Sunday, February 12, 2017

Sunday School: "What is the role of agency in learning the gospel?"


I taught the third February lesson from Come, Follow Me today. Seven kids showed up, we kept a decent focus through our class time, and we were able to cover the driving question pretty decently while touching on a few other relevant topics.
It's extra-easy when our manual is as sparse as this one, to commit the sin of keyword-teaching; that is, to grab a keyword from the title and just talk about that all lesson. A keyword-teacher would read the title of this lesson and talk to the kids about making good choices, probably culminating in another gutless, powerless admonition to read scriptures and pray, letting them leave class with minds as blank as when they entered.

I've been critical of Come, Follow Me as thin soup in the past,  but I've come to see it more as strong bullion. Older lesson manuals had pages of copy, notoriously used by unprepared teachers to replace the lesson, but useful for the prepared to draw on. Here's the lesson:

Heavenly Father created us as agents who act, not as objects that are acted upon (see 2 Nephi 2:26). This principle applies to all aspects of our mortal lives, including our efforts to learn the gospel. We each must learn the gospel for ourselves—no one can learn it for us. Learning the gospel is meant to be an active experience, not a passive one. When we exercise our agency to diligently seek truth, the Lord blesses us with increased light and knowledge.
That first sentence is an enormous temptation to just teach Building Blocks of the Universe, isn't it? Fortunately I can fight that one. I did a cursory search for other sources that talk about teaching this lesson, but all I could find was a blog from 2015 that had a lesson plan for a lesson on agency and choices. My lesson plan was a batch of dash-bulleted notes in a notebook, with thoughts like:
 -Initiative
-What do you do when no one asks you to do anything?
-Goals of life: spiritual habits, experiential knowledge
-Active experience - talk about classroom strategies - dominating the class isn't active learning.

I started the class by praying myself. I want to make sure the kids have a regular example of sincere, creative prayer, so I decided to give one myself every week. Led with a discussion of the word "ward" and what it means outside the Church. One of the kids knew its use in magical protection. We took that through its use in describing someone with a guardian to its use in civic administration. Wasn't able to link it cleanly with the rest of the lesson.

I drew a diagram of the Plan of Salvation on one of the sliding chalkboards before class last week, and so far it's survived seminary, which I guess must use the other board.  Every week when I'm describing the lesson I put the lesson's question on the front board, ask them what we're talking about this week, then when they notice it's on the board I pull it aside. I point at Earth at the top middle of my grand Plan of Salvation diagram and tell them we'll be talking about this part of the Plan this week.

Halfway through the elders showed up. One of the kids is a nonmember that's been coming to Scouts, and I'd invited the elders to a previous lesson, so it wasn't as awkward for them to jump in. Had some good comments from them especially. I mentioned video games - I normally do. The homeschooled core of the class plays them a lot, makes a lot of metaphors through them. I think I've mentioned something every class for the past three weeks about how they're not necessarily bad but need to be balanced with the rest of your life, and that not being able to think about anything else while you're not playing them is a sign of addiction.

Elder Sundberg challenged us to read scripture for ten minutes before we play any video games. I vigorously accepted, it really is a good challenge, and I'll follow up with the class next week.

With a few more-or-less tangents, the meat of the lesson was the Parable of the Talents. To avoid embarrassment and scripture-voice I dramatized it out loud for them, explaining the King James language while doing so. I feel like my questions improved, and even the ones who weren't making comments looked like they were listening intently, though I of course could have asked better ones. I asked them to apply the metaphor to gospel learning, that God allowed each of us to have different bodies, different parents, different levels of knowledge and intelligence in life, and that he doesn't judge us for how much he gave us but for how well we use what we have.

I wasn't able to make a very good point about how those who get more keep getting more, and I lost my chain of thought trying to explain what an austere man who reapeth where he has not sown means, but I feel like I was able to get the point across regardless.

I asked Elder Anderson to give the closing prayer, would have planned to ask a kid but this felt right. He asked us to kneel, the kids were a little confused and amused but complied. Overall it felt like a good lesson, and I'm confident we'll have a few kids who remember what it was about next week.

Was not able to Make Connections with other things they're learning like the manual asks. Never really have, maybe once or twice. Didn't have the kids teaching each other in class, either, but I don't feel like that's quite as important with this batch. There's a few that I might give assignments to ahead of time in the future.

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