From a memory science perspective, Sunday school should not be expected to work all that well, and in general it doesn’t. The primary reason being if you are exposed to a given subject on Sunday, and then never hear of it again, or even anything related to it until the following Sunday, the probability of remembering much of it is pretty low.
This isn’t really anything new, the overall concept of frequent engagement with material has have been around since my Aunt was teaching in a one room school house back in the 1920s. It doesn’t matter whether one ascribes to the more technical approach of Thorndike, or the more humanistic approach of Dewey, if there is too much of a gap between exposures, retention will be compromised.
Luther had some ideas on this as I blogged about Blooms Taxonomy in Luther and the Flux Capacitor. Curricula developers know this as well, and try to work around it using as many tools as they can. Some have gone so far as to set the lectionary aside in light of their own system which integrates Sunday School lessons with the sermon text. Bottom line, its still an uphill battle. Sunday School system design is for the most part counter to our brains natural function.
What’s needed is a way to integrate Sunday school lessons with the entire week, not just a single hour event which repeats every 168 hours. In addition, there are some who find age segregation problematic, and would like to see more of an inter-generational model.
One possibility to combine both of the above is the flipped classroom model. While scientific research on flipping in public school edu is pretty limited, anecdotal evidence so far seems promising. It would seem if it can work in the public school environment, it would seemingly work even better for Sunday school due to the system imposed limitations.
An explanation of flipping is probably called for at this point. In the typical classroom most of us know/remember, students are exposed to a subject, interact a bit with their teacher, given work to do either in class, or at home, and then evaluated.
In the flipped model, the initial exposure, and a bit of activity are done outside of the classroom, thus creating much more time for peer / peer and teacher / student interaction in class. By outside the classroom, the exposure to material is commonly done via video, perhaps on youtube, or in some areas via take home DVD’s.
One reported advantage is increased retention as rather than a 1 hour class which conflicts with the brains ability to process about 10 minutes of information, the videos are short, and can easily be played back on demand. Another big deal, is that by moving the activity portion into the classroom, rather than leaving it to the students own time off hours, feedback is immediate, and misconceptions can be addressed early on.
One of the non-obvious bits I’ve picked up on this issue of flipping is that rockstar guru videos don’t work all that well. Its fascinating that often times the zero budget, quickly done video of the teachers own creation works better than the high production value, super polished videos of the guru. I tend to think its because of a personal connection more so than the customizable aspect of DIY.
Consider that for most folks, their pastor is not a rockstar preacher and yet only a few would consider replacing them with video screen of a guru. I think a large part of this is that the personal connection aspect plays a greater role than greater preaching skill and/or depth of topical knowledge in the domain of a rockstar guru preacher video.
Thus my wild idea of multi-generational integration…. What if the videos for flipping were made by a cross section of a given congregation? Ie, there is a huge depth and breadth of knowledge in the pew. Why not leverage this with 30-60 second segments featuring different folks of all ages through out a flipped video series?
Why not connect the Sunday school class to the wisdom of the entire congregation? Ever further, consider those with distant links to the physical worship space. Ie, it might even be possible that a student off at university a thousand miles away might be in the same video with a OTR truck driver, or a home bound member, or someone in a nursing home.