Motivation as the Linchpin in the Developmental Lesson

  • by: Rabbi David Eliach

The first in a series of articles exploring the structural elements of the developmental lesson.

This article originally appeared in Ten Da’at 1:11 1987 pp.4 . Reprinted here with permission.
Rabbi David Eliach is the principal of the Yeshiva of Flatbush High School and faculty member at the Azrieli Graduate Institute of Jewish Education and Administration.
It is a common story that is ruefully told by American teachers. When parents ask their children what they had learned that day in school, the invariable response is, “Nothing.” In the face of often unwarranted criticism the beleaguered teachers, quick to take the defensive, can only conclude that their charges are apathetic, lazy, and not as bright or as informed as the students of yesteryear.
What is not really understood is the underlying dynamics of the learning process. Whereas the conscientious teacher, having done his homework in preparing his lesson, is ready to face his class and teach, his students are not yet really to learn. They have simply not been prepared.
Our students live in another world, quite distinct from the educational planet that the teacher consciously inhabits. The student is preoccupied with the culture of his milieu, bound to the media-communications of TV, telephone, and voguish magazine. He often has little immediate understanding of new material presented to him. It therefore becomes the teacher’s imperative to literally take that student from familiar-trod grounds to unexplored territories. The teacher can only do so if he effectively uses motivation in his lesson. For it is motivation, the teaching tool, that links the student’s past to heretofore uncharted experiences. The teacher must start in the student’s own world, using the materials with which a student is familiar and can identify with in order to bring him to a conceptual understanding of the new. For the motivation serves as a bridge between that which had been learned and that which has to be learned.
The question is why do we have to bother. Why not get into the water and swim! Why not start with the aim? The answer is self-evident, a commonplace in epistemology since John Locke. We learn through our senses. That which we perceive, we store up; the experiences that we have lived through become our store of knowledge. In order to comprehend a new experience, we must touch base with those of prior learnings. We call this mental step in the educational process the apperceptive base of learning. The teacher uses apperception as the base on which to build new learning blocks.
An example is in order. If a teacher were to present to a class, without motivation, the concept and laws of Eved Ivri, he would find his students unresponsive. They would be bored with material that was seemingly irrelevant and difficult to comprehend. Yet, the teacher who would use the history of slavery in America in introducing the topic of Eved Ivri would find his students receptive to the ideas of slave-master relationships and the conditions of slavery. Eved Ivri would come alive because of the students’ prior learnings of America’s own “peculiar” institution.
The motivation as bridge to student understanding is the first and perhaps most import step in the teaching process.