Feast upon the Word Blog

A blog focused on LDS scriptures and teaching

Why “Good” Questions are Often Bad (and how to ask good questions)

Posted by BrianJ on June 27, 2008

Open any Church teaching manual and you’ll find instructions on how to ask students good questions. Unfortunately, following these instructions causes some teachers to ask lots of “good” questions that are actually really bad.

The section in “Teaching, No Greater Call” titled “Teaching with Questions” gives a lot of advice on asking different kinds of questions. Some of what’s there you could readily guess: avoid yes/no questions, who/why/how questions promote deeper thinking, ask questions that require personal application. This is advice is all pretty good, but as I talk with teachers in the Church who are following this advice, they often feel as though their classes are still getting very little out of their teaching. Why is that? Shouldn’t following this “good question formula” lead to really good discussions?

Here’s the biggest problem, as I see it. Quoting from the manual,

“Church-produced lesson manuals suggest many questions that you can use in lessons. Read them carefully to decide which will be most helpful for those you teach. You may also prepare your own questions” (emphasis added).

The problem is that many teachers are going into classrooms asking questions they do not care about, while hoping that the students will care. At best, teachers are asking somebody else’s questions and then act surprised when students give answers that “aren’t all that personal.”

Along these lines, teachers are often far more interested in “generating a discussion” than anything else. Why we have placed so much emphasis on discussion is beyond me; we end up discussing for discussion’s sake. (Quick quiz: how much discussion was there during the Sermon on the Mount?)

A major part of the solution rests in the words I highlighted above: “your own.” So here’s my advice to gospel teachers everywhere: Ask questions that you actually care about. Do you wonder why Nephi killed Laban? Then ask. Are you only marginally interested in how someone applied Enos’ story to their own lives? Then don’t fake like you’re interested. A question that is good when Joe asks it might be really bad when I ask it, and vice versa. Spiders can smell fear, salesmen can smell naiveté, and students can smell insincerity.

Is it really that simple? Well, no. You might want to know something but completely botch the question. I think that is where the “Teaching, No Greater Call” manual does a good job: it gives guidelines on how to ask the questions that you want to ask—or it can be used to troubleshoot after a question doesn’t generate the hoped for response.

In my mind, there are three kinds of good questions, and they will always be good as long as the person asking really wants to know the answer (as an aside, these question categories are equally good in teaching situations outside the church):

  1. “Same page” questions. These questions survey the understanding and/or beliefs of the student so that you, as the teacher, have an idea of what to talk about and where to start. For example, before you launch into a discussion on Isaiah 7, you might want to make sure the class knows who Ahaz was (Who was Ahaz? Who were the kings of Judah during Isaiah’s early ministry?). Before sharing your views about exaltation, you might want to know how the class pictures the Celestial kingdom (Where is the CK? Is the CK a place or a state-of-being?).
  2. “Make ’em think” questions. These questions purposefully go beyond the immediate understanding of the student—but not so far that you lose them. The goal might be:
    • to get them to make a connection between two pieces of information (“What does the subtitle of Nephi’s book—‘His reign and ministry’—have to do with Nephi pointing out Laman and Lemuel’s rebelliousness?”),
    • to help them identify ‘holes’ in their understanding (“Who was in the
    • or to get them to reconsider a familiar story (“How would the Book of Job be different if the last chapter didn’t exist?”).
  3. “Teach me” questions. These are the questions that you do not know the answer to. Sometimes they are questions you would ask if you were the student (“I don’t understand why the ‘law of two or three witnesses’ exists; does anyone have thoughts on that?”). Other times you are asking for someone’s personal experience (“How do you demonstrate patience and discipline with your children?”).

Notice that I don’t care whether a question is yes/no, begins with “why,” or any other such nit-pickyness. All of the focus is on asking sincere questions and not on formatting the question. (You’re not a contestant on Jeopardy! here: you can rephrase your question as many times as necessary.) It might be fun to go through the Sermon on the Mount and see how questions Jesus asks that fall under categories 1 and 2 (and the number of yes/no questions).

Just a few more thoughts.

  • If you really care about the questions you ask, then you will be willing to wait for an answer. If you find yourself waiting very long, try rephrasing the question—most often, your good question was just phrased poorly.
  • Many students come to class expecting “same old” lessons; you’re sincere question is what they’ve been craving, but caught them half-asleep. Now that they know that you’re a teacher who really cares, ask your question again (because now they’re actually listening).

