Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:4-7

27 February 2013

Top Teaching Tips - WHAT IF?

Here, here and here is a long list of things to help spruce up teaching technique.  And here is the health warning...that should have been stated right up front.  Don't try all of this at once.  It will lead to a nervous breakdown.  But what if?  What if you are doing it all and still things aren't going right?

If part of a lesson is going disastrously, even if you thought it would be a huge hit, abandon it in good humour and move on to salvage the rest of your time together.  Maybe break the tension with a quick game.  If a whole lesson goes badly (and they do), plan a very happy, interactive follow-up session to rebuild the relationships.  If you have a run of bad lessons think about setting up a system where two consecutive good lessons earns a games or craft day.  Next time extend it to three good lessons for a games or craft day.  Better to throw a lesson here and there to games or craft (and you can still sneak in plenty of content) in order to win back quality time with the kids.

Does a full moon make children go crazy?
And remember, not every lesson goes perfectly.  Spend some time analysing the situation – could you have done better in your preparation (they say the average children's talk or session is prepared in six minutes) or delivery?  But always remember that there are lots of external reasons why lessons go awry – rainy days with no chance to play outside and run off energy, windy days, tired children, the class is having a bad day, it is sports carnival week...and in the Sunday School setting is it the first Sunday of the school holidays (always aim low that day) or did half your kids have sleepovers at friends' houses at some stage over the weekend?  There is a fair chance that an unsuccessful lesson may not be because of you.  So have good courage, keep praying and press on.


That's where my notes for the conference finished.  But there remains one more WHAT IF.  What if these notes were actually of some use to you?  The notes that formed the last four posts - my slightly embellished conference notes - are free for use, as is anything on this blog.  If they can help you or someone you know to tighten up their pedagogy - that is, to maximise their teaching time by minimising their need to discipline - then cut, paste, print, reuse, modify, take extracts from, run your own workshop, share.  No need to seek my permission.  These notes are free for use so go for it.  My hope, prayer and joy is to see people who love to teach kids about God feeling confident to do that precious work.

26 February 2013

Top Teaching Tips - AVOID

(Some things to avoid and some things that will help you to avoid the need to discipline)

1.       Don’t offer choices unless you can deliver both options.  For example, “What would you like to do now - play a game or draw a picture?”  If you don’t intend to deliver both options, don’t give the choice as those who aren’t doing what they chose will be disappointed and classroom momentum will be lost.  Just tell them, with wild enthusiasm, what you are doing next.  Keep charge of the situation.

2.       If you have a particularly distracted or distractible group OR if you have a particularly long story to teach, get the children to multitask while you tell the story/do your direct teaching. 

Multitasking ideas

Complete the colouring in puzzle  in the student book (the mindless puzzles that don't take any brain power so that they can still listen to you, not anything that requires thinking and concentration) while they listen to the story.

Give them one or more things to listen out for you teach.  (eg. I want you to make a note of every person’s name/food/colour/mode of transport etc mentioned as I tell you the story.)  Have the children keep a running list.
Get the children to raise their hands (or stand up and then sit down) every time they hear a person’s name (or whatever you specify, as above.)

Give the children a completely unrelated colouring activity that will keep them busy but not distracted from listening while you teach.  Go to GOOGLE IMAGES and enter INTRICATE COLOURING IN or DETAILED COLOURING IN for endless possibilities.)  For older children add challenge to the colouring in by limiting them to four colours or that no two adjoining panels can be the same colour.  These colouring pages will last for two to three lessons but I recommend pulling one of these out only once a term at most – saving it for when it is really needed.

3.       Make judicious use of competition.  It can be very motivating if used carefully.  There are a few points to consider:-
*  It is not helpful to have children always competing for extrinsic rewards.  Be selective.
*  If you have a competition, only give a few prizes – if everyone wins one then this tool loses its power. 
*  Only use lollies as prizes with permission from the school and the classroom teacher. Be aware that some children are not allowed to have lollies and always be aware of the nut allergy problem.  Other prizes include items of stationery, stickers, bookmarks... 
*  Prizes don’t have to be tangible – a prize can be to be chosen to participate in the next part of the lesson. 
*  Competition can be introduced by other means - eg.“I think you should be able to complete this in two minutes.  I will time you.  See if you can do it in less!” – no prizes but highly motivating to get something done.  Great if you need them to get something done in a hurry. 
*  Consider a long range competition with a running score over several sessions.  Or a whole class competition where they collect points together to reach a goal such as play a game.

