10/11/12

Do you avoid the B.S. in your youth group talks?

     I hate the B.S. Yes, totally done with it. The B.S. (boring sermon) is my personal #1 challenge to work on.  I am married to a dirty blond, blue eyed, teacher with a slightly graying goatee. He leaves the house each day with his over the shoulder Jack Bauer style man-bag. His Macbook Pro, Ipad, and Iphone travel with him.  He is my favorite teacher. He skillfully utilizes all means of technology and creativity in his class room. There is not one ounce of boring in him.  He truly is a master at what he does.
     Being married to a teacher and both of us holding Master's degrees in the area of education (mine Christian Ed...his Edu Tech) we talk A LOT about learning. We love talking about sermons and youth talks all the time. Especially when your Pastor is a well known Bible teacher, I always feel inspired and challenged to improve my speaking skills. I have a huge desire to bring my A game to all my youth talks. Both my husband and I have done a lot of research on educational theories and practice regarding what is called Brain Based Learning. We both strive to grow in this area and are committed to applying that research to avoid boredom in both the classroom and church setting.

Taking Brain Based Learning from the class room to the youth room. 
     Each of us youth workers can more effectively speak to youth (and adults) and avoid the B.S. (boring sermon) by integrating more Brain Based Learning into our Sunday mornings. Chances are, you intuitively know some of this stuff. These are research driven findings in the educational world from the area of neuroscience. By understanding the adolescent brain and using science-based teaching strategies we can have maximum impact in our youth ministry teaching times. Robert W. Lucas, writes in Creative Training Idea Book that
     "In brain-based learning environments, materials and instruction must be learner centered
      and delivered in a manner that is fun, meaningful, and personally enriching."

I take that as meaning...not boring!  No B.S. (boring sermons). If we as youth workers are going to teach for maximum impact, we must know how the human brain learns.

Creating a variety of interactive experiences engages our brain for
learning. 
    First of all, teachers who apply brain based learning principles in the classroom, know the brain comprehends and remembers best when facts and skills are embedded in what has been termed "natural spatial memory." Creating a variety of interactive experiences is what best engages this part of our brain and connects with the way students learn.
I've been to a fair share of Taylor Swift concerts. We have a rule in our home that if it has to do with 1) Comic Con 2) U2  3) Taylor Swift or 4) Disneyland then by all means go in debt, bounce a check, whatever it takes to acquire said tickets to any of those in the top 4. If you've been to a Tswifty concert you will see huge screens, multi-media of various kinds, costume changes, fireworks, dancers, ballet, cirque du soleil, an orchestra, dynamic stage changes, audience interaction via twitter, storytelling, and a multitude of other strategic experiences between her and thousands of screaming fans. She moves through out the sold-out arena during her show and floats above her fans during her grand finale in a ball gown on a moving platform. A total over the top experience mesmerizing concert goers.
     As youth workers, we have a much more meaningful message.  Do we create learning experiences for our students? Are you doing everything you can to help the message stick in their brains? I don't need to costume change into a ball gown and stage dive into the audience, but I do need to create a variety of experiences connecting my content to my audience. When natural spatial memory is engaged, students are remembering your message and storing that info into their long-term memory.  In youth ministry and in education, what we teach needs to connect with the student's every day life for the message to grab their interest and engage the part of the brain that actually puts the content to good use. Information is simply information. Information that sparks life change, is what we are aiming for in ministry.
     When we unpack a Bible verse, kids must see how to apply it and make the story (the Bible) connect to their story (their life). Too often speakers, preachers and youth workers ramble off facts and turn into lecture mode. Connecting to her audience on multiple levels is why Taylor Swift has so many best selling, multi-platinum albums. Teen girls everywhere feel this connection to her, because her songs reflect their everyday lives. She connects to their heartache, their boy-craziness, and their friendships. Her music, her concerts, and her videos tell stories and relate to teen girls. Young women and girls everywhere feel like she "gets them."  She creates a powerful ethos with her fans, because so often the "Story of Us", and "Fifteen", is truly the story of us at 15.
     Story telling is important because it makes a connection from our lesson and reaches into their every day life. Stories facilitate understanding. Without it, much of what we teach is stored in "rote" memory which is facts and information we might memorize or store short term. This kind of fact based rambling and teaching without stories or illustrations, is information students dump from long term memory because it doesn't have a place in the real world. No application or value to what a student needs day in and day out. They need a buy in.  Story telling also kills two birds with one stone, because another Brain Based principle is the innate search for meaning.
     Brain Based research also tells us our student's brains are hard wired to find meaning. When we use a movie clip, tell a story, or share a personal illustration, we are helping students make very natural connections in the brain. Their brain is designed to find innate meaning. Story telling, humor, and movie clips help connect students to the scripture you are teaching. They are pre-wired to figure out the point you are making with your humor or stories. If you don't use illustrations, stories or movie clips, chances are your kids are remembering your talk for as long as it takes to walk out the door, if at all.  You are doing them a huge disservice and your teaching time is not nearly as effective as it could have been. When watching the recent presidential debates it's clear to see the power of story telling in making a point, both painting pictures using the real life stories of everyday people. Sharing about small business owners, stories about grandma, and teachers not having enough desks for their students. Students brains naturally, and almost effortlessly connect the dots from your story to the point you are making.

     These are just two out of 12 Brain Based principles we need to consider when crafting Sunday morning experiences for our teens.  I will be adding more practical ways to incorporate Brain Based learning principles into youth ministry in the coming weeks. If you are interested in avoiding the B.S. (boring sermons) in your youth ministry, I would encourage you to try these 3 things:

1) Google Brain Based Learning and familiarize yourself with it's application into educational settings. Here are some great websites.
Caine Learning
Funderstanding
Jensen Learning

2) Talk to a teacher.
My kids attend a charter school in town that is committed to applying these 12 Brain Based Principles in the classroom. Ask a teacher who has this nailed to come in and give you ideas you can use in your setting. My husband (who works at the same school as the kids) has been a great resource for me. He knows his stuff and he is my biggest inspiration. I walked by one of my middle school small groups last night at youth group and I saw a projected image on the screen of rippling waves, a pretty plant in the center of the room, and calming music in in the back ground. I looked and saw my intern Elise leading the group. She is currently doing her teaching observation at my kid's school and I could immediately tell she was applying brain based learning to her middle school small group.
Do you see the writing prompt on the screen? Brain Based learning
means keeping the kids engaged as soon as they walk in the door.
See the speakers and computer? Technology is well utilized in Brain Based learning,  


3) Attend Speaking Seminars. 
I went to a seminar this week at Saddleback church called Speaking to Teenagers by Duffy Robbins and Doug Fields. Much of their material was all stuff you have heard before. Literally, I've been to several Doug Fields seminars over the years and heard many of the same jokes and seen the same slides, but they are always hilarious and a great reminder. I walk away rejuvenated and excited for delivering my next baby talk.
Our youth team brought several of our interns with us and I was so excited for them to be exposed to this awesome material.
Speaking To Teenagers Seminar


When we keep in mind the way our kids are processing information and the development of their brains, we can be much more effective in our youth ministry talks and getting rid of the Boring Sermon (B.S).
Have you incorporated any "Brain Based Learning" principles into your youth ministry teaching times?

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