Final quiz. Which of the following is a good question?

  1. Who was Mosiah’s father?
  2. Will everyone be resurrected?
  3. Do we need to pray every day?
  4. Why did Enos pray for the Lamanites?
  5. How can I have more faith in following the prophet?
  6. What’s for lunch?

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Answer: It depends on the sincerity of the person who asks.

34 Responses to “Why “Good” Questions are Often Bad (and how to ask good questions)”

  1. Clark said

    It’s a tricky position though. I agree that the reason many teachers fail is because they don’t care. Nothing is at risk for them. On the other hand if you aren’t careful to balance you end up teaching about stuff you care about and no one else does. (I’ve been there)

  2. Joe Spencer said

    Thanks for this post, Brian. I agree entirely!

  3. cherylem said

    Here are some questions I have been using quite a bit:
    “How do you relate to this reading? What do you think about when you read these verses? What resonates with you? How would you teach this section?”
    If something is happening within the selected reading, I’ll ask that: “What is happening here? What is Alma teaching here? What does [INSERT TEACHING] this mean?”

  4. ed42 said

    I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. “Unless you are teaching a group of primary children, don’t ask questions that a primary child can answer”.
    Yes, there are bad questions!

  5. robf said

    don’t ask questions that a primary child can answer

    Or perhaps, more appropriately, don’t accept an answer that a primary child could give if you are teaching an adult class. Make the class dig deeper! Use “why?” or “what the heck does that mean?” as ways to further probe those inane answers. That’ll wake up the class and put them on notice that this isn’t CTR-B!

  6. Dennis said

    Excellent post.

    I will say that I wish MORE teachers cared about discussion — even for discussion’s sake. Almost without fail, when there has been a good lesson, and I ask myself, “Why was this a good lesson?” The answer is because it was largely discussion based. Not unguided discussion, of course. But if teachers could only guide discussions well, it would make all the difference. But maybe that’s just me. But I doubt it.

    One other thing to think about. For me asking questions is at least two-fold. The first comes in preparing a few good questions — I like to come up with three major questions that I feel are particularly good at getting a nice discussion going. But the second is perhaps more important — facilitating discussion with follow-up questions. From my experience, this is rarely done (well) in our gospel teaching. Great teachers will take a student’s answer to a question, and then, often excitedly, will suddenly have a question, perhaps to the whole class, that follows up on the original question. And this doesn’t just have to be an exercise to move us along to the next point. If there’s a good discussion where the Spirit is present, then just keep on doing it for the entire lesson! Oh, if only our teachers could learn this one lesson…

  7. cherylem said

    So, what happens when the same people respond to questions – and the ensuing discussion – while others sit quietly week after week? Some are intimidated and feel shy about sharing their thoughts; others just enjoy listening; others –

    Different people learn in different ways, and their learning is facilitated by different teaching methods. Asking questions is only one way to facilitate learning. These are the methods I have been using lately, and which may change (probably will) over time. Nevertheless, they are working for me right now:

    a) at least one period of silent reading – as in we read a section of scripture together, but no one is reading it out loud. Before the reading time, I ask the class to be prepared to think about/talk about what they think is important in the section, or what response/interaction they felt with the section
    b) use of notes. “On the notes this section is outlined . . .”
    c) questions
    d) making a “teacherly” point – through lecture. Hopefully this point will be something new and/or important and stretching and Spirit-led that I am bringing to the table
    e) recapping a discussion

    Another question or series of questions I use occurs when someone asks a question during the discussion period. I’ll repeat the question and then ask the class for an answer. “How would you answer this question?” Or if someone makes a point that is thought-provoking, I’ll ask, “What do you think of this comment? Do you agree? What do you think about this?” I try never to correct anyone, but to permit everyone to put their ideas “out there.” without fear of contradiction, thus providing a safe environment that nurtures thought, learning, participation and Spirit.

    Also, NOT being afraid of silence is critical. Silence just means people are thinking.

