Teaching 101

The importance of objectives

I used to feel sooo much stress when I was asked to teach, especially in church.  I mainly was concerned with looking dumb, looking unprepared, and being boring.  Not to mention having a bunch of people looking at me the whole time while I tried to look put together and confident.  Then, I went to school to become a teacher and went on a mission and then was a soccer coach and then became a mom.  Teaching was at the core of everything I did, and I became a teaching NERD.  Guys, I love it.  Maybe that’s gross, but I do.  And I use the knowledge I gained of teaching every day. But one place that I always take advantage of is the opportunity to teach in church. Two of my favorite things, teaching and the gospel, in one place.  Knuckles.

So for a while now, I’ve been wanting to share some tips and things I have been learning as I strive to be a better teacher.  And the first thing that comes to mind that is like basics number one of teaching is this: the objective.

In teaching lingo, there is something called backwards design. It offers a pattern for how to begin planning a lesson.  I like wikipedia’s definition: “Backward Design is a method of designing educational curriculum by setting goals before choosing instructional methods and forms of assessment. Backward design of curriculum typically involves three stages” (emphasis added).  The three stages being: 1. Identify the desired results (big ideas and skills) 2. Determine acceptable evidence 3. Plan learning experiences and instruction.

In other words, this:


{, Honorary Professor by the Department of Computer Science, University of Alcalá, Spain}

Why is this method so useful? Because your desired results provide the purpose behind every other choice I make as a teacher. When we just plan a lesson by focusing on how we are going to fill the time, we do just that: fill time.  When we plan a lesson by focusing on how to get people to participate, we look for that: participation.  But in both of these examples, we are missing the mark.  The purpose of teaching isn’t so people aren’t bored.  We teach for people to learn.  And we need to make sure that learning, not being busy or showy, is the center of every choice we make as a teacher.  When we figure out what exactly we want people to learn or experience in a lesson, we get a more focused result that leads to a better learning experience for everyone.  Filling time and participation are just the fruits of a learning focused lesson.

In the gospel sense, I have found that there are three main things that I look to when I choose my objective:

Doctrine.  Sometimes, my main point in a lesson is to extend understanding about a certain doctrine or a certain application of a doctrine.  For example, I recently taught a lesson on our Pioneer Heritage from the Teachings from Gordon B. Hinckley.  As I read, I saw that he focused a lot on faith and the driving force faith was in the early days of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  So my objective became this: students will understand faith and how it applies in their lives.  I then planned my lesson, choosing quotes, examples, scripture verses, questions, and activities that would help me gauge the understanding of the class on faith and its application.

Feeling.  Sometimes, my goal isn’t so much focused around doctrine as much as it is focused around encouraging certain feelings and emotions to be felt during class.  For example, my objective could be for students to feel a greater sense of gratitude or to feel an increase of motivation to keep the commandments or to feel confident about being a missionary or, or, or.  Again, once I know that this is my objective, it becomes more clear how to choose what activities, readings, stories, questions to share.

Skills.  Sometimes, my goal doesn’t really have to do with the content that I am teaching at all, although that is always important.  Sometimes, I am more concerned with helping my students develop certain skills that will help them become more spiritually independent.  I learned the importance of this option during a lesson I was teaching about the life of Jesus Christ.  I had my students write down some concerns or questions they had in regards to their life.  Then, I had them all read silently a certain story about Jesus Christ and to look for teachings that applied to their life.  As everyone finished and I asked for anyone to share what they found, I was met with silence and averted eyes.  I waited for a minute and one person raised their hand and shared.  Thanking them for their comment, I asked for anyone else to share.  Again, averted eyes and silence.  I then shared what I had found as I, too, had done the activity.  As I finished, one of my students said, “Wow, I admire how you two were able to find application in this story.  When I read through it, I really didn’t see how this could apply to me at all.”  What was most beautiful about this experience was that this student was one of the more elderly, experienced members of the group.  I learned A: there is a skillset that comes with gospel education just as there is with secular education and B: not everyone has that full skillset and C: even though someone might be faithful in reading their scriptures and church attendance and prayer, and have been for years and years, they still might need some modeling and practice when it comes to skills that can enhance all 0f these activities.  But there are tons of skills that can enhance gospel study.  The trick is learning how to identify said skills and even more so, how to teach those skills.  So, the next time I taught, my objective was for students to be able to find a principle in a scripture story.  I then knew how to structure the class time and what to share/ask/look for.

The benefits about objectives are numerous.  When I know my objective, everything else seems to just come together quickly.  Its easier to plan activities that are useful instead of busywork, what parts from the manual I want to use instead of reading from beginning to end and never reading the end sections because we run out of time, what types of questions to ask instead of just any question that is sure to be commented on, etc.  Its easier to navigate throughout the lesson, especially when I have too much or not enough time because I know what I can and cannot cut out or expand upon in order to still reach or better reach my objective.  And most of all, its easier to recognize how my lesson was or wasn’t successful.

And I think it is essential to note that our main objective always when teaching the gospel should be to foster spiritual experiences.  Miracles do happen when we teach.  Lives are touched by the Spirit.  Let it be intentional as we plan our lessons to have such experiences take place.

