Archive for the ‘teaching’ Category

One of the cool things that you can do with a WordPress blog is track the search terms that people type in to end up finding this blog. It fascinates me, really. From “how do you know if a middle schoolers is in love” to “middle school youth group names,” I’ve seen it all! But one topic that consistently comes up is “middle school teaching plan.” Now, I don’t know what these searchers have in mind specifically, but it makes me think of a long-term scope-and-sequence plan for teaching. I think this a really important topic to discuss as we lead our ministries.

At Southland we are in the process of creating a long-term teaching plan for our middle school ministry. This will eventually end up answering the question, “What are those things we want every middle schooler to learn before moving on to high school?” With our long-term vision in mind – to develop students who walk with Jesus, in community, and on mission – I asked our team the following three questions to start the process:

  1. What topics do we need to teach every year in middle school ministry?
  2. What topics do we need to teach at least every three years in middle school ministry?
  3. What “felt-need” topics do we need to be aware of in order to teach as necessary?

Here is the rough draft of what we have so far:

Topics we have to cover every year:
Love, Dating, and Relationships
The Gospel Message
Who is God?

Topics we’d like to cover every 3 years:
The Church
Justice & Compassion
The Bible
Dealing with Family
Character Issues
End Times
Missions – Global & Local
The Life of Jesus
Evangelism/Sharing Faith

Topics that are “felt-need” and require our attention to determine when it needs to be addressed:
Media Usage

Now, before anyone gets upset and starts telling me that we need to teach “the gospel message” and “the Bible” every week, let me assure you that we do. I always ask whoever is teaching to connect the topic to Jesus and the cross. I also give them the biblical text from which to speak. Those “topics” are merely opportunities to focus on the gospel message and the Bible by themselves. Additionally we could teach on the different genres of the Bible and how to understand the Old Testament, for example.

So what would you add? What would you change? I know we are not perfect in our thinking, so I’d love to hear what you are doing in your ministry. Or as a parent, what would you like to see your student learn?


First of all, let me apologize for my hiatus from the blog. I really only like to write when I feel passionate about a particular topic, as opposed to simply writing my thoughts just because I feel like doing so. Lately my mind has been buzzing with new thoughts surrounding middle school ministry, so I’d like to re-start the conversation!

Today I want to talk about something called the “Explicit, Hidden, and Null Curriculum.” Now before I lose you because of the boring nature of the blog’s subject today, I think this topic is of extreme importance for anyone who interacts with teenagers, especially middle schoolers! But first, an example.

Let’s say “Youth Leader Bob” is leading a small group with five 7th grade boys on the topic of self-control. Throughout the discussion, Bob has the guys look at different Bible verses on self-control and explains, “Once a Christian grows closer to Jesus, the Christian will naturally have more self-control in areas of temptation in his or her life.” When they talk about specific ways to apply what they’ve learned that week, they talk about having self-control with their anger when their siblings annoy them, having self-control to do their homework instead of play video games, and having self-control with the words that they speak. They pray and then dismiss.

At first glance, this would be a good small group, don’t you think? They talked about a relevant topic for middle schoolers, read what Scripture has to say on the topic, and discussed ways to apply what they learned. This is a very glass-half-full approach to ministry. In other words, we look at what they did talk about, but we hardly look at what they didn’t talk about.

Whenever we started talking about teaching and learning strategies in my Christian education classes in college, the topic of curriculum would always come up. (And I’m not talking about the pre-made small group books you can buy). There are basically three types of “curriculum” in teaching:

1)      EXPLICIT CURRICULUM: This is what you are overtly teaching your students. In the example above, Bob explicitly taught his students that, “Once a Christian grows closer to Jesus, the Christian will naturally have more self-control in areas of temptation in his or her life.” Think of the “explicit curriculum” as the very blatant and obvious teaching points that you make.

2)      HIDDEN CURRICULUM: This is what you teach in subtle ways that aren’t always open and obvious. The hidden curriculum can come from the overarching principles of your teaching methodology or even the way you set up a room. For example, if you set up your youth room with hard chairs in straight rows facing the podium, the “hidden curriculum” you are teaching is that youth group is a place to come, sit down, and listen to a lecturer from the front. Your set-up makes it clear in subtle ways that it is not a place for discussion. In the example of Bob the Youth Leader, the hidden curriculum was that if students were not succeeding in the area of self control, it was because they were not close to Jesus. (Read the exact the words he said if you’re unsure how this came to be). Do you see how the way we say certain things can promote a hidden curriculum that (sometimes) we may not even intend to do so?

3)      NULL CURRICULUM: This is what you do not teach or mention in discussion. It’s what you decide – intentionally or unintentionally – not to teach. It’s a very simple thing. But it’s also a dangerous thing as well. In the example of Bob the Youth Leader, one part (out of many) of the null curriculum was the area of sexual temptation. Bob did not mention anything about how Jesus and self-control help the guys to fight the temptation of lust or pornography. By NOT teaching about the arena of sexual self-control, Bob taught the students that sex is simply not an appropriate topic to discuss in small group with other guys.

I think that so often we as youth workers and parents have our agenda on what we think the students ought to learn or think about. But how often do we stop and ask ourselves, “What are the hidden messages we’re sending our students? What are we NOT teaching?” Honestly, I believe these two questions are equally (if not more) important than the original question about what we ARE teaching.

And this doesn’t just apply to our formal teaching times or discussions with our kids in the car on the way home from school. There’s that old adage that most learning is caught, not taught. There is hidden and null curriculum in the way we teaching with our examples and lives. For example, when kids walk into the Hive youth group, they might see our male and female leaders talking and laughing with each other in respectful ways. The hidden curriculum we’re teaching our students is that guys and girls can interact with each other in respectful and friendly ways without any hidden motives.

Another example might be at dinner in the home one night. Mom gets a call from a friend who is struggling through a situation at work. Mom listens, speaks kind words, encourages this other woman, and then hangs up. After Mom hangs up, she starts complaining about how needy this other woman is, how Mom has enough things to think about without this woman’s problems, and so forth. The hidden curriculum that Mom is teaching her child is that it’s okay to act kindly to someone’s face and then turn around and gossip about them when they’re not listening anymore.

Our words and our actions contain all three curricula: explicit, hidden, and null. What do are you intentionally doing to make sure that your message lines up across all three lines? How do you as a youth worker or parent make sure your hidden and null curriculum are not working in opposition to your explicit curriculum?