THE WORKSHOP ROTATION MODEL
A Brief History & Introduction by Neil MacQueen for Rotation.org
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 for Education and Fellowship, I found a beautiful church upstairs, but a tired, boring and rather dysfunctional Sunday School downstairs.
The conditions of our classrooms were so bad I didn't want my own kids in them, let alone anyone else's. We found broken furniture, bad lighting, closets full of unopened supplies, unused curriculum still wrapped cellophane, and rarely used a-v equipment. Attendance was okay, but the mood of the kids, teachers, and rooms was gloomy.
Necessity is the mother of invention, and boy were we in need!
Like many other Sunday Schools, ours was suffering from these common problems:
- teacher & kid apathy
- boring rooms and methods
- lackluster, uninviting learning environments
- parent indifference
- purchased resources and lessons going largely unused
- and students not knowing their Bible stories, let alone wanting to come back.
So in June of 1990, we sat down to brainstorm our way out of this mess.
Working with a team of volunteers, we identified our problems and came up with a creative plan to reorganized our space, teachers, lessons, and style of teaching: classrooms turned into creative "workshops" that the kids rotate through, but the teachers stay-put in.
* The idea of rotating kids, teaching creatively, and remaking rooms was not new, and maybe that's why it works! Our Workshop Rotation Model drew upon lot of ideas and programs we had first-hand experience with over the years, such as, VBS and learning centers. What was new was that we made that model the rule for the entire year, and not just for special occasions.
Having to be creative each week for a new lesson can be exhausting, however, and that's where the Rotation Model really made its breakthrough. By teaching the same story for four to five weeks in a row, and only rotating the kids, we created a sustainable pace of creativity, while adding excitement, depth and memory to the learning.
In 1991 we started to share our model with other churches, and when they started having the same success, we realized our solution wasn't peculiar to just our situation. So we banded together to support each other and share lesson ideas. As Rotation spread, we stayed in touch with each other through conferences and the creation of Rotation.org.
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 a 4 to 6 week "rotation."
4. Teachers stay put in the workshop teaching the same lesson each week to a new group.
5. The story gets explored and learned in-depth through a variety of creative teaching mediums.
The kids look forward to a different learning experience, teacher, and room each week.
The teachers don't have to plan a new lesson each week. Instead, they plan once every four or five weeks, modifying their basic lesson each week for a slightly different age group, and getting better and more creative as the weeks pass.
By doing so, we also liberated the classroom environment and the teachers. They were no longer responsible for putting up a new coat of construction paper on bulletin boards and selecting which media they might use for a lesson. Instead, the creative workshop spaces were created for them, and the teachers volunteered to four to five week stint in the workshop of their choice & preferred teaching style.
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.
- 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.
- 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 is familiar creative teaching techniques, 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. 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 and supply the teachers, rather than just recruit and hand out curric. But for creative leaders and teachers, the creativity 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 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 teacher 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.
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.