THE WORKSHOP ROTATION MODEL
for SUNDAY SCHOOL
A Brief History & Introduction by Neil MacQueen for Rotation.org
Where the Workshop Rotation Model came from
The Workshop Rotation Model for Sunday School was created* in 1990 at the Presbyterian Church of Barrington in suburban Chicago. When I arrived there in 1989 as the Associate Pastor for Education and Fellowship, I found a beautiful church upstairs and a tired, boring and rather dysfunctional Sunday School downstairs.
Worse, the physical condition of our classrooms was so bad I didn't want my own kids in them, let alone anyone else's. We found broken furniture, bad lighting, and mold. We also found closets full of unopened supplies, unused curriculum still wrapped in cellophane, and rarely used a-v equipment. Attendance was okay, but the mood of the kids, teachers, and rooms was gloomy.
The Rotation Model draws on a lot of great teaching ideas and formats that church people have been using for decades. What we "created" was the combination of some of these great ideas in a program that runs all year, rather than for special occasions. And then we helped create the movement and resources that helped other churches do the same.
Here's was our "list" of what was wrong with our Sunday School. Look familiar?
- teacher & kid apathy
- boring rooms and methods
- parent indifference and lack of support
- a physical space that had "issues"
- purchased resources and lessons going largely unused
- students not knowing their Bible stories after we thought we had taught them
- and class times that had quietly slipped over the decades from 60 minutes to 45 or 35 effective minutes
The crazy thing about our "list" was that it was undisputed. Our teachers and leaders just didn't think there was anything that could be done about it. So in June of 1990, we sat down to brainstorm our way out of our mess. And we did it with one rule: the answer was NOT "try a new curriculum." Been there, done that.
Working with our volunteers, we identified our problems and came up with a creative plan to reorganize our space, teachers, lessons, and style of teaching that STRUCTURALLY addressed our problems, rather than just redecorated or searched for a new curriculum. That plan turned classrooms turned into creative "workshops" that the kids rotated through each week, but the teachers stayed-put in. It also sent us into our voluminous collection of creative lesson resources that had been collecting dust. See Rotation.org's video presentation about "What is a Workshop?"
The Main Breakthrough
Having to prepare a creative lesson each week for a new Bible passage can be exhausting for volunteer teachers -- and that's where the Rotation Model really made its breakthrough. We stopped changing the story every week. Instead, we designated one story to be taught in all the workshops for all the grades who were rotating (1st-5th in our church), and assigned the teachers to workshops, not grade groups. This simple change allows the teachers to REPEAT their lesson every week to a new group, making age-adjustments and improvements each week.
In 1991 we started to share our model with friends at other churches, and when they started having the same success, we realized our solution wasn't peculiar to just our situation. By 1993 a few churches banded together to support each other and share lesson ideas. As Rotation continued to spread, we stayed in touch with each other through conferences, held seminars, and eventually created Rotation.org to exchange lesson ideas.
The Workshop Rotation Model in brief:
1. Re-organize your classrooms into creative "workshops," including: Art, Drama, Games, Computer, Cooking, Video and more. You choose.
2. Rotate your grade groups into a new workshop each week.
3. All the workshops teach the same Bible story for 4 to 5 weeks in a row.
4. Teachers stay put in a workshop that matches their teaching skills and teach the same lesson each week to a new group -- making age adjustments and improvements each week.
A Typical Workshop Rotation Sunday School Schedule
The following example Rotation Schedule pretty much tells you how "the WoRM" works. This example shows three groups rotating through four workshops over four weeks. The "open" week can be an off week for that teacher, or you could add a fourth group in your rotation. For a five group/five-week rotation, you'd simply add a fifth kind of workshop. View Rotation.org's video presentation about Rotation Schedules.
- Enthusiasm and Anticipation for each new week and workshop.
- Improved Bible Literacy through creative repetition of the lesson
- Creative teaching methods that are sustainable because you build the room (workshop) around that method and attract a teacher who likes that medium to staff that workshop.
- Rooms become and stay attractive and creative. No two workshops look the same. Your drama workshop is designed around props, scenery, staging which doesn't have to be torn down each week.
- Content is learned in a multi-dimensional way. (multiple intelligences) Kids learn better and more deeply when more of their learning styles are used.
- Students who are there each week get a deeper experience and memory by repeating the story through different media with a different teacher.
- Students who only attend occasionally are always exposed to the MAJOR stories of the Bible (whereas, traditional curriculum moves so fast through the Bible that it must fill out their calendars with minor stories).
- Yes, that's right: this is not a "lectionary" approach that changes the story every week. This is a rational, kid-friendly, educationally sound approach. The lectionary is for adults.
