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Incorporating the ‘Dynamite of Diversity’ into the complex web of ‘Memory and Recall’

Having written 21 pages of notes during the month of Strictly RE , it was difficult to know where to begin with tweaking and developing my curriculum. I have been teaching 5 years and have attended Strictly RE annually since beginning my career and the inspiration and ideas never seem to run short. Each year, I am inspired and I go away from the weekend wondering how much of my curriculum I can adapt, to accommodate new ideas that have left me feeling a real buzz.

Strictly 2023 did not disappoint. I could discuss the excellence of every session I attended, but instead I will focus on two that I felt would complement each other allowing me to weave elements of each together to further support my GCSE students.

During the weeknight sessions I attended ‘The Dynamite of Diversity in Christianity’ led by the wonderful Lat Blaylock. In this session we considered diversity within the Christian faith, looking at how our own context – background, culture, race – influences our understanding, and how we might encourage discussions about less known denominations of Christianity in lessons. Sparking my interest particularly was the use of artwork from globally diverse Christian communities to decolonise Jesus. As I already use a great deal of artwork with my students, as part of discussion activities, this session led me to think beyond this. I questioned how I might be able to incorporate different and specific images in lessons to support knowledge retention through retrieval.

This brings me onto the other seminar I would like to discuss. As part of the main weekend, I attended ‘Recall and Memory’ with the ever-engaging Rachael Jackson-Royal. Whilst many of us now regularly use retrieval practice in lessons, and we understand that students simply forget things, Rachael discussed how we might better use our knowledge rich specifications, and precious, small amount of time, to better equip our students to remember. What resonated with me was this idea of low stakes retrieval, including higher order thinking, rather than just basic recall and considering what prior learning is relevant to the lesson content. This brought me to entwining the two sessions together.

In order to further support my GCSE groups, I wanted to take away the simplicity of basic recall at the start of a lesson and weave in high order thinking, that was not only challenging, but low stakes and engaging. I began to utilise images (some from Picturing Christianity from RE Today) and open questioning as a method of knowledge recall, with the images enabling students to be creative in their responses, as an image allows for differing interpretations. Within the task, I asked them to consider what they believed the image was showing, which Christian story they felt the image best linked to and why, which Christian teachings they might associate with the image and why, and finally (in some cases) how might the image begin to decolonise Jesus. I began to use this technique intermittently in my GCSE lessons and it gave the students a level of freedom of interpretation, whilst also assessing their prior knowledge and ability to recall. It also enabled me to discuss with students interesting ideas that reached beyond the requirements of the GCSE specification.

In conclusion, the inspiring sessions of those in the RE world yet again allowed me to create something new, appropriate for my setting, which inspires the young people in front of me. I am able to challenge my students whilst also supporting them in exam preparation and memory and recall – a number of key ingredients leading to student success.

This post was written by Jenni Rawlinson, follow her Twitter here!

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How I introduce learning about Christmas as a Christian Festival in Reception

The lesson begins with the children sitting in a circle and me bringing out a large Christmas gift bag containing a range of Christmas related items e.g., tinsel, cards, gift, decorations. There is a false bottom to the bag and under this are 5 little gold gift boxes, numbered 1 to 5, containing nativity figures. 

The children begin by exploring the items in the bag and thinking what they might be about. This does not take long. The children are then encouraged to talk about their own experiences linked to these objects. 

I then ‘discover’ that there is a hidden layer in the bag, and we get out the little boxes. We talk about what they might be and put them in order. I use the figures in the boxes to tell the Christian story of the Nativity, gradually building up the nativity scene as each box is opened and the next part of the story is told. I show the children a Children’s Bible and explain that this story is in the Bible, reminding the children that the Bible is a special book for Christians. 

After listening to the story, the Nativity characters are put into the middle of the circle along with the Christmas items brought out of the bag earlier. Two hoops are put in the circle, one for Christmas story Christmas and one for Community Christmas. Children take it in turns to put an item in a hoop saying why it belongs there. They can say it belongs in both sets, e.g., a star decoration as long as they can explain why. So, the star was in the Christmas story, but it is a decoration to hang on a tree so belongs in both. If children show the connection nonverbally, e.g., by pointing to the Bible, I verbalise the connection for them by saying for example “Yes, you have picked up the shepherd. The shepherds were in the Bible story.” 

This post was written by Catriona Cardfollow her Twitter here!

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Images of diversity within worldviews – Breaking the Bias

Many of us in the RE community have been thinking about, talking through and experimenting with how we incorporate the inherent diversity within religious worldviews at the same time as maintaining depth in our curriculum. It’s a tightrope we sometimes struggle to walk, one I am aware that I have failed and fallen from at times. Luckily, the RE community is a friendly human safety-net when we inevitably fall, willing to offer suggestions, examples and challenges where needed.

It was with this struggle in mind that I looked forward to hearing what jewels of wisdom Naila Missous would share in her #StrictlyRE session, Worldviews within Islam the Primary edition. Naila provoked us into challenging our own perceptions of Islam as teachers. How can we expect our learners to be able to hold religiously literate conversations if we, as teachers and curriculum designers, do not take the time and effort to source our materials carefully?

One stonkingly obvious, but easily overlooked, resource-bias Naila challenges the RE community with is the Google image bias. How many times have we hurriedly Google Image searched for examples to share in class? I’m guilty, I’m afraid. While I do spend a lot of time sourcing the right images for lessons, thinking about how I am depicting both religious and cultural diversity, Google Image search is likely to throw up images that can embed misconceptions or stereotypical depictions if we do not take care. (Editor’s note: Or just be plain incorrect in its labelling of images which can cause serious problems for the RE teacher)

Naila gave us a practical challenge – Google Image search “Mosque”. Count the South-East Asian style domes, minarets, whites, blues and golds. Yes, these images are part of a great history of mosque design and use, but does this tell the full story? To what extent do we explicitly teach our learners to challenge these one-dimensional biases? She also shared images to provoke us: A modern Ahmadiyya  Mosque in Denmark, what discussions might this provoke? Why do different schools of thought exist in Islam? What is different or similar to other mosques? What is the history of this community and building? Images of the Niujie Mosque in Beijing were also shared – what misconceptions might adults and children alike, possibly with our western bias, share about the building, the community, language and practice. How might we challenge our Muslim students who might themselves have a narrow perspective of their own faith?

This was not a session intended to make the RE community feel bad that we might have not considered the plethora of biases impacting our curriculum choices. Naila herself said, this is all about challenges to worldviews, about children and adults learning and loving to learn – this goes to the heart of teaching.

Naila shared so many brilliant, practical ideas, you can access the recording of her session via your #StrictlyRE link or buy access to all the recordings by emailing REtoday.

This post was written by Katie Gooch, follow her Twitter here!

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Etymology, Bias and Worldviews in the Classroom (Part 2)

Written by John Semmens @philosophyinKS2

The next session that really influenced the way I want to shape some of my units was Session C: C2 PRIMARY Worldviews within Islam – the Primary edition with Naila Missous. The video[i] shown at the beginning of the session was a great way to think about bias and personal lenses in the RE classroom. The knowledge that we all have biases, and that many are deeply ingrained is something I have been thinking about for a while now but not is such a usable way[ii].  This was a great way to think about the many worldviews within the classroom and then take that further by exploring the many worldviews to be found in Islam. There is a need to go deeper but also a need to step back and recognise the way that we teachers approach the teaching of Islam (and indeed any worldview) and that comes with accepting our biases. Naila readily accepting her own biases, encouraging us to accept ours, and then work towards not teaching any religion as a monolith really hit home. I think we all readily understand the huge diversity of worldviews in our own ‘in-groups’. Particularly within religious worldviews you can see the arguments, schisms, and smaller differences in interpretation. This can be hard to recognise from the outside and this very human instinct needs to be overcome. The huge diversity to be found in Islam was expanded upon by looking at Mosques from around the world.  After Naila showed us a Google search for the word ‘Islam’ we recognised the male, Arab-centric images that came up. We teachers may look at Google as a simple tool, something quick to help us illustrate our points but there is a bias to be found here too. Examining biases that can blind us to those more meaningful learning experiences can mean our curriculums represent the world we are studying rather than a preconceived version of it. But the world is messy, full of things that are sometimes true and when creating a curriculum, you don’t want to overload it with half-truths and messy ideas. There is a tension between the sum and its parts to explore here as many have written about.

