Tips for Teachers: “Outsourcing”


From my ongoing “tips for teachers” series especially for Sunday School, RS and PH instructors. See here, here, here, here, here, here

The teacher-to-student talk ratio is tough to navigate. The manual repeatedly reminds teachers that if they are taking up most of the time they’re doing it wrong. Chapter 6’sTeaching help” says carefully listening to questions and comments is an “expression of love.” Chapter 9’sTeaching help” says teachers ought to refrain from being the “star of the show” by putting the pupil “into action.” Chapter 16 says skilled teachers ask themselves “What will my students do in class today” rather than “What shall I do in class today.” And I’m particularly fond of Pres. Packer’s quote, the “Teaching help,” in chapter 2:

“Quite a bit of teaching that is done in the Church is done so rigidly, it’s lecture. We don’t respond to lectures too well in classrooms….teaching can be two-way so that you can ask questions. You can sponsor questions easily in a class.”

One nice time to outsource might be during the middle of a lesson, as the “Teaching help” for chapter 23 suggests:

“When an individual asks a question, consider inviting others to answer it instead of answering it yourself. For example, you could say, ‘That’s an interesting question. What do the rest of you think?’ or ‘Can anyone help with this question?’”

Caution: Everyone knows an overly-open atmosphere might allow that crazy red-bearded guy in the back to start opining on some weird tangent. So why wait until the middle of the lesson to sponsor questions or comments? The manual’s Introduction suggests a way to help students share their own perspective in a less off-the-cuff manner:

“Ask participants to share what they have learned from their personal study of the chapter. It may be helpful to contact a few participants during the week and ask them to come prepared to share what they have learned.”

Here’s the kicker: Personal study during the week allows for a broader use of various sources; poems, quotes, stories, and other things we might hear in General Conference, but which certain manual guardians believe are verboten from entering the hallowed cinderblock-walled Sunday School room.

So here’s the second part of this “Outsourcing” tip: Grab a member or two from the class who you think brings a good voice to the mix and ask if they’ll read through the lesson before next week and pick out an excerpt to talk about, or bring a few questions. Check up with them on Sat. to make sure you’re not treading the same ground and let members of the class lead some of the discussions.

And the manual says, teachers should rely largely on the manuals, but you might suggest a particular class member bring in a quote from an inspirational or thought-provoking source to discuss that is associated with what they read in the lesson chapter, a source which doesn’t even have to be in the manual! If you’re particularly cautious, maybe have them shoot you an email during the week to make sure they aren’t bringing in some crazy political theory or something (just the not-crazy sort!). This is just another way to bring outside voices inside the classroom.


  1. Hey! I happen to think crazy red-bearded guys are cool.

  2. Cynthia L. is gonna get you over that infographic!

    I wish my teacher took these tips but I have no desire to teach myself so maybe I should zip it. I’m the crazy (non) red-bearded (non) guy in the back.

  3. Good ideas . . . I like the fact that you’ve introduced a way for participants to reflect and truly bring something of substance forward on Sundays.

    I know that many people react poorly to the ‘lecture’, but I actually would much prefer a well-prepared lecture than a whole bunch of impromptu comments from the peanut gallery. Most of the time class members spout out half-baked gut reactions, personal stories, and comments in what seems like a psychoanalysis ‘free association’ exercise. After a while, it ends up being a lot like watching re-runs of Oprah or Phil Donahue shows. It drives me absolutely batty. I usually see 1-2 people who have anything relevant to add, a whole in the middle who give textbook seminary answers, and then the few off-the-wall people.

    Personal stories brought to the lesson on-the-fly by class members are often doctrinally unsteady. It’s here we often see well meaning members relate stories which may be personally faith-promoting, but also introduce elements like ‘Molly Mormonism/Peter Priesthood’ ideals, the prosperity doctrine, as well as instances where personal ‘revelation’ and paths are not applicable to the larger group.

  4. Cynthia L. is gonna get you over that infographic!

    haha! yes! (i stole it from teh googlz. image search “outsourcing,” tried to avoid anything about India, etc. for obvious reasons.)

    JAT: I know that many people react poorly to the ‘lecture’, but I actually would much prefer a well-prepared lecture than a whole bunch of impromptu comments from the peanut gallery.

    So true. But great teachers can use comments for further digging. Instead of letting everyone do free form poetry hour teachers can kindly push back a little, or try to have people unpack assumptions, ask for contrary or differing perspectives, and facilitate a conversation that digs deeper than what you very accurately describe.

  5. Chris Gordon says:

    Your suggestions are wonderful. All of them require, you know, preparing before Saturday evening or Sunday morning.

