Jenny's blog

Starting to Plan …. Seminary

Well, now I finally have my materials to begin Seminary. In this area, the S&I rep has created a method whereby he hopes that the callings are issued, which was unfortunately ignored by our stake, and many of us are just now receiving our materials. It must really suck to be an S&I person. You’re in charge and accountable for overseeing Seminary in a given area, but you have no actual authority to ensure that your suggestions or guidelines are being followed. Poor guy.

I had already read most everything I could get my hands on online (policy manual, etc) and was starting work on planning a reading chart and general lesson plan for my class. I have a couple of opinions about the manuals. I’m afraid my initial impressions of them are not flattering. I’m really hoping that I’ll be happier once I get into them a little deeper.

Reading Chart

So, we’re studying the Old Testament next year, right? Well, guess what. Seminary students are not supposed to read Genesis 1. Nor Genesis 2. Nor Genesis 3. We start with Abraham 3. So, the zealous Seminary student who wants to get a head start on his or her reading by starting “In the beginning” will be doing work they don’t need to. *sigh*

JUST ONE WEEK to cover all of Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and Psalms! ONE WEEK!!!!!!!! FOUR LESSONS! I am still seething.

Furthermore, the reading chart isn’t the first page of the book. Why on God’s green earth not? Shouldn’t that be the first thing the student turns to every time they open their books? Printed on the back cover, even? Gosh. I wish I had the ear of somebody in CES manual editing office. :(

The Student Study Guide

So far, not impressed. I will say that my S&I guy didn’t start me off on the right foot either. After disparaging the old home study seminary program (which I personally loved), he told me what a vast improvement the new program is, and then proceeded to explain that my students would not be receiving a copy of the student manual. Why? Because no one uses it. Yes, this “great” manual is not “great” enough to actually be used by students who have the luxury of having a daily teacher. Sucks to be you, Home Study. Grrrrrrrrrrrr….

Well, after that glowing introduction, I decided I would try to utilize the student manual to help me with my lesson plans. Remember the old home study manual? It was split up into 4 daily lessons per week. At the beginning of each day was assigned reading, after which followed some commentary on scripture passages and a few short writing assignments. Enter the new manual. Every week students are assigned a seemingly random grouping of scriptures. Sometimes 3 chapters, sometimes 11. The manual is split up by book, so the student has no idea what is a reasonable way to spend his or her time — no goal or objective. The reading blocks aren’t separated into roughly equal groupings, neither verses nor pages, so that the student can set aside a certain amount of time to complete seminary assignments. You’re just supposed to read some material. Or not. (Because the manual says 10 minutes of daily reading is okay. And even I could not read 11 chapters of Numbers in 40 minutes.) Please. “It doesn’t matter if you actually cover all this or not. But here’s your reading chart. Mark it every day.” No wonder so many people complain about the home study program.

I suppose I’m a baby, but I actually cried thinking of the poor home study student looking at this manual trying to set his or her own lesson plan and how to cover the material in a week. How shall I split this up? The book says I can read 10 minutes and call that good as long as it’s regular. So what do I do with this manual stuff? Read it? Do a couple of activities I select? How will it relate to the material my teacher (if I have one) will cover? Would I have been able to do home study with this new manual? Definitely not without a great teacher. But not all home study students have that luxury. There were times when I didn’t have a functioning seminary teacher myself growing up in Mississippi. It ain’t fun. I’m pretty self-motivated, but I don’t think I could have achieved the level of organization this manual expects, not at age 14.

And the headings!!! This was a problem in the old manual, too. The words in the HUGE print on the GIANT scrolls aren’t what you actually read. No. Those are just for your information. You’re supposed to read the stuff that’s found in the reading chart or in the tiny bold print underneath the header. Not intuitive. Again, who designs these manuals? Call me, honey. I’d be glad to help. ;-)

After some thinking, I suppose that the intent is that a student read from the scripture block for a set amount of time (who cares what you actually complete, I guess), and then turns to the coordinating section in the study guide and works on that material. Read a verse or two, then cover the commentary. I don’t like it. No goal. No objective. No way of ensuring that your student actually covers essential verses or principles. So confusing.

The Teacher Guide

We’ll I’ve already been looking at the lesson guide in the teacher guide, which shows what is suggested for a teacher/student to cover each day. *THIS* is the guide that should be in the student manual but isn’t. I’m using that to help create a lesson plan to keep me on schedule during the year. I couldn’t care less about covering *all* the material. I just want to hit one or two essential parts of each day’s lessons hard.

