Monday, April 06, 2009

Rotate RE to the center of the church

This year, we did something different in our religious education program. Based on a term paper I wrote for my "Intro to Liberal Religious Education" class at Starr-King, we got rid of age divisions in setting up classes, and structured our classes around the rotational model, with each class addressing the same theme. Then, to try and bring religious education into the center of the congregation, rather than some mystery that happens on the fringes, we structured our worship, covenant groups, and faith in action around that same theme.

So, here's how it works.

You walk into our church and the first thing you see is a prominent easel. At the top, it reads:

September 14, 2008
Theme: Respect
Today’s sermon: “Inherent Worth and Dignity – Why It Matters”
Religious Education workshops, 11:15:
Emerson Team – Drama Channing Team – Art
Parker Team – Music Alcott Team – History
Big Questions covenant groups: “What must be done to earn respect?”
Faith In Action: Interfaith Feast – Shared Dinner and Discussion

Each RE team is made up of children/youths, ages 5 – 18, divided so that there's a fairly even distribution of ages on each team. Each Sunday for September, they'll learn about the concept of "respect" (one of the 6 Pillars of Character), through drama, music, art, or history (emphasis on UU history).

Since we were changing so many things, we decided to keep the curriculum to something fairly simple, but expandable, to see how this model of interage-rotational classes would work.

Kids, teachers, and parents seem to be so enthusiastic over how this has worked, next year's RE Chair is using it again next year, with a different curriculum.

Why the teachers like it: you create one lesson plan per month, just one, then repeat it every Sunday for a new team that rotates into your class. Teachers were picked for their passions, e.g. the aspiring playwright/director teaches the drama class, the drummer teaches the music class. And we have adult "journey guides" for each team, who stay with their team each week. They provide the continuity of an adult relationship with the kids, and they take care of the discipline of the team, so the teacher can just focus on leading the class.

The kids seem to love it. I even heard a report of a teen forcing his parents to go to church one Sunday when they really wanted to sleep in. My kids told me they love it because a) they're with friends of all ages and b) "We're doing something fun every week." The Boy reported that amongst themselves, a couple of the older youths said they liked it except for the little kids "cramping their style." However, one of those youths was the same teen mentioned above, so, you know, maybe a bit of posturing going on.

(We haven't had an active YRUU group going on this year. I think if you have that, this becomes less of an issue.)

Other fun stuff: the kids get a bead every week, in a particular color for that month's theme, for attendance. And if an adult catches a student in the act of exemplifying one of the pillars, they get a special bead. You would not believe what a big deal these bead necklaces have become.

Real life check: the above breakdown of classes was the ideal. In early September, we realized we didn't have enough kids for 4 decent sized classes. So, we dropped to two teams. Around December-ish, we realized that our classes were really waxing and waning based on the visitation schedules of our divorced parents. So we combined them all in one big class. By conventional logic, that shouldn't work. But it has, for us. Maybe because we have an enormous multipurpose room. Whatever, YMMV. I still think the ideal is smaller classes, if you can manage it.

If this interests you, get:

Armstrong-Hansche, Melissa; MacQueen, Nell. Workshop Rotation: A New Model for Sunday School. Louisville: Geneva Press, 2000.


Ms. Theologian said...

I think this is what I was talking about in terms of changing the paradigm of religious education!

You win a bead!

Sarah said...

We're considering the same at our UU, honestly somewhat because we think rotations will make teacher recruitment easier. Thanks for sharing your process.