I am not a DRE. This is not a seven-point strategy on increasing and tracking attendance vis-à-vis participation in liturgical activities. These are my thoughts on what we, as classroom teachers, can do to keep kids coming back each week, and to keep them engaged in discussion.
I think building relationships with the students is the key to everything else about catechesis, especially attendance and participation. Jared Dees mentioned on Twitter (where all the cool cats hang out) that he’d been at a recent training on the idea of “catechist as the textbook.” That’s how I see it, too. My classroom reading materials, activities, and assessments are beside the point if I haven’t connected with the students I see each week.
One-on-one interaction is great, but that’s not always feasible during a class session. Writing to the students via a dialogue journal is a great way to learn more about them without prying or putting them on the spot. I generally start class with journal questions, and one of my questions is “Tell me what’s on your mind this week.” Sometimes the responses have nothing to do with what we’re talking about in class – what I often learn is that there are crosses these teenagers bear that are far heavier than my daily struggles. I try to write them genuine responses to their journal questions, even if it’s just a couple of sentences. We all like to know that someone’s actually reading our stuff.
I also work to build a sense of community as a class and in small groups. I know that sounds alarming to the few – the proud – the introverts. I’m not talking about trust falls off the desks or cleverly orchestrated Moments of Sharing. Rather, I try to incorporate both collaboration and competition into most of my weekly lessons.
Usually, I divide students into groups of three or four, and keep them in those groups for a couple of weeks. They may be studying for a quiz, preparing a short explanation for the rest of the class, or gearing up for a review game. I let them name their teams – the names don’t have to be sacred, but they can’t be profane. Lots of times, I take “team photos” while they are working on the task at hand. Then I let them know that teams will earn points or other incentives for things like everyone being on time, everyone having brought a Bible to class, etc. It’s not foolproof, but it does occasionally get them to encourage each other to show up to class each week.
I tend to avoid a punitive approach to enforcing attendance. For most of the kids, what are the stakes? Why should they keep going if all that’s going to happen is being hassled? I know it’s not *really* just a matter of being hassled, but I think that’s how it’s perceived, when we’re limiting ourselves to calling up parents and sending home postcards. Taking positive steps to let each student know that he or she is a valued member of the class will go a longer way towards getting reluctant participators to return each week.
Recommended Resource: These aren’t exclusive to religious education, but Thomas Lickona* has been a longtime leader in the field of Character Education. For classroom teachers, Educating for Character is an excellent, practical resource. Extensive discussion of different types of cooperative learning, and very thorough overall.
Catechist Chat will be an ongoing series of posts for teachers in religious education programs. It is based on my personal experience and not on any statistical evidence of the effectiveness of my advice. Suscribe to my feed to follow along, and Caveat lector, which is Latin for “your mileage may vary.”
Click here to read other entries in the series, and be sure to follow Catechist Chat on Facebook! You can also sign up for my email list, and I’ll send you resources, including non-PDF versions of the activities I post (which means you can edit them in Microsoft Word to customize them for your own students).
*father of Friend of This Blog, Matthew Lickona.
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