    What works for you? (and I know BrianJ included the three types of questions that work for him . . . ) And by the way, Brian, I liked all of the questions at the end, depending on context and the emphasis on different words within the questions (like an actor’s exercise). Except maybe the “what’s for lunch?” a question I have heard ad nauseum for too many years, and which interpreted means: my mouth is open, feed me. Still, in a in a gospel context . .. the question is relevant, because as GD teachers we are the food preparers, and the question could mean: what will we be feasting on today? >grin<

  8. robf said

    Cherylem, I like the point about the “teacherly point”. If a teacher has been reading and pondering the lesson subject matter for the week before the lesson, she should have perhaps a bit more to say than your typical class member, and it would be great for her to share it. Perhaps leading her class into the topic with some questions, then sharing what she has found out about the topic.

    I love that Joseph Smith said he always tried to have something new for his audiences. How many times do we get to class, ready for a feast, and have the teacher pull out the equivalent of spiritual Cheetos. Hopefully, not very often, though sadly, it does occur.

  9. Joe Spencer said

    Discussion is good, but only if it is rooted in the text. I’ve been to plenty of classes where there is a good deal of discussion, but I leave feeling like the scriptures were slighted, like we all became better acquainted with the philosophies of men, but that we only mingled these with scripture. (Let me be quite clear that I don’t at all have reference there to actual philosophy! I mean the philosophies we chatter on about incessantly, perhaps particularly when we think we’re being the most thoughtful about things.)

    Questions, then, it seems to me, must always lead back to the text. We ask questions in order to get the class to think about the text, to look at the text. So long as a question does that, I don’t know that it much matters whether the same people end up talking. In fact, I think our questions ought to take the text seriously enough that no one can answer the question without at least a few seconds’ real thought, such that everyone listening is forced for a minute to take a look at the text seriously.

  10. cherylem said

    Joe, yes. I absolutely think that GD should be text-based, text-focused, text-enriched.

  11. Dennis said

    Cherylem,

    I definitely agree with what you are saying. All very good ideas. I guess that from where I sit, gospel teaching is often so bad that many teachers would improve their lessons by simply guiding a discussion.

    Joe,

    I agree, but I’m not sure if I would take it as far as you (depending on if I’m understanding you right). I guess it would depend on how being grounded in the text practically plays out for you. But to say that questions “must always lead back to the text” sounds a little too academic for me. I think that people can share testimonies and experiences in which the Spirit is very much present, in which we are not led (directly) back to the text. Certainly, this discussion should always be RELATED to the text, but the relation, for me, can be quite broad.

    Moreover I worry about such a universal and moral imperative: that questions MUST and ALWAYS lead back to the text. Sometimes there is a value to the open-ended and perhaps even unrelated comments of others, in terms of building community and worshiping with others.

    Another thing I worry about is an “ordinary” member of the Church who constantly feels inadequate because everyone else seems to be reading the scriptures better than they are. There are also members who have a tough time reading, some of whom are old and not likely to improve. Still, such a person might have some valuable things to say that are not directly grounded in the text. But I guess I’d really like to see what you have in mind in action.

    Though, I will say that I am in agreement that we should be spending A LOT more time in the text.

  12. ZD Eve said

    In my experience “What’s for lunch?” is always a sincere question. At least, I don’t think I’ve ever asked it insincerely.

    I really liked the point above about follow-up questions. I think the most skillful teachers are able to make connections between the points various class members make.

    And I agree that sticking to the text and avoiding other sources is important–I’ve seen too many Word of Wisdom lessons devolve into random diet tips and extremely dubious claims for and against various foods. But on the other hand, the text doesn’t mean anything until it intersects with our lives. Religious teaching is distinct from academic discussion in that respect, and so I think personal experiences aren’t beside the point. They are the point.

  13. Joe Spencer said

    I’ll agree that “the text doesn’t mean anything until it intersects with our lives” if we are reading textbooks, but the scriptures are hardly textbooks.

    In the case of the scriptures, it seems it would be better to say “our lives don’t mean anything until they intersect with the text.” That is, we tend to spin on the same old things, never move in the direction of truth, accomplish absolutely nothing, etc., until the scriptures shatter our thinking.

    I have a good many thoughts on all of this, but little time this afternoon. I’ll try to get back to this sometime tomorrow.

