The Grumpy Old Catechist on Social Media Advice Articles

Here’s a little secret: I don’t read a whole lot of “tech advice” pieces on the internet, especially those about social media with titles like “Using Facebook in the Classroom” or “Five Tips for Maximizing Twitter Engagement”

“But wait a minute.” I hear you saying. “You write about tech and catechesis; surely you find these things interesting?”

First of all, don’t call me Shirley.

Secondly, while many of these articles have good intentions, I don’t find many with good practical advice. Many are too general to be of much help, with “advice” like “be sure to check your privacy settings” and “stay up-to-date as the technology changes.” Unless the article includes step-by-step instructions on Facebook privacy settings or concrete examples of places to go for current information, it’s just giving more work to educators and catechists who already find social media and technology overwhelming and off-putting.

See, most of these articles are written by techies who don’t know how to write for non-techies. They don’t understand non-techies’ fears and trepidation about technology, so they breeze past it. But if we want the “average” teacher or catechist to adopt these amazing new technologies we have to take their fears seriously, address them, and show them how to mitigate the worst-case scenarioes that go through their heads every time we use the words “computer,” “Facebook,” and “privacy controls.”

So this is my plea: if you write about technology and pedagogy, take time every once in a while to address a real concern and move past platitudes to give concrete examples and instructions. I think it will go a long way towards helping everyone else see the great potential we do in technology.

Photo by e-magic/flickrCC

Making Room for Introverts in Catechesis

Susan Cain’s Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking (which I reviewed on Monday) got me thinking about how we  accommodate  introverts in our catechetical programs. Many school activities and pedagogical methods, such as group work or presentations, are designed for extroverts. This is also true for many catechetical and faith formation programs. (Think of the typical small faith community or Bible study, which expects conversation, interaction, and the sharing of one’s personal faith.) With so many youth religious education programs working off a school model, we need to be careful that we allow room for introverts (who make up roughly 30% of the population) to explore and learn through their own particular gifts as well.

Cain includes a whole chapter in her book for parents and educators on cultivating the particular gifts of introverted children; many of her suggestions are easily applicable to catechesis of children or adults.

  • Don’t force introverts to act like extroverts. Just because the “shy” child in your class keeps his head in the book and rarely answers questions aloud doesn’t mean he isn’t learning or absorbing the material. Allow introverted students to interact and talk at their own comfort level; forcing them may only increase their anxiety. If you do group work, try to keep the groups small (pairs or threes is good).
  • Try to seat introverts in low-distraction areas. This may mean keeping them away from the talkative kids or the class clown, who will only serve to distract introverts.
  • Be sensitive when taking students into unfamiliar situations. Be attentive to your students’ comfort levels when taking them on field trips or mission activities; some may feel awkward or nervous in new or overstimulating situations. As Cain writes, “The key is to expose [him] gradually to new situations and people — taking care to respect his limits, even when they seem extreme. This produces more-confident kids than either overprotection or pushing too hard. Let him know that his feelings are normal and natural, but, also that there’s nothing to be afraid of.”
  • Use introverts’ interests to make a connection. Many introverts are passionate about a few things. It may be music or science fiction or dancing, but it’s their thing. Praise them for these interests and try to use them in your curriculum to help your students make  connections  with the material. For instance, if you have an introvert who plays an instrument, have them play a hymn connected to Sunday’s readings.
  • Allow space for introverts to explore spirituality from their perspective.  In the book Cain talks about going to a weekend designed for introverts — no expectation of chit-chat at dinner, lots of time for reflection and journaling, and minimal personal sharing with others. How many parishes do you know that offer a silent retreat or personal retreat experience? I’ll bet not many! Yet introverts may not be comfortable in the group participation/small group model that many retreats work from. Similarly, introverted teens may not be comfortable in a LifeTeen or similar setting. Don’t assume that everyone belongs in a “one size fits all” ministry; remember the particular needs of introverts when planning retreats and other formation experiences.

Have you ever had to respond to an introvert’s needs in your catechetical program? How did you handle it?

Upcoming Free Webinar: Catechizing Digital Natives

Next month I will be offering another webinar on technology and catechesis:

Today’s generation gap seems larger than ever. The students in our parishes and schools are comfortable with technologies that seemed like science fiction when many of us were growing up.

Given the radically different way that “digital natives” use technology to take in and process knowledge, what are the implications for the catechetical ministry of the Church? How can we reach out to them without compromising the Gospel? And what do teachers and catechists need to know about this “brave new world?”

This free webinar will seek to address these questions and help catechists, Catholic teachers, and youth ministers find ways to “bridge the gap.”

To register for this free webinar, choose one of the two sessions and follow the URL.

[Note: all times are Central Time]

You can also watch a recording of my last webinar, Social Networking: A Primer for Catholic Teachers and Catechists, at

photo by demi-brooke/flickrcc