This brings me back to the first quote: “The mind is the bouncer of the heart”. The mind guides what we see, the world is a huge and bewildering place, and we can’t possibly know and understand it all. We consciously or unconsciously pick and choose what we see. We have to be selective but becoming conscious of that selection enables us to go some way to gaining a better understanding. With new information comes new familiarity and therefore, new understanding[iii]. No one has a perfectly detached worldview, indeed being detached may be just as inhibiting as we gain an understanding of the world by acknowledging our part in it[iv]. The mind lets us see what it wants us to see. Sometimes that means not seeing the whole picture and missing the ‘messiness’[v] of worldviews. We are increasingly polarised in our thinking and the notion of ‘othering’ has become a problem in politics, not just the RE curriculum. By curating our own experiences, we keep those that are unfamiliar from entering our hearts and so the mind acts as its ‘bouncer’.

Conclusions

To bring these two sessions together I will look at the second quote and the etymology of the word matter[vi]. From the word matr we get matrix, material, and mother (amongst other words). At the moment the philosophical ‘Hard Problem of Consciousness’ [vii] is said, by scientists (materialists), to be solved by stating that consciousness is an ‘emergent quality’ of matter. Kastrup describes this as a ‘metaphysical bias’ contained within the word ‘matter’. If consciousness is understood as something that emerges, like a baby from its mother, perhaps even this explanation of such a complex concept comes from a certain anthropomorphised view of the universe. This is, of course, one worldview within the scientific worldview. It would seem that there is a messiness to be found in every worldview and the words we use to describe them. Acknowledging this means we can examine how we understand the world and move towards a better, more complete understanding.

John Semmens is the Chair of Norfolk SACRE, a Primary RE teacher in Norwich and trains teachers to use philosophy in the classroom. Follow him on Twitter @philosophyinKS2 or view his website www.philosophyinks2.co.uk

 

[i] An Introduction to Unconscious Bias https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KCgIRGKAbfc

[ii] Philosophy is About Thinking: Sedimentary My Dear Watson by John Semmens https://www.philosophyinks2.co.uk/post/philosophy-is-about-thinking-sedimentary-my-dear-watson

[iii] The Aim of Education: A Wondering Built on a Wondering by John Semmens https://reformingre.wordpress.com/2021/11/30/the-aim-of-education-a-wondering-built-on-a-wondering/

[iv] Based on the work of John Vervaeke in his series of lectures: Awakening from the Meaning Crisis Ep. 45 – Awakening from the Meaning Crisis – The Nature of Wisdom – Meaning Crisis Collection

[v] Based on the work of Rob Freathy & Helen C. John in Worldviews and Big Ideas: A Way Forward for Religious Education? https://www.diva-portal.org/smash/get/diva2:1386095/FULLTEXT01.pdf

[vi] https://www.membean.com/rootcasts/matr-mother/

[vii] Hard Problem of Consciousness — David Chalmers https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C5DfnIjZPGw

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Etymology, Bias and Worldviews in the Classroom (Part 1)

Written by John Semmens @philosophyinKS2

 

Over the last couple of weeks, I attended some great StrictlyRE sessions that really changed the way I want to look at my curriculum. As I was running one morning, I was listening to a podcast[i] about Idealism, showing that some thinkers are delving back into concepts akin to Neo-Platonism. As the podcast concluded the speaker, Kastrup, says two interesting things:

“The mind is the bouncer of the heart”

And:

“The etymology of the word matter is mother.”

These things came back to me as I attended two NATRE Strictly RE sessions. The first was W2 PRIMARY Using Etymology in The Primary Classroom, with Saima Saleh. As a school we have been concentrating on vocabulary and the meaning of words recently. As a teacher I have always loved the use of etymology in the classroom. The idea that words have a story makes them more memorable and so we can teach meanings, spellings, word families, and history all by introducing etymology. But, where to start? I have dabbled, but I didn’t know how to make it central to my practise in a consistent and workable way. Exploring etymology with children and revealing the meaning of words can feel like revealing how a magic trick works, only the magic is somehow all the more wonderous for it. This is where Saima’s wonderful research comes in. I have decided to plan her approach into my next RE unit about the History of Christian and Islamic art. There is a lot of vocabulary in there and those words are the hooks that our thinking hangs on. But I decided to use one of her ideas the next day.

Saima’s use of Mind-Maps that slowly become knowledge organisers was a real spark of inspiration. I appreciate the theories behind organising knowledge on the page as a sort of paper extension of what is hopefully happening in our brains, but I have been wary of the sort of top-down approach that comes from teacher-made organisers. It doesn’t feel as useful in KS2. So, I’ve used Saima’s approach to help the children in my English class keep track of all the places, monsters, gods, and mortals that they encounter as we read The Adventures of Odysseus[ii]. The children have loved the freedom to use pictures as well as words to link the story together, including etymology as part of their understanding. Making links, using colour, and documenting the vocabulary in the story has proven to be a real gamechanger. We’ve used reading logs before but using cheeky screenshots of the examples from Saima’s class the children instantly understood what was expected.

In class we will began to explore the etymology of words like chaos and cosmos. Greeks had a way of seeing the beginning of the universe as order out of the void and there is a drive towards order in many Greek Myths, this is brilliantly shown in the rather gruesome The 12-Labors of Hercules in 8-Bit (sic)[iii]. In this animation Alex Gendler shows how Hercules’ mission was to wipe out the monsters of the chaotic Greek past to make way for a new age, the Golden Age of Greece which gave the world so many scientific, artistic and philosophical discoveries. This is how I plan to end my unit, in preparation for the history unit we will study in the summer term.

Bio:

John Semmens is the Chair of Norfolk SACRE, a Primary RE teacher in Norwich and trains teachers to use philosophy in the classroom. Follow him on Twitter @philosophyinKS2 or view his website

[i] ‘Is Reality All in Your Head?’ with Bernardo Kastrup https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LUUCirhtdHI

[ii] https://www.barefootbooks.com/uk/odysseus

[iii] The myth of Hercules: 12 labors in 8-bits – Alex Gendler https://youtu.be/nIIjhAuC76g

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Let’s start at the beginning…

NATRE presents…the Strictly RE Blog series

Written by Helen Jones @jonesh4711

Two great sessions from this years’ Strictly RE conference came together for me; Lat Blaylock talking about ‘Progress in RE from 4 to 7’ and Saima Saleh’s twilight session on ‘Etymology in the Primary Classroom’. As I reflected upon my own early years practice, I recalled how even my youngest children loved to play with words- laughing at their strange sound and repeating them over and over to their friends. I smiled at Lat’s photograph of the children standing at the tuff spot exploring artefacts and wondered what conversations were taking place as they explored, and I silently congratulated the teacher for collecting a rich array of resources. How I would have liked to have been a fly on the wall!

Although probably camera shy, I guess there was an adult nearby doing what I was unable to -listening in- which led me to reconsider the vital role of the adult in the early year’s classroom. What a skill it is to know when to stand back and when to join in, to observe without comment or to ask a pertinent question in order to move learning on, or to allow play for play’s sake.