  14. ZD Eve said

    Interesting emendation, Joe. I’m trying to consider the ways that reading the scriptures differ from reading textbooks which, on many subjects, can be grasped with little personal engagement. In general I would say that while textbooks demand intellectual engagement, they don’t demand personal engagement. The scriptures demand both.

    I’m uncomfortable with church discussion that tends to skate along on a textbook, intellectual level without going deeper, into the text’s implications for how we live. That’s where I would agree with you–that the scriptures have to shatter our thinking, but I would add that they have to shatter more than our thinking; they have to shatter our entire way of being.

  15. Kevin Barney said

    It takes some guts to ask a question about which you’re not really sure of an answer, much less the answer. (Such as the Nephi killing Laban example above.) I’m sure a lot of teachers have in mind the notion that an attorney should never ask a question in open court he doesn’t already know the answer to. But I’ve asked questions like that before. It takes a certain measure of trust in your class. Once students figure out I’m not trying to lead them inexorably to some foreordained soundbite from the manual, but that I’m genuinely open to their thoughts on the subject, and maybe I’m not ever really sure what I myself think on the point, that is when they start to actually get engaged in the lesson.

  16. Joe Spencer said

    “they have to shatter more than our thinking; they have to shatter our entire way of being.”

    I entirely agree; I just use the word “thought” in a bit broader sense (a la Alain Badiou), in fact, in a sense such that “thought” is broader still than “being”! :)

  17. BrianJ said

    Wow! Way more comments than I expected; I’ve enjoyed reading your thoughts and interaction with each other.

    Clark, “…end up teaching about stuff you care about and no one else does.” Too true. Is it too idealistic to think that a teacher who really cares about the subject and about his class will only rarely suffer this fate?

    cherylem, Why do you ask how students relate to the reading? What do you mean by that or what kind of response do you expect? I am intrigued by the “how would you teach this” question—teaching always demands more understanding than learning, so this kind of question is sure to evoke a thoughtful response.

    ed42, “Yes, there are bad questions!” My contention here is that primary questions can be very good no matter who you are teaching. What makes a question “good” is not so much its substance but rather its honesty. One might ask a group of high priests, “How can I get my family to show love to each other?” and a 4-yr-old from Sunbeams might reply, “You could say nice things to each other”—and you know, that might just be the answer you really needed.

    robf, “don’t accept an answer that a primary child could give.” I agree, and see this as a way of telling the class that you really care about what you are asking: “I asked for a meal; soup just ain’t gonna cut it!” (sorry for the Seinfeld reference!)

    Dennis, I think there are some areas where we agree and some we don’t. I agree with what you say at the end: let the Spirit carry a discussion—as opposed to cutting it short so one can “cover all the material.” But I have to disagree on the discussion part: I have no loyalty to discussions. I think the reason that you like discussions is because most of the people talking are saying things that are important to them, and of course that invites the Spirit (aka, the Spirit of Truth) better than an empty, one-sided lecture. But lectures can be very moving if the teacher is so inspired and committed.

    cherylem, “what happens when the same people respond to questions…week after week?” I’m glad you brought this up and shared your ideas. My approach to pretty much leave people alone; not everyone is a blabber-mouth, know-it-all, limelight-loving prima dona like myself. {smile} Still, in order to reach more students, I try to mix up the topics I focus on and my tone (e.g., serious at times, light-hearted (bordering on flippant) at other times).

    I’m struggling with your non-contradiction approach. Part of me sees your point, but another part says, “Hold on missy! If you really care about what you teach then you will care enough to get it right.” I even said things like that to my GD class; e.g., “If I understand what you’re saying, then I don’t think we see this the same way”—after which we would spend time talking about our different points of view and our reasons for them. At different times I was more or less convinced that I was right, and that changed the way that I approached those discussions.

    ZD Eve, “personal experiences aren’t beside the point. They are the point.” Well said.

    Dennis and ZD Eve, if I can speak for Joe, I think you may be misreading Joe a bit. When he says “text,” he always means the scriptures and he never means it in an academic way. Joe is preaching a fidelity to the scriptures that forces one to give up oneself entirely. In this context, what a teacher teaches (the academy of the classroom), or even how the teacher teaches (the mechanics of the classroom), are not so important as whether or not the student connects with the text.

