Shot Down but Soaring

If you are someone who participates in gospel lessons, even to the point of making your imperfections apparent, thank you.

You’re fully engaged in the lesson and desirous to contribute. You raise your hand and bravely offer a comment. It soars into the discussion with all the beauty, strength, and brilliance you can give it, but it hardly goes anywhere before it’s shot down—rejected, forgotten.

Wrong answers are often the springboard to effective learning situations. --Ryan J. Wessel

photo by peter heeling

Or you may have a teacher who shoots pure doctrine through the comment, leaving it airborne—respected and appreciated—but also putting what you may feel is an ugly hole through the incorrect segment.

Such catastrophes may make us want teachers to embrace the philosophy that “the fact that the student was willing to respond [should be] enough to allow any response to stand uncorrected.”

But after Ryan J Wessel mentions this thought in his article “Responding to Wrong Answers,” he proceeds to describe why this reasoning doesn’t work in teaching the gospel.

What’s wrong with the approach of just leaving answers alone? Among the reasons Wessel gives are these: (1) teachers have a duty to ensure that we get more than “a crowd-sourced understanding,” (2) wrong answers often illuminate teaching opportunities, and (3) a well-intentioned statement simply doesn’t have the same promise of the Spirit that a clear, true statement does.

This need for gentle, appropriate correction applies to three categories of answers that Wessel specifically addresses: partly correct answers, perfect answers at the wrong moment, and wrong answers with a basis in correct principles.  

So should we just remain completely silent and let the teacher give us correct principles? Absolutely not. Wessel  says, “A lack of feedback impedes an individual’s ability to make an optimal choice.” Although our answers must sometimes be corrected and our sincere comments may occasionally flutter or come crashing down, we may be helping enable the class discussion to soar.

Read Ryan J Wessel’s article “Responding to Wrong Answers.”

Source: Religious Studies Center

—Austin Tracy, Mormon Insights

feature image courtesy of spacex

Find more insights

Read the section “To the Learner: Your Voice Matters” at the end of the article “Conducting a Well-Tuned Gospel Discussion” by Dustin West.

Discover how to continue on despite imperfections in Tyler Garrett’s Mormon Insights article “Reassurance amid Weakness.”

Learn to appreciate correction by pondering Elder D. Todd Christofferson’s talk “As Many as I Love, I Rebuke and Chasten.

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  1. This is something I’ve noticed as a participant in Sunday School lessons. But I’ve never thought about it from a teacher’s perspective before. Thanks for sharing! Great insights.

  2. This is an interesting topic, and one that I don’t think many of us appreciate. Wrong answers can provide a learning experience that otherwise wouldn’t happen. Thanks for sharing this!

  3. I’ve had many incredible teachers who have believe that there are no stupid questions, and I’ve also had many professors who seemed like they didn’t want to hear anyone else’s voices but their own. It’s interesting to see how it is from their side of the classroom and definitely gives me more to think about.

  4. Thank you for sharing this. It is so important not to let fear of offending someone get in the way of stating true doctrine, but so often it requires tact to correct the mistake while making the truth clear.

  5. Who else out there learns from participation? Who else learns more when teachers directly address holes in our knowledge THAT WE BRING UP than by pure lecture? If so, this article is for you!

    In all seriousness, if teachers understood this concept, the world would be a better place. The ability to foster healthy participation and connection between topics is the foundation of a beautiful remainder of your life. It encourages not only the individual’s self-worth, but also community.

  6. Although I haven’t often been in a position where I’m trying to teach gospel doctrine, I definitely recognize the difficulty of correcting misconceptions without giving off a “my opinion is the only correct one” vibe. I’ve been on the receiving end of that kind of “correction” a few times with teachers or professors, and it definitely doesn’t get me interested in learning more on whatever the discussion topic is. In my opinion, knowing how to correct someone kindly is an essential skill that everyone needs to learn, because abrasive correction can alienate people who might otherwise grow spiritually with gentler guidance.

  7. Thanks for your post.

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