  6. “Grab a member or two from the class who you think brings a good voice to the mix and ask if they’ll read through the lesson before next week and pick out an excerpt to talk about, or bring a few questions.” This is also a great way to involve in the discussion who often stay quiet, or who may not even be attending. Adult teachers in church often forget what seems so obvious to many (I most most, but concede not all) teachers or children and youth understand: their calling is to teach all those in their class, not just those who happen to attend on any given Sunday.

  7. Kevin Barney says:

    Excellent ideas.
    When I was a young GD teacher, I was more of a lecturer. I remember attending an inservice meeting and thinking I was going to get my hands slapped for it, but the bishopric counselor told me I was doing a great job, to keep it up. (It turns out that under the prior teacher there were a couple of class members who inappropriately dominated the discussion, and everyone was relieved to give them less control over the lessons).

    A few years ago I was ward SSP, and our Stake SSP converted me to the virtues of class participation.

    But now that I am teaching again, it is complicated. I suspect there is only one person in my class who consistently reads the assignment before hand, which means that if I give the class over completely to discussion, no one is going to actually learn anything.

    So these days I sort of do combinations. I will lecture for maybe ten minutes or so if there is material I feel the class needs to know and will not be prepared to contribute to. But then I go into verse by verse mode, asking questions along the way (many inspired by Julie’s lesson notes). And I’m careful to make it clear to the class that I genuinely am interested in their ideas; I don’t necessarily have a particular answer in mind, and there often is no single “answer book” answer (because I don’t want them to sit there trying to guess what I want, as opposed to sharing their genuine thoughts).

    So these days I sort of mix and match styles, and I think it’s going great. I’m able to both teach them things they find interesting and didn’t already know, but also to get them to participate actively in the lesson.

  8. This is also a great way to involve in the discussion who often stay quiet, or who may not even be attending.

    Responses like this and Kevin’s and you other folks are one of the main reason I post these tips.

    Kev: Questions, I’ve been starting to believe, are the most important thing about lessons. A future tips for teachers will cover questions more in-depth, I hope, to get a discussion going on questions.

  9. Also, conversations with that elusive bloggernacler called AQUINAS have been helpful.

  10. Chris Gordon says:

    Kevin, you bring up a few interesting talking points. I supervise some teachers in my calling and I try to tell them to own their own style more than worrying about the right way to teach. Some of them are young in the church and I don’t want to slam them. There’s definitely a lot to being improvement-minded, and my “own your style” coaching doesn’t downplay that. But in the end, we all have gifts and were called with a mind towards our sharing those gifts and using the opportunity to grow.

    In terms of dealing with only one or two class members who are consistently prepared, I’m seeing more and more that in terms of facilitating individual learning as opposed to conveying knowledge, there’s a lot we should be thinking about in teaching situations about improving that problem. I don’t think there’s a catch-all, but technology certainly helps. I’ve put out there in the Church-Hacker series how awesome it is to get a mid-week email from the instructor about the next week’s lesson, forecasting talking points, maybe some historical or factual background, all with an eye towards helping me be even a leeeeetle bit prepared for the upcoming lesson.

  11. Kevin Barney says:

    I love your e-mail idea. Of course, I don’t have people’s e-mail addresses. I guess I could send around a sheet…

  12. Good stuff!

    “I actually would much prefer a well-prepared lecture than a whole bunch of impromptu comments from the peanut gallery.” Ditto. Of course, I’m biased because I tend to teach that way and people tell me they like it, so…

    As SS Pres., I’m holding a very short training meeting sometime in the next few weeks to focus on asking good questions, because it’s often a problem. Too many crickets chirping, too many inappropriate questions asked. You don’t ask college kids what 4+4 is, and when you don’t get an answer, you shouldn’t follow up with asking if anyone is familiar with addition. I plan on sending them to Teaching: No Greater Call (which is actually decent and sometimes surprising in a good way) but also to Eric Huntsman‘s “Teaching Through Exegesis: Helping Students Ask Questions of the Text “ article in the little-known Religious Educator out of BYU.

    “crazy red-bearded guy” It’s also the red-bearded guy who’s the crazy disruptive one.

  13. Kevin, you can probably find email addresses by logging in to, and then your ward directory.

  14. BHodges,
    You have a great point . . .

    “But great teachers can use comments for further digging. Instead of letting everyone do free form poetry hour teachers can kindly push back a little, or try to have people unpack assumptions, ask for contrary or differing perspectives, and facilitate a conversation that digs deeper than what you very accurately describe.”

    But it is terribly difficult to wrangle or nearly impossible, especially when someone has just shared something very personal (often with tears) which was solicited as an “example” not as a point of discussion for critique. It’s tricky in that situation to know whether it is better to push the person into a deeper understanding of a life principle when it shatters their last vestiges of a defense or coping mechanism. They may not be ready for the next step (kind of like opening up a butterfly cocoon too soon). It takes a tremendous amount of wisdom, tactfulness, digression, inspiration, love, and knowledge of the class members to proceed successfully.


