Feast upon the Word Blog

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Summary Statement: Closing Class with Closure

Posted by BrianJ on January 24, 2008

This is sort of Part II of why I have a difficult time understanding and/or implementing the instructions from Elder Holland (among others).

I have a few main concerns about closing class with a summary testimony. Below are a some quotes from Holland, followed by my response. I tried to keep this short without cutting out all of the rambling emotion that is part of my response. Remember that this is an excerpt from my response to an email from two friends. Elder Holland’s words are indented.

“I have been painfully disappointed over the years at wonderful lessons, given by loyal, gifted teachers…. There’s no closing of the books, no looking in the eye for just a minute, no settling down to say, in effect, where have we been and where are we going and what does the Lord want us to do?”

How can I summarize a lesson that is summarized throughout the lesson? I try to reiterate important points as we go, constantly reminding the class of a particular theme or definition as we build upon that information.

“I’m left to walk away saying, ‘I wonder how he felt about that.'”

If I tell the class how I feel about something at the beginning of and throughout class, is it necessary to tell them again at the very end of class? I’m not suggesting that repetition is bad, only that repeating that first point for the fourth time takes up time—time that maybe could be spent another way.

“There is so much effort to get some doctrine, some principle, some map, some video clip across to the students, but not a hint of personal testimony about what that doctrine or that principle meant to the teacher”

Perhaps it is our formality as Mormons of beginning our testimonies with phrases like, “I want to bear my testimony…” and “I know that….” But my testimony starts before I even enter the classroom. I testify to the class that I believe the scriptures because I steal hours away from work, play, and family each week in order to study the scriptures and prepare to teach them. I testify by sticking to the scriptures and avoiding games, videos, etc. that can detract. I testify at the beginning of class by opening up the scriptures—and then everything I say until the end of class is my testimony. It is what I believe to be true, important, and useful. And I testify that these things are essential by providing study notes for the next week.

So, it feels rather awkward for me to end class by saying, “And now I would like to bear my testimony…”—as if all my words before that weren’t my testimony. I used to (about 2 years ago) end all my classes with this “summation testimony” until I noticed that:

  1. it made the rest of my class look like “non-testimony time”;
  2. it was the cue for most students to start putting away their scriptures and looking around for the person they needed to catch before priesthood/rs started;
  3. I was trying to reduce profound concepts into short phrases that could fit into a two minute testimony at the end of class, thereby trivializing the Gospel;
  4. I couldn’t include every point in my closing summary (lest it take 15 mintues!), and so the ones I did choose were given more weight than the others. I didn’t feel right doing that, since I expect the Holy Spirit to touch each person individually.

“As President J. Reuben Clark Jr. once said, ‘Never let your faith be difficult to detect.'”

I would be devastated and flabbergasted if this were the case with my class.

“To that end I know that heaven will help us if we will teach as we have here described.”

I don’t doubt Elder Holland, but that doesn’t mean that I understand him. I’m not even sure if how I am teaching is in contrast to what he is saying—and if it is, then how it is.

“But as we search for that gift and pray for it, if we will ask and seek and knock spiritually, if we will teach from the scriptures, if we will teach by and with the Holy Spirit, if we will help the learner assume responsibility for learning, and if we will testify of the truths that we have taught, God will confirm to our hearts and to the hearts of our students the message of the gospel of Jesus Christ.”

That stood out to me when Elder Holland first gave this address. It was a reiteration of the themes I had prayed about and chosen for my teaching already. That doesn’t mean that I am perfect at implementing my own goals (which are also Elder Holland’s goals), but I hope you see that it is difficult to understand how Elder Holland and I can disagree in practice when we agree in principle.

One last point that I didn’t work in above: In class, I necessarily have to focus on things that I find interesting for myself. Occasionally, the Spirit will guide me to talk about something that I don’t really want to talk about but someone in the class “needs,” but most of the time that doesn’t happen. So my class is inherently self-centered, you might say. But I know that God touches people individually—sometimes people tell me, I also know through my own experience as a student, and other times I can see it in someone’s face as they sit in class. I’ve already said (above) that I spend the whole class telling you what the lesson means to me; I’m reluctant to tell you what today’s lesson should mean to you because I think that is between you and God. I am also reluctant to give summaries because I fear that they will create the false impression that we are “done” with a particular lesson—as though any of us ever fully comprehend anything! I purposefully leave class open-ended because I believe that the real work is done by the individual student outside of class.