- Because we're covering 10 to 12 stories a year, instead of 40 in the traditional model, the teacher's planning time goes down, while the creative methods go up. Your budget isn't tied up in 52 purchased lesson plans, and resources are easier to budget.
- Instead of trying to squeeze 52 different lessons a year into a shrinking Sunday School hour, we could slow down and make sure each story got its due no matter how long they gave us each Sunday.
- Because teachers stay put in a workshop, seeing a different group each week, teachers get to deepen their knowledge, shorten their planning, and sharpen their lesson plans. Some rotation churches have "shepherds" that accompany each class through each workshop.
- The model has proven to be very scalable and adaptable to just about any church size or situation, -from one-room Sunday schools to large facilities, from broadly graded classes to individual grade groups from preschool to early teen.
A Simple Concept
At first, Workshop Rotation looks complicated because it's different. But to Rotation folks, it's the traditional model's "changing the story every week" that's difficult! Having to prepare a new lesson and be creative each week is complicated and exhausting. And thinking kids will get and remember each lesson after just 40 minutes is crazy. Rotation uses familiar creative teaching techniques that are re-organized and slowed down to benefit both the teachers and the kids.
The real work is CHANGE. Getting people to change, and converting traditional classrooms into workshops is the hard work.
Part of the problem is that the traditional model is easy for leaders and people who think beige is a color and "new curriculum" is the answer every couple of years. All they have to do is find a volunteer and hand them cellophane-wrapped lessons.
The Workshop Rotation Model changes your leaders into a creative team, -your rooms into inviting media-inspired learning spaces, -and your teachers into confident prepared mentors to our kids. It puts the leaders in charge of the room design and teaching techniques, instead of leaving the rooms up to the individual teacher's idea of creativity, -or lack thereof.
The "WoRM" is more work for the leaders because they have to organize the lessons, rooms, and supply the teachers, rather than just recruit and hand out curriculum. But for creative leaders and teachers, the rooms and opportunity to be creative is a gift.
Where do we get our lessons?
When we started Rotation in 1990, we had shelves of creative lesson idea books and old lesson plans to glean from. Since the advent of the internet, the availability of creative lesson ideas has exploded. Rotation.org is the perfect example of how things have changed in the world of curriculum.
Rotation.org was originally created to collect creative lesson ideas and resources to plug into your workshop lesson plans. And it has since evolved to offer complete and wonderfully creative lesson plans. These materials have been generously written and donated to our site by some very creative Rotation Model teachers. (Maybe someday, the denominational publishers will wake up to our group-sourcing model?)
But here's an important lesson insight to keep in mind:
Most Rotation teachers lean heavily on the lesson plan the first week of the rotation, but by the end of the first lesson, they already know how to improve it, and Rotation will give them that chance with each succeeding week. The kids' grasp of the story also changes with each successive week. In that sense, all Rotation lesson plans are provisional rough drafts.
Who decides what to teach?
Your church does. You pick the list of major Bible stories you think your kids should know, and then pick the lessons for your workshops. A new video for the Video workshop every four or five weeks, a great art project for your Art Workshop every four or five weeks, and so on. It's not hard, and there are many suggested 5 and 6 year "scope and sequence" lists here at our site.
While most lessons here at rotation.org have plenty of theology and reflection, you'll want someone on your lesson team who knows what your church wants to say.
Yes, you can now buy Rotation curriculum. Some of it is good, and some of it I wouldn't touch with a ten foot pole. Being a gleaner at heart, I want choices. And I know I can adapt any good idea. Some rotation publishers and currics have come and gone. Publishers are caught in "market cycles" -- the need to sell new things. Rotation.org eschews that old marketing model. Long before the internet and rotation.org, Rotation educators shared what they had with each other. Rotation.org continues that vision.
Starting in the early 2000s, several major denominational publishers started making "Rotation-style" curriculum. Some of it was interesting. Most of it, however, had a traditional level of creativity. The 2000s were not kind to church and Sunday School attendance, and we've seen churches "revert" back to handing out traditional curriculum as they looked for something "easier" for their shrinking numbers. We've also seen "model fatigue" set in as staff members wore down or left, and new people came in without any history of "why" change happened. Not all the giants we face in Sunday School are about the curriculum or model. But when the issue is "how kids can best learn and want to return" to Sunday School, few models do it as well as the Rotation Model does.
To learn more about each workshop,
go to our Workshop Design and Teaching Resources Forum.
To learn more about how to set up and manage the Workshop Rotation Model, including, how to create a scope and sequence of stories to teach, go to the Setting up and Resourcing the WoRM forum.
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