    (Free-form poetry hour . . . very funny, but not so far from the truth.)

  15. One of the only adult callings I would ever accept would be Assistant to the Regional Manager…err I mean GD Teacher. That is, if said calling actually existed. I would love to e-mail people and have them get some talking points and questions going midweek and free the teacher up to teach.

  16. Chris Gordon says:

    The lost art of handouts, Kevin. When I was on my mission, my mom’s ward had a fabulous gospel doctrine class taught by retired sister who’d never been married. She brought fabulous handouts that had extra material she didn’t have time to cover in the lesson and a forecast of the next week’s material. She regularly sent me copies as part of her weekly letters to me and I loved it.

  17. I appreciate handouts as well, but I am glad that by and large they have gone the way of the Dodo. Saves paper, and is less for me to carry around. Most people probably throw it away anyway.

  18. I only have two goals with my lessons: 1. Teach one new thing; 2. Set up one shared spiritual moment. In my experience, a lesson that imparts one new thing and brings in the spirit for even a moment is a rousing success.

    It’s very difficult for me to set up a spiritual moment with a lecture (and I’m not as smart as Kevin), so I try to have a ton of interaction in my classes. Usually the shared spiritual moment comes from a good comment, followed by a short supporting testimony by myself or another class member. I can pretty much count on it happening, even if we sometimes have to dig a bit.

  19. Calling on people in your class a head of time and asking them to share something during class time can be extremely tricky. I’ve seen it backfire on people. I heard of an experience where an instructor called on about three people to briefly share an experience with the class. However, one of the individuals would not stop and just kept going and going and essentially monopolized the class time. Be very very careful and very selective when choosing someone if you decide to go this route. You really have to know and trust this person and communicate well exactly what your goals are. I think this is part of the overall importance of knowing your class.

    As an instructor, if you really and truly do not want to know what people in your class think about a particular topic (which is a possibility), do not ask them any questions. Or, alternatively, get in early to frame the discussion with well-prepared questions that drive the discussion. I think it’s important to be honest either way.

    In terms of how much the class needs to prepare, I’m of a different kind of mind about this. Personally, I think the instructor needs to be very prepared, but I’m more partial to teaching classes that do not require people to have read the manual or the lesson materials. I’m more interested in questioning the ideas that people have without having studied the lesson. People in the church are living the Gospel without referring to manuals and scriptures. I want to engage those assumptions, beliefs, attitudes, that they currently hold that inform their lives. I always keep in mind that classes can have visitors and people who for whatever reason didn’t or shouldn’t have read the lesson manual. Of course, some subject matter lends itself to discussion and some subject matter simply does not.

    But any advice about teaching ultimately depends on the people in the class. The instructor really needs to know his or her class.

  20. aquinas, this is an excellent point. Be very specific with them about how much time you need them to take. I’m glad you pointed that out. Expectations need to be very clear!

  21. My favorite teacher would give us “glue ins” so that, if we chose to, we could glue the small pieces of paper into our scriptures that had additional thoughts and insights from the lesson. I continue to refind those gems, several years later.

  22. Every person that speaks their own words in a class is “a source which doesn’t even have to be in the manual!”

  23. In my lessons I’ve started opening up by just giving a brief overview of the topic, and then asking the class what questions they have about that topic, and then doing the rest of the class in a question and answer format. People seem more engaged when the lesson is answering their specific concerns, or at least trying to. I can’t take credit for this idea, I got it from the way visiting authorities do question and answer sessions.

  24. To some extent, at-home, class member preparation for lessons in Sunday School and Priesthood/Relief Society is a chicken/egg problem: Folks won’t feel motivated to prepare if the teacher doesn’t involve them in a way that makes preparation useful. And it’s hard for teachers to prepare a lesson in a way that makes preparation useful unless class members prepare. So typically as class members we don’t prepare, and teachers teach as if we hadn’t. One question is how to break that cycle.

  25. JrL, I think a few good suggestions in the comments might help. Email lists, contacting people during the week, making specific assignments, hand-outs with previews of the next lesson, etc. But yes, it’s a difficult thing to negotiate.

  26. JrL (24), how to break the cycle is certainly one question. However, we could ask why there is a perception that class members need to prepare at head of time. I’m for reconsidering this idea that somehow preparation on behalf of class members actually enhances the class experience. I’m skeptical that this even holds true. Instructors could continually be frustrated at what they perceive is a lack of preparation, or, they can change their approach to teaching, and find ways to teach that do not require class members to have “prepared” in some formal sense.

