A Definition of Insanity

Albert Einstein once offered the following as a definition for insanity: “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

Too often, in catechesis, we fall into this trap.

I was recently speaking with a junior high catechist who was lamenting the fact that last year, her kids were so quiet (not shy but recalcitrant) that it was painful to teach them. They refused to speak, save for one student. I was talking to her about trying to use a variety of cooperative learning techniques and she felt very hesitant to do so thinking that such activities wouldn’t work a with a class like last year’s. Her solution seemed to be to do more of the same…read and discuss (or at least try to discuss).

As a result, we often find very sane people (catechists) experiencing insanity!

The catechist I was speaking with is quite sane! She is very sharp and very dedicated to her ministry. Unfortunately, she, like many of us, are hesitant to think outside the box when it comes to catechetical methodolgies. My question is, would you rather continue trying to “pull teeth” by leading discussions with kids who don’t want to be there (thus putting ALL of the pressure on yourself) or re-direct the focus so that greater expectations are placed on the kids to “perform?” Junior high kids need to take on more responsibility in their learning. They need to be more actively involved. So what do we mean by cooperative learning (I prefer to call it “active learning”)? Here’s an example:

  1. If you’re going to be reading a chapter in the text book (or a section of a chapter), read it over ahead of time, and select a number of key terms and/or key people that you want the kids to focus on.
  2. Take some small index cards and write these key terms/people on them.
  3. Try to come up with enough cards so that each child has at least one, possibly two or three.
  4. Mix them up and distribute them randomly.
  5. Use a poster board to create a Reading Summary Board or Chart. For example, if the chapter is about the Seven Sacraments, the poster can be arranged in such a way that the names of the sacraments and their signs, symbols, and related gestures are to be listed. These would be the terms listed on the index cards.
  6. As you read the chapter aloud with your class, have the students call “TIME OUT!” whenever they recognize a term that is on one of their cards.
  7. If a young person fails to call “TIME OUT!” when one of their key words is read, require them to stand up until the next “TIME OUT!” is called.
  8. When they call “TIME OUT!” they can then come forward and, using a glue stick, afix the card on the Reading Summary Board in the space you’ve designated.
  9. This simply allows you to turn the reading of the textbook into a more active-learning activity that involves visuals and manipulatives.
  10. When you’re done reading the chapter, you now have a visual summary to review with the class.

Here’s another idea called “Paired Interviews”

  1. If you have a rather large chunk of text to cover in your textbook, divide the class into 2 groups and have group 1 read (independently) a part of the text and group 2 read (independently) the other part of the text. Put a time limit on the reading of the text (always give less time then is really needed to create a sense of urgency).
  2. Then, pair up students, one from each group, and have them take turns interviewing one another about what they read. Have the interviews ask questions such as:
  • Explain what the main idea of your text was in a few sentences
  • What is one quote (sentence) from your text that you would put on a poster to inspire a group?
  • What are some specific things your text helped you to learn or realize about the Catholic faith?
  • Based on your text, name some specific things we, as Catholics, need to know, do, or believe in order to live as followers of Jesus

These questions can be written on the board or you can create an interview sheet. You can also adjust the questions to fit your grade level. Again, set a time limit for each interview: 3-5 minutes for each interview (6 to 10 minutes total). Each student should record the answers to the interview questions that their partner provides. As all this is going on, walk about, keeping students on task and announcing how much time they have.

When they are finished interviewing, call on some students to report on what their partner learned from the text they read. Take notes on the board about important concepts they touch on. Then, fill in the cracks, so to speak, about anything they missed and elaborate on key concepts.

The result is that the material is covered but the spotlight is on the students who do most of the work allowing you to facilitate.  


About Joe Paprocki 2745 Articles
Joe Paprocki, DMin, is National Consultant for Faith Formation at Loyola Press, where, in addition to his traveling/speaking responsibilities, he works on the development team for faith formation curriculum resources including Finding God: Our Response to God’s Gifts and God’s Gift: Reconciliation and Eucharist. Joe has more than 35 years of experience in ministry and has presented keynotes, presentations, and workshops in more than 100 dioceses in North America. Joe is a frequent presenter at national conferences including the Los Angeles Religious Education Congress, the Mid-Atlantic Congress, and the National Conference for Catechetical Leadership. He is the author of numerous books, including the best seller The Catechist’s Toolbox, A Church on the Move, Under the Influence of Jesus, and Called to Be Catholic—a bilingual, foundational supplemental program that helps young people know their faith and grow in their relationship with God. Joe is also the series editor for the Effective Catechetical Leader and blogs about his experiences in faith formation at www.catechistsjourney.com.

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