Is the new Sunday School curriculum a step forward?

A while back I gave a sacrament talk about how the Restoration is an ongoing thing. It was tough to gather enough recent rhetorically requisite quotes from authority to uphold my main thesis, so I was particularly happy when President Uchtdorf delivered this one:
Sometimes we think of the Restoration of the gospel as something that is complete, already behind us—Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon, he received priesthood keys, the Church was organized. In reality, the Restoration is an ongoing process; we are living in it right now. It includes “all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal,” and the “many great and important things” that “He will yet reveal.”
It’s wonderful (and for me, paradoxically egotistically self-affirming) to hear from the pulpit that we still have important things to learn as a Church, not just as new converts. But isolated statements like this one are up against some institutional inertia sustaining the view that we have pretty much everything figured out, especially Truth-wise. If we want to know how the “ongoing process” perspective play out in our actual church lives we might take a look at the Church’s recently announced plans for a new Sunday School curriculum for adults. The new curriculum has the potential to paradoxically affirm the idea of an ongoing process of Restoration while also denying or obscuring it.

For one thing, the change in curriculum itself as a bald fact bears out Pres. Uchtorf’s description of “an ongoing process.” Bracketing for a second the various views about differences between changing “doctrine” and “practice,” this shift in approach signals that Church leaders take current circumstances into account and try to adjust accordingly. Past adjustments to the Sunday School program were more teacher-focused (see Exhibit A: the Teaching: No Greater Call manual and the lack of any Learning: No Greater Response companion). If the Deseret News report about the new changes can be trusted as representative, focus has shifted from teachers to individual class members: “Improved learning skills are necessary” for Church members in order to improve our Sunday Schools. The teacher/learner role is collapsed: “the use of individual agency to spiritually prepare, to seek learning and to share with or teach others” are the guiding principles.


The folks in charge of the new curriculum seem to emphasize the need for open discussion, which itself isn’t really a new thing (see again, Exhibit A above, and its repeated emphasis on generating discussion). The big change then seems to regard what is being discussed. I think most members will take any change as an improvement over our tragicomically outdated manuals. But a few people have expressed concern that the Church is moving even further away from sustained reading of our scriptural texts in favor of a discussion of broad “truths” which we already know, and which we then undergird with proof-texted scriptures wrested from their original contexts in a catechism-type fashion. This is an old concern., as we see in Exhibit B: a master’s thesis written in the 70s by a then-soon-to-be prominent Church educator:
“[Since the BoM is not a] formal theological treatise, the concepts of Deity which it teaches come in a rather piecemeal fashion which creates the danger of taking individual passages out of their proper context and perverting their meaning.”
This is former BYU religious education professor Joseph Fielding McConkie. Learners who are interested in teasing out the contexts and the multiple perspectives of our scriptures sense the danger McConkie describes, but may see problems with his two-part solution:
“The first rule of interpretation, then, is that each individual passage must be interpreted in light of the message of the entire book, for it is all regarded as scripture. Accepting the premise that the Book of Mormon is scripture, it is then proper to proceed on the assumption that all scriptures are in harmony, that they do not contradict each other. Hence, the second rule of interpretation is that passages which appear to be in conflict should be read so that they harmonize.”
Thomas Alexander, another distinguished BYU professor, has described this sort of approach as what I’ve decided to label “the myth of cumulative coherence.” All scriptures are in harmony and they never contradict each other. They only build one on top of the other in a progressive fashion. Alexander says this approach generally results in “bad history” by giving an “unwarranted impression of continuity and consistency.” A third BYU professor, Craig Harline, recently published a piece in BYU Studies which also calls into question this sort of simplistic view of history (you can also catch it on YouTube).


Having taken a look at a lot of Mormon history, I’m inclined to sympathize more with Alexander and Harline than McConkie when it comes to both learning and teaching in the Church. But I’m also encouraged by the bare fact that three BYU professors can publicly express different views. I can think of no better way for our new curriculum to meet the goal of “improved learning skills” and encouragement of “the use of individual agency” than to somehow communicate that the ongoing process of the Restoration includes changes and reversals, and that history can be messy, and that a variety of perspectives are welcome, and that we can talk openly with each other about them. It’s true, we Latter-day Saints need to improve in the specific area of scriptural exegesis, but I believe we can begin to partially address that problem in the process of meeting these other goals because we’ll be creating the necessary room to discuss such things to begin with. I’m interested to see how it all shakes out.