4.       Use games to – illustrate a point, break up a long teaching time, transition between parts of your lesson or as a reward or prize.  This is where timed challenges come into their own.

5.       Finish any activity, especially a game, at the peak of excitement.   If the children beg you to keep playing say, “Yes, next week.”  Then make sure you play it next week.  The children will be yours and instantly motivated for the next lesson.

6.       Do a craft activity.  Either a small one that can be done as part of your lesson or give a whole lesson or two over to it and do a really wonderful craft activity.  Think about what boys will like as well as girls.  Just remember in a school situation to return the class and the classroom to its teacher in good order.   Something other than the teacher talking and the children listening or bookwork every now and then works a treat.

25 February 2013

Top Teaching Tips - DELIVER

1.       Cover your main point from several different angles - tell a story, ask questions, do an object lesson, class or group discussion, drama, drawing, writing...this caters for all styles of learners and reinforces your teaching point over and over.  Change the focus of the lesson (listening to doing, noisy to quiet, active to passive) a few times in your lesson.  If your class is easily distractible, avoid the noisy activities.  And in a school setting, try to finish up with a quiet activity so that you return the children to their class teacher in good shape. 

2.       That said, don’t labour a point for too long.  It isn't necessary for every child to understand every concept or point before moving on.  Hang around on a point too long and you will lose your class.

3.       Personalise concepts as much as possible.  Compare people, places and practices in the Bible with modern day, child focused equivalents.  i.e., “Mary and Joseph walked from Nazareth to Bethlehem.... that would be like us walking from ______ to _________ (fill in the blanks with familiar local locations.)"

4.       If there is space in the classroom, think about how you will seat the children – on the floor or at their desks.  If on the floor, in a group or in a circle.  Different seating arrangements work for different lessons and for different groups.  Make sure they can all see you (and you can see them) during your direct teaching time.   If you have children on the floor in a group for direct teaching, stretch out your arms in the shape of a V (as per the photo) so that both of your arms stay within your peripheral vision.  There is a point at which one or both arms will drop out of your peripheral vision and you have to turn your head slightly to see it (which means you now can't see the other arm.  (Go onTry it.)  Have the children seated between that V that takes in the full sweep of your peripheral vision (which will mean about three in the front and about ten by four rows back) and then you will be able to see all of them at once.  And always think through how you will execute movement around the classroom.

5.       Use concrete materials as much as possible - pictures, charts, puppets, props, active participation games – anything that can be seen, held or experienced.  BUT make efficient choices.  Don’t bring every prop you own to a lesson – you’ll spend too long managing the props rather than managing the children.  Sometimes less is more.

6.       Make big use of child involvement – for readings, demonstrating points, holding up a chart, writing answers on the board – as well bringing them up the front to play a game or participate in a challenge.  But again plan the movement around the classroom – keep things efficient and don’t create empty spaces when nothing is happening...because children are highly accomplished at filling those empty moments... 

7.       Consider having a connecting theme run through a series of lessons or for the whole term such as game (like a timed challenge that you run each class) or a character (maybe a puppet) or an object (today in my mystery box I have a...) that appears every lesson. This will help the children to get into the zone quickly. 

8.       Turn as many parts of your lesson into a game as you can:-
*  need to ask some questions?  For every right answer they can have a go on a giant naughts and crosses game.                 
*  or ask a question that has a tricky word as its answer (like "disciple") and write the answer you are after on the board as an anagram to unscramble or play a game of hangman to solve the answer to the question.
*  as you tell a story, if there is going to be a word you use frequently, get them to stand up sit down/put their hand up/cheer every time they hear it.

9.       Some questioning techniques:-
*  Use closed questions (usually start with what, who or is and are answered with a single word) to check comprehension and to involve lots of individuals in the lesson quickly.  You can get ten kids participating in the lesson in a couple of minutes with a series of short, snappy questions.  A great technique if you are losing them.
*  Use open questions (usually start with why or how and are answered with a phrase or more) to delve deeper or to bring out a shy child. 
* Wait seven seconds before taking an answer to allow for thinking time.   Sometimes we all need a little bit of time to process our thoughts.  Seven seconds isn't too long to wait.
* Don’t just ask the children with their hands up to answer your questions.

