Every time I hear a story like this repeated, it makes me feel sick. “Susie doesn’t like Bible class very much. She struggles with the reading and writing involved.” Eventually, Susie learns to “disappear” in her Bible class in hopes no one calls on her to read or share her answers. Soon she finds a way to convince her parents not to make her go to class at all. Learning about God has become a painful experience – one she plans to avoid at all costs.
Unfortunately, Susie’s story is not uncommon. I hear it multiple times every year from people of all ages and in every type of church you can name. Our Bible classes and interestingly enough, even some of our Bible based tutoring programs fail to recognize the pain and embarrassment children feel when they struggle academically in an environment. Yet teachers continue to pull out worksheets covered with fill-in-the-blank and essay questions. Or randomly assign students to read long passages of scripture – often on a reading level far above the child’s – out loud. In front of their peers.
I shudder to think how many souls walk away from church in order to avoid revealing to others their academic struggles. It doesn’t have to be this way though. There are several things you can do to help struggling readers and writers get the most from your lessons and enjoy being in your class. Here are some of my favorites:
- If your class is purely a Bible class (no tutoring of academic subjects is involved) ban all worksheets. Yes, you read that correctly. Ban all worksheets. There are so many meaningful, hands-on activities you can do with your students. Worksheets are boring at best and can make Bible class torture for some students. They are not even the best way for your students to learn about God and His commands and principles. Use some of the resources you can find on Teach One Reach One or create your own. (We are actually creating lessons and activities faster than we can get them online. If you need help, feel free to use the “contact us” feature to let us know of your need. We will do what we can to assist you.)
- If your class involves tutoring as well as the Bible, use reading and writing thoughtfully. Consider the subject being tutored and your learning goals for the lesson. Use hands-on activities to supplement any learning done using reading and writing.
- Avoid embarrassing your students. Many teachers have innocently tormented children by calling on them when they have not volunteered to answer or read. Avoid doing that whenever possible. If you believe a child is shy and needs encouragement to participate, talk privately with the child after class and work out an individual plan to help that child participate more in class.
- Misbehavior may be a warning sign a student struggles with reading or writing. Does Johnny start acting out every time you start assigning passages to read out loud? He may be doing it to divert your attention in hopes you won’t call on him to read. This is another time when a private, non-threatening conversation outside of class may help you find the root cause or causes of Johnny’s misbehavior.
- Even if your class is purely a Bible class and not a tutoring class, try to find ways to help and encourage your students to improve their reading and writing skills. While frustration and embarrassment won’t help your students, it is vital they learn to read and write fluently. Work with the student and his parents to find ways to help him improve his skills and confidence in non-threatening ways.
- When your hands-on activity involves some reading and/or writing, try to add elements if necessary to help struggling learners avoid unnecessary embarrassment. Sometimes, I will tell children they can use their art or their words to express themselves or I may place them in small groups and appoint a strong student to be the “note taker”. Consider your goals for the activity and adapt it as necessary – especially if yours is a Bible class and does not have a tutoring element to it.
Your classes should encourage all of your students to reach their God-given potentials in a variety of areas. Causing your students pain and embarrassment are not the best ways to help your students or reflect God’s love to them. Best of all, your class can still be a challenging and exciting learning environment while also being a safe place for struggling learners. Taking a few extra minutes to tweak your activities may mean the difference for a child who wants to “run away” from Church and unfortunately God in the process.