The fact that we’re changing things up with our Sunday School approach suggests that as a Church we have room to maneuver, to learn, to grow. But it doesn’t necessarily clarify whether we also have some room to make mistakes or to account for them or openly correct them. Depending on how the new curriculum works in practice, it has the potential to paradoxically affirm the idea of an ongoing Restoration process while also denying or obscuring it.

Comments

  1. RE: Your observation about some fears expressed regarding the lack of sustained reading of scriptural text: It is true that my Sunday School class seems rather un-read, and rather disinterested in reading. Perhaps if we made the text more central to Sacrament meeting worship, it would establish a value that bleeds into Sunday School.

    Thanks for this thoughtful essay.

  2. As someone who has taught Gospel Doctrine on and off over the last ten years, I tend to think that any change to the set curriculum can only be a good thing.

    Then again, I could be wrong.

    I could be very, very wrong.

  3. “it is then proper to proceed on the assumption that all scriptures are in harmony, that they do not contradict each other”

    This mentality is what has in a certain sense ruined scriptural understanding for many Mormons. It is behind the impulse of Correlation to present all individual scriptural passages as internally consistent with each other, when they manifestly are not. Neither the Gospel nor reality require us to receive all individual scriptural passages as internally consistent or harmonious. So it is really frustrating and confusing that this is the demand that Correlation (and those sharing Joseph Fielding McConkie’s opinion on the matter) place on scripture and on Latter-day Saints studying and interpreting scripture.

  4. J. Stapley says:

    Thanks for the post. I’ve been brewing a response as well, though I’m not sure that I will have time to write it. As you say, the current manuals are extremely poor, and the only way to have a good class experience, in my opinion, is to disregard them. However, because the lessons are actually based on scripture, good teachers can and do just go to the scriptural texts and teach from there. My sense is that this is rare, albeit wonderful when it actually happens.

    The move towards topicality may increase the average quality of Gospel Doctrine class, but it also eliminates the possibility of actually learning from and with scripture. I’m uncertain how the cost benefit dynamic will play out.

  5. This development in the curriculum is the natural next step as we collectively move in the direction of only valuing General Authorities’ interpretations of scripture (usually as prooftexts for a particular idea they are trying to discuss). In such a scenario, there can be no “teachers” among non-General Authority members of the Church because there can be no presumption that any one individual has anything to teach that each member of the class does not equally know already.

    Is it a manifestation of pride? That is, are we taking umbrage that someone besides a General Authority might have something they can teach us about the Gospel? Or, in situations where it is manifestly evident that the teacher does indeed have unique or specialized knowledge about the topic that could be taught to the class (such as if your Sunday School teacher were someone like Kevin Barney or Ben Spackman), then does our collective pride (or the pride of the curriculum committee) manifest itself by shrugging off such expertise and asking how such a teacher, despite their wealth of “secular” knowledge about the scriptures, could tell us anything about the meaning of the scriptures, their context, their history, and interpretation that a General Authority has not already said? Or in such a situation with a teacher with specialized knowledge, does our pride cause us to shrug that off, saying that if a General Authority has not said it about a scripture, or the information is not useful to prooftext some particular current teaching of a General Authority, then it is irrelevant?

  6. Kevin Barney says:

    As a current GD teacher, I will watch this development with interest. Count me as one who is worried about moving away from a scripture-based curriculum. I worry that this might be the latest D&C manual (which moved away from being an actual course on the D&C and Church History to being simply a bland topical smorgasbord) on steroids.

    Student-centric discussion can be a great thing, and I encourage it as much as possible. But the problem with such discussion is that there is a natural limit on it consisting of the existing knowledge base of the students. People can’t discuss what they don’t know. If no one has read the scripture assignment (and trust me, no one has), then instead of sharing new insights from recent study we get the same warmed over comments that people made four years ago and four years before that in every interation of that curriculum year. But at least with a scriptural basis to the curriculum I can teach the class directly from the scriptures so that they actually LEARN something (and I know from experience that most people long deeply for such a learning environment in Sunday School). But if we move away from the scriptural foundation of the curriculum to just a broad Gospel Topics approach, what little scriptural literacy we now have is going to plummet, and the problem of commenting to the choir will only get worse.

