“Not every child learns by reading and writing (the traditional, 1950s approach), so tapping into all of our learning styles, we truly learn the story.”
Origins of the rotational model
Created as a new approach to Sunday school at the Presbyterian Church in Barrington, Illinois, a rotational model was begun and built upon the 1970’s model of the open classroom and learning center approach. This church was having a crisis in their children’s education programs: low attendance, difficulty finding teachers, basement classrooms that looked like a dungeon, curriculum that was boring. The church leadership felt that times had changed.
According to Melissa Armstong-Hansche and Neil MacQueen, “Attitudes, needs, educational styles are changing. The Sunday School needs to change as well or it will continue to forfeit ground in a battle it must not lose. Whether you agree or not with our assessment of the traditional model, the numbers and the struggles across the denominations are telling us that we need something more than the Sunday school model of the 1950s.” (Workshop Rotation: A New Model for Sunday School, Geneva Press, 2000). Thus “WoRM” – their Workshop Rotation Model was born.
The basics of a rotation approach
Here are some the key concepts and distinctive features that the rotational approach will have:
One bible story
Multiple teachers with each teacher repeating their way of teaching the story for different classes
Each teacher has a different way of teaching the story. The original concept of workshop rotation was that congregational members used skills that they already possessed to tell identified bible stories. For example, for the story of Jonah, a biologist would name types of fish that could swallow a person, a painter would lead a mural project, a puppeteer would present a play, a dance teacher would use creative movement to tell their story.
Tapping into Howard Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences, the basic premise is that intelligence is a way of organizing information. Teachers would present information on the bible story in a variety of ways so to appeal to all the intelligences, thereby appealing to all individual preferences and stretching every individual to use all their intelligent abilities. So stories could be taught in the following mediums: art, drama, music, games, recreation, video (watching or making), puppets, storytellings, and computers.
How does it work?
There are at least three forms that a rotational model could take, depending on the church or community.
One room schoolhouse: all the teachers (or one) are in a single room. Each has set up a learning center. Everyone is working on the same story in many different ways, and children rotate from center to center
Learning centers/rooms: spaces specifically designed by function and purpose for the specific activity – the storyteller’s tent, the craft / art room, the media center / theatre. Here again, the children move from center to center a week at a time.
Portable classroom: in this model, it is the teachers who move from classroom to classroom with all the materials they need for their presentation. The children attend the same room each week, the teachers rotate.
There have been many positive contributions that this model of faith formation for children has made. Not every child learns by reading and writing (the traditional, 1950s approach), so tapping into all of our learning styles, we truly learn the story. Children who may not be regular in attendance will not miss out on a story. For many churches, adopting this model has given way to a radical and life-giving overhaul of what were once dull and unhealthy classrooms. Adults are enthusiastic about sharing the gifts and skills they have, tapping into many people who might not ordinarily volunteer to teach Sunday school.
Factors to consider
So what’s not to lose? For many, this model is very labor intensive. It is dependent on many volunteers. Some children have difficulty in learning via a specific style. Hearing the same concept for 4-8 weeks can be repetitive for those who are weekly attenders. And if you are covering one Bible story over many weeks, in the course of a year, not many stories have been covered. Lastly, sometimes the activity overshadows the concept or story being taught. It’s fun – but . . .
There are many types of rotation model curricula available from a wide variety of sources. Some can be found freely online. However, as in choosing any type of curricular resource – check out the theology and make sure it will work with the theological perspective of your church and/or denomination.
Curricula that offer the rotational model
- Potter’s Workshop
- Workshop Cycles
- Firelight II
- Power XPress
- Come Join the Circle
To learn about other models of faith formation and their associated curricula, check out the following Building Faith article: Approaches to Faith Formation
Sharon Ely Pearson is a 30+ year Christian formation veteran, currently serving as an editor and the Christian Formation Specialist for Church Publishing Incorporated. Wife, mother, soon-to-be-grandmother, and author, she enjoys connecting people with each other and the resources they need for growing in the knowledge and love of Jesus.
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