Tag Archives: teaching diary

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: Continue reading

Small RE programs, pt. 4

Read the whole series.

We began this morning with a sample lesson taught by one of the participants. I acted as the observer during this lesson — that is, I did not participate, but sat off to one side observing and taking notes.

The lesson began with a story about forgiveness, and quickly took the participants to a fairly deep emotional level. It was fascinating to be the observer. I listened to what the teacher and the participants were saying, but more than anything I observed body language and facial expressions. When you sit back and watch all the participants — when you are not a participant-observer — you get a very different perspective on teaching.

The lesson was brilliantly taught by Lynn, assisted by Kate. But what really struck me while I was observing this lesson was how much I can learn about teaching from observing someone else teach. Lynn is a skilled and gifted teacher, but she teaches differently than do I — she emphasizes different things, she has a different bag of teaching tricks, etc. By sitting there and observing how she teaches, and by trying to articulate that in writing, I was forced to think more deeply about teaching. What are my assumptions about how one should teach? What things did Lynn do that I simply don’t do, i.e., what are my blind spots as a teacher? How is her philosophy of teaching reflected in her teaching praxis, and how does her philosophy differ from my own? All these questions were in the back of my head as I was observing. Continue reading

Small RE programs, pt. 3

Read the whole series.

Today’s session started off with one of the participants teaching a sample Sunday school lesson. Four of us participated in the lesson, with the understanding that we would be writing down our observations and reactions after the lesson was over. A fifth person, Sheila, was both a participant and Lisa’s assistant. The sixth person, Mary, acted as an observer, and instead of participating she wrote out a rough narrative account of the lesson while the lesson was taking place.

Lisa led us in a lesson about Queen Esther from the Hebrew Bible. First she asked the participants what they knew (if anything) about Esther. We didn’t know all that much. Then Lisa told the story of Esther in the first person, as if she was Esther (this was a summary of the story told in the book of Esther, chapters 2-9). To reinforce the story, Lisa asked us to make a diorama depicting one of the scenes from the story; Sheila, acting as her assistant, facilitated the making of the diorama. To connect the story to the participants, Lisa introduced the concept of heroes, and said that Esther was a hero (or heroine, if you prefer). Lisa asked us to name someone who was a hero to us; there was silence for a bit while we thought that question over, and then Sheila broke the silence (and modeled for us what to do), telling about a heroine of hers. Lisa ended with a short wrap-up and review.

After the sample lesson was over, we all wrote up evaluations: Lisa wrote a self-evaluation; the four participants and Sheila wrote up their observations and evaluation; and Mary added to her narrative account. After about 10 minutes, we all shared our evaluations, beginning with Lisa. What was most interesting to me and the other participants was hearing Mary’s account of the sample lesson: because she was not involved, she saw and heard things that the rest of us missed. There was general agreement that having such an observer was extremely helpful in gaining perspective on this teaching episode. Continue reading

Small RE programs, pt. 2

Read the whole series.

We started off this second session in the workshop with me teaching a sample lesson. I taught the lesson pretty much as I would teach it to a small, mixed-age group of children.


We began by saying together a simple affirmation of faith, with hand motions. Then we went around the circle, and each participant said their name, after which they could say one good thing and one bad thing that had happened to them since we had met together yesterday. One participant had something very important to say, and we spent several minutes listening to her.

After the introductory bits, I read the story about the God of the Israelites parting the sea so Moses and his people could escape form Pharoah’s army. I read the story straight out of the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible (Exodus, all of ch. 14), and of course I made sure to read it dramatically.

The participants wanted to discuss the story right away (a quite different reaction than children would have had). But instead of allowing the discussion, I said, “Let’s act the story out. Who wants to be which character?” Sheila agreed to act out the part of the God of the Isrealites; I was Pharaoh, Mary and Helen said they would be the sea (“the waters forming a wall for them on their right and on their left”); and so on. We had great fun acting out the story, and we really hammed it up — I had Phraoh talk in a pirate voice, Sheila played God as a deadpan New England Yankee, Mary and Helen were very active as the waters of the sea, etc.