The adult is such a valuable resource in their own right the communicator and modeller, the encourager and questioner, the storyteller and actor, care giver and nurturer AND provider of exciting, creative and challenging learning opportunities. I love early years RE and have found it to be a place where you receive as much as you give.

In early years you begin to sow the seeds of learning, you introduce some of the rich and varied vocabulary, you encourage empathy, respect and love of self and others. As the name suggests it is the foundation for learning and what a great place for RE to begin.

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Tacit Knowledge When Thinking about RE in the Early Years and Key Stage 1 (Part 2)

NATRE presents the…Strictly RE Blog series

Written by Jennifer Jenkins @kairosbutterfly

In my previous blog post I was considering what role tacit knowledge played within teaching and learning in RE in the Early Years and Key Stage One. In this post I share three ways in which tacit knowledge in the youngest pupils can be reached.

Vocabulary: What about new words? How can we help make some of that hidden knowledge more expressible for young pupils? Many young children know the reems about animals and dinosaurs. They wouldn’t have an issue with rattling off all the carnivores- meat eaters-they know. The less-fussy amongst them might also know what chilli-con-carne is when a parent tells them they are having it for dinner. Is there anything to stop our youngest children engaging with simple etymology to unpick what the word ‘incarnation’ might mean in Christianity? Can we ask skilful questions that help pupils tap into knowledge they don’t necessarily know they have? Instead of just seeing a big new word important to other people, can they make personal connections with their own personal knowledge as a starting point if we help them to do that through our pedagogy? This was explored in detail in Saima Saleh’s Strictly RE session where she shared her impactful research on using etymology in the RE classroom.

Dual-Coding: Similar is true for dual coding. When we use images alongside new words and concepts for young pupils we create that hook. Through looking, they engage with something they might intuit to have meaning. By listening, they encounter something new; a new word used in religion and worldviews. By carefully explaining and the modelling of drawing by the teacher (What do you think this is? What does this part show? How would you draw this idea yourself?) they are given the chance to connect with pre-existing experience and are challenged to learn something new but in some way connected to what they already know. If we draw the cross as a bridge between people and God in a really simple way, can KS1 pupils begin to see the importance for Christians of Jesus and his death as bringing human beings back into relationship with God and undoing the separation that happened when Adam and Eve did something God asked them not to do? Does the salvation concept drawing from Understanding Christianity help them to better understand that for Christians there is something life-saving about that idea?

Reflectivity: Tacit knowledge is about thinking, insight, intuition. We won’t encounter it in young pupils unless there is something in place to access help us access those things in the minds of our pupils. Reflectivity is an important skill for developing pupils’ personal knowledge. How often do we build time into RE lessons where pupils just get to think? Can we invite them to draw/doodle as they think about what they have learned in the lesson? Can we pose a question and give them space for thinking, before inviting them to draw a simple mind map of what came to mind when they gave their brains space to ponder that idea? What is in our pedagogical toolkit for younger pupils that will move them into the ‘unknown knowns’ of the Johari window; things they do understand (or are beginning to understand) but are unaware of and perhaps do not have the words or vocabulary to convey? Those ‘I wonder questions…’ in the reflective storytelling method (such as that exemplified by Katherine Taylor in the Time to Wonder methodology) make space for those connections. Perhaps I do know something about this? Getting pupils to a stage where they feel happy to be vulnerable even at the early stages of their learning and share what they are thinking and the connections they are making, might tell us far more than just end-of-unit assessments.

I don’t know exactly what I am going to do with this thinking but I think it is exciting to see our youngest pupils as full of tacit knowledge, yet to be reached but so important for their developing understanding of religion and worldviews, both others’ and their own.

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The Write Stuff

NATRE presents the…Strictly RE Blog series

Written by Matt Pitcher Secondary school teacher, @re_runner.

After 25 years of teaching it is often the case that we feel that we cannot get better or do something different as we have become entrenched into one way of working – certainly the adage “You can’t teach a dog new tricks” is often bandied around when you get the old style CPD referred to. The pandemic has certainly changed this for me and Strictly RE has been a shining light of developing good practice and getting to others.

One session that I felt could have immediate impact on my teaching is Joe Kinnaird’s “How can we improve student writing in RE?” As a GCSE examiner I often despair at how badly written many long answers are, and I often try to impress on my classes that planning and developing their writing will help them in the future.

On the back of this I was really looking forward to hearing Joe speak about how he has used The Writing Revolution in his teaching. I have been dropping into my lessons the “Because, But, So” activities, using subordinate conjunctions and I wanted to learn more. You could see through Joe’s presentation (and his previous blog posts) how he has wanted to develop his students writing and that the activity fitted into the learning brilliantly. You can see there is a clear rationale about how the work is developed: from building up from sentences to making paragraphs and then fitting them together.

I was even happier seeing how he took this on further to GCSE extended answers and the development of writing here. It shows there is a clear thread in Joe’s drive to improve writing and I am sure it will bear fruit both in the short term and in the long term. It certainly fits into much of what I am trying to incorporate into my teaching by scaffolding, modelling and showing how I write to the pupils. We are adding in the content with the delivery and this makes the job of creating the lessons and activities that much easier. Literacy is not just an add on but is an intrinsic part of the lesson and how the knowledge is delivered and how it is tested.

I think it takes a lot of effort setting up the technique but it is one that is clearly able to be replicated across other subjects and disciplines. A champion of literacy elsewhere in the curriculum would be seen by many as a boon and so get your allies on board and start to break the mould. I really wish this type of CPD was around when I started teaching as I think it could have such a big help in my teaching.

I owe a great debt to the wider RE community – certainly those who tweet, blog and share resources. Presentations like that of Joe’s and Zameer Hussain’s show that there is a lot to learn to improve our teaching but this should not show us as inadequate or get defensive but we should learn and try it out. You never know – it might just surprise you.

If you would like to read more about how Joe has developed his ideas and some practical examples here are some of his excellent blogs:

Writing beautiful sentences in RE

Writing a beautiful paragraph in RE

Writing an essay in Key Stage 3

Scaffolding extended writing a step by step process

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Tacit Knowledge When Thinking about RE in the Early Years and Key Stage 1 (Part 1)

NATRE presents the…Strictly RE Blog series

Jennifer Jenkins @kairosbutterfly

 

Having done my first day at NATRE’s Strictly RE online conference and listened to Trevor Cooling’s excellent keynote speech on moving to a worldviews approach when teaching RE, I was struck by his reference to ‘tacit knowledge’ and immediately did some Googling. I always start with an image search as my way into new concepts to help me get a feel for the ‘big picture’ of the concept before ‘reading up’ on it. I found several images that pointed to the ‘iceberg’ nature of tacit knowledge and this is represented in the graphic below:

Image © David Jenkins

The bits below the water got me thinking about some of the ways in which we encounter learning in younger pupils. They can’t always put it into words but we see learning in the way in which they interact with art, the language they use when engaging in retelling a narrative using props or the question they ask when taking part in role play or exploring a religious artefact. Many teachers in the Early Years and KS1 settings have been using floor books to capture learning in RE lessons. Unlike some individual pupil RE books, these are filled with photos, post-its and other ways of capturing the learning process for the class or small groups. Are these capturing some sort form of ‘tacit knowledge’ in our younger pupils? When we tell them ‘That’s a great comment’ or say ‘Brilliant question’, do we explain why it is and how their tacit knowledge has surfaced?

 

Using art to introduce a new concept to young children might help to tap into that tacit knowledge. As they encounter the artwork their personal knowledge will contribute to their interpretation of it, with their limited life experience, differing from pupil to pupil, meaning each one will have some unspoken prior experience that may contribute to the meaning, or beauty, they think it holds. They cannot necessarily share that knowledge unless we invite them in some way-

  • What is your favourite part?
  • What interests you?
  • What confuses you?
  • What is it making you think about?

