Small RE programs, pt. 5

Read the whole series.

On the fourth day of the workshop, we began once again with two of the participants teaching a sample lesson. Helen was the lead teacher, and Mary was the assistant teacher.

What interested me about watching these two skilled teachers in action was that they had two very different teaching styles. Helen is calm and centered: she tends to keep her body still, leaning forward slightly in her chair, and she engages the participants with her voice and facial expressions. Mary, on the other hand, uses her whole body to teach: she stands up, sits down, moves, she’s a very physical teacher. Both Helen and Mary are skilled teachers: watching them teach together was both a study in contrasts, and a vivd reminder that there is no one right way to teach.

Watching Helen and Mary caused me to reflect on my own teaching style. I’m a fairly physical teacher, and I find it hard to sit still. Often I have to think hard and force myself to be physically still when the lesson requires it.

After the sample lesson, we shared out evaluations with each other. A couple of the participants mentioned that they weren’t sure where Helen had assessed the learning of the group. As it happened, Helen had included assessment in the lesson, but some of us didn’t notice that she was assessing our learning. This raised the interesting question of whether learners should know they are being assessed or not. I favor always letting participants know when they are being assessed; but I recognize that there is a case to be made for teachers sometimes doing assessment without letting learners know.

After a break, we came back and worked on the religious skill of singing. We learned a new song that we’re going to sing tonight at the conference talent show.

We wound up the session talking about appropriate assessment genres for religious education. In an earlier session, we had agreed that testing is not an appropriate assessment genre for religious education — we all felt that paper-and-pencil tests do not accurately measure the kind of learning that should go on in religious education programs. So what are the appropriate assessment genres? We came up with the following list:

Assessment genres appropriate to religious education

Portfolios — formal collections of work done by individuals, or by a group (useful for assessing religious literacy)
Notebooks — informal collections of notes, finished work, etc., primarily for the use of the learner
Feedback from others — e.g., having other people observe you perform, and then feed back to you their observations (useful for assessing religious skills such as leadership, etc.)
Retelling, review — asking individuals or a group to review what they have learned
Closing circle — a specific kind of retelling and review
Practice — for some kinds of learning (meditation, prayer, music, etc.) practice can be a form of assessment, esp. when you can now do something that you couldn’t do before
Public performance — getting up in front of a larger group and performing a learned skill
Sunday school open house — this is related to public performance; each class or group prepares a display or event for an open house to which the entire congregation is invited
Completing hand-crafts — producing a physical object; related to public performance (probably most useful for assessing certain aspects of religious literacy)
Putting on a worship service — a specific kind of public performance (useful for assessing everything from religious skills such as leadership, to whether UU kids are on track to be able to become UU adults, to religious literacy)
Teaching others — e.g., in mixed age groups, older children can teach younger children, and in so doing the older children realize what they know well, and what they know less well
Taking attendance — regular attendance is a useful assessment genre in assessing whether children are reaching the outcome of having fun
Talking with parents — informal assessment of some kinds of learning can be accomplished by asking parents what their children know

After we talked about assessment genres, we touched on the difference between assessment and evaluation. I defined assessment as a way of measuring what a learner has learned; by contrast, I defined evaluation as a way for people to report their observations and feelings about a person or program. In churches, evaluations are most often paper-and-pencil instruments that are distributed widely in hopes of gathering a wide range of feelings about a person or program; however, such paper-and-pencil instruments are notorious for returning the exact results anticipated or hoped for by those creating the instrument (e.g., the infamous survey that begins with the question, “What do you find most distasteful about our minister?”).

Evaluations can be useful if carefully designed, and carefully interpreted. In this workshop, we use evaluation forms to evaluate the teaching of ourselves and of other teachers. We are collecting these evaluation forms into portfolios, and we will use the portfolios to assess our learning. But evaluation per se is distinct from assessment.


Speaking of teaching evaluation forms, the participants in the class have asked me to include copies of the teaching evaluation forms we have used. For convenience, I’ll include them all in this post:

Teacher self evaluation form

Note to Dan

Age group: __________________________
Date and Time: _________________________
Your name: __________________________
Today’s topic: __________________________
Your co-teacher’s name: __________________________

1. Objective for today’s session:

2. What did you do today?
How did you welcome participants?

Describe session, or attach lesson plan if possible.

How did you assess what participants had learned?

3. Reactions from kids?

4. Your reactions?

5. Any problems or anything I could help you with? Any suggestions for improving the program? Other comments?

_____ If you had to fill out a First Aid Report, reporting that you gave first aid to a child in your group, please check here and attach a copy of that form.

_____ This form has been read by Dan

Teacher-to-teacher evaluation form

Teacher-to-teacher evaluation form

Age group: __________________________
Date and Time: _________________________
Your name: __________________________
Today’s topic: __________________________
Lead teacher: _________________________
Asst. teacher (if not you): _________________

1. Where is the lead teacher on the following spectrum?

Teacher is in charge — 2 — 3 — 4 — Teacher is co-participant

2. What was the stated objective for today’s session?

3. Describe what the teachers did today:
    How did they welcome participants?

    Describe the session (narrative account):

    How did they assess what participants had learned?

4. Reactions from participants?

5. Your reactions? (What did it feel like to participate in this session?)

6. Other remarks:

_____ read by Lead Teacher
_____ read by Asst. Teacher

Teacher observation form

Teacher observation

Age group: __________________________
Date and Time: _________________________
Your name: __________________________
Today’s topic: __________________________

Teacher(s) being observed:____________________________

Narrative account of session: