Jenny's blog

I Met with all My Students

Church met only the first hour Sunday due to the hurricane. Several people didn’t show and we didn’t have enough for Primary to operate, so I spent the rest of the day visiting my students and their families. It was a really good thing to do. I don’t think doing those visits is something that would have occurred to me on my own, so I’m grateful for the teachers who suggested it.

I was thinking I’d have 12 students with some new move-ins that were coming, but the 3 extras ended up not moving here, so now I have just the 9 students. Most are sophomores and are seriously jewels. I know most of them and their parents from working the previous ward, and I just love them. It’s going to be such a good year. I have only one that is not 100% committed, and I’d still put that student in the 80+ commitment range. Cell phones won’t be an issue, and only 2 even have electronic scriptures. It was really a joy to talk to kids who are so committed. I have heard the horror stories about kids who are being forced to attend Seminary, but I just don’t see that in my bunch. These parents have already done the hard work for me :). It was so pleasant to hear them speak of Seminary with enthusiasm. Growing up in the Branch, I thought I was the only one who felt that way about the scriptures. I just lived for our once a week Seminary classes. These kids are fantastic, and I know we will have a great year.

I was most worried about pitching my Scripture Jedi Master program. I have been trying to find something to do that will not be such an expense that it can’t be carried on to teachers that come on after me. I have heard of one teacher that has a pizza delivered to the homes the students who memorize all 25 scripture masteries, but that could get out of hand pretty fast, especially with a large class. I have told my kids they can choose a prize from the box and they will get to sit for a week “Jabba the Hut style” on one of my cushy green couches for a week if they memorize all the scripture masteries. I really tried to find something that I would have enjoyed doing in an early morning class (REST), but was still afraid they’d think that was stupid. I also didn’t want to have them get time off from class as a reward, because I think the message of giving a prize of a week off sends the message that attendance is a punishment. Anyway — it worked! The first boy I visited was like, “Now, I have a REASON to memorize my scriptures!!!” And the reaction was the same all the way around. Phew.

I am also being slightly unconventional with my reading assignments and devotionals: 5-day a week reading, and no devotionals. The kids love it, but really I’m expecting more of them — they just don’t know it yet.

I have assigned them certain passages each day — no more than 30 minutes when read aloud — and made sure they know I expect them to read. I only grade the reading. Nothing else. I don’t give devotional assignments for outside class. I just want them to read. It’s the most important thing.

My reasoning is this: if I have students study the material I will be covering before class, they will get more out of class. Period. I remember home study Seminary: we only had 4 lessons a week, and it was torture to be limited to just those lessons IF you put in the time. You get that taste — that feeling of enlightenment from the Spirit through the scriptures — and you start to hunger for it. You want more. You study on your own, because you’ve learned for yourself about the awesome that’s in the scriptures and the inspiration you’ve gotten from it. I won’t have to harass my students to read scriptures daily, because they will WANT to study scriptures on their own once they get that taste. Really focusing in on a given passage and sucking the awesome out of it will give them that taste, and THEY will want to read. I won’t have to bribe them. They’ll want to do it.

I don’t like the “read what you want as long as you read daily” thing that SI suggested to me. What a waste of time for a student to read 10 minutes a day and then come to class and have something completely unrelated taught. I think this is disrespectful to the students, personally. I know it’s the standard way of doing things. I think I can do better.

I’m confident this method will work because of my home study seminary experience. Read the material, study it, and you get a zillion times more from the material than you will if you read one thing and study something completely different. You know this yourself — look at how much you get out of gospel doctrine when you read the lesson material versus when you don’t. I’m lucky, too, that I have enthusiastic students. My expectation is high for them, but these kids can do it.

No devotional! But when will students share their insights with the class, you say? They NEED to get experience speaking before the group! Well, I would argue that speaking before a Seminary class is not good for real-world teaching. Rare is the time that even a missionary would teach a group of more than 2-3 people at once. He or she certainly wouldn’t be assigned a topic, lecture, and leave. I am going to try to train my kids on more real-life type sharing skills. Group speaking skills don’t translate to one-on-one sharing, imo. The kids blow off the opportunity, skip class when they are assigned to speak, forget and prepare a lackluster talk right before, and all this is okay with us. We just go on like that’s how devotional is supposed to be. If an activity isn’t helping the vast majority of students, it’s a waste of time. Instead, I am going to adapt something I read about in Teach Like a Champion: Everybody Writes. The methodology is that everybody writes something about their assignment and only a few report. Every single person is ready to share, but only a few actually present.

Each day when my students come to class I will have an open book review activity. They will write or draw or speak or something where they will summarize or analyze the previous night’s reading. Many days they will use my apply (past, present, future) rubric to find ways to apply it to their lives. This serves three purposes:

1) If they read, the material will be cemented in their minds by review. They’ll be more prepared for class and ready to share insights or ask questions.
2) If they didn’t read, they will at least have some preparation for the material we’ll be covering in class. They’ll review even if they didn’t want to read. Hee hee.
3) I won’t have to waste time reviewing material or giving background. We can “suck the awesome” out the scriptures instead of me wasting time getting them ready to get into material they’ve possibly never even seen.
4) Reviewing the material will emphasize the importance of completing the assigned reading, and it will show the kids that I really do expect them to complete the reading assignments.

While the review activity is going on I will walk around the classroom and comment on work. “I like that.” “I can tell that you read this passage carefully.” “You’re thinking deeply about ___. Thanks!” Then based on that reading I’ll choose one or two students to share what they learned about the previous evenings reading to present to us. It’s a
“Devotional”. But EVERYONE prepared it! And there was no work for me or the student outside of class with reminders and such. Plus the material will directly relate to the days’ study. Reinforce.

And even better, being able to take a passage of scripture and summarize it articulately or apply it to their situations is a skill these kids will use in every day life — school, family, church, missions, future family, future calling, etc. And every child will get to do it every day. I can’t wait to get started!

Posted by Jenny Smith

I'm Jenny Smith. I blog about life on the 300+ acres of rolling farmland in Northern Virginia where I live. I like tomatoes, all things Star Trek, watercolor, and reading. I spend most days in the garden fighting deer and groundhogs while trying to find my life's meaning. I'm trying to be like Jesus -- emphasis on the trying.