So next time when you are asked to teach or coach or tutor (because I use it in all of these roles!), start with identifying the objective.  Pray over it, ponder over it, labor over it.  Once you know it, you’ll know which direction to move.  And teaching will be so much more rewarding, for teacher and for learner.



2 thoughts on “The importance of objectives

  1. Shayla!

    I know this post is from over a year ago, but I just found it and I LOVE IT. It was super helpful and
    applicable to my life right now, as I have just been called as a Gospel Principles teacher to help me prepare to leave for my mission in July. Your ideas here are something I want to experiment with as I plan lessons (because honestly I have no clue what I’m doing – Heavenly Father sure knew what I needed #blessmyfuturecompanionsw/PATIENCE ).
    I had one thought though, and wondered what your idea on it was – How does the spirit and letting it guide you, fit into this model? I’ve heard many missionaries and other teachers tell stories of times when what they prepared to teach, and what they thought the investigator/student needed to hear or learn, was in fact, something completely different. Have you had experiences like this? And ever while using the backward design process?? I know and believe that the Holy Ghost is key to successful teaching, so I want to learn how to prepare well, and yet still allow myself to be led the Spirit. What do you think?


    1. Oh Sarah. I sure am proud of you. And I’m so happy we are still in touch. And sooo happy to be of help to you.

      What a great question. Some thoughts:

      I try to do my part in involving the Spirit in my planning process (starting with identifying the objective). In my experience, it is rare that I feel during a lesson to completely change what I’m teaching. It does happen, but for me so far, as I put in great efforts to follow the Spirit in prepping, the Spirit guides me through what I have prepared almost every time.

      What I mean by that is this: I love backwards design because it helps me see the end goal. At the end of the day, this objective is where I want us to end up, right? The beauty of that is that it allows me great wiggle room during a lesson. As I try to feel what my students already understand, what questions they might have, how their faith might need to be strengthened, etc., in regards to that objective, I am able to follow the Spirit to find the right path that will lead us to that objective. Does that make sense? So even though I make a lesson plan, I don’t make it such that I have to go step by step. I prepare myself to be able to flexibly meet the objective based on the feedback I get from the students or the promptings of the Spirit.

      In other words, even though I have certain scriptures to share or activities planned or questions to ask or excerpts to read, the only thing I’m really attached to is the objective. Everything else I use or don’t use based on the experience during the lesson. So like I said, with that approach, I rarely feel to dump everything and go a completely different route.

      What does sometimes happen is that I have to change my objective to something more simple or basic. So for example, when I was coaching soccer, my objective might have been that my players would be able to successfully use wallpasses in a game setting. But during practice, I might observe that my team really needs to work on one, two touches before they will even be able to use a wallpass. Wallpasses are too advanced for where their touch is. So instead, I adjust the objective for the day to be that my players will successfully use one, two touches during a game setting. So even though I’ve had to change my objective, I’m still using backwards design.

      In a gospel setting, I’ve gone to teach the restoration lesson, but during the lesson, we find that the person we are teaching really doesn’t even believe in God. So instead of teaching the full restoration lesson, we focused instead on just the first principle that God is our Heavenly Father. So we change the objective based on feedback or what we’ve discerned by the Spirit.

      Now with that being said, here is something I learned on my mission that was reiterated in my Education classes. Faith and repentance are the first two principles of the gospel, but they are the fundamental elements of teaching. An objective, based on backwards design, needs to be an action. Actions are measurable, this allowing both the teacher and the student to know if the objective is met. Either the student does or doesn’t do the action. The objective during a gospel lesson, particularly as a missionary, is rooted in the commitment. The commitment is the repentance. It is the change or action you are asking your investigator to make. For the longest time, i wpuld plan which of the 5 lessons we would be teaching the investigator and then pick a commitment. The two things were seemingly separate. Here’s the first lesson and will you come to church on Sunday. But once I saw the commitment as what step of repentance I was asking of my investigator, the lesson began to be the process of how to strengthen their faith enough in order for them to be willing to commit to change or to repent.

      So for example, if my commitment is for my investigator to not only pray about Joseph Smith, but to begin to pray daily, that becomes my objective. This is the action I’m looking for at the end of the day or the change/step of repentance asking for. Then, as we teach the restoration lesson, we aren’t just telling a story or sharing a cookie cutter lesson. We are seeking the Spirits help to know how this lesson or what we should emphasize from this lesson that will strengthen my investigators faith in order for them to have a desire to pray daily and to ask about Jospeh Smith. The lesson ceased to become a transfer of information and became a tool to help towards repentance.

      So again, during that lesson, my objective may stay the same, but we may feel to only get through God as our Loving Father because a deep conversation about that one aspect is what the Spirit is telling us will best help strengthen my investigators faith to pray. Or the whole experience of Joseph Smith and his prayer may be what he needs. Or maybe he needs a clearer understanding of revelation and the reality of prophets. Or all of that. But we keep the objective or the step of repentance in mind, and seek to find the path of faith building it may take to get them there.

      Long thoughts. Making myself end here. I would love to know what thoughts you have to your question or thoughts in light of my thoughts


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