Workshop Rotation, A Brief Introduction
Posted at www.sundaysoftware.com.
The Workshop Rotation Model for Sunday School began in 1990 when a Presbyterian church in Chicago decided it was time to reinvent Sunday School or close it down. By 1995 enough churches in the Chicago area had successfully adopted the Model to call it a movement. www.rotation.org was created in 1997 to provide resources, lesson plans, and community for the grassroots movement. Many of the original Chicago Rotation educators began organizing conferences. Several started publishing ministries. By the 2000’s, it was estimated that over 8000 churches in the U.S. and Canada have adopted or adapted the Model. And after a decade of showing little interest, several major denominational and independent publishers are now publishing Rotation-style curriculum. In 2006, an article about Sunday School in TIME magazine called Rotation, “one of the most popular innovations in Sunday School.”
Being “popular” however, was not our original intent.
“We weren’t trying to invent a new model, -we were just trying to solve our problems,” said Melissa Hansche, D.C.E. at the Presbyterian Church of Barrington, -the church in Chicago Presbytery where the model got its start. What problems is she referring to?
Bored kids and teachers
Lack of Bible literacy
Drab and uninviting classrooms
Expensive curriculum (that’s half used)
Poor teacher preparation
Trouble recruiting teachers
(your problem here)
The decline in Sunday School is one of the worst kept secrets in the Church. Some say “it’s a sign of the times.” Others of us wonder out loud whether the traditional model EVER worked. (Where are all those kids we had in our Sunday Schools back in the so-called “good old days” of the 50’s and 60’s? They’re at home reading the Sunday paper.) “Like a lot of other churches, we knew we had to do something and soon.” said Hansche. “And we knew that looking for yet another ‘new and improved’ curriculum wasn’t the answer either. Been there, done that.”
Here’s the Workshop Rotation Model in a nutshell:
- Teach major Bible stories and concepts through kid-friendly multimedia workshops: an Art workshop, Drama, Music, Games, A-V, Puppets, Storytelling, Computers, and any other educational media you can get your hands on.
- Teach the same Bible story in all of the workshops for four or five weeks rotating the kids to a different workshop each week.
- Keep the same teacher in each workshop for all five weeks -teaching the same lesson week after week (with some age appropriate adjustments) to each new class coming in.
Example of a typical four week rotation for 3 different grade groups.
|STORY: PRODIGAL SON||VIDEO
|Week 1||Grades K-1||Grades 2-4||Grades 5-6||Open|
|Week 2||Open||Grades K-1||Grades 2-4||Grades 5-6|
|Week 3||Grades 5-6||Open||Grades
|Week 4||Grades 2-4||Grades 5-6||Open||Grades K-1|
Grades rotate, teachers stay-put repeating their lesson. You can add more grade groups by adding additional workshops, such as, Computer, Cooking, or Storytelling. You can let the Preschool or teens use the “open” workshop slots.
The results, says Linda Beckham, D.C.E. at Tampa’s Palma Ceia Church are astounding. “The kids love it, the teachers love it, and we can’t ever imagine going back to the old way.”
Here’s why it works:
The Workshop Rotation Model concentrates on the major stories of the Bible over and over again. It eschews the popular but educationally unsound lectionary idea of changing the story each week. The model’s philosophy recognizes that kids not only love repetition, but they need it to develop a lasting memory and understanding of content. In Rotation, we believe it is more important to teach the major stories of the Bible more deeply, than to try and race through as many possible stories as we can.
The multi-intelligences (creative methods) approach in the model isn’t a fad or merely kid-friendly, it is calculated to take advantage of our student’s God-given thirst for multi-modal learning. Traditional designs have long attempted to teach through multimedia, but their frenetic lessons with six or more different steps, a game, a craft, Bible study and music all in 45 minutes left our teachers breathless. And few had the gifts to teach in each mode properly. Creative teaching also makes for happier students and better long term memory.
The model allows teachers to get better at their lesson each week. By the second week of the rotation, the teacher is already improving the original lesson plan for the next class. No more “if I only would have….” in the parking lot after class. No more Saturday night planning. No more recruitment hassles, –teachers are happy to sign up for five week rotations. And because the teacher is assigned to teach in the creative mode they are comfortable with, the teaching and learning experience are enriched. No more lectures and music cassettes still in their cellophane wrappers, no more overused worksheets, or fumbling popsicle stick Jesus’ crafts.
The Model also buries the beige and boring classroom in a blizzard of creative kid-oriented design. It says “we’re teaching kids, not cons,” and we want them to come back. Because each room is organized around a specific teaching medium, dramatic makeovers don’t get torn down a week or a month later like they do in traditional classrooms or VBS. Theater workshops can sprout theater seats and a popcorn machine. Drama workshops get a stage and accumulate props and lighting. Computer workshops get dedicated secure space for their equipment. Art Workshops become messy exciting places to learn.
There is no need to buy printed curriculum, prompting one denominational publisher to describe it as “the third rail for curriculum publishers.” Instead, in a fit of connectionalism, educators are calling each other and saying “I’ll trade you my Moses rotation for your Ruth, and do you have any good art projects for the Prodigal Son?” Churches are gleaning from each other. They’re digging into their stockpiles of creative materials and hitting their resource centers. In-house “design teams” composed of a minister, elders and C.E. leaders provide the educational and theological backbone. Together they help shape the simple but creative lesson plans and then count on the teacher to improve on them each week. Unlike earlier models which fell by the weight of their planning, this model is proving easier to implement and maintain. Because each workshop uses essentially the same lesson plan for about five weeks in a row, every week isn’t a gauntlet of planning.