A simple scaffolding sheet with the art (or artefact) at the centre and some questions to invite them to connect with those ideas might help. An idea around this was shared in the Strictly RE session by Lat Blaylock.

In Part 2 I will share some specific areas of Early Years and Key Stage One practice where teachers can aim to bring tacit knowledge into the assessable space.

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What have Universities ever done for us?

What have Universities ever done for us? Why RE teachers might want to explore the support their local HE institution can offer

With news that the future of Theology and Religious Studies has yet again come under threat at an esteemed University [link], it has been so heartening to see the flood of support come in from schools and colleges across the country for the subject, department and staff. It is a reminder of the continuing strength and encouragement of the RE community, but also of the value teachers place on our subject in Higher Education. Well, I would like to tell you the feeling is mutual. Colleagues working in the University sector recognise the invaluable role teachers play in preparing students to study at this level, and often the passion they have instilled in students for religious education. I have lost count of the times students have attributed their love for the subject to their RE teacher at school (and they often say they want to be a teacher just like you!). So the links between schools and Universities are well established in the RE world, but I would like to encourage or remind you why you might want to engage further with your local HE institution. These are examples of what we at the University of Worcester can offer:

  • We have experts in RE across all phrases of education, from EYFS upwards. Teacher Training in Primary, Secondary and Further Education is our raison d’être so we are in a good place to provide support on matters of learning and teaching.
  • University staff are conducting the most up to date research and as research-driven pedagogies drive our teaching we are in a good place to see what new thinking, ideas and strategies are coming through literature – we are also not afraid to question these!
  • We have strong links with NATRE, local schools, places of worship and interfaith forums in the aim of strengthening the work of RE departments in our local schools. We run a NATRE/UW RE Hub which meets termly to discuss relevant topics (e.g. most recently faith and sexuality) and provide CPD (e.g. the launch of the Locally Agreed Syllabus). These are very well attended, and the generosity, kindness and collaboration of attendees is inspiring.

You will likely find a more than willing Religious Studies/Theology department at your local University, but you are also welcome to contact me, Rebecca Davidge at r.davidge@worc.ac.uk

 

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10 suggestions to help you plan RE for home learning.

  1. Find out the main religious festivals happening this Spring term and plan learning around these. The focus for many festivals is welcoming spring and new life. Learning about these will help children and young people look to the future and anticipate the return of Spring which is a much-needed emphasis in the grey days of January. RE Online has a fantastic overview of the key religious festivals, provided by the Shap Working Party. It is available here: https://www.reonline.org.uk/festival-calendar/

  2. Plan learning about religious and non-religious responses to the pandemic and celebrate what diverse communities have done to help their community in this time. Suggestions include the work of Khalsa aid https://www.khalsaaid.org/about-us; Islamic relief https://www.islamic-relief.org.uk/news/page/3/; the Salvation army https://www.salvationarmy.org.uk/about-us; the Trussell Trust https://www.trusselltrust.org/.

  3. Keep your focus simple and have one clear aim for the learning so that is straightforward for parents to pick up and understand. Keep the topic simple too so that parents and children can investigate it together.

  4. Provide the websites that children and young people can use to find out about RE and don’t suggest an open research project which will allow them to search the internet at home without restriction. Reliable websites include BBC bitesize, BBC my life, My religion, CBeebies, RE Quest for Christianity, RE Online teaching Resources, Humanists UK and NATRE.

  5. Ensure that the work set uses the language of all, many, most, some, a few and avoids the language of all unless it is for something that you know all would accept in a community. Using this in the work that you set is important to show that while communities may have many things in common, they will not always believe and practice their beliefs in the same way.

  6. Look for opportunities for children and young people to use their walks or gardens for thinking about their RE – for example, going on a spring walk to look at nature and consider different responses to the concept of creation and the environment, looking for signs of new life in nature to begin learning about how many Christians use this symbol at Easter time and planting/painting young plants when learning about some of the spring festivals.

  7. Use painting or drawing opportunities in RE where possible so that children and young people can consolidate their learning. For example, drawing/painting a Shabbat meal, a scene from the story of the Passover, a scene from the Easter story, considering art from around the world and in history and using watercolours to paint about Holi.

  8. Use your RE focus to provide cross-curricular writing opportunities. For example, asking children to write a diary entry from a disciple’s point of view when studying Easter, writing the story of the Passover highlighting the role of Moses and his importance to his people and explaining how the Khalsa was formed when learning about the festival of Vaisakhi.

  9. Use the benefit of children and young people being at home to make and eat some of the foods traditionally eaten at this time of year – such as hot cross buns and Simnel cake at Easter and sweets for Chinese New Year.

  10. Encourage children and young people to take part in a competition, such as the one for writing advertised on RE Online here which has a deadline of 31 March: https://www.reonline.org.uk/news/pupil-blog-competition/ 

Justine Ball – Primary RE Inspector and Advisor and the South East Regional Ambassador. @justineballRE

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Learning to glean

Are you feeling inundated by advice and ‘helpful’ anecdotes for your teaching? Fed up with the animosity on social media RE pages and wondering how the most tolerant subject can produce teachers and leaders who can be so judgemental and condescending?

In a subject which is meant to be a pioneer for community cohesion, how have we missed the bar so much in how we speak to other RE teachers and colleagues?

(I should just say that it is in the teaching standards to further our own CPD and I do understand that there are some teachers who refuse to learn, research or change their ways. I know how frustrating it is for some to keep answering the same kinds of questions when teachers should be trying to better themselves. This blog isn’t about those teachers who don’t want to change- let’s face it, they won’t be reading this anyway! Although it is time to show more compassion and kindness to our colleagues and dig deep into the values of our wonderful subject perpetuates.)

The Biblical story of Ruth celebrates the power to start again, to gather what was previously scattered, and to glean all that we need. In teaching, gleaning what is relevant has become more important as the information, guidance and advice can come in torrents.

In Religious Education, there is certainly a push to use research and this is largely positive. I attended a fantastic conference, REXchange, held by Culham St Gabriels in October. It birthed some new ideas for me and got me thinking about my own professional development. I’m grateful to the presenters for sharing their ideas.

Research can be about RE- most of the research projects that we often hear about are founded in the RE world, often with a focus on pedagogy and teaching methods. I spent a glorious half term benefitting from the wonderful Farmington Fellowship opportunity (now Farmington Scholarships) and learning from experienced mentors and other colleagues. It shaped my career and deepened my passion for RE as I looked into motivating disaffected RE teachers.

Yet there is also research for RE which is more about research beyond the RE world, yet has something to say for RE, for example on assessment, knowledge retention or using technology.

With all the research out there, how can we glean what is good for teaching RE without being overwhelmed by the sheer amounts of research and information, but not missing out on innovative or interdisciplinary work that could benefit an individual or school?

It is worth noting that we should make sure there is evidence in everyday practice and not just on paper. I have read so many books, but it isn’t until I’ve actually tried something in a lesson or topic that I know if it will benefit. It will involve being brave, taking a risk and ‘having a go’.

Don’t be scared off by the idea of taking part in research- it is very much like what we do in professional practice anyway where we test and see what works. Just with research, it is more systematic and rigorous and used for the wider profession.

What research actually means in practice isn’t always clear- it’s very easy to look like someone is really engaged with research, but they may just be repeating stock phrases from a paper or project or spouting the need to ‘embed research in the profession’. The language can be condescending for some to hear and they may feel inadequate to take part.

Good engagement with research will involve partnership with the researcher and the teacher. The importance of networking shouldn’t be underestimated here. There are certainly going to be opportunities for linking with research and trying new ideas over the coming months. I am looking forward to meeting like-minded RE ‘geeks’ who want to deepen subject knowledge or embed practice in our local NATRE groups.

