18: How to Tell If They Are Learning

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“18: How to Tell If They Are Learning,” Teaching, No Greater Call: A Resource Guide for Gospel Teaching (1999), 73

“18,” Teaching, No Greater Call, 73


How to Tell If They Are Learning

A Primary teacher was presenting a lesson to a class of nine-year-olds. The main principles of the lesson were that the President of the Church receives revelation for the entire Church and that individuals can receive personal revelation to guide them in their own lives. The lesson was well planned. It included scripture marking, chalkboard discussions, activities suggested in the lesson manual, and a review.

Toward the end of the lesson, the teacher asked a review question: “Who has the authority to receive revelation for the Church?” All the children raised their hands. They all knew the answer: the President of the Church.

Then the teacher asked, “What kinds of things can you receive revelation about?” There was no response. Because they had discussed this topic during the lesson, the teacher was surprised that no one answered the second question. The teacher reworded the question slightly, but again there was no response. Then Sarah, one of the class members, raised her hand and asked, “What does revelation mean, anyway?”

Because the class members had recited correct answers, the teacher had not realized that they did not understand the basic principles of the lesson. If Sarah had not asked a question, the lesson would have been incomplete for her and possibly for other class members. They would have learned very little that was meaningful to them. How could the teacher have made sure earlier in the lesson that everyone was understanding?

How to Determine If Learners Understand

Elder Boyd K. Packer taught: “The eyes of the alert teacher move constantly back and forth across the class, taking in each movement, recording each expression, responding quickly to disinterest or confusion. They read immediately a puzzled expression or sense at once when learning has taken place” (Teach Ye Diligently, rev. ed. [1991], 164–65).

By observing the progress of those you teach, you can sensitively make adjustments in the lesson presentation. For example, you can repeat or reemphasize ideas, stop for a discussion, share a story, or bear testimony. You can also know when to reach out to an individual. To be attentive and able to focus on learners, you must prepare well so you will not be overly dependent on notes or the lesson manual.

Some teaching methods can help you determine if learners understand the principles you are teaching. Consider the following suggestions:

  • Ask learners to restate principles in their own words. This will help you know early in the lesson whether they understand certain words or ideas. If they do not understand, you can offer explanations that will make the rest of the lesson more meaningful for them.

  • Use several short case studies. Plan the case studies so that some of them correctly illustrate the principles you are teaching and others do not. Ask those you teach to identify the case studies that apply the principles correctly. (See “Case Studies,” pages 161–62.)

  • Ask questions that require learners to express their understanding of the principles being taught. Learners’ responses may indicate the need to review certain lesson points and adjust the lesson plan.

  • Conduct a discussion. As you listen carefully to learners’ comments, you will know whether they have a correct understanding of the principles you are teaching. Turn to the scriptures, teachings of latter-day prophets, or the lesson manual to correct, clarify, or reinforce important points. (See “Conducting Discussions,” pages 63–65.)