Modular Teaching

When talking with people who teach in the Church, we often hear remarks like, “I can never teach a full lesson because there is just too much material in the manual”, or, “How do they expect me to cover it all in the time they give me.” These remarks give one the impression that the person talking believes that everything in the manual should be presented to the class. That is, a teacher should prepare one big lesson.

This situation reminds me of my early computer programming experiences. During the 1960s and early 1970s, programmers wrote large, monolithic programs. Those programs were complex and difficult to debug and get working properly. During the mid 1970s, computer scientists realized there were better ways to develop software, and they created a design philosophy known as modular programming. Instead on writing large programs, we wrote small pieces of programs that were called modules. Modules were combined together to give desired functionality. The use of modular code allowed us to write programs in less time, and the programs were easier to understand and to modify for new enhancements. A nice side effect of modular code was that modules could often be used in other projects, that is, they became universal building blocks.

Many Church teachers try to create large, monolithic lessons that cover all the details given in their lesson manuals. They frequently discover that the time allocated for their lessons is not sufficient. They also discover that many of their students lose interest in the details of their lessons. Perhaps, these teachers could benefit from the experiences of the computer scientists who developed modular programming. That is, perhaps teachers could develop modular lessons that would fit within the time available and would retain the interest of more of their students. Let’s see how this might work.

A Modular Lesson For Primary

A lesson taught to Primary children is The Commandments Help Us Choose the Right. The purpose of this lesson is “To help each child understand that Heavenly Father gave us commandments to help us make right choices.” The Primary manual suggests the following steps for the lesson.

  • Commandments Help Us Choose the Right
  • When We Choose the Right, We Feel Good

Specific activities, pictures, stories, etc. are suggested by the manual for each step.Instead of preparing one large lesson that contains both steps, the “modular” teacher could prepare two mini-lessons, one for each step. In addition, the teacher could prepare additional mini-lessons that are not given in the manual but which teach the purpose of the lesson.

Armed with four or five mini-lessons, the teacher would begin class with the goal of teaching some but not necessarily all of the mini-lessons. With a prayer that the Spirit would prompt choices of the appropriate mini-lessons for the particular children in class that day, the teacher would use the mini-lessons to create a classroom lesson that would meet the needs of the children. Some of the mini-lessons that are based on the manual might not be used. Mini-lessons not given in the manual, but which teach the purpose of the lesson, might be used. The order of the mini-lessons that were used might be different than that suggested in the manual.For example, the Primary teacher might plan the following mini-lessons.

  • We are happy when we feel good about the things we do
  • Choosing the right makes us feel good
  • Heavenly Father wants us to feel good
  • He has given us commandments to help us feel good
  • Obeying Heavenly Father’s commandments makes us feel good
  • Obeying Heavenly Father’s commandments makes us happy

Based on circumstances during the lesson or on promptings from the Spirit, the teacher might teach only a few of the mini-lessons, and the order of the mini-lessons that were taught might be different than that planned. For example, the teacher might discover that the Primary officers held an extra-long opening, and less time is available for the lesson. Because of this, only the following mini-lessons might be taught.

  • Choosing the right makes us feel good
  • Heavenly Father wants us to feel good
  • Obeying Heavenly Father’s commandments makes us feel good

Because mini-lessons are easier to modify and rearrange than are large monolithic lessons, they give teachers flexibility to teach by the Spirit. Mini-lessons help teachers develop creative partnerships with both the Spirit and the manual.

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