    I hope I’m wrong about this; after all, I haven’t actually seen the new curriculum. But I’m worried about it.

  7. Jason K. says:

    What Kevin said.

  8. And that’s how it can go wrong. I don’t know about y’all, but I find the topic-based lessons in Preisthood (and, presumably, Relief Society) to be generally extremely dull, punctuated by semi-related anecdotes shared by class members. I also agree that the saving grace of the current manuals is that they give you specific scripture readings that you can teach from.

  9. +2 to Kevin. +1 to btdgreg.

    Sunday school is only as good as the class members make it. A great teacher is necessary, but not sufficient for a great Gospel Doctrine experience. If you have a wonderful teacher, that SHOULD make the class members want to study and come prepared, but it’s not always the case.

    Too often we are more concerned with our own “busyness” of serving in the Church that we don’t take time to worship and study on the Sabbath.

    Half the ward walks the halls during Sunday School anyway.

    Another issue with making the adult classes more like the new youth classes is that we don’t have rooms in our chapels that are set up to use media very well at all. Even if you can get a projector out of the materials center (hard to do, them folks are normally fairly nazi-ish) then you won’t have decent audio.

    I’m hopeful, but would like to see the Church value the study of the scriptures (by all adults) more than we currently seem to.

  10. I know that the new SS curriculum is patterned after the new Youth curriculum introduced recently. Having watched Elder Bednar implement the BYU-Idaho ‘Learning Model’ here before he left, I wasn’t surprised when I saw it show up in general church organization.

    http://www2.byui.edu/LearningModel/src/default.htm

    Although this alternate result being discussed here is terrifying to me – already I tell people I know the reason Heavenly Father puts me in primary: Sunday School. You’re saying it might get more polarized? With more reliance on apostles words instead of scripture? Ugh, I’m already suffering through Sacrament meeting talks of regurgitated General Conference. Please, no.

  11. The only argument for keeping Sunday school is that it’s the one hour of church where we actually (are supposed to) study the scriptures. I’m going to withhold judgment until I’ve actually seen the curriculum, but if it’s modeled after the youth curriculum, I am skeptical as to its usefulness. (FWIW, I think the youth curriculum is fine, assuming youth are learning the scriptures in seminary and/or at home–but since the YW/YM curriculum is virtually identical, I’m not sure what is the point of having two hours of this instruction, except to keep the youth occupied while the adults are doing Sunday school and RS/Priesthood and the little kids are doing Primary/Singing Time.)

  12. wondering says:

    Interesting post.

    How confident are we that the new SS curriculum will no longer be organized around study of sections of scripture, like it mostly is now, towards study of topics? The Deseret News article seemed a little vague on this. Are there any other sources for this rumor?

  13. I know that the youth in my class have enjoyed the shift in how we’re teaching our class. While I think it’s a great idea to have our Gospel Principles and Gospel Doctrine classes, it feels like this new curriculum would be a great in between step from Gospel Principles to Gospel Doctrine for those who aren’t ready for Gospel Doctrine.

    I’m not sure if this makes sense?

    That said, it would be great know that topics similar to the ones I cover with my students are being covered in the adult Sunday School classes. This would open up more conversation with my peers who aren’t teaching during our second hour.

  14. Reblogged this on Revival Girl and commented:
    Changes are coming to the Adult Sunday School program. This exciting change will move our second hour of classes for adults closer to the way that we teach our youth.
    My comment for this article is below:

    I know that the youth in my class have enjoyed the shift in how we’re teaching our class. While I think it’s a great idea to have our Gospel Principles and Gospel Doctrine classes, it feels like this new curriculum would be a great in between step from Gospel Principles to Gospel Doctrine for those who aren’t ready for Gospel Doctrine.

    I’m not sure if this makes sense?

    That said, it would be great know that topics similar to the ones I cover with my students are being covered in the adult Sunday School classes. This would open up more conversation with my peers who aren’t teaching during our second hour.