But please don’t think I am suggesting you take part in or create educational research! Time and dedication will be required and we don’t have a lot of that at the moment! Yet dipping in and trying something can reinvigorate your lessons or even your curriculum. I loved trialling Sue Phillips’ Theatre of Learning in my early career and it changed the way I taught!

You are permitted to say ‘no’. It’s okay for you to miss an #REchatUK on Twitter. It’s definitely okay to not join every RE argument you are invited to on social media or in the staffroom! Instead, enjoy gleaning- look for the little things that will help your teaching. Improving your subject knowledge is a great thing, but attending every zoom conference and reading every blog in place of leisure activities may affect your mental health and wellbeing. If you want to get fully involved in rewriting a curriculum or leading research, that is amazing. It is also fine for you to develop your teaching in your own way and you shouldn’t feel judged by RE colleagues for this decision. Be kind to yourself- your dedication can never be underestimated, but you are not replaceable to your family and friends. Learn, like Ruth, to glean from what has been scattered and find new life in these tricky times.

Sarah Payne subject leader for RE and PSHCE at Woodland Middle School and the South Central Regional Ambassador. @SPayneRE

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Closing the Reading Gap in Religious Education

 Why should we promote reading?

  • Reading is an essential element in all stages of education
  • Reading should be prioritised to allow access to the full curriculum offer
  • 90% of vocabulary is encountered in reading, not day-to-day speech
  • Fiction does not give access to more academic vocabulary used for GCSE and beyond
  • Primary students learn to read, secondary students read to learn
  • Secondary children need to be reading books appropriate for their age (often not the case in secondary – particularly for boys)
  • In addition to teaching vocabulary explicitly, teachers need to model how expert readers read actively including monitoring their understanding, asking questions, making predictions and summarising (Rosenshine)

So how does a Religious Studies student read?

This is a vital question for teachers of religious studies/education yet it is rarely given any consideration in primary or secondary training.

Take the following example as given in ‘Closing the reading Gap’ by Alex Quigley.

“The third pillar of Islam is Zakah. This means giving alms (giving money to the poor). For Muslims who have enough savings it is compulsory to give 2.5 percent of those savings every year to help the poor.  Many Muslims will work out how much they owe and give the money at the end of Ramadan.

By giving Zakah, Muslims are acknowledging that everything they own comes from God and belongs to him and they should use their wealth to remember God and give to those in need. It frees people from desire and teaches self-discipline and honesty.

Zakah literally means to purify or to cleanse.  Muslims believe that giving Zakah helps to purify the soul, removing selfishness and greed.”

You will probably recognise that you are using your background knowledge about Islam (tier 3 vocabulary –subject-specific).  You will also be using your understanding of words that are so familiar to us that we often do not notice pupils will not know them for example ‘compulsory’, ‘acknowledging’, ‘self-discipline’ (tier 2 vocabulary –academic vocabulary)

To read this single passage demands knowledge of the world or reading of text structures and word knowledge.  If a teacher has not considered the teaching of reading, it can be hard to know whether pupils are understanding what has been read at all! To comprehend a text, you need to understand 95% of the words. An average text contains 300 words a page so that means 15 words may be unknown even if the gist of the text is understood.

We need to ask ourselves:

  • How ‘word conscious’ are we in our lessons?
  • Has tier 2 & 3 vocabulary been considered as part of a sequence in our schemes of learning and assessment?

So what practical strategies can we adopt?

1. Keyword vocabulary lists with quick quiz tests.
Key concept Definition
Trinity The Christian belief that there is One God, who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit
Nicene Creed A Christian statement of faith primarily about the nature of God. Accepted by the majority of Christians
Creation The Creation of the universe regarded as an act of God
Benevolent All-loving
Omnipotent All-powerful
Resurrection The belief that Jesus rose from the dead after three days. The belief that the body stays in the grave until the end of the world when it is raised and judged
Atonement The reconciliation of God and humanity accomplished through the life, suffering, and death of Christ
2. Consider strategies for teaching tier 2 vocabulary

Teach synonyms

Required – have to, Tend – look after, Fortunate – lucky, Benevolent – kind

The ‘golden triangle’ of recognition, pronunciation and definition

Recognition – how is the word spelt? The ability to use phonics to decode new vocabulary and then to be able to reproduce the spelling makes a big difference.

Pronunciation – how is the word said? Making pupils say it aloud and use it in a sentence increases the likelihood they will remember it.

Definition – what does the word mean? It might sound obvious, but if you know the meaning of a word, you are much more likely to remember it.

Here is an example on an RS exam paper with a lack of understanding of tier 2 vocabulary

3.Explicitly modelling what expert readers do: activating prior knowledge, predicting, questioning, clarifying, summarising
4. Setting reading homework

At The Queen Katherine School, we have attempted to make reading routine by carefully planning it home works that link with the Scheme of Learning.

3,2,1 Readers are questioning, evaluating and connecting what they read. For example, three essential points to consider, connect and remember, two key vocabulary items to know, use and remember and one big idea to understand, explain and remember.

The resource ‘The Day’ is invaluable at supporting this.

https://theday.co.uk

5. Include more planned reading in the lessons

In consultation with our fabulous librarian, we have chosen short stories that complement our Schemes of Learning at KS3. Students will read a short excerpt in the first 5 mins of the lesson and as a class, we will discuss 3 planned questions based on the reading.  These books are age-specific for our learners.

Conclusion

Alex Quigley makes the point, ‘it is important to view academic reading through a subject-specific lens in all phases of schooling.’

By paying attention to the disciplinary lenses used in RE we can best support our students to use subject-specific reading strategies alongside general reading strategies. However, does this open up another can of worms! What ‘different ways’ should religion and world views be studied?  The Commission talks about Theology, Human and Social Science and Philosophy (Mark Chater Reforming RE Chapter 9)  yet this does still remain contested. ‘See Disciplinary literacy in religious education: the role and relevance of reading https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/01416200.2020.1754164

See also https://missdcoxblog.wordpress.com/2020/11/01/disciplinary-discourse-using-subject-vocabulary/

How does your school promote reading?

  • in the wider curriculum
  • in departments
  • in your classrooms

With thanks to Alex Quigley ‘Closing the Reading Gap’

Katherine France a Head of Faculty at The Queen Katherine School and North Regional Ambassador @KathFrance1975

 

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The Importance of the Child in Your RE

The return of children to school this September must surely be one of the most talked-about issues for all of us this year. Even families who do not have people specifically affected by the return to school will be aware of the importance of schools opening again and the impact this will have on their local community.

At such a time, it is really important to begin our RE planning with the children themselves and their experiences of lockdown and afterward at the heart of our planning. It is also important to recognise their feelings as they return to school with excitement, relief or anxiety, or perhaps a mix of all three. For those of us who work in R.E., it is natural that we will be thinking about how much study children have missed and many of us will have been reflecting on this over the summer break. However, this year in particular it is more important than ever that we pause and remember why we are so passionate about R.E. and why it is so valuable in helping our children to begin this new school year acknowledging their experiences and feelings on their return to school and using such experiences to help consider their own beliefs and opinions in RE.

The NATRE website has some useful reminders for us all about the purpose of RE in the section “About RE”:

Religious Education contributes dynamically to children and young people’s education in schools by provoking challenging questions about meaning and purpose in life, beliefs about God, ultimate reality, issues of right and wrong and what it means to be human. In RE they learn about and from religions and worldviews in local, national and global contexts, to discover, explore and consider different answers to these questions. They learn to weigh up the value of wisdom from different sources, to develop and express their insights in response, and to agree or disagree respectfully.

There has never been a more pertinent time for us all to hold these principles in mind, whatever Locally Agreed Syllabus we follow,  as we plan for children’s enquiries in this new school year and use these principles to consider how we can plan for meaningful RE.