  27. Kevin Barney says:

    I used to worry more about class perparation than I do now. For one thing, quite honestly when I’m a student in the class I never read the assignment, and if I don’t do it I don’t see how I can ask others to. So these days I pretty much work off of the assumption that almost everyone has *not* read the assignment.

  28. Same, Kev and aquinas. I’m suggesting here in this tip that we can outsource to one or two people in a way that allows them to engage in wider material than what we find in the manual, and bring that into the discussion.

  29. Thank you! I’m teaching the GAS lesson 10 on the scriptures in 2 weeks and I have no idea where to go with it. I think I really will ask some people ahead of time to share things, seeing as how I’m in a stump myself.

  30. charlene says:

    I’m going to play both sides of the question of class member preparation.

    Side one: encouraging class members to come prepared.
    In a *mature* ward, the class members have been through these lessons at least 4-5 times. I had one wonderful class member who practically had the manual memorized and sat on the edge of his chair waiting for me to ask the typical questions. It was my goal to have the class hear at least some small thing they hadn’t heard before, and the greatest complement was, “I’ve never heard it taught that way.” I really focused on trying to ask good questions.

    Side two: assuming they have not previously read the scriptures or lesson.
    Because the class discussion often touched on less common topics, I always encouraged the class to go home and reread the scriptures from that lesson; to gain their own testimonies of what was written, and just to be sure that *I didn’t tell any lies.* Essentially, *post*-paration.

  31. Kevin Barney says:

    One of my goals (and I’m quite upfront about this) is to intrigue the class enough so that at least some o fthem will go home and actually read the material (sort of like your post-paration idea). I don’t know how often it might happen, but I hope it works that way at least occasionally.

  32. charlene says:

    Post-reading did happen more often than I had anticipated. And it led to some very spirited and deep conversations later, and some real, long-term learning. Scriptures are not generally easy to understand, so the background and context provided in the class seemed to be helpful.

    I can only aspire to be almost as good a teacher as you are, Kevin.

  33. Chris Gordon says:

    Charlene, I’m totally stealing the notion of *post*-paration. Good one! How much of the challenge for less seasoned teachers is lack of self-confidence? It would be great if more SSPs and bishopric members took to heart encouraging the teachers. I say this because so often I hear teachers measuring how their lesson went by unrealistic or even unnecessary expectations. It does take a measure of self-confidence to not feel threatened by silence, by a lack of preparation in the students, and to be able to sort of surf the wave of the discussion and still end up in a good place.

  34. BHodges, I’m wondering if we can leverage real time technology in our classes. In my ward I would guess that almost half of the class members now use a tablet or smartphone instead of printed manuals and scriptures and that is only going to increase in the future. Right now we mostly use these devices as an electronic substitute for printing and sometimes we use email for sending out material or reminders in the week before the lesson, but can we send materials, quotes, references, illustrations and multimedia to people in real time in the classroom? It could add another dimension to our teaching, allow the use of more engaging materials, and stimulate new thoughts and participation.

  35. In order to check e-mail during class some folks would need access to wifi. I know my ward doesn’t have it.

  36. EOR, I’m not thinking email here. I have no experience with this, I’m just musing, but I’m thinking about something like those apps let you meet people when they get near you, some kind of real time sharing among the group in the class. Right now may be too soon for this but I’m thinking in 5 years or less smartphone technology will be common and ubiquitous, how can we use that technology to not just replicate old methods but enlarge them?

  37. You’re right. I wouldn’t really know. I do have an iPod Touch that I bring with me with the Gospel Library app but it isn’t a phone so I need wifi for anything other than apps. I prefer to use a prepaid phone for actual phoning purposes. :)

  38. Meldrum the Less says:

    I think one of the big problems with teaching in the church is that we are kinda foggy on the basic goal. After half a century in the church I am not certain I can clearly define the basic goal of Sunday school lessions in contrast to Priesthood lessons. If you take a college course, there is a sort of defined body of information the student is expected to absorb and regurgitate back on a test. In more advanced courses there might be papers and debates that demonstrate when the student has thought about a topic in sufficient depth. A course at a technical school might teach the student how to do something specific like change the brakes on a car or do an ultrasound test on the heart. Teaching blends into the whole field of salesmanship with the concept that if a person really knew what a great brand of carrot juice this was, they would be willing to pay for it. Coca Cola is teaching the world to drink in perfect harmony, its beverage of course. Is this analogous to lessons at church, the goal to get us all drinking the same flavor of conceptual Koolaid? Teaching also blends into entertainment; for example Glen Beck and his fusion of education and entertainment, maybe heavy on the entertainment if you find him amusing.