  15. Wondering:

    How confident are we that the new SS curriculum will no longer be organized around study of sections of scripture, like it mostly is now, towards study of topics? The Deseret News article seemed a little vague on this. Are there any other sources for this rumor?

    Spot on. I am not sure how much the new curriculum will be focused on scripture or not. That’s one of the reasons I tried to direct the conversation elsewhere. Specifically, on the idea that the changes might facilitate more openness in our classes, which would be a good thing especially if one assumes that the Restoration is an ongoing process.

  16. N. Brown says:

    I worry that a move towards online resources will actually discourage participation. I currently attend a Sunday School class for lower-income converts, and the class has been fantastic because everyone reads the assigned texts before coming. The students are now taking turns even teaching some of the lessons. However, most of the class members do not have the Internet. And even people who do have the Internet will not know what to read or study unless it the material is announced in advance, which is pretty unlikely.

  17. Thanks for the interesting post.

    You could have linked to Alexander’s article at Sunstone’s archive ( https://www.sunstonemagazine.com/pdf/049-08-18.pdf ), now your link goes to a reproduction of the article at a Finnish antimormon page.

  18. JA Benson says:

    IMHO, I think it is a bad move. I teach youth Sunday School, and most of these lessons are dumbed down bullet points. We spend each month on one subject, the lessons for YW and YM are on the same subject with an hour a week at seminary on the same subject. Each month 3 hours X 4 on a single subject! We should be challenging our students to delve deep into the scriptures, and the new curriculum doesn’t do the scriptures justice. I have grave concerns with only reading 3-4 short passages of scripture; which will be lost, mixed in with downloaded videos shown on a ipad or laptop, manuals, and 2-3 conference talks. We will not learn the scriptures! Younger members and converts will not learn the characters in the Book of Mormon and they will not see the scope of a particular book of scripture. Elderly class members and others who do not have access to the internet will be left out. People with poor sight will have difficulties with viewing online lessons and the videos. People who are poor of hearing will not have a book to follow along with the lesson. We are under condemnation for not reading and taking the Book of Mormon seriously, how is the new curriculum going to help with this issue?

  19. Hedgehog says:

    I’d love a really rigorous scripture based Sunday School class. This doesn’t sound like things are headed that way.
    My concerns about disenfranchisement of poorer or very elderly members by increasing use of online systems were in part addressed by my post (http://www.wheatandtares.org/13863/the-paperless-stake/), dated prior to the announced changes to Sunday School. Similar concerns apply however.

  20. hemshadley says:

    The question is, is will the Sunday School curriculum goal change from gospel learning to conversion? Because the youth Come Follow Me goal is quite clear: to convert. The emphasis on discussion and gospel application does not necessarily preclude a scripture based curriculum. The youth curriculum has given me the flexibility to discuss scripture meanings quite extensively. One thing that is missing in this discussion is the greater responsibilities the learners have to study and learn and come to class prepared to discuss. There will always be those who don’t read the lesson, but I have found that over time, as responsibilities shift from teacher lectures to learner participation and assignments, people step up. My experience teaching the new curriculum hasn’t dumbed down the youth – quite the opposite – they have been challenged in many ways. That is not to say that they have been frustrated by the redundancy of facing similar topics in their various classes. That is something that as teachers and leaders we need to fix.

    What is the goal of Sunday School, of knowing the scriptures? For me, it is to make the scriptures a greater part of my consciousness and ultimately apply them to my life. Does that happen through Sunday School teaching or as part of my personal study? Perhaps both, but maybe this change is to shift responsibility to the learner, and the teacher acts as a facilitator/discussion leader rather than lecturer, so that spirit of testimony is more present in the classroom, thus generating a spirit of change among learners.

    But I agree: we need to know the scriptures. This cannot be lost. If the Sunday School moves toward a more topical focus, it could give teachers more flexibility with the scriptures, i.e., not stuck using just Old Testament. Teachers can focus on many elements of scripture: stories, context, contrast, interpretation, etc. A qualitative vs. quantitative approach.

    Interestingly, the women (hooray for smart women!) in our ward have two long-time scripture study groups going since the early 1980s. They run concurrently with the Sunday School curriculum. Hopefully these will continue.