Let’s consider how we might use these aims in the term ahead in RE:

  • Provoking challenging questions about meaning and purpose in life – allow children the time and space in RE to share how lockdown and coming out of lockdown has been for them as individuals, their families, and communities here and around the world (many for example might have families that are or were separated around the world). What was meaningful and what was challenging? Did it make them question the way life was before lockdown? Why? Has it provoked questions for them about their own community and the world? How did they adapt? Has it made a difference in their own family going forward? How?
  • Beliefs about God – has it made any of the children in the class think differently about their beliefs? Has it changed the way they view the environment, society, and the concept of God? How? Has the experience made them reflect more or less on these issues? Why?
  • Issues of right and wrong – did the experience make the children think about issues of right and wrong more or less? What examples do they have of their own local communities doing things well and for the benefit of others? Did they get to know their neighbours better? Did they do anything differently for others? Were there any things that they saw as wrong? Why? What should we change and what should we keep going forward?
  • What does it mean to be human? What things did they and their family miss doing? Do they still miss doing these things? What things don’t they miss from the way life was? Why? What needs do we all have as humans?
  • What religious and non-religious responses to the situation can we share with children? Did anyone’s families watch religious services on-line? Which ones? Why do you think they did that? Did anyone’s families join groups on-line that were non-religious but gave them feelings of belonging, such as neighborhood groups, craft groups, sports groups and interest groups? Why? Did any such groups do special things for others? Why did they do this do you think?
  • Where did they gain their own advice and wisdom from? What advice did they find most useful during lockdown? Who gave them the advice? Did they share such advice with others? What advice or wisdom will they take with them going forward?

By taking the time to reflect on the purpose of R.E. by asking these questions will help you and the children reflect on your experiences during the past six months and think about what this means in R.E. it will allow you to consider the big questions that R.E. is so wonderful for generating right from the start of your first lesson with the children.

Enjoy your time enquiring together, there has never been a more important time for R.E. together!

Justine Ball, NATRE ambassador for the South East, Hampshire Adviser/Inspector for Primary RE, Joint Chair of AREIAC with Julia Diamond Conway @justineballRE

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New to leading RE

If you have been ‘lumbered with being the subject leader for RE’, you may now feel (even more) daunted about going back in September. The journey ahead isn’t going to be always easy, but you will have lots of joy along the way and will hopefully not feel lumbered.

Firstly, let me start by welcoming you to the best community of teachers and advisers. There are a host of passionate people and organisations cheering you on and available for support (I’ll share some key ones at the end of this blog).

Here are some things to get you things you started with leading:

Aim high: Vision and purpose

It is important to know what you are aiming for and this will be underpinned by the purpose of RE. There are many answers to the questions around purpose, so don’t be put off by the numerous names for RE! Having purpose and vision will ensure senior leaders understand its value, and this in turn can feed into the whole school vision too. RE can enhance the whole curriculum, but this should not mean that the quality of it is watered down by allowing it to be taught through other subjects like PSHE or through assemblies. Be firm about the importance of the subject and its necessity as a stand-alone subject of a balanced curriculum.

You may find it useful to read the recent Commission on RE report (CORE) Some of its main findings relate to purpose, including the need quality teaching with a rigorous and rich analysis of both religious and non-religious worldviews and their impact on communities and individuals.

Rich and rigorous: The curriculum

It’s good for you as the lead to understand about developments within the subject as well as things which will affect it. The National Entitlement proposal is in line with Ofsted’s expectations that RE teachers will be able to talk about the subject’s purpose and quality of the curriculum.

The Agreed Syllabus

All maintained schools have a statutory duty to teach RE, including academies and free schools. Without a national curriculum, the RE curriculum is determined by the local Standing Advisory Council on Religious Education (SACRE) and they are responsible for creating a Locally Agreed Syllabus which should reflect the local faiths and will be predominantly Christian. If you are in a faith school, you can prioritise one religion, but you should still recognise the diverse faiths and non-religious worldviews too. Your Agreed Syllabus will detail the amount of time given to RE (despite how many senior leaderships will try to merge it with PSHE or do drop-down days) so make sure your pupils are getting what they are entitled to.

In a C of E school, you will have a Diocesan syllabus to follow.

With the current Ofsted framework, it will be useful for you to think about your curriculum plans with the 3 Is in mind.

Intent– what’s the purpose of learning in the topics and why are they learning it?

Implementation– how does the planning and teaching meet the curriculum aims? How do you assess this?

Impact– how can you see that learning has taken place? A rich, systematic, and coherent curriculum will have a positive impact on the children in your care.

Not alone: Engaging with support

The best thing about leading RE is the wealth of support out there.

NATRE (National Association for Teachers of RE) is a great place to start. There are a range of packages to choose from in terms of membership with books and magazines delivered termly, and there are a whole load of downloadable resources to find there. There are some great ideas about assessment there too (I haven’t gone there in this blog as assessment is so varied from school to school. You need to find the way that works best for you, in line with the school’s system.)

NATRE also believes in the importance of networking and almost 300 local groups are meeting across the country. Check out this page to find a local group or connect with your regional ambassador.

Culham St Gabriel’s provide lots of excellent support in terms of developing your leadership and subject knowledge skills. You’ll also find super resources, blogs, and interactive support on their RE Online site.

RE Quality Mark There is a fabulous audit for your department on their site so you can think carefully about what you offer and how learning is effective in your school. I recommend going for the award once you’re settled into leading your department.

Ready for anything: A checklist

There will be plenty of time to gather all the things together in your subject leader file. I’ve been leading RE for 19 years now and still haven’t got everything complete! Don’t feel that you have to have everything ready for September, but there’s a great list here which you may find useful: https://www.reonline.org.uk/leading-re/a-practical-checklist/

There’s so much I could cover, but for now, I want to wish you all the best with your RE leadership journey. I am sure you’ll find many passionate people in the RE community who are cheering you on and want to support you.

Sarah Payne subject leader for RE and PSHCE at Woodland Middle School and the South Central Regional Ambassador. @SPayneRE

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How To Create Your Own Local RE Group

“If you want to go fast go alone, if you want to go far go together– African proverb

Networking is integral to our vision and to our growth. YorkshiR.E was born out of the desire to learn and grow from individuals who I knew were better and more experienced than me. I firmly believe that this purpose of the group was what ignited the flame that inspired me to pursue it. We have been very fortunate to attract the attention of RE enthusiasts from all over the UK. As a result, we feel privileged to have been asked to provide some guidance on how to develop your own local groups.

Clear vision:

Peter Drucker explains clearly that “culture eats strategy for breakfast” establishing the right culture to your group is a vital starting point before going any further. If strategy is the road then, then culture is the engine in the car that gets you there. There are three questions when vision setting for any project which helps give clear and concise direction.

What do we want to achieve?

Why do we want to achieve it?

How are we going to do it?

Strategy:

When leading a local group and developing a strategy for growth, humility has to be at the forefront. It’s not about who’s right, it’s about getting it right. YorkshiR.E is affiliated with NATRE as a result we found that utilising the expertise of NATRE was critical to our decision making. Recognising expertise and talents around you is a key skill to have in order to apply those skills to the relevant areas and watch the project fly.

We identified that marketing was key, fortunately, NATRE already had templates that can be used and are professional. We recognised particularly during lockdown that social media was going to be a useful tool in promoting the group. We had worked together to create an agenda publish it and share it on as many social media areas as possible. Linkedin, Twitter, and of course SAVE RE on Facebook. We also utilised the further contacts that NATRE had, which we didn’t have and this also saw the group grow.

