Monday, August 13, 2012

some thoughts about teaching

This past Sunday I taught the lesson for Sunday School, or as was aptly put by someone clever who attended the lesson I "tricked the class" into thinking I taught the lesson.

^This didn't bother me because to a degree, it was true! The lesson was on "the war chapters" of the Book of Mormon, i.e. that cluster of chapters in Alma about the many battles between the Nephites and Lamenites. I knew that in order to teach a good lesson on these chapters I'd really have to dig in and thoroughly research not only the chapters themselves but backstory and commentary. It would have been a very beneficial study (and one I intend on embarking on soon) but it wasn't one I was in a position to begin given my time constraints (I was asked to teach less than a week before) and my busy schedule. So I decided to take "the easy way out" and let the class teach the lesson, i.e. ask a question and have them read and discuss their answers. This is a technique I often used when I was teaching English because:

  1. I've always believed that asking good questions makes a good lesson, so just making the lesson all questions wasn't a huge leap.
  2. I am a big fan of the collaborative learning i.e. group "meaning-making" that comes from good questions + discussion. 
  3. I really believe that trusting the class to make meaningful insights and having the courage to let them propel the discussion (with a little steering from the teacher to keep things on track) can really make for a dynamic lesson. 
  4. It's less work (I am not advocating less work! The more effort you put into study the better off you are, and in gospel teaching more effort on your part means you open yourself up to inspiration and direction from the Spirit in your lesson. I am just saying that sometimes, if context demands it, this is a way to still make the most of a teaching opportunity). 

It works really well for gospel lessons because in means taking the scriptures (THE SOURCE) and using them to answer "our questions" and draw parallels to modern life. So, I started the class explaining that the war chapters are a great resource for understanding how to handle conflict in a Christlike way and that they set a pattern for us -- and that was going to be the focus of the lesson. This was to set the tone/get their minds thinking along the lines of what I ultimately wanted to accomplish with the lesson (That's right! I always have a objective in mind, helps me focus things and hopefully promote a valuable change). So with that goal in mind, I proceeded to have them read groups of versus that illustrated principles "that governed the attitudes and actions of the righteous Nephites in times of war" (from the lesson manual) and asked them to LOOK FOR those principles and then discuss how they each could "apply these principles in dealing with conflict in [their] personal lives" (also from the lesson manual).

So they identified the principles, they applied them, and they thereby created the content for the class in their small groups. All I had to do from that point was open it up for discussion and continue to ask questions to stimulate comments (not the easiest thing, but I think the trick is to actually listen to comments and then respond as if just you and that person were talking together).

So, even though I was "the teacher" it was definitely the class that taught the lesson (and I learned a LOT). It required little of me preparation-wise, or as the class facilitator (I use that word purposefully there), but I felt that it went really well. It's a technique I would love to see more teachers use (especially introverts like me) which is why I decided to write this post. Hopefully I'll be able to share what I've learned about teaching to someone who can use it too!

No comments:

Post a Comment