    Kevin Barney, I can’t imagine you having any fear in front of a class. Thanks for bringing up that old attorney advice. Can you believe I actually used to “teach” with that as my guideline?! blech! yuck! At least that was short-lived.

  18. BrianJ said

    To ALL: I feel compelled to make an important clarification: I am not accusing teachers of not caring about their class, the gospel, etc. Rather, I am pointing out the tragic irony that caring teachers, in a misguided attempt to show their love, are asking insincere questions, and as a result are masking their love for the gospel and their students.

  19. cherylem said

    Brian,
    A nice response to all of us . . .

    Regarding your questions to me specifically, when I ask how students relate to the reading, I am asking a wide open question. It is kind of like a word association exercise – some will give back other scriptures which are related, others will talk about how this particular scriptures has a personal meaning for them, someone else will relate how the scripture in question was important to them during a turning-point period in his or her life (I have gotten this response several times), someone else might say – “what I like about this scripture is . . . ” and then make a specific point. Someone else might ask a question . . .”when Mosiah talks about having no contention, and hearts knit together in unity and love, how is this possible? Even in marriage there is contention.” This particular question, asked just a few lessons ago by a class member, started a very engaged discussion about handling conflict in the workplace, at home, at church. I let it go for awhile – it was obviously a topic that resonated with many. I also emphasized that Mosiah also said, “and thus he commanded them to preach, and thus they became the children of God.” Then, eventually I brought the discussion back to the specific scripture, talking about conflict in the church regarding baptism (this was one of the big conflicts between Lamanites and Nephites, and Nephites and Nephites), and how I thought the verse might be relating to this issue, but that the greater discussion had been excellent – as Christians, how do we live with conflict when we are commanded to be knit in unity and love, thus becoming children of God? And the question came right out of opening up class by inviting discussion.

    In other words, in a GD class I believe that each person can read the same scripture and have something different and worthwhile to say or ask about it – and we all benefit by listening to and engaging each other. This is especially true in BOM classes because more people are likely to have read it – if not for this specific lesson – some time in their lives.

    Also, asking class members how they would teach a section is for me an important teaching tool. Something in me is always teaching people to teach. I don’t often get answers to this question specifically but I most always ask it. I want my class to think about themselves as teachers since they might actually be asked to teach themselves sooner than later.

    If I get no answer (only silence) to any question, I wait a couple of minutes and then say, “Well, you can think about this,” and then move on.

    Regarding the non-contradiction approach, I do set some parameters. We don’t talk about politics. Comments have to be related to the scriptures. But . . . this approach is important to me. One of the things I try to teach is kindness as a teacher, along with a respect for everyone’s spiritual and intellectual understanding of our text. I have had at least one person say they she had not made a comment in GD for years because a teacher – a SP no less – had contradicted and corrected a comment she had made in a GD class and she had felt humiliated. Just recently (and I have been teaching for since the beginning of the New Testament rotation) this person has begun to talk out loud in class.

    Occasionally I HAVE contradicted someone, and when I realize I do this I try to immediately apologize, not for what I said, but the manner in which I said it. Other ways to guide are to say: “That’s an interesting perspective, and thanks for putting it on the table, Any other comments?” and someone else is ready to get us right back to where we need to be. Or I might say, “What I am suggesting is that we come at this text from a different perspective, look at it a in new way,” etc. Or if someone is trying to argue with me as teacher (this happens very rarely, but it does happen), I might offer, “Okay. Okay.” a beat or two of silence. Then, “Moving on to verse .. . ” This usually gets some laughter, and we are back on track.

    These are just some methods that work for me. I don’t mean to sound manipulative. The important thing to me is that GD is a safe place for people to make comments, ask questions, and . . . talk about what is most precious and meaningful in their lives. When people feel safe, their minds are open, and I am able to teach at a reasonably advanced level – I hand out detailed notes, after all. Plus there is the added benefit – never to be understated – of SPIRIT.

    Here is a visualization I often perform: taking a minute of silence standing in front of the class, or even in the advance prayers regarding the class, I visualize the Spirit – that non physical body person – or angel guides even – moving silently and unseen among my class members, touching each one physically, standing by each one with hands on either side of the person’s head – opening up their minds, healing their hearts. I figure if the Spirit is performing this function, and I’ve prepared the best I could as a teacher, I don’t have to worry about my own imperfections or wonder how I’m doing – a better teacher than me is in the room, mediating the discussion and the material

    Well, this has been wordy. Hope not too much so.