    At church we have ill defined goals, If I sit through 70 years of sunday school and prtiesthood lessons, will I have the equivalent of a degree in theology? (70 yrs x 52 wks/yr x 2 hr/wk= 4 yrs x 40 wks/yr x 45.5 hrs/wk). Likely not. We hear about being bored at church, but I bet law school is damned awful boring and necessary in acquiring those abilities. Is church mere community and the lessons only an excuse for it and the enlightened ones are out in the foyer chatting with one another? We might not all have the same goals for lessons at church even if they were defined. (The cynic in me thinks the goal is maximum tithing extraction, or indoctrination to suspend disbelief in troubling areas. But I don’t see how the lessons we have now approach even these simple dark goals.)

    Aside from the fundamental why we teach, I suggest that class size strongly affects everything else about teaching. It is limited by who is willing to teach more than anything else. I would think that any change or improvement is going to come when more people (like many on this website) get involved in teaching. We need to stop sitting around waiting for the few teaching callings to gently descend from on high and be more proactive in requesting or volunteering for teaching assignments. With more classes we might have more specialization in various directions to accomplish separate worthwhile goals. At the very least we would have more choices and using the principle, even a blind squirrel finds a few acorns, perhaps succeed in improving.

    One thing I know; my motivation to attend lessons out of the brilliantly devised manuals as they are currently constituted at church is about as low as it can get.

  39. I wonder if the Savior had a little red in his beard. :) Could these tips be applied to the bloggernacle in some way?

  40. Chris Gordon says:

    Meldrum, whether it’s communicated properly is something that I’m ready to admit needs to be addressed. However, the goal of Sunday instruction is and always has been to facilitate individual learning. I’m something of a curriculum apologist so you’ll have to take it with a grain of salt, but one of the reasons why I think the powers that be don’t lose a lot of sleep over the quality of manual is that, at their best, they are just little nudges to study your scriptures. If class guides or manuals were more detailed, and more oriented towards doing the nourishing, I suspect the powers that be fear that they would supplant the study from the scriptures that needs to happen.

    That there are ongoing tweaks and improvements to both the teachers’ helps and ideas for discussion in the print and online version of the lessons is a testament to the ever-evolving process of finding the best way to do this.

  41. Good ideas, BH. I am often tempted to take over the lesson because I’m not certain the young people will be able to answer the questions well. But they always do better than I expect, and often better than I’d do.

  42. This is a tricky thing to navigate, one that I’m always questioning in the last minutes of Sacrament Meeting with my pre-class “shut-up pep talk.” I find that the class wants a lot of change-up, so I’ve had panels of 5 -8 people who are willing to field questions as we go through the material (and they sit in a semi-circle in the front and simply raise their hands if they have an answer.) I’ve done glue-ins but found that my 8-point text doesn’t work for people, so now I send them in an email and if people want them they can print them. I circulated a sign-up list because people are sensitive about being spammed by members of the church and only want to receive email they’ve requested. I also took the signup sheet to primary and some have said they appreciate getting a little of the discussion (I send out a one-age synopsis of the lesson with quotes and sources, links and glue-ins.) We often do, as Kevin suggested above, a short introduction with material they probably wouldn’t have already heard or have access to and then a verse-by-verse discussion of selected sections with the class providing feedback. One time I didn’t speak at all in class, just wrote the references on the board, people looked them up and read aloud commenting on them, and I created the outline of what I felt I was supposed to teach as they talked. It worked really well that week and the class was so excited to discover together what I wanted to teach without me having to say a word (it was also good for my verbosity.) I felt like a real success a few weeks ago (after teaching this time around for a couple of years now) when a sister (who didn’t enjoy scripture study) commented that she finds herself pondering a verse for much of a day, imagining the situation and environment and trying to come up with answers to questions she didn’t even know she had. I can now be released. I create more questions than answers.

  43. Bethany says:

    Truthfully; give the lesson and have done with it. Now that the manuals are “open” it’s not even worth having a manual as there’s no information on the topic given. It’s a waste of paper. My seminary book is laughable because of lack of information. I finally gave up and use the institute versions. I hate when the manual says to refer to a study guide that no one bothered to pass out in the seminary meeting. I have 2 kids in seminary; mine. When the manual says spend 20 minutes talking about x topic it’s not going to happen especially when the topic is 2 paragraphs. I feel like I’m doing a research paper every day hunting for information via the web because it’s not in the manual.

    My ward is full of crazy people that make classes impossible to enjoy. Try having 12 red headed guys/girls in there that think they are cute, funny and knowledgeable on every topic. Then “old and dead” are convinced everything is evil bringing the entire class down.

    I know I sound negative, but “open” classes are nothing put a pain and I leave with a splitting headache wondering why I bothered coming. This idea may work for large wards but not for the small rural ones.

