish discussing the lesson.
Next, all of the students meet in one large group. The director will review all of the questions in a lecture format, explaining the 'correct' answers. The director also has additional material that he will present to give additional understanding of the Scripture. The students may take notes during the lecture, but are advised to keep them brief, so that the notes will not be a distraction preventing them from hearing other parts of the lecture.
Next, a short period of time is allotted so that each student can update his answers based on what he remembers from the lecture period. He can keep his notes (if any) short during the lecture, knowing that he can expand on them at this time.
According to the group schedule, one fifth of the students have been chosen to type their answers from their printed lesson into the PDF lesson form on the computer. But before he does this, he makes a copy of his lesson (using the all-in-one printer) and puts the original of his lesson in the pile of lessons available for peer scoring. He uses the copy for entering his answers into the PDF lesson form. The director will set up the computer so that each student has their own folder, and so that the student can find a copy of the PDF lesson form in his folder. Here again is a sample page of a PDF lesson form. The small blank squares labeled "Q1", "Q2", etc., are left blank, because they are used for home scoring.
Later, the director will email the completed PDF lesson forms to SharonBible@comcast.net
Sorting the Lessons:
For peer scoring, all of the lessons are initially put into one stack. (Remember that the students do not write their names on the lessons, only their student ID number. All of the pages of each lesson are stapled together at the upper left corner, but to be safe, the ID number is written on each page.) To avoid revealing to others his 'secret' ID number, each student adds his lesson to the stack by first putting it on top, then taking any number of lessons from the bottom of the stack and moving them on top.
There are also letter-sized sheets of paper with a student ID number printed large on each sheet, that are placed in numeric order on a table or a few benches. (Such as smaller numbers on the left and larger on the right.) These are used to sort out the lessons, because each lesson must be found four times, by the four students that will score them. A few volunteers will each take part of the stack and put each lesson on the sorting table on top of the paper with a matching ID number. (Notice that the students do not put their own lessons directly on the sorting table.)
Each of the students that are doing peer scoring are given a different peer scoring form. Here again is a sample peer scoring form page. Near the top of the form, there is a line that identifies the lesson and the ID number of who is doing the scoring ("Scored By"). On the next line, at the top of each column of data, are four ID numbers identifying the four lessons to be scored. So, after the sorting has been done, each student will look for one of the lessons on his list. He may not find it, because another student (that had it on his list) may have found it first. But he doesn't need to wait, because there are others on his list, and he can do them in any order. Remember that four-fifths of the students are scoring all of the lessons. For example, for a class of 30, 24 students will be doing peer-scoring, so there will always be 6 lessons left on the sorting table. When he has completed scoring a lesson, he will return it to its proper place on the sorting table and find another on his list, until he has scored all of the lessons on his list.
Later, the director will scan the completed peer scoring forms in OCR-to-text mode, then run a custom ReadScore program that gathers and checks the data from the OCR output text file, putting the resulting score data into spreadsheet files. The ReadScore program also reports if there are errors, and the director can either correct the spreadsheets or rescan any scoring forms that scanned badly. The director then emails the report file and the spreadsheet files to SharonBible@comcast.net
In Case of Absences
Absences will seriously degrade the learning experience of the other students, and create additional administrative work, so all students must be committed to be faithful and timely. However, sickness and accidents may happen, and we must be prepared to deal with this as best we can.
If there is an absence, the student or a member of his family must promptly report this beforehand to the school if possible; and in any case must report the reason for the absence. If lessons have been done, arrangements should be made to bring these to the school for the days of attendance so that they will be available for peer scoring, and if so scheduled, to be entered into the computer by the director or a volunteer for email return. Lessons must not be skipped, but must be done even if late.
If a student that is scheduled to return his answers is absent, the director, will designate another student to return his own answers instead, based on the peer group schedule (which only the director has).
If there is an absence and no one brought the lessons from the absent student, a few peer scoring forms with have a column with no data, The director will scan these incomplete forms along with the others, but will set them aside so that they can be completed and scanned again later.
The director will prepare a schedule of activities for each day of meeting. Each day-schedule will include a "morning session" and an "afternoon session", and sometimes an "evening session", which are times allotted for the Bible study activities as described above. Before, in-between, and after these sessions will be times for other activities such as a time for sharing about blessings and needs, a time for prayer, a meal time, and time for worship and/or music. There will be 10-minute breaks between all of these activities for personal use.
The Bible study activities occur during the "session" periods, but without specified starting or ending times. For example, suppose that 3 hours, from 9am to 12noon, are assigned to the morning session, and lesson 1 is done in 2 hours. The lesson 2 is started and interrupted at the end of the morning session, and continued in the afternoon session. If lesson 3 is not done by the end of the day, then it is resumed the next day of meeting. This is done because some lessons take longer than others, and the lessons should not be hurried to fit a schedule.
There should be no more than three meeting days each week, to allow students time to do the home Bible study, and time for other responsibilities that they may have. If there are accommodations for overnight sleeping, meetings on consecutive days provides the advantage of reducing travel. In such a case, the first day will start later than the others, and the last day will not have an evening session.