  21. rameumptom says:

    I think this is a good thing IF we give teachers and students the right tools, and the right focus. If we have them spend a month discussing FAITH, for instance, they will be forced to dig a little deeper, to keep the discussion going for an entire month. The current lessons only skip across the surface of the scriptures, and never gives the members a chance to really discuss things in a deeper context. Perhaps this will be the chance to do it. With you, I also disagree with McConkie. If we simplify the scriptures too much, then we gain nothing out of them except spiritual Twinkies (Elder Holland’s term). lots of froth, but no real substance.
    The quality of the discussion will come down to the teachers. They will have to make assignments to the members to research topics and scriptures from different angles, so as to assure that each concept is looked at closely. This does not mean they will have to use textual criticism or archaeology to enliven the class, but it could.
    My testimony is fairly strong, because I allow it to be challenged by new ideas and ways to read and understand the scriptures. If we do not give members the chance to do so, then they will likely be carried off by every wind of doctrine that blows by.

  22. I have taught Sunday School for 20 out of the past 25 years, and have rotated through all the levels and ages. I’m currently teaching the youth, so I’ve had a chance to use the CFM format for a while now. I am thoroughly converted to the teaching style, but less so with the resources given. The change was not difficult for me, since I had already moved toward a more conversational style of teaching over time. For me, the change felt like the curriculum was finally catching up with what I was already doing.

    The material and resources provided are, IMO, inadequate for a legitimate lesson. I view it as a starting point for my own research and prep. Throughout the week I keep notes, drawing out the divergent paths where the conversation could go, line up relevant scripture, and for the youth, I think of useful metaphors and analogies that might help them get their thoughts focused.

    When in class, I don’t let the youth get away with canned answers, and even amongst themselves they recognize a “read the scriptures and pray about it” answer, and will push each other to dig deeper. I often set up seemingly incongruous positions, split the class and have them defend their positions to the other, and then help them work their way through the reconciliation process.

    I know no one preps for the class. At one point I used to do all my prep work by Wednesday so I could put the relevant scriptures and stories on our class facebook page, but no amount of prodding could get the youth to read and think ahead of time. I’ve given up on that idea. Honestly, I don’t know how adults would do in that aspect. I suspect marginally, but not much better.

    Bottom line, much of the success of the new format rests on the teacher. If the teacher will simply follow the dumbed-down bullet points, read the GA quotes and show the videos, the new format will be a spectacular failure for anyone trying to learn.

    If you are unfortunate enough to be in one of those classes, I think it would help if you did some study ahead of time and come to class with a bagful of questions and start tossing them out to generate some thinking, searching, and learning. Who knows, you might even inspire the teacher to update his/her style of teaching to one that’s more conducive to learning, and less about passive regurgitating the canned material.

  23. The youth curriculum succeeds for practical purposes as well. Class sizes tend to be significantly smaller, with 20 likely being the upper limit in very large wards, 10 being more average. Sunday School is a different beast when it comes to adults, as there is frequently only one class that is a catch all for those not participating in other church assignments. Class size averages 30-40 in smaller wards and in some wards I have attended there were 50+. It felt like a lecture hall on a university campus. There are simply too many people and the intimate knowledge of the audience that a teacher of a small class can use to drive and personalize discussion is not possible.

    The only standout experience I’ve had regarding effective SS lessons was a bit of an experiment. The focus was on improving the teaching abilities of interested members of the ward. The class was about 8 people. Each week 2 or 3 people would volunteer to teach a short 15-20 min lesson the next week. The topic was always of their choosing, with 2 foundations. (1) it had to be clear that the lesson focused on Christ, and (2) it should be based in the scriptures. It was amazing, at least initially. I learned things I had never even been exposed to. For the first time in many years I actually looked forward to SS. Unfortunately, interest waned over time, and the experiment came to an end.

    As M.A. commented, to succeed in SS you absolutely need a gifted teacher. The bulk of the preparation rests on the teacher’s shoulders. I still teach as a sub when I can, and my assumption going in to the lesson is that no one reads anything; they probably only marginally remember the lesson from the week before.

    Also, I rarely use the teacher manuals. I look at what scriptures the lesson covers and put the manual away. I start with the scriptures and move from there. I absolutely hated teaching the D&C last year because there were several lesson plans that were almost bereft of scriptural references and lacking in substance.

  24. My ward has great teachers. So maybe they aren’t brilliant scholars like Kevin Barney and Blair Hodges, although some of them are pretty smart. But they definitely don’t passively regurgitate the canned material in the manual. Do they use the manual? Yes, somewhat, as a discussion guide. But they bring the material home by using personal experiences and encouraging the class members to do the same. We have a lot of class participation/discussion in our GD classes and some, at least, of the class members do read the requisite scriptures ahead of time. But then, as I’ve said before, I do live in the best ward in the church.

  25. When are we getting a two-hour block instead of the three hour block we have now, like they have in some parts of the world? I have also taught Gospel Doctrine classes and thought that too many members were unread in the scriptures. It wouldn’t matter whether we have a SS class or not.

  26. Thanks for the link, Niklas. I blame Sunstone’s poor SEO status on Google and my own past frustrating experience with Sunstone website’s search feature!

  27. unendowed says:

    I tend to see that the difference between a crappy class and a wonderful class is found in the quality of the questions that the teacher asks. Leading questions, obvious questions, or “this question is broad but I am looking for one specific answer” questions grind discussion to a halt. Open-ended questions nearly always garner sincere and thoughtful responses from the members of my ward–or at least from enough members to engage in discussion, despite the nappers in the corners :)

  28. The thing that always annoys me is the thought process that a change or what we’re doing now is necessarily, “better” than in the past. It just feels like its a prideful comparison to put us or what we are doing above or “more right” than what others before us did.

  29. Dq: It was difficult to get this across, but my original post was intended to explore the idea of a straightforward “march of progress” view of the Restoration. I wanted to write something that did more than analyze a change simply in terms of what it makes “better” or “worse.” Especially my conclusion:

    “The fact that we’re changing things up with our Sunday School approach suggests that as a Church we have room to maneuver, to learn, to grow. But it doesn’t necessarily clarify whether we also have some room to make mistakes or to account for them or openly correct them. Depending on how the new curriculum works in practice, it has the potential to paradoxically affirm the idea of an ongoing Restoration process while also denying or obscuring it.”

  30. Samurai6 says:

    It might be nice if I could go back in time and see whether that prominent church educator is really as annoying, pompous and all-knowing as I remember him. The only test I flunked in college was his BOM midterm.

  31. “Hence, the second rule of interpretation is that passages which appear to be in conflict should be read so that they harmonize.”

    Very nice find, Blair! Good thread too, wish I had more time to contribute.

    I wrote about Joseph Fielding Smith’s tendencies (which appear to have rubbed off on the family), here.

    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/oneeternalround/2010/11/encultured-prophets-and-the-firmament-peter-enns-continued/

  32. Oh, and a thanks to John F. for the shoutout!

  33. word, Ben S.

  34. “Count me as one who is worried about moving away from a scripture-based curriculum.”

    I don’t think we are moving away from a scripture-based curriculum. I currently teach using the Come, Follow Me lessons and am able to teach topics right from the scriptures. Teachers are not required to use only the General Conference talks provided; in fact, every lesson lists scriptures before the general conf. talks are listed (so they seem to be given a higher priority than the talks). In training teachers are told to prepare by using the Spirit as a guide. The Spirit always leads me to scriptures.

  35. momtobcie says:

    I know someone involved in the pilot program and she described that it was *both* a block of scriptures as well as a list of possible lessons/topics found within that the teacher could choose to teach from.

    I think I’m more excited about a new RS/Priesthood curriculum. It may be more topical/general conf. talks, but I imo that will be better than the Teachings of the Presidents of the Church.

  36. Glenn Smith says:

    Ditto to Kevin Barney’s comment. It sounds like the end of my Saturday night lesson preparation.
    Probably a good thing. My wife and I team teach Gospel Doctrine. I wonder now what the Bishop new when, six weeks ago, he asked us if we were happy in our calling???????????

  37. Glenn Smith says:

    Also, he Deseret New article mentions a move towards more internet resources . So many in my class don’t have internet access. Tablets have become popular among those who do have access, but many, like me, use paper scriptures and the suggested reading pamphlets.