Communication:

Communication is a key area that determines the successes and failures of a group. It was very tempting to stick to emails and continue playing email ping pong but as our group continued to grow from having an expectation of around 5-10 enthusiasts join to 64 signing up. Clear communication is what has helped the group grow. Using zoom meetings has saved time and stress when communicating and during the communication, it is vital that you allow any member of that meeting to be as vulnerable as they need to be. Simon Sinek speaks of how allowing people to show their vulnerabilities leads to progress as it addresses the concerns swiftly and appropriately. When we had a meeting of 64 to organise. There were some moments where we had to be open and honest about some of the obstacles we faced. However, each member of the team allowed each other to be open and become solution-focused through effective questioning and listening.

Emotional intelligence:

Daniel Goleman outlines 4 areas there are to emotional intelligence. Self-awareness, self-management, social awareness and relationship management. On this occasion, I’m going to focus on social awareness. It is important to know what your group wants for the meetings you provide. We put together online surveys that enable our enthusiasts to feedback on what they liked about our meetings, areas of development, and areas they would like to address in future meetings. This isn’t always easy but necessary for the growth of your group as you are then making a conscious effort to evolve.

Mistakes are learnings:

There is so much research available currently that suggests that we learn the most through mistakes. This is far from easy to put into practice but you must be willing to make mistakes. This is one of the things I told myself before starting. In order to learn and grow am I willing to make mistakes and on occasion have them pointed out? My answer was yes as I felt the benefits of pursuing this outweighs the risk of making a mistake. I know that running a local group and networking has made me a better practitioner. I acknowledge that there will be attendees that are better and a lot more experienced than me. The best part is, is that it’s not just me learning from our best talent, it’s everyone else too!

If you want more information on local groups, please click here.

Ashish Kundi is Head of RE and PSHE at Bridlington School and Leader of YorkshiR.E @ashish_kund

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Getting the most out of visits to places of worship- KS1 & KS2

As an RE teacher, I love visiting places of worship but what I enjoy even more is taking the children that I teach to them. A visit to a place of worship can be a rich experience that sits at the heart of good RE: challenging, inspiring, and thought provoking-a feast for the senses and an event full of enjoyment that can be the springboard for so much rich learning. Having experienced intense, anti-religious sentiments from some parents, it made me even more determined to ensure that colleagues were supported in planning and delivering these rich experiences that help tackle fear and misunderstanding. Even the youngest of our pupils can get so much out of a visit to a sacred space and the effort that you put in is well worth the gains. Here are some ways of getting the most of your visit to a place of worship:

Plan ahead Look at your long and medium-term plan and identify the best units of work for using a visit to support the learning. It should be part of a carefully planned sequence of learning with opportunities for reflection and response to the ‘hands-on’ experience that a visit brings.

Focus Ensure your visit has a clear focus. In the same way that we treat other visits linked to subject areas or topics, we should ensure that the visit has a clear focus on what you intend the pupils to get out of it. This focus will also be different for each year group to ensure progression and linking to that all-important medium-term plan.

Preparation Prepare the children for the visit. Posing and eliciting some questions prior to the visit will hopefully inspire the children to visit with an open and questioning mind. Pupils will get more out of the visit if they know what it is they are looking for and hoping to learn about. It will also give them a chance to come up with more meaningful and relevant questions while they are there.

Support Ensure all adults who will be accompanying you know what the focus of the visit is and have some key background information on the faith that is being explored. Places of worship often have suggested dress codes so ensure the staff are aware of these to save any embarrassment on the day. As ratios are higher with Key Stage 1 and early years, it is often common practice to borrow teaching assistants from other year groups or to enlist the support of parent helpers; if they know what the focus of the visit is, then they can help support learning more effectively.

Build on the new links you have made or the existing links you have strengthened with local faith communities. They are a wealth of help and support when teaching RE. Places of worship come alive when used and faith members are usually more than happy to share their own experience of their lived faith and how they practice what they believe. Use this opportunity to invite them to school to continue what you started on the visit.

Revisit-Whenever it fits into your long and medium-term plan, take the opportunity to revisit and build on the learning. Children need this to ensure new learning sticks and to begin to make those all-important links! The most powerful thing I have witnessed in school is when a  faith member became a regular at school-whether through their visits to the school or through visits the children had made to their place of worship that year or in the previous year.  It helped the children to see that faith and faith member as not ‘other, but as just another friend and part of their community who they could have an open dialogue with and learn from one another.

Visits done well will keep building on the children’s understanding of the range of faiths and cultures that compromise our society and how they, and themselves, fit within it. See them as an integral part of good RE and an essential way of breaking down some of the barriers that exist within our communities. By removing the unknown and making them welcoming and accessible not separate and ‘other’.

Visit the NATRE website for relevant resources:

https://www.natre.org.uk/resources/team-mosque/

http://www.natre.org.uk/resources/our-team-model-church-pp-14-16/ 

Julie Childs, Primary teacher and RE, SMSC, PSHE, and RSE lead at Utterby Primary Academy, Lincolnshire, and Regional ambassador for East Midlands. @JulieChilds12

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The Baby in the Bathwater… Rejuvenating a primary Religion and Worldviews curriculum

I have come to think of our RE curriculum as my “baby”, something our team has nurtured. But lately, maybe that baby has been splashing about in a bath cluttered with far too many pointless plastic toys. Bear with me with this metaphor…

First, a little bit of context. I am a HLTA and I’ve been leading RE at our three-form entry Primary for about 10 years. Our Head Teacher took RE seriously, she took our HLTA subject development seriously and, perhaps most empowering, she takes me seriously (many HLTAs will understand the importance of being taken seriously). Before we took over RE as a PPA cover subject, our team were lucky enough to have three days of training with Mary Myatt on how to use the Suffolk Agreed syllabus to plan our curriculum and what good RE should look like. (Three days with Mary Myatt, these are the things RE dreams are made of right?)

This stood our team in good stead to throw out the dull worksheets and start from scratch with our curriculum planning. Not for us, an off-the-peg scheme, it was important that this was something we developed and planned from the bedrock. We built a curriculum with strong foundations, with a focus on Mary’s message that a great curriculum can be difficult and beautiful. As an RI school things were tough, as a new subject team, things were tough. We made mistakes along the way, but, through CPD, network engagement and connecting with faith groups in development projects, we grew in subject knowledge and classroom confidence. Once established, we used the REQM criteria

http://www.reqm.org/achieving-the-award/how-to-apply to build a three year plan of improvement. In 2016 we earned the Gold REQM. We are a cracking team and we have worked hard to ensure what happens in our RE lessons is high quality.

Hard slog. So why, given how good we knew our curriculum to be, bother with a rewrite? Maybe because what was considered best practice 10 years ago, is not now visionary enough. Times change, maybe more so in a subject where we are reflecting on the people and society around us, a society whose worldviews are in a constant state of flux (just think how your worldview has been influenced by recent events). This is a problem I have seen in a number of schools, where effort may have been put in to initial curriculum development, but nothing has been looked at since, nothing updated, nothing developed and the plans have been passed on like Chinese Whispers, until the deliverer of a “scheme” has no background knowledge or investment in the learning.

The more I developed my subject knowledge, and witnessed the opportunities others were offering in their lessons (not just RE), the more I questioned the why of what I was teaching. Over the last few years I have been asking myself, and my team, a lot of questions about our RE curriculum. We began with moving away from the old “learning from” AT2 with a greater emphasis on philosophical questioning. We considered the recommendations of the CoRE report – the name change to Religion and Worldviews, appealed to our team and our learners. I know there is much debate on “what’s in a name?”, but for us, moving from the verb “religious” to the noun form “religion” is transformative. One thing I have always been sure of (but perhaps parents misconceive): we are NOT teaching children how to be religious.

