When I was a student teacher, I was very proud of the first class I taught. My mouth had a motor on it, and I never ran out of gas. When class was over, my cooperating teacher congratulated me on surviving, and said I did a good job, but bluntly said, “You talk too much.” I thought teachers were supposed to talk. “Yes,” he replied, “but not all the time. The spotlight is not supposed to be on you; it’s supposed to be on your students. They are the ones who are supposed to perform, not you.” This was a “Copernican revolution” for me, but it made great sense. If I do all of the performing, then I become an entertainer, and the participants become a passive audience. The spotlight is shining in the wrong place.
In every learning space, there is a spotlight waiting to shine. If we focus that light totally on ourselves, we are putting a great deal of pressure on ourselves. Our goal as catechists is to turn that spotlight around and spread it over the entire group of participants. We need to learn how to shift the focus or pressure off of ourselves and onto the group, where it will allow us to see our participants in a whole new way. Here are some tips on how to shift the focus away from yourself and onto your participants.
- Look over your lesson plan. How much talking are you planning on doing? Sometimes lecture is necessary, but if you are always doing all of the talking, when and how will the participants learn to express their faith? Take some of your talking time and brainstorm ways of getting the participants involved in bringing forth the material you wish to cover.
- Review your learning outcomes. Remember, your learning outcomes are not statements about what you are going to do but descriptions of what your participants are going to do. If your outcomes call for participants to articulate an understanding of the Beatitudes, that means that they are to articulate that understanding, not you. Most catechetical textbooks articulate the learning outcomes for a lesson. As you grow in your role as a catechist, you will learn to develop your own learning outcomes when needed. The key to learning outcomes is that they must be measurable. They must identify a behavior or skill that you will be able to look for (assess).
- Identify ways participants will be engaged in learning. Participants can demonstrate learning and understanding in a wide variety of ways. Don’t rely solely on oral expression. Provide your participants with a variety of ways in which they can demonstrate an understanding of material, such as through drawing, writing, role-playing, or poster-making. The old image of learners as sponges who will soak up the information you offer them does not work. They are already saturated with information that society bombards them with and will not be able to retain what you offer them. However, experts estimate that learners retain 90% of what they do. Get your learners doing. This is especially important to keep in mind when learners are viewing a video. It should never be passive viewing but rather should include an “assignment”—what to look for; what to “do” with the content delivered by the video.
- Be prepared with open-ended questions. Strive to use questions that are open-ended or, simply put, cannot be answered in a “yes” or “no.” For example, instead of asking, “Do you remember your First Communion?” ask, “What are some of the things you remember about your First Communion?” Granted, you may still get one-word answers, but if you have more than “yes” or “no,” you can at least begin making a list on the board for further discussion.
- Develop techniques for “deflecting.” Difficult questions can put the heat of the spotlight right on you. Learn to deflect such questions by shifting the attention off of yourself and onto the question. Respond to a difficult question by tossing it back at the questioner (i.e., “What do you think?”) or by inviting anyone else in the group to share their thoughts while you compose yourself and collect your own thoughts. Jesus was very good at this. Recall how he often responded to a question with a question, such as when the Pharisees asked Jesus where he gets the authority to forgive sins and Jesus replied by asking, “Where was John’s baptism from? Was it of heavenly or of human origin?” (Matthew 21:25)
- Resist the temptation to talk too much. I imagine it would have been easier for Jesus if he had given a lecture to his disciples about who he was. Instead, he asked them two questions: “Who do people say I am?” and “Who do you say that I am?” (Mark 8:27, 29) Jesus did not jump in with the “correct answer” but waited for the disciples to offer the best replies they could. As catechists, we too need to resist the temptation to give the answers so we can help our participants grapple with the questions of life and faith. Instead of getting nervous when no one replies to a question, let your learners get nervous! They are the ones who should be in the spotlight.
(Adapted from The Catechist’s Toolbox)
Prepare your catechetical sessions with the Christ Our Life Online Lesson Planner, which incorporates the learning outcomes for each chapter to help you focus your sessions.