Monday, April 20, 2015

Two Different Ways of Teaching

Here is a way to think about teaching the scriptures more powerfully. Do you teach the scriptures "inside out" or "outside in"? Inside and outside both refer to the scriptures and reference where you start and where you spend more time. I will explain both methods.

'Outside-in' is when you use the scriptures as a support for a story or a thought or an experience that you share with the class. You begin class by sharing what you have with the students. A great story will certainly grab the attention of the class - they will be with you and eager to hear your tale. You tell them the story or relate the experience. When the story concludes you say something like "Everyone now turn to the following verses and let's see how they are just like the story I told you."  You have everyone turn to the scriptures to see how your story is strengthened by what you read there.

'Inside-out' is when you use a story or experience to support a clear doctrinal teaching from the scriptures. You begin class by first going to the scriptures. You spend time there and come to understand the context and content, and then discover a principle or doctrine. You have the class chew on it a while, analyzing it together so that it can be understood by all. Finally you move to an illustration of that doctrine in action with a story from the teacher or a student, one that illustrates how it works in real time, today.

Both methods get students into the scriptures but one of them is much stronger than the other. Obviously the 'inside-out' method is stronger because it begins with the scriptures and the lesson is centered on the scriptures and not on my personal life. It starts where the action really is - in the written word of God. Once we have helped students understand a portion of that word we can then help them to rely on it by showing how it works in a real person's life. That person could be the teacher or a student, or both. In the 'outside-in' method the focus is on the teacher and the teacher's story. It could be a great story, one that illustrates a true principle. But if the focus is on the teacher then the scriptures stay unfocused in the minds of the student. They are just there as a backup to a great story.

I have a story that I have used for years to illustrate the doctrine that the Savior has a plan and that His plan will roll out as He has prepared, so we can be confident that we can see the end from the beginning and we have no need to fear because we know how things will end up. My story is about a football game I was watching on TV years ago. It was on a tape delay and so I knew the result of the game as I was watching it. It is a great story and illustrates the doctrine perfectly. I have used that story as the focus of a class and later, when I knew more, I have used it simply as an illustration of a scriptural principle. The second way has worked better every time.

What is needed more than ever is for students to see the scriptures and what they teach as the focus. That would of course include the words of living prophets. The teacher will someday leave the class. The students may or may not remember the great stories but if we can help them learn to dig in and understand the scriptures, they will have that skill forever and it will bless them for the same length of time.

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