Handling Student Mistakes in Bible Classes

It’s inevitable. Sometimes it is a wrong answer to a seemingly simple question about the Bible story you just taught. Or maybe a student misunderstands one of God’s commands or principles. Perhaps a student admits to committing a sin or being enmeshed in ungodly behaviors. Regardless of the type of mistake a Bible student makes in your class, how you handle it can be pivotal for many students.

No one likes to make mistakes, much less in front of other people. It’s even more traumatic during the childhood and teen years when a top goal is often fitting in and being like everyone else. If the mistake is actually a sin, the guilt of the sin can be added to the embarrassment of making a poor choice. If the Bible class teacher adds more pain to the situation, it can feel to the student as if the mistake or sin was something that can no longer be recovered from – perhaps ever.

On the other hand, as a Bible class teacher, you can’t allow your students to believe false doctrine or that the sins in which they are becoming enmeshed aren’t wrong and won’t hurt them. So how can you acknowledge the possible seriousness of the mistake or sin without mortifying the student to the point where the only option seems to be to flee church and perhaps God as well?

The most common mistakes in a classroom are incorrect answers given to questions the teacher asks during the lesson. It’s important to avoid embarrassing the student. You can encourage their attempts to answer questions without allowing them to conclude their incorrect answer is actually correct. It can be extremely helpful to both you and your students if you keep a mental list of incorrect answers given during class.

After class is over, analyze the incorrect responses. Can you figure out why a student gave a particular incorrect answer? Did they not understand what you said? Were the words you used too difficult? Do they not understand some aspect of the cultures in the Bible? Are they unfamiliar with other Bible stories that would have given helpful background information?

Your analysis can give you clues as to how to make your lessons more effective. This is especially important if you see a pattern in the possible causes for errors over several class periods. Making adjustments can improve understanding not just for the student who made the initial error, but for other students as well.

Another way to navigate mistakes and even some sins in the classroom environment is to focus not as much on the mistake or the student who made it, but the process that got them to that point. For example, let’s pretend a student admits to getting really angry and hitting a sibling. You could point out the sinfulness of the violence and launch into a lecture. You could fuss at the student for doing something he or she knows is wrong. Or you could encourage all of your students to analyze the situation and develop strategies for avoiding the mistake in the future.

The discussion could begin by asking all of the students for examples of times when they are most likely to lose control of their anger and hit someone, yell, etc. Are there common factors? Are they more likely to make poor choices in certain situations than others? Are they more likely to sin when they are tired, hungry, have had a bad day, etc.?

After you have done a full analysis of the problems that cause all of your students to lose control and sin in their anger, encourage them to develop some strategies that would help them regain control before they make a poor choice. Or that would help them stay in control and not get as angry when they are frustrated.

Using this strategy removes the focus from the individual. It focuses on an element of the problem that is common to most, if not all, of your students. It encourages them to think critically about scripture and how well they are living the way God wants them to live. Not to feel badly about themselves, but to analyze and find trigger points and develop strategies to make it less likely they will sin.

Handling mistakes in ways that help students grow spiritually without unnecessary embarrassment in the process is an important skill set for teachers to master. For some young people how you handle their mistakes will determine whether or not they remain involved in church.

Categories Elementary, Faith Based Academic Program, Mentoring, Special Needs, Teens
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