  44. So I read the tip as “have a couple of plants in the audience”.

  45. Meldrum the Less says:

    Bro.Chris Gordon # 40;

    I am going to try and politely disagree with you. I will assume your mind reading ability of “the powers that be” is essentially correct, which indicates I am disagreeing with them. Which might be disallowed according to the policies of the blog, but here goes.

    “facilitate individual learning”

    Really? We live in an information age and have several conventions on how that is done. Presentation of large amounts of factual verifiable material, critical thinking and evaluation of it from different perspectives, lectures and reading assignments, tests or papers to demonstrate and motivate learning. None of this exists in sunday school. The church sunday school program does not follow these conventions except on the most superficial level. At best the church is using extremely unconventional primitive educational methods. When I was young I would have agreed with you and assumed the same. I have vague memories of the Mckay-Bennion years when this might have been the case, at least partially. But years of corrleated experience has convince me this is not really true. Silly me for remembering my life time of experiences.

    BTW I reject the aparant distinction between institutional and individual learning. All learning is ultimately individual, whether done at an ivy league unversity or by some Scottish sheepherder on a loney crag by candle light without electricity. Institutions only facilate more effective individual learning.

    “more detailed, and more oriented” ….”fear that they would supplant the study from the scriptures”

    My experience is precisely the opposite. The more I know about the details the more I want to know about the scriptures and the more likely I am to read them. I was bored when I didn’t know very much. When I have spent years studying the scriptures in great depth and seeking out those who possess more extensive knowledge and reading the best of their books, then I sit in a class where a first grader would find it too watered down, that is supposed to motivate me to study more? What kind of nonsense is this? Our current sunday school might more rationally be described as a method to bore us into not digging deeper. Perhaps for good reason.

    I have a line in my patriarchial blessing, (one of the few that has not become laughable irrelevant); it admonishes me to study the scriptures and the gospel in depth in preparation to teach it. I have followed that instruction to the best of my ability over the many decades of my life and now find that this level of preparation is discouraged, not even allowed! That I have wasted years and years, hours every week preparing to teach … nothing. Except to teach myself. I didn’t need to go to the current fluffy version of sunday school for that. Staying home during sunday school would have been far more effective.

    Anything of value at sunday school has so rarely been about individual learning for me. Social or service or entertainment (laughing at not with teachers) or indoctrination of the new members or some other vague function, maybe.

    I would love to apply some sort of method to measure how much time we spend in church classes and how much we actually learn and compare it to high school and college courses. Our public schools in the US are an embarassment but I suspect they are facilitating more individual learning more than our LDS sunday schools.

    Nothing personal.

  46. I happen to be deaf, and in pretty much all the deaf groups/branches/wards I’ve been a member of, I’ve been called to be the GD teacher. It’s one of the hardest callings, IMO, because of several reasons, such as literacy level (many deaf people have a weak grasp of the English language – let alone KJV type English.), communication (asking everyone to read a verse from the scriptures means that I cannot continue until everyone looks back up at me so I can continue my lesson in American Sign Language [ASL]), etc.

    Preparation by members of a deaf GD class is pretty much nil. My current GD class has an interesting mix of people – a deaf couple w/o strong English skills but a good grasp of ASL, their brother who is more literate in written Spanish, but very weak in ASL, two well educated deaf brethren, their hearing wives, etc. It’s a challenge to prep a lesson that will grasp the interest of such a diverse group.

    Outsourcing for me means that the same brethren will be called on again and again. Maybe I really need to revisit this and really think about how the Savior would approach this? I’ve used Powerpoints (Keynote actually) over the years, but worry that the eye-candy of these does not provide for natural discussion among class members.

    Maybe I need to think that like Abinadi, I may not ever know how much I’ve influenced someone’s testimony until after the Savior returns, so I ought to keep teaching and not merely keeping the same habit of preparing my lesson each week the same way? Approach each week seriously pondering how I can best share the information in the lesson with the class members and let the Spirit guide me as I prepare? The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak, and would rather me just wing it each week, since the result seems to be pretty much the same.

  47. Bonnie:

    “I’ve had panels of 5 -8 people..”
    I imagine this could be extremely useful if there are certain members of the class who tend to dominate the lesson by offering their views. This could be a good way to get quieter folks (if they are up for it) to share their views in class, too. Panel idea=intriguing to me.

    “I circulated a sign-up list…”
    excellent suggestion. stealing it.

    “I create more questions than answers.”
    I wish we did more of this more often.

    Bethany: haha, don’t hold back!
    Then “old and dead” are convinced everything is evil bringing the entire class down.
    I seriously dislike when the class turns into a discussion about what “the world” is doing, how we are better than “the world” and so forth, and how “the world” is totally going to pot. I try to steer completely out of such dead-end conversations, yes!