14 Responses to “Summary Statement: Closing Class with Closure”

  1. Melinda said

    Thank you for this post. I have taught Gospel Doctrine for several years. I haven’t done the standard brief testimony at the end for a couple years now, and I think my lessons are better with the omission. I have a testimony – I take the entire class time to present it. But a lame little two-minute wrap-up at the end seemed to dilute it more than summarize it. There are a few topics where I wrote out a concluding paragraph and read it, but mostly I just end.

    I’m glad I’m not the only one.

  2. RuthS said

    Well, I understand better what you are trying to express. May I draw a parallel between what you have said and the men and women who are so convinced that their spouse knows that he/she is loved because they wash the clothes, mow the lawn etc. etc. that they don’t need to say the words. It is really wonderful to hear the words and mowing the lawn just isn’t a substitute.

    Now I am fully aware that sometimes that impelling prompting doesn’t come at the end of a class or that someone either raises their hand or speaks up out of turn and distracts from the closing I wanted to give. Sometimes they speak up when I am in mid sentence. Clearly that person was preoccupied with something other than my “powerful spiritual message” or they would have kept quiet. Never the less I am of the firm conviction that a lesson needs three things to be effective, maybe four 1. a beginning–an introduction that points the class in the direction you intend to go. 2. a middle where the important point or points are developed and 3. an ending–this is the place where you either wrap up and reiterate a main idea or you bear testimony to the main idea.

    Writing it down here makes it sound really mundane and not very spiritual at all. But, how do you know you have taught anything? My wonderful husband taught Gospel Doctrine for a period of time. One day I asked why he didn’t take a stand or teach anything. He said he did and he thought the class understood what he was teaching them. So I suggested he ask the class the following Sunday what they had learned the previous week. He did, not a single person could remember.

    All’s well that ends well so if your intro isn’t dazzling and the middle is a fizzle you can still have an impact by making the ending the best part. After all that is what they will remember the best.

    I sense frustration in your post. I hope that passes.

  3. Naismith said

    What I do at the end as part of my testimony is try to tie the lesson back to the gospel and Jesus Christ. This may sound crazy at first, but some of of those Old Testament and D & C lessons can go on in great detail about this or that principle, and never mention the Savior.

    Also, I think a summary is helpful for those who have been out with children, etc.

    As with anything, we need to prayerfully consider what is best for our class (for our class, not for us as teachers). And maybe your class is stronger without a summary.

    Loved RuthS’s comment about saying things explicitly!

  4. Rebecca L said

    Brian,
    I’ve read your posts with interest and I felt Jim F’s & Ruth’s comments especially encapsulated my view.

    You’ve raised the point before about following what you are interested in personally in your study. I have taken heart from that and I think about it this way. My class is free to study whatever they want during the week, they are free to ask whatever they want during class, and they will get this same lesson again in 4 years. I am not the sole mediator between them and the text (thank goodness). I believe that if I approach the text in prayer and humility, I will be led to things that will help me and the class. Solving or exploring “problems” in the text, or getting excited about certain elements, not only provides substance of interest (solutions, discussions) but also sets a nice model for how to study any scripture.

    I have gained so much from various of your posts that I know (and I say that without qualification) your class must be hearing your testimony and devotion to the gospel, however or (whenever) you word it. The mere fact that you take the scriptures seriously and that you look to them to define your understanding of the gospel is an eloquent witness of your faith.

    Like Jim F. I have a hard time understanding how one would parse out different issues to have a “testimony” of. Although we may not have a perfect understanding of what we are taught, once you’ve gotten over the hurdle of angels, visions, and gold plates it seems that if you’re in for an inch, you’re in for a mile.

    For me, I can hardly stop bearing my testimony as I teach. I wouldn’t teach anything I didn’t believe was true and I learn new things that excite me every week. Hope, love, gratitude, wonder, joy overwhelm me when I read and teach from the scriptures. Bearing testimony is the only way I can reign it all back in. Despite all the witnessing and testimony that is expressed in a sincere and passionate lesson, I think a conclusion is important. Something dutifully “tacked on” does seem artificial, but surely there is nothing hard about an expression that evolves organically out of everything you have already taught.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this, Brian!

