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Even in a virtual World, smaller classes Bring more discussion

Earlier this month, President Nelson spoke about our “New Normal”. I guess attending our second hour teaching groups via online is part of that new normal. I serve as the Stake Sunday School President/High Counselor. As a presidency, we are trying to help ward Sunday Schools and other organization implement this change. I was so excited when the church released a short but powerful resource on virtual teaching earlier this month.

It can also be found on the Church’s website under Library>Come Follow Me>Sunday School or in the Gospel Library under Come Follow Me>Sunday School.

Among the great information is one that I want to talk about. I am a big supporter of smaller classes. In large classes, the ability to discuss is difficult. Often the class falls into a discussion of 3 or 4 people while the rest of class engage with their phones rather than the class material. I believe the level of disengagement increases as the class size increases and in the virtual world, the ability to “check out” is even easier.

The resource says, “Because of the limitations of meeting virtually, it may be tempting to simply give a presentation, with limited interaction among participants.” My experience is telling me this is true. I am finding that before the pandemic wards had multiple Gospel Doctrine classes. They did so to encourage more discussion. However, now the same wards are only holding one online class for 40+ people because they say, “it is easier to manage” or “lack of free accounts”. The resource continues with this statement. “But this approach could actually inhibit learning. Continue to encourage learners to read assigned scriptures or conference messages in advance. Ask inspired questions that allow learners to share their insights and experiences —just as you would in person. Explore ways to allow “all [to] be edified of all” (Doctrine and Covenants 88:122).”

Under the Encourage learners to participate section, the importance of small groups is mentioned. The resource says, “In general, smaller groups make it easier for more people to make comments, ask questions, and participate in other ways. Consider breaking a large Sunday School class, for example, into smaller classes. Each one could have a different teacher or group leader. Teachers and leaders could counsel together about the best way to do this.”

While the teaching environment has changed, the truth that smaller classes encourage participation hasn’t changed. Since we are no longer restrained by lack of rooms. What is stopping wards from having four or five Gospel classes of 10 to 15 people rather than one 40+ class. I suggest using a Student Ward Family Home Evening model. The group is small enough for great interaction. My rule of thumb is if you can’t see them on the screen, you can’t interact with them.

A parallel issue is the way we teach. The old model must disappear. The old model becomes a vicious circle. Because teachers aren’t patient enough to ask open-ended questions (aka feeling question) and wait for answers, students don’t read and ponder the material before class and since students aren’t reading and pondering the material at home, the teacher feels a need to feed/read the information to the class. A prepared teacher, relying on the Spirit, can break the circle. They start with the idea that learners engage with the material in their homes and shared at church. We are blessed with Come Follow Me and other material to learn at home. Now is the time for teachers to do their part and raise the amount of interaction. I believe if you expect preparation and you will get preparation.

Besides the information about smaller classes, the resource reminds us that the fundamentals that make effective Gospel teaching is true either in a classroom or online. For example, a teacher loving their class members. Another is to Teach by the Spirit and Teach the doctrine.

The final parts of the resource are ideas about encouraging participation and adding creativity to a new teaching environment.

If you haven’t checked it out, please do.

Image by Alexandra Koch from Pixabay

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2 Nephi 2:25

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