  20. Seth R. said

    One problem is when the teacher is asking questions simply because he hasn’t really prepared a lesson, and he’s hoping that the class members will help him pass the time without any uncomfortable pauses.

  21. Dennis said

    BrianJ,

    I suppose I’m speaking more from a pragmatic angle than I am saying something definitive about discussions vs. lecture. I recognize that lectures can be “very moving,” as you say. But, as far as I can recall, I’ve never seen it. Not in Sunday School. And not in priesthood quorum. My wife agrees, speaking from her experience. On the other hand, just about every good Sunday School lesson I can recall had a good discussion at some level. So I’m simply speaking from my experience.

    So, basically, I am speaking to the fact that, from my experience, poor or mediocre teachers are more likely to lectures, and good or excellent teachers (almost?) always facilitate discussion.

    Certainly there could be exceptions. However, speaking for myself, if I was tempted to do more of a lecture for Sunday School, I would have to ask myself why. With the exceptions of certain circumstances (e.g., a very large class or a special topic for which you have expertise), I am doubtful of the particular benefits — especially after the “lectures” of sacrament meeting. Moreover, I worry that it may communicate bad faith to the class you are teaching.

  22. Joe Spencer said

    And then there’s fifth Sunday combined meetings….

  23. BrianJ said

    Dennis, I can see your point, and you are right to speak from your experience. When I taught OT, I found myself lecturing frequently, simply because very few members had studied the OT enough to follow what’s going on outside of Genesis and Exodus. I never lectured for an entire class period, but often the first 10 min. I am confident that the majority of my students (in a class of 60-100 adults) appreciated the teaching style. Keep in mind that a lecture does not preclude asking questions; it just means that those questions are rhetorical (see note in original post about Jesus’ use of questions in the Sermon on the Mount).

    Overall, I want to fight against the notion that the goal going into a classroom is to generate a discussion, or that lecturing is bad in and of itself. I think you agree.

  24. Rick S said

    Two observations, which everyone already knows but don’t seem apparent from the comments:

    1. There are lots of teaching methods besides discussions and lectures. And the best lessons use multiple methods.

    2. Questions are not synonymous with discussions. They are a great way to start and direct discussions, but they are a lot more versatile!

    For example, today I had the privilege of teaching a Primary class. We read some verses in Alma 37, then to help explain them I asked some questions: How do we keep metal bright? What’s a good way to polish scriptures written on metal plates? So how do we make our scriptures “retain their brightness”? It wasn’t really a discussion, more back and forth between me and them. They are bright students and gave great answers, and this method of teaching engaged them a lot more than a lecture would have.

    Actually, we did have a discussion later in the lesson, and I didn’t even plan it! After reading Alma’s comments on the Liahona later in the chapter, someone mentioned Jack Sparrow’s compass from the Pirates of the Caribbean movie, so we compared it to the Liahona, and had a great discussion on which would be more useful: a compass that pointed to your deepest desire or one that pointed to where the Lord wanted you to go.

    I’ve taught various kinds of classes for many years, and I wholeheartedly agree with BrianJ’s main point: Effective questions are the ones you care about. (And generally not the ones in the manual unless you wrote the manual! Although those questions are often helpful in triggering ideas for your own questions.)

  25. RuthS said

    It has been a long time since I used a question from the suggested lesson material. The main reason being that it has been a long time since the lesson book was put together and all the answers have been pretty well internalized by just about everybody.

    I like to ask what the issues raised by the reading are. Of course as a teacher I have to have some idea of what those issues are myself and I have to have some idea of how to pose questions that bring out those issues. Sometimes just saying what are the issues is enough. I’m pretty much convinced that good questions must be crafted thoughtfully and that the person doing the crafting does well to ask him/herself what kind of answers will be forthcoming before deciding to use a particular question or series of questions.

    There has been so much emphasis on facilitating lately that many teachers act as facilitators rather than try to teach something. I don’t care how good your questions are if you don’t know where you want to go and what you want the class to remember at the end of the few minutes you have together frustration will follow.

    Chrylem’s post #7 is, from my point of view, an excellent way to approach any kind of teaching.

