Â©2001, Potter’s Publishing, adapted with permission
The Workshop Rotation Model is spreading like the flames of the Holy Spirit across the country. Churches embrace the model as the most exciting Sunday school study method in a long time. As it spreads it is important to ensure and preserve the integrity of the model, to maintain consistency with its educational philosophy.
The model’s initial attraction is its varied and exciting activities and decorative room interiors. If the model were to rely only on attractive workshops, however, the flames soon would burn out.
Theological and educational underpinnings support the Workshop Rotation Model providing the possibility of creative and sound Bible study.
What is the theological basis for the Workshop Rotation Model?
It is grounded on an array of theological and spiritual concepts. They are interconnected and mutually supportive when a church’s ministers, elders, and educators sustain the model’s integrity by using:
“¢ Trinitarian theology in a holistic manner in a unit’s concepts, learning objectives, and spiritual practices.
“¢ Covenant theology as the model for how God relates to us as children of God. Covenant theology as the basis for identifying our faithful responses.
“¢ Incarnation theology as the model for living faithfully, guided by the ministry of Jesus Christ.
“¢ Faith, its development and practices, as the desired outcome of all learning through the model.
“¢ The Body of Christ as the model for the church, the community that forms the social reality to communicate its faith.
“¢ Multiple Intelligences as the seedbed for developing the multiple gifts of the Spirit in each learner.
“¢ Ministry and mission as basis for learners to use their faith in their daily lives.
What is the educational basis for the Workshop Rotation Model?
The Workshop Rotation Model is based on three main educational philosophies:
“¢ The Multiple Intelligences
“¢ Integrated Learning Practices
“¢ Engaged Learning
The Multiple Intelligences: Educational research conducted by Howard Gardner indicates that we have multiple intelligences. Gardner maintains that instead of having an intelligence measured by a singular, numerical IQ, individuals have multiple intelligences. He identified nine, including Verbal/Linguistic, Logical/Mathematical, Musical/Rhythmic, Visual/Spatial, Bodily/Kinesthetic, Naturalistic, Intrapersonal, Interpersonal, and Existential.
We learn best through our dominant intelligence and can strengthen our weaker intelligence through experiences in that area, according to Gardner. Traditional education generally focuses on a verbal approach with passive listening. Some children learn this way. Many do not.
Each workshop in a unit incorporates different ways of learning through the intelligences. Children will learn because their dominant intelligence – the way in which they learn best – will often be accommodated. For example, the active child who can’t sit still to complete a worksheet on Moses and the Exodus may learn little. Put this same child in a drama or dance workshop, and he or she might thrive in this learning environment.
Workshop learning experiences should be carefully crafted to reflect and honor the myriad ways children learn.
Integrated learning practices are essential to authentic learning. Integrated Learning is the incorporation of all the ways children learn best. There are two critical Integrated learning practices to incorporate when considering the multi-dimensional activities.
First, learning experiences and concepts need to apply to real life. Research indicates that children do not learn in isolation. Do you remember studying material for a test and promptly forgetting it afterwards? You forgot it because the learning was isolated, not connected to real life. Do you also remember the teacher who made learning come alive through experiences outside the text? He/she connected it to life.
Ultimate learning happens when it moves from one set experience to somewhere in real life. It does not occur in a vacuum of fact or story memorization.
The model should help children move beyond facts to learn integral biblical concepts and relate them to their lives.
Pretend that the children in your Sunday school are going on a wilderness adventure. In the wilderness adventure called life, you’d want your children to have sturdy, trustworthy equipment to use to get them through the realm of day-to-day experiences as well as difficult situations.
That’s where the biblical stories and concepts come into play. The Bible is like the great outfitting ranch, owned by God. It’s where you can get all the valuable equipment for life’s journey. Bible stories are like testimonials. They illustrate people who have used God’s equipment. They provide the how. They show what is possible with God’s equipment.
For example, while discussing the story of how Jesus calmed the storm, the children can talk about the “storms” in their own lives — divorce, a sick pet, problems with friends. They can make the connection that just as Jesus calmed the storm for the disciples, Jesus can calm those kinds of storms in their own lives as well. They are “equipped” with the concept that they can call on Jesus in stormy situations.
When planning curriculum in the Workshop Rotation Model, ask: “What concepts can we teach to equip our children as they live their everyday lives?” When children experience this type of integrated learning, making connections from biblical concepts to their lives, they will be better prepared for active Christian ministry and developing a mature faith.
Second, learning experiences and concepts need to connect with each other. It is so easy to get caught up in the excitement of workshop possibilities. Activities can end up driving the workshops. The end result tends to be five or six isolated “learning center” workshops.
Here’s what you need to do in order to connect the learning experiences throughout a unit:
–Decide what concepts you want to equip the children with. Then, find the biblical basis for those concepts. Find stories that illustrate those concepts. Do those concepts emerge from the story? Although many concepts may emerge from the story, decide on one or two concepts that you want the children to learn throughout the unit. What do you really want the children to take away from the Elijah story?
–Determine how these concepts can connect to children’s lives, how they will help develop spiritual life behaviors for children.
–Carefully craft objectives that will create a bridge of learning. This bridge will lead the children from understanding biblical concepts to making meaningful spiritual connections to their lives.
–Integrate the curriculum’s biblically-based concepts, objectives, and spiritual life learning connections throughout all the workshops of a unit.
–The activities within the workshops are the last things you will plan. If you have done the above planning, it is amazing to see how multi-dimensional learning experiences/activities naturally emerge to convey the concepts. With this approach, the Bible concepts, objectives, and spiritual life connections for children drive the workshops and the workshop activities deliver them.
This is a simplistic and limited example of the integration process, but hopefully it illustrates how workshops within a unit need to be connected.
Note: The Bible is replete with stories of God’s fearfully and wondrously created people and how God communicated to them through the multiple intelligences God created. To get across important concepts, God spoke to the people through different intelligences – a pillar of cloud led God’s people from Egypt (visual); Jesus’ parables caused people to think and ask questions (logical/mathematical). However, you will notice that God did not teach through every intelligence in every story or concept.
Keep this in mind when working within the Workshop Rotation Model. Not every biblical concept or story lends itself to every intelligence. A Bible Math workshop may really work when teaching the concepts of the feeding of the 5,000 story. However, not every Bible story or concept lends itself to a Math Workshop. And that’s okay!
It is important to keep flexible your workshop options and not use the same fixed workshops with every unit.
Engaged learning experiences are ones where children are actively involved in their learning and making meaning from it. However, engaged learning does not simply mean active learning. In engaged learning experiences, children actively discover and make meaningful connections with concepts and objectives through a learning activity. The activity should not be for the activity’s sake. It should engage the children in a thinking process through which they get to the “Ah-ha!” at the end.
The emphasis in engaged learning is on the learning connections that children can make through a carefully crafted and high interest multi-dimensional activity.
When we uphold the integrity of the Workshop Rotation Model, we equip children with theological concepts that can help them expand and enhance their knowledge of God. These concepts guide children toward a growing faithful vision of who God truly is — the God of love and grace. Using the ways children learn best, teachers can guide them toward a personal relationship with God. The goal is for children to learn these theological concepts through Bible stories; to learn specific attitudes and actions for faithful living in everyday situations.
Joyce Claus is a retired public elementary school teacher, and for the past11 years has been president and writer-editor for Potters Publishing, which is based in Bloomington, Ill.