  38. sidebottom says:

    Your proof-text concern is spot-on. The Come, Follow Me curriculum virtually canonizes manuals like Preach My Gospel and True to the Faith and elevates BYU devotionals to the level of General Conference talks, often relegating the actual Word of God to an embarrassing supporting role. I’m all for modernizing the format of adult Sunday School, but I’m hoping the scriptures remain the foundation of the curriculum.

  39. My only concern about the new curriculum, if it will be topic-based, is that the topics need to change annually. If they remain the same year after year . . .

    Other than that, I have loved what I have been able to do as a youth Sunday School teacher. We have been able to dive into important topics FAR more deeply than was possible in the past. If the topics remain the same next year, it will be hard – since it will be the third time through the same topics for the kids who have been in my class last year and this year. ( I teach all of the high school students in our ward.)

  40. I’ve taught for many years, off and on, in the gospel doctrine classes. My classes have always been discussion based as this particular format of teaching has been stressed by the church all the years I’ve been involved in teaching. I learned early on the importance of questions that encourage discussion and personal application. The class members have responded eagerly to that type teaching. We never “covered” a lesson in one class period.

    My latest experience has been bittersweet. I taught gospel essentials. When we completed the course, the class wanted to remain in my class–so the SS presidency suggested we go through the marriage and family relationships course of study. Following its completion, the same scenario emerged. Our ward is small and our town is small so there were no new students. The leaders in our ward suggested the class be allowed to pick its next subject. The class members stated they would like to understand the Book of Mormon better so we picked up the Institute manual for college students and began working through this. Using my same style of teaching–particularly emphasizing “how can these scriptures apply to you personally today” type questions, we worked our way almost through the Book of Mormon–taking our time. The class grew and grew as more and more people were attracted to an atmosphere of sharing experiences, sharing frustrations, sharing concerns and even anxieties as we worked on making the scriptures a more positive source for living.

    I encouraged class members by often stating, “There are no wrong answers here–rather there is a whole host of experience sitting in this room. What have you learned regarding…..? How can we use what we’ve learned to help us and our families in our/their various stages in life?” I used quotes out of the manuals and stated things like, “Here is how John Doe looks at this idea. What do you think?” It’s really all about building a foundation of trust and then using the best questions…and listening to the answers! I placed a little more emphasis on building the comfort level in the class than I had before and it was greatly rewarding. We laughed and we teared up together. The prayers became so very thoughtful and the class members expressed that they looked forward to coming to the class.

    Then as we entered 3 Nephi, for whatever reason, the leadership decided to disband the class stating to me one of the reasons was that it was becoming too large. It will be replaced with the standard gospel essentials and new member classes. LOL

  41. But I didn’t really address the question concerning the new SS curriculum. If the teacher feels limited by the suggested outside material or isn’t interested in extra study or doesn’t have the time for extra study or doesn’t have the patience to allow the class to respond, there most likely will be much redundancy. There is more to teaching than any manual can address.

  42. Momtobcie said: but I imo that will be better than the Teachings of the Presidents of the Church

    Reading President Monson’s grocery list would be better than the Teachings of the Presidents of the Church. I think the key, as a couple of people have stated, is to have a teacher who takes the time and effort to use the lesson prep materials as something other than a script, and who is prepared to be unprepared should the discussion veer in some unexpected but fruitful direction. What it takes to accomplish this, as I’ve learned both from being ready for it and not being ready for it, is preparation, especially scripture study.

    One of the things I find distressing about the comments above is the number of people who report a class experience that was very successful in fostering learning, unity, inquiry, and real engagement by participants – and was then ended. These seem to have taken as their main text the actual scriptures; q.v. JAS above. How sad that they should be discontinued.

    It’ll be interesting to see how the new topically-arranged curriculum plays out. Following the link so thoughtfully provided by Anon above, yesterday morning, it seems that there have been some wards and stakes piloting the new method. Mine might even be one of them, for all I can tell, at least in Gospel Doctrine. We have been skipping around in the OT quite a bit lately.

    (This Sunday’s gem: When the authority in the meeting asks you to get up and move to the front of the room and you don’t get up and move immediately, that demonstrates a spirit of disobedience. I might have invited that, after I suggested that the Israelites, after centuries of slavery in Egypt and without the Holy Ghost, might be forgiven for not realizing that Moses was God’s prophet, since they had no one’s word but his own.)

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