    #45, MtL: Have you considered having a chat with your SS president or the Bishop about how things might improve in your ward?

    hryanl: Awesome, I learned ASL on my mission and translated for the deaf members in a few wards. You’ve described the difficulties quite well, the different literacy levels, etc. It’s a serious challenge especially when we insist on things like the KJV. There simply must be more flexibility on that, and I encourage you to step around and use a more accessible translation if possible. I also think outsourcing might be an excellent way to get more people involved in the class discussion, and you might try Bonnie’s panel idea to see how effective that is. Then you’d have a small group of people at the front of the class, visible, for conversation.

  48. hryanl – I think sometimes that I’m very narrow-minded, and I had never considered the special situation of deaf members. I really appreciate you spending the time to comment because it opened my eyes. I have hard of hearing people in my class and I can’t take being trapped behind the lectern, so I have an elastic band on a small mic that I wrap around my neck so that I can walk handsfree (I know, so ghetto, but the ward hasn’t worked out the kinks in adapting our system for a handsfree mic). I’ve tried yelling, and it’s not a stretch for me because I have a loud voice, but they say they can’t hear it as well as the mic. At first I thought they were being woosiebutts, but when one came up to me after class and sincerely thanked me for wearing my leash and humbly explained that it really does make a difference, I was chastised and don’t complain now. I think I need a major wakeup call to consider others’ experiences.

    Regarding the panels, I have about 4 outspoken people, and I usually put half of them on the panel and pull up 3-5 others. Over time, however, my quieter people are talking more and it hasn’t been as necessary to try to calm down the frequent speakers. Once I had a comment war and divided the room in half and gave each side a point when someone commented. It was fun. Whole sides of the room would erupt with “I agree!” and make me count all their comments. Each side had about a hundred points. Ya gotta laugh.

  49. Stephanie says:

    Bonnie, more please! I just got called as GD teacher for the first time since my student ward days 20 years ago (and after 5 years in Cub Scouts), and I’m loving your ideas.

  50. Crud. I knew I was commenting too much. Everyone else jump in.

    I think it can appear that we do a song and dance (and honestly, sometimes I feel like I do) to try to keep everyone’s attention, but it’s truly a matter of prayer to know our friends and to edify. Also, I think the teacher is responsible to create a climate for learning by communicating the type of comments that will be welcomed – not sarcastic or overintellectualized comments but genuine thoughtful observations and personal experience.

    I’m the best teacher when I think of everyone there as an equal teacher and engage their comments, usually by asking “why” about a hundred times in class. Everyone appreciates everyone else’s thoughts, but we also live in an amazingly unified ward – the most beautiful place I’ve ever lived, so it’s them, not me. Also, I’m seriously deficient in object lessons. Hopefully it’s not part of our eternal final exam to come up with one on the fly.

  51. 38. Meldrum enquires as to the goals of teaching in the Church and laments the current state of lesson manuals.
    40. Chris answers that the object of teaching on Sunday “is and always has been to facilitate individual learning” and defends the lack of information in the manuals, asserting that more detail would “would supplant the study from the scriptures that needs to happen.”
    45. Meldrum rejoins, rejecting the “apparent distinction between institutional and individual learning” while observing that “the more I know about the details the more I want to know about the scriptures and the more likely I am to read them.”

    Education professionals apparently now dominate Church curriculum committees. “Individual learning” is an educational buzzword whereby students are freed from boring lectures and the shackles of accountability for core knowledge. Rote is out, let the good times roll.

    Hearing the line, from a CES presenter, that a teacher is not to be the sage on the stage but the guide on the side, I thought the notion was unique to CES. I later learned it stems from professional educators. Unfortunately, it now permeates Church teaching.

    In my years of attending Sunday lessons and listening to those teachers who religiously followed the manuals–including the suggested, meaningless questions and ideas for class participation–I have never been given core information which inspired and enabled me to do serious personal study.

    There have been a number of “lecture” teachers, on Sundays, at Education Week, FARMS presentations, etc., who have provided me with core information and knowledge which enhanced and facilitated my “individual learning.”

    All disciplines–law, medicine, the sciences, literature, music, history, art–require a core knowledge upon which we may individually build. Why would one think gospel/scriptural learning is any different?

    The temple–where the core doctrines of creation, fall, and atonement are taught–is a lecture with questions. Lecture, with good questions, the socratic method, has been the means throughout the ages whereby core knowledge has been communicated.

    President Benson stated that we should use the teaching methodology and language of the Book of Mormon. How much of our Sunday teaching focuses on the actual language of scripture?

    Sunday focuses on concepts and bullet points. It does not cover material chapter by chapter, verse by verse, exploring doctrinal significances, language, word relationships, historical/cultural background, interrelationships between the standard works, and prophetic commentary.