And when NOT to use questioning:-
*  Try not to ask questions when you are giving an instruction. 
Eg. “Who wants to listen to a story?”  or  “Would everyone like to play a game now?” 
We do this to be generous and inclusive. But don't.  Because they will all answer you which will create unnecessary noise that needs to be quelled.  And it will lead to a divided camp – some will say yes and some will say no...and everything will unravel very quickly after that.  Take it from me.  I know.

24 February 2013

Top Teaching Tips - PREPARE

1.     Pray.  Pray as you read the Bible and prepare the passage you are going to teach. Pray for the children that you will be teaching and their families. If you are teaching Scripture in a school, pray for the classroom teacher, praise God for your access into that school and pray that this access may long continue. Pray for yourself as you prepare and teach your lesson. Pray that God would be at work in the hearts and minds of the kids you are teaching.

2.     Be prepared. The less you need to refer to notes or stumble about in bags and boxes looking for equipment the better. You want to be maintaining eye contact with your kids as much as possible. Take your eyes off them to scurry around in your box and you risk losing control of the class. (I am reminded of that magnificent quote from the movie Kindergarten Cop with Arnold Schwarzenegger..."Kindergarten is like the ocean. Never turn your back on it." Wise words.) In preparing, take only what you need. (You don't need to be rifling through your box with last week's leftover colouring pages and story telling props and the wrappers from the prizes from a fortnight ago.) Pack only what you will need for that day - and that includes one or more five minute fillers in case you need to fill in some time.

 Five Minute Fillers

Always have a stash of blank paper on hand. Draw a picture about today’s story. Give it some momentum by adding some element of competition:–
* draw this only using blue and green textas or
* draw this but you only have three minutes and seventeen seconds (and time them!) or
* draw this but in the picture you need to include... (Give a list. For example, if the story was Jesus fishing with the disciples the picture must include a boat, Jesus, two disciples and 27 unique fish.)

See how many times someone can say the current memory verse (or some other phrase) with their tongue stuck out and a marshmallow, mintie or smartie balanced on it without dribbling in a fixed time. Give a few children a go and make it into a mini-competition.

In your preparations, generate a list of 20 questions related to the story. Then:-
* draw a naughts and crosses game on the board. Divide the class into two teams. Ask the questions and if the team gets the question right they can place a naught/cross onto the board or
* draw a picture of a staircase with ten steps. Have a picture of a person (or just use a magnet on the whiteboard) and with each question correctly answered, move up one step. If the answer is wrong go back a step. They win if they get to the top of steps before your questions run out – you win if you get to the end of your questions and they’re not at the top. Throw in the occasional hard question to keep it interesting or
* play Heads and Tails with a set of twenty true or false questions.

Teach a new song. If you don’t like singing in front of crowds then let the CD do the teaching for you. Colin Buchanan is very helpful like that.

Work on a memory verse.

Timed challenges .

3.     As you prepare for a lesson if you don’t like the sound of a suggested activity (a game, a song, a craft idea, a way of presenting the story) because it is boring, cheesy, beyond your class or too simple for them or maybe it requires too much movement around the room and actually your class responds better to staying put at their desks, then leave it out of the lesson. You won’t pull off that part of the lesson successfully if you feel uncomfortable about it. You know your children – pick activities that you know they will respond to well.
This is permission to not use every single aspect of a prepared lesson.

23 February 2013

Passing the baton

A fortnight ago I ran a workshop at the Pass the Baton conference -  a day for people involved in children's ministry.  My workshop was designed for the dear people who teach Scripture in schools.  It was my top tips - gleanings from my teachers' training and then years in the classroom - to help Scripture teachers teach more effectively and so maximise their teaching time and minimise their need to discipline.  The stuff that is technically known as pedagogy.  (Isn't that a nice word.)

I thought I would put my notes up here on the old blog.

If you don't teach Scripture or Sunday School the next few posts will be of little interest.
If you do teach Scripture or Sunday School and you're a trained teacher then the next few posts will probably be of little interest.
If you do teach Scripture or Sunday School and would like some help, then the next few posts might be of some small interest. 

