The Method Must Serve the Goal

Last night I watched a seminar on education with some friends.   The woman teaching the seminar took a question from the audience asking about a particular aspect of lesson length for young children.  She answered (loosely paraphrased) “Remember that the point is not to have a twenty minute lesson.  The point is to engage the child’s mind.” In other words, if your goal is getting buried under to your methods, you’re missing the point.  You have to keep your goal in mind.

This got me thinking about how I have to fight my Type A tendency to do things by the book for the sake of following the rules, and remember to keep the actual end goal in first place. This is true for me in so many areas of my life.

One example is the eternal question of when to have a quiet time of reading my Bible and praying.  I like to do that in the morning to start my day off well, and I used to think that it needed to be the VERY first thing I did every day or else I would be effectively putting something else ahead of God.  I dithered like you wouldn’t believe over whether it was OK to exercise and shower before having a quiet time.  Then I realized that if I wake up a little before reading and praying, I’m a little more attentive and productive.  The goal here is to spend time with God, not to prove something by how many seconds elapse between hearing my alarm and opening my Bible.  The method has to serve the goal, not the other way around.

Now I find myself fighting the same tendency in parenting.  I used Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons this year to teach Hannah to read.  It was completely awesome when she turned the corner to really understanding the process somewhere between lesson 20 and lesson 30.  I read somewhere that once you start a phonics program it is imperative to finish it to the very end, so we doggedly attacked the reading book, determined to finish it.  Then after a while Hannah started to dislike the lessons.  She wanted to read real books.  She enjoys little readers like the Bob Books and Phonics Practice Readers (so funny to hear her read these since I learned to read on them myself!) and just picking up a regular kids book to read.  But I stubbornly felt like she should finish the reading book no matter what.

There is nothing wrong with finishing a book, but the purpose of the reading book was to teach Hannah how to read.  My purpose is for her to love to read.  It’s beginning to dawn on me that by forcing her to finish this reading book I might not be headed toward my goal anymore.

I’ve thought about why Hannah dislikes the lessons now, and concluded that the way these later lessons are taught frustrates her need to understand rules and patterns.  In order to keep my goal in mind, I might need to keep our focus on the books she enjoys, and supplement with a phonics curriculum that is a little more concrete to appeal to her learning style.

The point (you knew I’d meander back to it eventually) I’m pondering is my need to keep my goals at the forefront of my mind, lest I get bogged down in procedures and rules that aren’t getting me closer to where I want to be.

Do you ever get so caught up in how you’re doing something that you forget the reason why you’re doing it in the first place?

4 thoughts on “The Method Must Serve the Goal

  1. We run into this over and over again in homeschooling: the question of whether or not to continue on the path we started. I am a bad finisher, and one of my character goals for my children is that they would be diligent. I’m growing in the conviction that it’s important to set right goals so that I can discern, when I do put a project down, if it’s because I’m being faithful to my goal or lazy. “Learn to read,” is clearly a good goal. “Finish this reading program,” may be a good goal. Let the latter serve the former.

    A couple of summers ago, I read “The Seven Laws of Teaching” by John Milton Gregory. It was very helpful for me in terms of helping to see how some of my goals for teaching my kids were probably not right goals. The book was good enough that I intend to read it again soon and then again every year or two in the future, primarily as a check to my goals.

    And, isn’t it just so fun to watch your children learn to read?

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