  26. Keith said

    Thanks for the great… discussion, right? Although this blog began with a fairly lengthy presentation of ideas, I would not consider any part of the foregoing entries a “lecture”. For me, a lecture, by definition, does not request input. There are many appropriate venues for lectures, but GD class is not one of them. Sure, there are times when a good teacher shares ideas and insights with the class for several minutes straight, but this good teacher is doing this speaking as a means toward an end (other than to hear themself speak or to “cover the lesson”).

    What makes the content of this blog a worthwhile discussion is the thoughtful input of those who are posting AND the desire by those who are posting to join in a dialogue–to building ideas off of each other’s ideas and, in the end, to reach understandings that we likely would not have had on our own. That is the kind of discussion that I value in SS too.

    One final thought: One of the most effective ways for a teacher to demonstrate their sincerity in asking questions is to “use” the response(s) they get to these questions in order to further the purpose of the lesson. Of course the teacher has the minimal responsibility to at least acknowledge a response (sadly even this type of teacher response doesn’t always happen), but I am referring to more meaningful use of class responses to questions, such as the following:
    1) using a response in order to refer back to the scripture or gospel principle at hand
    2) pointing out connections between several responses, or asking the class to try to articulate those connections
    3) probing deeper into the response (as some have suggested in this blog)

    The first on this list is by far the most important to me. When I see this kind of use of responses to questions I know I am in a good SS class.

  27. Joe Spencer said

    Hmmm….

    I’m not sure I do much besides lecture….

    And yet I ask a good many questions….

    Hmmm….

  28. BrianJ said

    RuthS: “There has been so much emphasis on facilitating lately that many teachers act as facilitators rather than try to teach something.”

    That’s worth tattooing on my forehead.

  29. BrianJ said

    Joe: I thought about referring readers to your OT podcast to see an example of someone who teaches very well despite lecturing a lot. Now that you’ve shown that you agree, here is the link: Honors Seminary, OT.

    Note that Joe asks a lot of questions but that his questions are often—but not always—rhetorical.

  30. BrianJ said

    Keith: I disagree with you about lectures, but I am convinced that it is because we are using different definitions of that word. You say, “a lecture, by definition, does not request input.” That is not the case in my definition. For me, a lecture demands the attention of the student—and that attention in and of itself is input. Moreover, a lecture can challenge the student’s thinking, way of life, etc., all of which demand that the student immerse himself in the lecture.

    Look again at the Sermon on the Mount. I am calling it a lecture because Jesus never asked for people to raise their hands, to answer questions, to share insights or personal experiences. Yes, Jesus asked several questions, but they were meant to be answered silently.

  31. Joe Spencer said

    Let’s hope that linking redeems my “Hmmms,” Brian. :)

  32. Clark said

    Is it too idealistic to think that a teacher who really cares about the subject and about his class will only rarely suffer this fate?

    I think that’s likely most of the time. However what if what the class is interested in and what the teacher is don’t exactly mesh well?

  33. cherylem said

    Okay, Clark. I’ll bite. If the call to teach was inspired,

    1) Perhaps the teacher was called in order to move the class in the direction of that particular teacher’s interests.
    2) Perhaps the teacher needs to learn from the class.
    3) If both class and teacher are praying for Spirit guidance a middle ground will be found.
    4) How would you handle this problem?

  34. BrianJ said

    Clark: I’ve wanted to “bite” earlier, but was kinda swamped. Cheryl took most of my words. I’ll add just one bit:

    Suppose that you were called to teach a year-long, elective GD course on Isaiah 2-9. Many of us would think that was totally awesome—plenty of time to really dig in deep, etc. We’d have no trouble finding lots of interesting things to talk/ask questions about. Now let’s say you were called to teach CTR 8. What’s the difference? Well, those wonderful 7-yr-olds are not even close to being able to understand 99% of the questions that you have on your mind (the things you are interested in). Nevertheless, as a teacher, I would still love teaching the kids, because I love witnessing the “aha moment” that students of all ages have when they learn. The questions I would ask in that class would not be—for the most part—the ones I am personally pondering (i.e., #3 type from original post), but rather a lot of questions that I calculate will push learning (#2 type). I am, in the end, still very interested in the answers to my questions.

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