But bear in mind that the notes to follow are just dry old notes.  It was much more fun live.  In the live version you get to watch adults trying the timed challenges, competing against each other for prizes.  You get to eat minties and then participate in the mintie wrapper tearing competition.  And say memory verses with a mintie (wrapped!) balanced on your head or a marshmallow balanced on your tongue.  And hear the anecdotes - the hilarious tales of grand failure at the hands of a class full of children  - and the little joking asides.  What follows is just notes.  But I hope that they might be of use to someone out there. 

Coming to you under the heading of Top Teaching Tips, the posts will be divided into four sections...
Avoid (both in the sense of things to avoid and thing to do that will help you to avoid discipline)
What if?

12 February 2013

Making that transition

On Saturday I went to a conference for people involved in children's ministry.  It's an annual event - I went last year and then wrote this post about helping children to transition from kids church into the life of the big church. 

This year's keynote speaker spoke in passing about the transition topic and said that in his church, at the end of primary school, he was taken aside (the end of his time in Sunday School) and asked, "Now that you are finishing up with Sunday School and moving to church, what do you think you would like to do to serve the church?"   He gave an answer and over the next three years was taken under the relevant person's wing and trained up for that particular area of service.  By the time he was into his last couple of years of high school he was a fully functional, serving member of his church and has never looked back.

He assumed, as he grew up, that this is what all churches did (and do.)  But they don't. 

It's so simple.  It's so obvious that it seems almost silly to even mention it.  And yet I am so glad he said it in all its simplicity.

08 February 2013

This year's BIG read

Last year I read Knowing God from cover to cover.  It was a big and brilliant read.  I think I have worked out that I am probably only good for one BIG read a year - and I have to break the back of it in the first six months of the year because the second half of the year is always busy and wearying which is not conducive to big reading. 

This year's big read is going to be Communion with God by John Owen.  Does anyone want to read along with me?  I don't mean in any formal sense with set readings for set weeks.  My own capacity to read ebbs and flows and as with Knowing God I suspect that this will be one to take slowly, bit by bit and reading other things along the way.  But if anyone wants to read a bit and blog a bit (or comment a bit if you don't have a blog) with me that would be fun.  Let me know.

06 February 2013

And this summer's reading

Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner.  Brilliant.  Looking forward to reading it again at some stage.  In the meantime, if anyone local wants to borrow my copy, let me know.

Which prompted me to reread Gilead by Marilynne Robinson.  It's still good.

And then there was Jane Austen.  I received this gorgeous anthology for Christmas. 

I have watched lots of films and television series of Jane Austen adaptations as well as various spin offs.  But as it happens I haven't ever read any of her actual words.  I should have read Emma at university but that particular course operated at the rate of a one novel per week for the whole year alongside another unit I was doing that also involved reading a novel each week (and not the same novel) - and so Emma was one that slipped through the net.  (Not much to contribute during that tutorial.)  This anthology presents JA's novels in order of their publication.  So far I have read Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice.  Turns out that I serendipitously read the closing chapters of P&P on day of its 200th anniversary.  Currently reading Mansfield Park.  It did take me a while to settle into her style but I am happily there now and looking forward to the rest.  (And you know that you have settled into the style when you spontaneously answer your husband's text message, "Can you come and get me now?" with "We shall set out soon.")

I also reread How to Really Love your Child by Ross Campbell.  Interestingly I came upon some details that didn't sit all that comfortably on this second read through.  However they were just details and in essence I still think this book is excellent.  It was definitely worth reading through it again and I am glad to be reminded of all the good principles held therein.  I will be reading this annually until such time as I need to be reading How to Really Love Your Teenager annually instead, which in fact is not that far off in one case.

04 February 2013

This summer

The boys are back to school today.  It has been 47 days since they were last at school and we have had a ball.   So nice to get to the end of the long summer break not counting down the minutes until the dulcet tones of the morning SCHOOL'S STARTING siren can be heard across the neighbourhood.  (It hasn't always been like this.)  Here's a glimpse of the last 47 days. 

Christmas - tree and house decorating, cooking, shopping, wrapping, unwrapping, singing, reading, praying, teaching, reflecting, visiting, celebrating.
Saw "Les Mis" (not for everyone but I loved the stage production and I loved the film), "The Hobbit" (wonderful to be wandering around Middle Earth for a couple of hours), "Wreck it Ralph" (better than hoped for) and "Quartet" (a must see for fans of "Marigold Hotel".) 

Successfully managed to avoid kids' films with zombies central to the storyline.

Ate fish and chips by the beach.
Had a glorious two week holiday housesitting for friends who went elsewhere for holidays.  (Thanks again dear ones.)  We live near the hills and our friends live near the ocean.  The two week seachange worked for us.
Took the Smooth Chopper with us on holidays.
Watched "Brideshead Revisited."  It's still marvellous.  And that soundtrack...
Purchased a beautiful 3/4 sized violin.
Celebrated my birthday five times over a period of 17 days.  Pretty funny for one who actually likes to keep a low profile.
Watched lots of swimming lessons - pool and beach lessons - and over the course of the summer swam in five different pools and at two different beaches.
Enjoyed reunions with friends home for Christmas from other parts of Australia, England and China.
Tried several new recipes.  Some were received better than others.
Discovered chai lattes.
Started my new Bible reading plan - daily reading from the Old Testament, Psalms, Proverbs and the New Testament and getting through each of these once in the year.  This plan represents the smallest Bible reading load I've given myself for several years, despite there being four sections to read each day.  I'm enjoying taking my time with smaller chunks.
Rode down a fairly long and fast water slide and lived to tell the tale.
And read some books...but that is for another post.
And all the usual (you know, that housework type stuff that keeps things up and running)...but that goes without saying and is barely blogworthy.

03 February 2013

Bringing in the new year

When is it the new year for you?  I chatted with a friend in early January about when the new year really kicks in.  For some the new year starts on 1st January.  That makes sense. 

For some it is a little more fluid.  The new year starts when they go back to work after the Christmas break, which may be before 1st Janaury or sometime in January. 

In my head the new year starts on the 27th December the year before.  There's Christmas.  Then there is that gorgeously quiet and still day that follows Christmas.  And then on the 27th December I put my head back up and I am into my new diary for the following year.  I am finished with the previous year's diary.  Tired of the old, bent out of shape, scribbled all over one.  Ready to open the brand new, crisp and clean diary.  (And I must boast...this year I have THE perfect diary.)

But then there is tomorrow, when for us, school returns.  And then all the midweek school, church and community activities kick into action.  It's feeling a bit like New Year's Eve around here.  Except that we won't be staying up until midnight.  And it must be true because today I wrote two cheques and almost put 2012 on both of them!

01 February 2013

Status Report: February

Back: on the grid again after being away on holidays for a couple of weeks.  Did you miss me?

Reinstating: the Status Report...and wondering if anyone else out there in blogosphere would like to join me in writing status reports at the beginning of each month.  You know, as a bit of a blogosphere community building exercise.

Copying: Rebecca

Wondering:  if anyone will join in another blogosphere community building exercise that I've cooked up recently as well. Have been having a few little ideas while I was away. Stay posted.

Eating: nothing...and dinner was nothing to write home about either.  Only got back home today and Old Mother Hubbard's cupboard was bare.  Going shopping tomorrow.

Drinking: water.  With lots of ice blocks.

Reading: Exodus, Psalms (in the 20s), Proverbs chapter 6 and Matthew in the current Bible reading plan.

Also reading: Mansfield Park by the lovely Jane Austen.

Thankful: for great summer holidays this year.  We've had a ball.  Apart from one patch after Christmas the weather hasn't been unbearably hot this time around.  Feeling rested, restored and ready to go.  The year is about to begin in earnest.

Looking forward: to running a workshop at a conference for people involved in children's ministries next weekend.  My workshop - the gleanings of 15 years in the classroom...all those helpful little tips and tricks that teachers have like not saying, "Who wants to play a game now?" because that leads to a) raucousness and b) divided unruliness when some say yes and some say no.  Best just to say, "We are playing a game now" without giving an option.  Twenty tips help Scripture teachers maximise their teaching time and minimise their need to discipline. 

Unsure: as to how I'll finish this post off without it seeming too abrupt. 

Deciding: to go with the abrupt ending.  Got to do some other things before bedtime.