Thursday, February 4, 2010

Candy and Catechesis

Have I even mentioned that I have a massive sweet tooth? I have a mouth full of fillings to prove it. Aside from my winning personality (snort), I use candy and stickers to keep my kindergarten religious ed class under control. If you've never been placed in a room of 5 and 6 year olds who have just consumed copious quantities of sugary cereal and coffee (I'm pretty sure one of my students is hyped up on coffee when he comes to my class. He has to be, NOBODY has that much energy naturally.) then you might now be aware of the necessity of using a lollipop and sticker as a behavior incentive. Bryan calls it a bribe, I call it insurance.

When I stepped into the scary world of teaching 7th grade religious ed nearly two months ago, I realized that my kindergarten model of catechesis was not exactly going to work. For one, I couldn't give these kids crayons and a coloring page related to the day's lesson. Flat Father Stanley wasn't going to fly with these kids either, unless I was hoping to have the Sacrilegious Adventures of Flat Father Stanley. And, certainly these kids weren't going to get the instruction they needed to help prepare them for confirmation next year if they were doing cutesy faith based crafts. I had entered an entirely different world.

Over the past two months I've been tweaking my lesson plans. I exchanged conversation starting questions for chapter reviews from the previous week. I nixed the Build the Church (hang man without the killing) game and have replaced it with race to the scripture (look up the verse referenced in the text).

Getting the 7th graders involved is the most challenging part. Out of 17 students, I have one student who is genuinely interested in the subject matter. Two other students are on top of making sure they seek out the right answers to the little quizzes I give them. They have parents who are catechists, and I interact with the mother of the one girl every Sunday since she's Ellie's catechist. Three other students are really into standing at the teacher's podium so they can read the text to the class. (You can tell they LOVE the attention.) Sitting at their desks to read isn't nearly as appealing to them as standing at the podium. Once that discovery was made, the class seemed to come alive.

But still, the class was lacking something. The students don't ask any questions. (I lug my catechism to every class hoping to be asked something thought provoking that may require me to look up the answer, and I get asked questions like "Did Mary waddle when she was pregnant?" GAAA!) When it comes to discussions, I get the sounds of crickets chirping. It's the exact opposite of my kindergarten class, where I actually get asked thought provoking questions from time to time. So my biggest challenge has been getting these kids involved.

Three weeks ago I asked the 7th graders if they liked Jolly Ranchers. The answer was a resounding yes. (Who doesn't like them?) So I experimented last week with giving everyone candy, but I didn't get much participation out of them, so I worried that the candy scheme was going to be a bust. After some thought, I decided I needed to come up with a new approach. Jolly Ranchers for correct answers! Scripture reference in the text? If you can find it first, I'll contribute to your next cavity. Correctly answer a question and you'll score your favorite flavor Jolly Rancher. I had one student who hardly ever says a word earn at least 10 candies. Another student who NEVER wants to participate earned at least 7 candies. To say that I'm pleased with the results of the candy for participation scheme would be a gross understatement.

Teaching 7th grade is still a work in process, but I think I'm making strides. I had nearly 4 months to prepare how I was going to teach my kindergarten class. For the 7th graders, I had about 7 hours to prepare before I took the helm. Clearly, I didn't walk into this class with the same level of preparedness.

I have to admit that I was a little disappointed when I heard another catechist mention tonight that we only have 12 more classes left. I'm almost positive we have 14, but maybe he wasn't counting the weeks when the kids go to confession and the stations of the cross.

1 comment:

  1. bribing is perfectly acceptable if they are learning Scripture and are in the Bible (seriously) my former pastor's wife said it was good for kids to memorize Scripture and she said it was okay to bribe them to do so, the important thing is they are in the Word and that is what matters; hopefully they will want to continue in it and continue to learn more about what they profess to believe in and develop their own faith and their own relationship with Jesus :)

    and if it takes a Jolly Rancher (or two or seven or nine) so be it :)



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