Our S&I rep asked us to make our lives easier by planning our first week’s lessons now. Not sure why that’s helpful. But okay. I turned in the book to the first week’s assigned lessons, which happens to be on the plan of salvation. Read the headers.

Each little mini-lesson on a block of scripture tells you how long it will take to present each section! GENIUS!

Then I read the first one: “Plan of Salvation Overview: Suggestion 1 (90-120) minutes”. FAIL.

What? My classes are 50 minutes from start to finish. I *hope* to get 35 minutes of lesson time in each day. NINETY MINUTES? Did they look at the lesson schedule *they* made up? This lesson is supposed to run over 2 days lesson time. 70 minutes max. Okay. Maybe the next one is better. “Plan of Salvation Overview: Suggestion 2 (90-100 minutes)”. By this time I’m starting to panic. Is this for real? Maybe they can cover this amount of material during release time seminary on a block schedule, but I’m early morning!

Then I start to bristle: “Screw the early morning and home study students. Release time is the only True and Living Seminary Program.” Get over yourself, Jenny. S&I is not a Pharisaical cult. Repeat. Again.

A few deep breaths later, I consider that of course, I can edit this down to fit my time. There are two other shorter suggestions, leaving me with the impression that the shorter lessons are less desirable, and that the first is to be preferred. Of course, all this without reading any of them, just the headers. Hopefully after actually planning a lesson I’ll see that this all makes sense in some way. But I’m still annoyed at all the time wasted by “preparing to prepare” the lesson.

And where are the lesson objectives? The best part about the YW manuals is that there is a clear statement about what each student should have accomplished by the end of the lesson. What should my students understand by the end of the plan of happiness lessons? What are the 3-5 main points I should not fail to punch home? I’m reading Teach Like a Champion: by Doug Lemov, and he shows how essential planning with an objective is. No help with that in this manual so far.

So I move on to week two’s lessons. We’re supposed to cover the creation and war in heaven, basically. Genesis 1-3, Abraham 3-5, and Moses 1-4. That’s roughly 10 pages of material in the lesson manual, which incidentally, is not grouped by unit or in any other way you might expect. No. Just by book. :( Obviously these lesson are grouped by topic or unit. Creation. Fall. Pre-Mortal Life. So why not title them that so that the teacher will understand what we’re teaching?

In week two’s lessons, there isn’t anything labeled objectives, but I do see “Some Important Gospel Principles to Look For”. My, that’s poor English. (Call me, editors. “Some Important Gospel Principles to EMPHASIZE/NOTICE/SEEK”. See, I’m a regular human thesaurus.) Anyway, in lieu of objectives, “Look For” will have to do. There are twenty-seven. In four days’ lessons. It’s too many, but I can actually live with that. I can select from among those “Look For”s to see which I might emphasize in my lessons for my students. Breathing a little more regularly now.

Wait! I think that the scroll might be indicating lessons!!! One, two , three, four… five scrolls for this week’s material. Obviously not. To double check that it’s not just an error, I turn to Numbers. Just three for that week. Hrm. So what exactly are those scrolls supposed to represent? I’m so confused. I’ll have to stick with the lesson schedule.

Still not loving the manual. The layout is bad. Too many bullets. Hopefully I’ll get used to it — my second Bible, as it were.


Well, I’m done with today’s Seminary exploration. I’m hoping that this will help other teachers starting out. It’s more than a little frustrating to look at these manuals. I consider myself to be a pretty confident teacher. But this is much like trying to swim with only one arm. Through peanut butter. What if I weren’t an experienced teacher? Preparing these lessons should be easier, imo. I shouldn’t have to waste time trying to figure out scheduling and objectives and such. I’m not a paid professional. I shouldn’t be preparing all summer to prepare to prepare a seminary lesson.

I am beginning to get ideas for what I’ll be doing next year. I’m hoping to actually use the reading guide as a guide for my lessons. I want the material we cover to be directly related to the material the students read the night or day before. I think it would be pretty annoying to the student to come to class having read one thing and then to have the teacher cover something else (which is what my S&I guy suggested). Won’t do it.

Singing is also an issue. My kids don’t sing, apparently. I’m afraid that I’ll have to put a stop to that. I grew up in a Branch, and you sing no matter how it sounds. Mission, anyone? You’re gonna sing. So I have a few ideas on that, too. But more later. My behind is going numb. :)

I have a plan on how to implement a little review / journaling / devotional exercise at the beginning of each class, too. More details on that in the entry I’m writing on how I’m trying to use Teach Like a Champion to help me teach better. I hope it works :S

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.