When we had finished acting, it was time to discuss the story. “What happened in the story?” I asked. The participants reviewed what had happened in the story. Then I asked, “What did you think about the story?” Some of the participants didn’t like the story, because it was violent, and the God of the Israelites seemed vindictive to them. But as the participants kept talking they came to some interesting conclusions: Moses was a strong leader; the God of the Israelites was like a superhero character; the parting of the sea could have been explained by natural phenomena. I asked whether this story was non-fiction or fiction. Continue reading

“EcoAdventures” — Final day

For now, all I’m posting is today’s session plan. Later, I’ll find time to post more, including some feedback from the evaluation I did with program participants.

Older posts on ecojustice activities at Ferry Beach:–

Nature and Ecology with children at Ferry Beach in July, 2007: one, two, three, four;

Nature and Ecology with children at Ferry Beach in July, 2006: one, two, three, four.

Read the session plan…. Continue reading

“EcoAdventures” — Day five

We spent the session working on the projects the participants started three days ago. Both groups finished their projects, which are now posted on this blog.

The writing group did a blog post exclusivity at Ferry Beach Conference Center in Saco, Maine: read their post here.

The video group made an online video on the ecological problem unfolding at Ferry Beach: read their post here.

Your comments on their projects are welcomed at those blog posts.

“EcoAdventures” — Day four

Although I had a session plan in place, including time to work on the projects they started two days ago, the group got very interested in something else early on. So I threw out the session plan, and we followed that interest. The narrative account and the session plan for today are integrated below.

(If you haven’t been following this series, you can begin with Day One, and follow it forward.)

Continue reading

“EcoAdventures” — Day three

Today, I felt that the group really gelled. It was one of those days where everything just went smoothly, and we all (including me) deepened our understanding. This was in spite of the fact that I had to totally re-arrange my carefully planned session for the day, to make more time for the project we started yesterday.

I don’t have time to write a good narrative account right now, but I’m going to post the session plan anyway, just to get it up…. Continue reading

“EcoAdventures”: Day two

Our EcoAdventure group took some time to assemble, because several parents had to drop of their children at children’s programs. We had one new participant as well. So while we were waiting for everyone to assemble, we played another round of the Ecosystem Game, to help our newcomer learn other people’s names. (By now, I find myself calling people by their ecosystem name, e.g., OK, Katherine Kelp, are you willing to write all this down on the flip chart?)

Next, we put together very simple journals with paper and file folders and binder clips.

When everyone was present, we headed out to the same spot in a pine grove where we were yesterday. We did two sensory awareness activities. For the second activity, “Prickly Tickly,” the participants find two things, one that will be prickly and one that will be tickly, and then participants pair up to share their prickly thing and tickly thing with another participant. After everyone was done, I asked: Anyone want to show their prickly and tickly things? “This piece of bark was prickly on the outside, but it’s kind of smooth on the inside.” “I found this chunk of moss that was tickly. And it’s in the shape of a teardrop, which is kind of cool.” Any other insights? “They had pine needles as prickly things, but I had pine needles as tickly things.” “It depends on how you touched them to your hand.” “In our pair, we both had pine needles, but one of us said it was a tickly thing and the other said it was a prickly thing.”

Next it was time to choose favorite places, places where we will have time each day to sit in quiet and write or draw in journals (or just sit!). After about ten minutes, I called everyone back: How was it sitting alone? “I found that my mind wandered, I kept thinking about things I’m supposed to be doing.” It sounds like you think that’s bad? “I tried to not let my mind wander, and just focus on the outdoors.” Just so everyone knows, I don’t have an agenda for your alone time — it’s yours to do with what you will. But (turning back to the person who spoke), it sound like you have discovered your priority for alone time. Anyone else? “It was good!” “I realized how long it’s been since I had time alone.”

Anyone want to share something from their journal? “I drew a picture of some pine needles.” “I designed a dress for Emory, and drew a picture of it.” (Emory is the preschool-aged daughter of one of the participants.) One participant read a poem about being on the beach with a younger sister. Another participant read a haiku about learning how to drive.

Then it was time to start the big project (see below for a full description of the project). Because the group is so big, we split the group in two: one group was assigned to document and write about possible exclusivity in the Ferry Beach area (who gets to come here? what human groups are kept out?); another group was assigned to document and photo/video possible environmental disaster(s) in the Ferry Beach area. The two groups headed out to talk with people and look at the neighborhood, in pursuit of their two assignments.

We gathered back at our home base for a closing. It was clear that everyone needed more time to work on their respective projects, so we will continue the projects tomorrow morning.

For full session plan, see below… Continue reading