  5. Rick said

    I like the closing statement: “I purposefully leave class open-ended because I believe that the real work is done by the individual student outside of class.” Unfortunately, the sad reality is that many individual students don’t make this effort. I’m often in that category myself, and find open-ended classes somewhat unsatisfying. So when I teach, I generally end with a quick summary of what I think is the most important point. It’s rarely as long as a minute, and only contains “I know” or “I testify” if the Spirit so dictates. It may give more weight to one point than others that are probably equally important (indeed, more important to some students), but that doesn’t bother me.

    Of course, “help[ing] the learner assume responsibility for learning”, both in an out of class, is a real challenge. It isn’t something teachers can force. Providing study notes for the next week can be effective (and certainly beyond what most teachers do). So can various techniques for getting students to search the scriptures and find personal applications. I’ll occasionally end my classes with an appropriate challenge, which can be very powerful if not overused. (And taking time out of the next lesson to follow up and let a few students share their experiences can be very effective!)

  6. joespencer said

    This is a helpful further articulation, Brian. I know I explained what I do in my previous responses to your other post, but this helps me to know how to explain it still better, I think. So here goes again…

    The way I read Elder Holland here is this: Everything you do in the course of teaching a class is, essentially, guesswork. They are guesses that we make in love, in an act of worship, of course, but they remain guesses, thoughts, interpretations, etc. Everything we say along the way is meant to build up, to strengthen, to call, to summon, etc., but in the end, we have only been seeing in a glass darkly. What we do at the end of the lesson, in effect, is this (though the words we might use may be very different, the effect has got to be this every time, I think): “Now, I don’t know if anything I’ve taught today is true. I’m taking as many guesses up here about the scriptures as you all must be about my own sanity as you sit in your seats. Who knows what Nephi really wanted us to understand by all of this? But there is something very real that motivates us to get together and talk about this, to worship God by studying His word as carefully as we are doing here: the keys of the kingdom have been restored, and that means everything. I’m not sure I even know what it means to say that they have been restored, but I do know that it is true, and that I’ve got the task of being true to the Restoration, of studying everything and teaching everyone I can. I hope you are all a part of that too.”

    Is that not what he’s telling us?

  7. m&m said

    That’s not the way I heard him, Joe, but that is an interesting interpretation that I might not have ever considered (I don’t agree, but it’s interesting) :)

    I think we had better know that what we are teaching is true all along the way, and so in that sense I can understand where Brian is coming from. But I guess when a teacher really pulls things together at the end with a powerful testimony, I think it’s wonderful. If a teacher simply does it to seem like making good closure, then that’s not as effective, imo.

    I think testifying throughout doesn’t prohibit testifying at the end. I have always felt that the Spirit wanted me to do that when I taught, but maybe your mileage may differ.

  8. joespencer said

    How on earth are we going to know that what we are teaching is true all along the way? How is a question true? A list of possibilities? An interpretation of a verse? If we stick only to what we know is true in a lesson, we will cover everything we can profitably say in the first three or four minutes and then have either to repeat that over and over again or sit down.

    I suppose my point is similar to the one J. Reuben Clark made in his “The Charted Course of the Church in Education” (see here): there are two things that we absolutely must know as teachers (that Jesus is the Christ, that Joseph was a prophet).

    What I see us doing is this: “Now, I believe everything I’ve taught you today, but I’m a fool, as you all know quite well. What I do know is this: Jesus is the Christ, and Joseph was/is a prophet. I know that. All the rest of this is good and important and I hope that we’re on the right track with it, but if the Brethren correct me, or if the Lord ever tells me that my all too rigidly held convictions and thoughts are simply reflections of my own fallen state, I’ll hardly be offended! Rather I will praise His name that He is willing to teach even me.”

    Of course, my point of view here is dependent on this: I don’t think it much matters what ideas we have, so long as we are faithful, so long as we have those ideas in the course of worship and of the work of saving others.

    Madness, after all, is defined as completely believing you coincide with yourself, believing that you are the roles you play. It seems to me that if we think we know anything more than that Jesus is the Christ (not that I even know what that means, though, of course, I have some thoughts) and that Joseph was/is His prophet (not that I even know what that means, though, of course, I have some thoughts), we are stark raving mad. Even in testimony, we should consider ourselves fools (who is closer to the truth, anyway?).

    Though, of course, I don’t know that.