    The goals of Church teaching should be building testimonies, edifying, uplifting, clarifying, teaching doctrine, and communicating core knowledge regarding the scriptures and their teachings.

    On this score, the manuals and curriculum fail miserably. So too does too much open class discussion. A mere 35 – 40 minute class period leaves little time for the exploration of essential, core scriptural knowledge.

    Our concern and focus should be simple: what does the language of scripture actually say and mean? There is great power in the language of scripture.

    The Book of Mormon course of study allows but a single lesson for the Isaiah portions. The Old Testament does little better. Is it any wonder most members neither like nor understand Isaiah, notwithstanding the Savior’s admonition to search the worlds of Isaiah?

    Sunday teaching is filled with too much fluff and little meaningful substance.

  52. Cowboy, I’m of the general opinion that any manual combined with scripture can result in a really good lesson depending on the teacher and class. The reason I do these posts is to help encourage better teaching and learning for the few people who read this blog. I don’t think our manuals are great, I think they can be utilized to better or worse effect, though. I’d appreciate constructive advice more than merely complaining.

  53. BHodges, my advice, as set forth above–though perhaps a bit obtusely–would be to follow President Benson’s admonition and focus on the language of scripture. For me, this means a verse by verse approach rather than the “concept” or “theme” approach utilized by manuals.

    Scriptural text can speak to all levels of understanding and needs. Isolated concepts and themes do not.

    Generally, we do not read Shakespeare: we find the language too difficult. The same may be said for scripture study: we find it difficult as we do not like Elizabethan English. Yet, like Shakespeare, scriptural language is powerful, majestic, and memorable. Detailed attention to scriptural language is crucial in teaching.

    Well designed questions are vital to probe and see if the language of scripture and its corresponding message is understood. In scripture, imagery is often employed: do class members grasp the imagery–does it enhance their understanding or does it obscure the teaching? Literary styles such as irony, juxtaposition, dualism, parallelism and symbols are employed in scripture to emphasize certain doctrines and teachings. Well designed questions provide feedback as to whether such literary devices are impediments or aids for class members in seeing what is being taught in the text. Testifying as to particular truths taught is also important.

    The use of footnotes, cross references, maps, and the Bible Dictionary are also helpful in that class members thereby learn how to use these aids. This also aids in testimony building and the acquisition of core knowledge as class members come to see and appreciate the consistency and harmony between the standard works.

    Much of this thread has been a criticism–complaining to use your term–of the lecture/socratic style of teaching, vis-a-vis an open class/discussion approach founded on “individual learning”–a term utilized but not defined. My intent was one of defending the time-tested socratic method and exploring the meaning of the term “individual learning.”

    It is analogous to the debate of phonics versus the look say method of teaching reading. The former is based on a core knowledge of individual vowel sounds, diphthongs and so forth which must be acquired–and when mastered, allow the student to individually read and learn. The latter is a “new age” short cut to reading which ultimately handicaps the student and prevents him/her from individually progressing.

    My teaching time in the Church has convinced me that far too many are poor readers: too few have come from phonics based programs and far too many cannot read critically for basic content. Similarly, too few have been given the core knowledge in their Church curriculum essential for individual scripture study.

    My comments were not intended as an attack on you nor on your efforts to encourage better teaching. I applaud all such efforts. At core, however, you and I disagree on the manuals and current approach to teaching in the Church.

    In my view, the manuals need a severe overhaul. Too often I see them used as a substitute for a real examination of the scriptural text itself–and by this I am not suggesting that we look for obscure, obtuse meanings. I am suggesting that too often, basic doctrinal truths are not taught. I also believe the lecture/socratic method of teaching to be preferable to open discussion that seems to prevail today.

  54. When I was a RS teacher at BYU, the only way I could get anyone to say anything was to call them a few days prior to my lesson and give them a question to spend a few minutes answering on Sunday. I got class participation, and they had an opportunity for personal spiritual questioning. Win-win.

  55. I knew there was a good reason I don’t answer the phone when anyone from my ward calls. :)

  56. Brrrring! Brrrring!

    Hello, EOR? Will you read Frederick Douglass’s Narrative for next Sunday and pick out a few excerpts to share in our lesson about total awesomeness versus the old priesthood ban?

  57. “Believe it or not, EOR isn’t at home please leave a message at the beep. I must be out, or I’d answer the phone where could I be? Believe it or not, I’m not hoooooome.”

    haha I would talk about that though. That would be awesome.

  58. Dang, it eliminated my beep sound…oh well, here it is (BEEEEEEEEP)

  59. I am very interested in your post. The information in your post is very benefitable for me. Thanks for share this post.

  60. LOL @ willie the robot

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