This past year was my first year teaching 6th graders in a new parish with a new book as a guide for content and curriculum. While there are always ways to improve anything that one does, this Trifecta of Newness opens up a lot of opportunities for improvement. Considering one of my top goals is to have my students “want” to come back the following week, improvement all along the way is vital so here are some of the more important things I learned:
Don’t Rely Too Heavily on the Textbook
In our parish, we generally don’t allow our students to take their books home. I guess there is history of the books never finding their way back to class. This proved to be a challenge for me last year since there was no easy way for the students to prepare for class. I ended up spending way too much class time reading through the chapter of the day. My sense is that doing that caused many students to lose interest and retention of the material took a dive. Next year, I will do more selective class reading and will otherwise summarize the relevant points. Doing that will allow more time for discussion of the material, and hopefully better retention.
Supplement with Other Topics
The 6th grade curriculum is sort of like bible study. It ties Old Testament readings to the New Testament as well as to Sacred Tradition. However, it lacks strong coverage of Catholic Doctrine, what I would view as the basics. Now, most people would have an expectation that by this grade most of the basics would have already been learned, but I discovered that there was a lot of inconsistency between what the students remembered. Therefore, I’ve decided, in conjunction with the point above, to supplement the topics covered in the text with a review of some of the basics of the Catholic faith. We can’t have my students walking around not knowing the Ten Commandments, now can we?
Tweens are Not Kids But are Not Teenagers Either
Middle school students are at a particularly interesting age. Talking to a 2nd grader about confession and communion is pretty straight forward and primarily factual in nature. Talking to an older teenager about some of the faith challenges they face offers more of a dialog. For “tweens”, they don’t want to be treated like children yet they do not reason quite the same way as a teenager. I suspect middle school teachers have this down, but for me, finding the right communication balance was a fun challenge for me this past year. I’m by know means an expert, so next year will offer more tweaking on delivering the content and sharing the faith.
U2 sings “Jesus Christ“
I noticed shortly before Christmas break that I needed to do something to liven up the class a bit. After some contemplation, I thought I’d do something that could fight the “religion is not cool” sentiment that I recognized was there at the same time. I decided that the best way to kill two birds with one stone was to look for Christian-themed songs sung by mainstream artists that my students might know. Around every two weeks, I’d bring in my iPod and speakers and play a different song by an artist my students would recognize that I also thought could teach a lesson. Imagine the look on their faces when they heard Bono singing about Jesus!! While I need to build up my library a bit, this is definitely something that I will keep doing. It was a big hit, and by handing out the lyrics to songs at the same, it helped discuss what the song was trying to say.
All Parents Are Not Created Equal
I think I’m going to do a separate post that focuses on this particular lesson, so stay tuned.
While there were more things I learned throughout the year, these are probably the big ones, and I’m sure there will be many more. I’m always looking for new and creative ways to liven up the class while spreading the faith, so if you have any ideas on doing that, please leave me a comment.