  9. m&m said

    Joe, I think I understand why you said what you said. I guess in my mind a lot of times in lessons we don’t discuss ideas as absolutes but about principles and applications. Perhaps we are just saying the same kind of thing in a different way? I don’t believe we should emphasize ourselves at all. I, too, believe we should consider ourselves fools.

    But even fools, with the Spirit, can know and testify even if we don’t completely understand all that we are knowing and testifying about.

  10. joespencer said

    It sounds as if we are certainly closer in our thinking here than at first it seemed. But I would say that even principles and applications (both of which I avoid in my own teachings! but we’ve covered that ground before…) are at best guesses: principles are abstracted from real, concrete situations, they are hardly anything like bits of knowledge; and applications are almost always half-crazy!

    But your last sentence there is a point well made: the Spirit can testify in us. President Kimball had something marvelous to say about that in one of the lessons from his manual. His son had written him from the mission field saying that he had testified that he knew something during a discussion but realized afterward that he didn’t know it and so had resolved never to say he knew again what he didn’t know. President Kimball wrote back and told him that he had better not tell the Spirit not to lead him to say that he knew: he did, President Kimball explained, know in the moment because the Spirit knew it in him, though he might afterwards not have been so sure. So I entirely agree: whenever and wherever the Spirit leads, we go, even if that is to say that we know what we think we do not know.

  11. brianj said

    Thanks for all the discussion on this. I regret that a certain deadline at work demanded my focus last week. I can see that the discussion is spent by now, but I do want to respond to one thing RuthS said: “I sense frustration in your post. I hope that passes.” Yes, to some degree that is true. But I want to clarify that that is a very small concern of mine. I enjoy teaching and feel fulfilled by it. Any frustration—which, again, is minor—comes from knowing that I and my class are not doing the very best we can, or always communicating exactly as I would like, and wishing that we could do better. So, am I frustrated? In general or on average, no I am not. But in certain small particulars where I think there is room for improvement—then yes, I do feel some frustration.

    As for closing class with my testimony, suppose that I commit to do this, and then divide my class into a 2 millisecond opening, 5 millisecond middle, and then a 35 min closing statement which is my testimony. {smile}

  12. joespencer said

    Brian, I think that’s the best plan I’ve heard yet. :)

  13. m&m said

    As for closing class with my testimony, suppose that I commit to do this, and then divide my class into a 2 millisecond opening, 5 millisecond middle, and then a 35 min closing statement which is my testimony. {smile}

    {Big smile}

    Incidentally, I think Elder Holland was also more concerned about those who aren’t doing what you are talking about…bearing testimony throughout. Some lessons are a bit more informational or whatever, and devoid of testimony along the way, imo. I got the sense that those are the kinds of lessons where a deliberate testimony at the end are all the more critical.

    So, how do you usually close a lesson? It seems there is still a need for some sort of wrap-up. It’s like any kind of talk or presentation or discussion…I think it’s always good to have some sort of concluding remarks. How do you approach it?

  14. brianj said

    m&m: “So, how do you usually close a lesson? “ Usually by telling the class what to look out for in next week’s lesson, especially if there is some way that today’s lesson leads into next week’s. Or I will remind them of some of the unanswered questions that came up in class, and send them home with homework (and phrase it as such). Other times there is some morsel I wasn’t able to get to, so I will just tell them briefly what it involved without telling them the “answer”, and again leave them with homework. This is my favorite way to end class: to tell them that there is some delicious morsel that we didn’t discuss, give them a few hints on how to find it, and then leave them to find it on their own.

    I nearly always end by thanking the class for their help (in specific terms) and thanking God for the spirit we had in our discussion. I rarely do any kind of global summary in closing because my teaching style is very repetitive: A; B; remember A; C; relate C to A; D; B and C lead to D which reminds us of A. I don’t do a formal closing summary because it is unnecessary in my case. But obviously I am not opposed to summaries.

    I am, however, opposed (to some degree) to conclusions. What’s the difference? I am using the terms to mean: “summary” is a brief description or reminder, “conclusion” is what is learned from or meant by the lesson (“From what we’ve covered today, we conclude that we need to ________,” or “Therefore, Nephi went into the wilderness to _______.”) As I said above, I’m reluctant to tell anyone what the scriptures mean to them, or to suggest that there is one meaning, or that we have covered all meanings, or that there is any possibility to reach a conclusion/end to any scripture.

    (sorry that I took so long to respond)

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