A website for the Rotation Model —www.rotation.org– features the model manual, thousands of volunteer created rotation lesson plans, and a creative ideas area for each workshop, all of which can be printed out for free. “All along one of the strengths of this model has been the willingness of churches to share with each other. We believe that the grassroots sharing of resources and lesson materials is a vivid manifestation of the connectional nature we have professed for so long.
The growing success of the model underscores several important issues in Christian education.
First, the model demonstrates that the spirit of innovation is alive and well in the grassroots. Rotation has flourished outside of the traditional curriculum establishment. The gifts to reinvent ourselves and be successful in our ministry are out here.
Second, the model seriously addresses the underlying problems of Sunday School and offers practical solutions. Because Rotation is a response to realities, it’s “DNA” understands that it must adapt to changing situations. In fact, Rotation educators are often the first to admit what else doesn’t work anymore, and examine the model, instead of assuming the solution is “new and improved” curriculum.
Third, the model’s early and continuing co-operative impulse -enhanced by the use of the internet, demonstrates the ability of individuals to resource each other outside the publishing establishment and beyond traditional denominational boundaries. www.rotation.org is a proto-type. It is a free resource paradigm made possible by new technology that challenges the foundation of traditional curriculum publishing.
Pictured: the official logo of the Rotation website featuring “Wormy”
A Personal History of The WoRM…
by Neil MacQueen
The name “Workshop Rotation Model” was coined by Melissa Hansche and myself (Neil MacQueen) in 1991 at the Presbyterian Church in Barrington Illinois. We named it that to describe the Sunday School model we had drawn up on a flip chart one day in June of 1990 to solve our problems. Initially we weren’t fond of the name, but it stuck, and seemed to be the most descriptive when talking with other educators. Our congregation called it “that great Sunday School.” Like all good cooks, we “created” “our” model from a lot of things we had learned over the years. We added a few “new” things, -the computer lab, for example. And did some things that you now see in a lot of Rotation churches, such as theater seats and murals. At first, we were surprised it all worked so well, and worked well for other churches who adopted it.
In the early 90’s, Melissa and I published several magazine articles and held a series of seminars in the Chicago area about our creative Sunday School. We began to find other churches who had been experimenting along similar lines, most notably, The Village Presbyterian Church in Northbrook Illinois and Southminster Presbyterian in Arlington Hts., Illinois. The Workshop Rotation “Movement” began as other churches adopted our basic design and found it worked for them too –or borrowed elements from our basic design to improve their own creative design. We’ve since found churches who were doing something similar to the model “way back when,” usually with a few differences and always calling it something else. Old Solomon was right when he said, “There’s nothing new under the sun.” If we Chicagoans created anything, it was a wave of “militant hope” for Sunday Schools looking to break free of the traditional model.
By 1995, several Chicago area churches using the model began networking among themselves. We shared ideas and lesson plans. Melissa and I produced a xeroxed Workshop Rotation manual which sold for the cost of copying and postage. In 1996 the Association of Presbyterian Educators annual conference was in Chicago. Over 50 participants came up to Barrington and spent the day with us. Another 50 took the workshop the following day down at the conference hotel. From those two seminars WoRM churches sprang up all over the country. Many of those first wave Rotation churches began training other churches in their area.
In the Fall of 1996, a more formal Chicago network was established with the name “The Opening the Doors Network.” At that time the Network also began sponsoring annual conferences on the model. Some members of that group went on to publish their Rotation curriculum and some created an organization called Children’s Ministry of America which sponsors Rotation training seminars and a national conference.
By early 1997, the Model was spreading faster than anyone could imagine. Local networks began popping up around the country. Articles started appearing in denominational magazines and even local newspapers. Resource centers started talking about it and sponsoring seminars. In 2002 it is estimated that over 5000 churches are actively using the Rotation Model in the U.S. and Canada. And many more are using ideas and materials generated by the Model and website.
My personal involvement with the Model changed quite a bit in 1996 when I left Chicago and the Barrington church and moved back to Ohio to start a new full-time ministry/company called Sunday Software. From 1996 to 2002, I traveled extensively talking about computers in Christian education and “The WoRM” as the Workshop Rotation Model came to be known.
In 1997, I launched this website -www.rotation.org- as a way to give away Barrington’s original Rotation manual and lessons, and collect free materials given to me by other Rotation pioneers. The manual was later revised and published by the Presbyterian Publishing Corporation, though extensive excerpts remain at the site. Since its beginning, Rotation.org has greatly expanded. It now contains thousands of free Rotation lessons, articles, and has a very active message board. The message board averages over a quarter million page views each month.
Rotation.org is not officially connected with my software company (though some folks are occasionally confused about that). The site is now run by an independent Board of Directors, with whom I still consult and help. A lot of the original Rotation web articles were penned by me in response to frequently asked questions.
There are many Rotation leaders in the forefront of the movement. They include pastors, educators, denominational staff, and Sunday School volunteers coast to coast from all the major denominations. There are also a number of Rotation churches overseas. While the concept of sharing free materials still lies at the heart of the model, there are now companies and denominational publishers which sell Rotation curriculum and provide training. Many of us at Rotation.org –the free lesson crowd– view these publishing efforts as complementary and helpful to churches who don’t have all the tools to pull it all together on their own.
As the Rotation Model moves into the future, we hope that whoever or whatever is involved with it will remember the original motivation and core of the design:
- Being willing to risk change for the sake of our children, and belief in the message.
- Being adamant about creating a program that is attractive, practical and gets results!
- Designing around the needs of the kids, teachers and creative methods, rather than serving the needs of a publisher or convenience.
- Exploring new ways of resourcing each other that facilitate the sharing of grassroots gifts and ideas.
Copyright Neil MacQueen. Permission granted to copy, reprint, excerpt -provided that the author’s name and website: rotation.org remain with the text.
Neil’s Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Go to www.rotation.org and read more articles about getting started with the Rotation Model for Sunday School.