I love edutwitter – in it I find nuggets of wisdom and debate that encapsulate my sometimes incoherent thoughts, I bookmark a lot of things, then go away and dig deeper until things crystalise in my mind. This tweet from Christine Counsell, last year, spoke to my perfect curriculum-seeking self. There is no goal – continuing renewal and ownership drives our development.

twitter post

Ben Arscott in Impact journal in 2018 https://impact.chartered.college/article/designing-a-secular-religious-studies-curriculum/

“The  review  process should  be constant, although  it is helpful to have periodical formal reviews  with the whole department and  outsiders. During these reviews,  it is crucial to remember that no  curriculum is perfect and time is severely  limited.”

While taking part in a Leading Active Learning research project 4 years ago, I developed an embarrassingly ham-fisted approach to disciplinary teaching in our RE curriculum. In an effort to improve our learners’ religious literacy, I introduced “Pupils as Theologians”. This was successful on a small scale, but the more I dug, the more I realised this wasn’t enough, perhaps I was still too inward looking at our own school, too bound to the curriculum “baby” our team had developed, I was only tweaking the edges without being truly informed, I suspected it was actually time for what Matthew Lane calls a “curriculum revolution” https://www.reonline.org.uk/blog/how-i-brought-about-a-curriculum-revolution-in-re-matthew-lane/.

I secretly knew, it was time to drain the bath and begin to dispose of the mouldy toys.

When I took on the NATRE East Anglia Regional Ambassador role just over a year ago, I had a telephone call with Kathryn Wright, and when she told me about the Multidisciplinary approach Norfolk were implementing in their Syllabus I knew this was what I’d been looking for. RE or RW has been craving discipline, I felt our learning was ill-disciplined and the clarity of this approach was inspiring. How might this approach provide learning parameters for our ill-disciplined “baby”?

I went on to read what I could about the approach, including  Gillian Georgiou’s Impact Article on Balance RE https://impact.chartered.college/article/balanced-re-thoughts-re-curriculum-design/

The approach was developed by RE advisers Jane Chipperton, Gillian Georgiou, Olivia Seymour and Kathryn Wright.

https://www.lincolndiocesaneducation.com/page/?title=RE+Resources+%26amp%3B+balancedRE&pid=32

At last year’s AREIAC conference, I heard Ben Wood and Richard Kueh speak about the approach. This was it, the knowledge-rich, disciplinary plurality of thinking I was looking for. You can read Richard’s take in RE Today (Autumn 2019). Adam Smith’s blog is an interesting reflection, https://mrsmithre.home.blog/2019/10/06/disciplinary-knowledge-and-re-an-attempt-at-professional-wrestling/

As the bathwater drained, I saw beyond the bubbles and steam. Even before the whole curriculum rewrite, our learners were ready this year to be introduced, right from year 2, to the disciplinary concepts of Theology, Philosophy, and Social sciences. We began with the etymology and built up our ideas of the skill sets involved along with categorising our growing knowledge. Finally, we felt clarity, the steam was beginning to clear.

I began plugging multidisciplinary while working with our Trust RE leads on a Trust-wide curriculum rationale, encouraging our RE leads to use the RE Online: Religion and Worldviews in a broad and balanced curriculum, A practical tool. https://www.reonline.org.uk/leading-re/re-in-a-broad-and-balanced-curriculum-a-practical-tool/ . when considering their curriculum choices.

All the while waiting, with bated breath, for the Norfolk Syllabus to be released. I’m an RE geek, what can I say?

When it finally arrived, I was excited to begin working with our team to tailor the approach of the new syllabus into a curriculum specific to our setting. We’re an academy, we can choose our curriculum – lucky us! But those of you bound by your Locally Agreed Syllabus can still consider a multidisciplinary approach in your planning, you may be bound legally by content, but not by pedagogy. The Norfolk Syllabus is great way to start thinking about this approach https://www.schools.norfolk.gov.uk/School-management/SACRE/index.htm .

Our new curriculum has been a year in the design, the last few weeks in lockdown have given our team unprecedented time to construct, plan and resource a challenging, disciplinary-focused primary Curriculum. We’re good to go from September. As always, we will be continually reviewing our curriculum, not just because it’s a process I can’t get enough of, but because ongoing rejuvenation of our practise is the only way we can ensure continuing quality. In truth, our curriculum possibly had well considered content, we just didn’t have a clear focus for the skill set. We were ill-disciplined. It was always our baby – a curriculum content with value – it needed to get out of the bath and get dressed, ambitiously, for the occasion.

 

Written by Katie Gooch, regional ambassador for East Anglia  Follow Katie on twitter at @goochkt

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RE and Thinking skills

RE and Thinking skills

I have loved thinking skills throughout my teaching career, I love trying new ones, and adapting trusted ones, I think this is because as a RE teacher these skills are definitely needed to do our subject justice.

Thinking skills can be categorised as an activity that helps to develop logical reasoning to solve any problems or tasks. However, critical thinking helps the learner to develop the evaluative, judgmental, monitoring, and appraisal thinking capacity to solve the problems, in RE, I am much more interested in critical thinking skills.

“Critical thinking – the ability to think clearly and rationally about what to do or what to believe – is an essential skill.” Jonathan Sharples

“In education, critical thinking is not a new concept: at the beginning of the last century, Dewey identified the need to help students to ‘think well’ (Dewey, 1910). Critical thinking encompasses a broad set of skills and dispositions, including cognitive skills (e.g. analysis, inference and self-regulation); approaches to specific questions or problems (e.g. orderliness, diligence and reasonableness); and approaches to life in general (e.g. inquisitiveness, concern with being well informed, and open-mindedness) (Facione, 1990). An increasing body of evidence highlights the benefits of developing critical thinking skills, in terms of academic outcomes as well as wider reasoning and problem-solving capabilities.” (Higgins et al., 2016).

Understanding the beliefs of others, as well as pupils own beliefs is almost impossible to do without being proficient in critical thinking skills in RE, they are part of our DNA as a teacher. Pupils learn so much more in a topic if they have had to process information using these activities not just learning and writing about them.

Having set the scene, this week my three favourite critical thinking skills in RE are:

Dart board tasks – I was first taught this one by Lat Blaylock over 20 years ago, but I still use it all the time across all age ranges from EYFS – KS5. It is more flexible than a diamond nine or pyramid task, it is visual and can help pupils with key concepts or ideas within and between religions and Worldviews.

I recently created one for secondary pupils looking at quotations from religious leaders and holy books on ecology. I asked pupils in year 9 to place the quote they thought was the most important on the bullseye and then place a quotation on each concentric circle going out from the bullseye (there were 5 on my dartboard).

Students should work in groups always when doing this task, in groups of 3 pupils or 5’s – odd numbers help to make decisions more quickly, helping the group to decide where to place their top 5 quotes and why. Then you ask groups to justify their positions to their peers, challenging and building upon different groups ideas. This thinking skill builds analysis, inference, orderliness, reasonableness, and open-mindedness.

Giving more cards to a group makes the task more complex, less cards easier.

Same, similar or different task – a Venn diagrams with 3 circles – as old as anything! A year 6 task I set recently was to look at what was different about 3 religious leaders (An Iman, A Christian Priest, A Hindu Priest), then what did they all share, and finally what do two share that the other one doesn’t – this is the challenging part of this skill, and pupils often struggle as it does involve real thinking and often extra research to discover the answers. A great task for KS2 and KS3 in RE. This thinking skill builds analysis, diligence, orderliness, reasonableness, inquisitiveness, and open-mindedness.

Finally, something new – I try and create a total new thinking skills game each year! My latest is a game I have called ‘patchwork thinking’, and so far, I have used for KS1,2 3 & 4! It gives pupils a blank patchwork quilt and a number of cards with quotes, symbols, pictures or keywords on them and asks pupils in table groups to fill in the quilt. The easier version of the game says to put a card down to need to be able to say a link to any other card it touches horizontally or vertically. The harder version asks pupils to do that as well as vertically. This thinking skill builds analysis, orderliness, reasonableness, appraise, and evaluation.

 

(KS2 pupils playing patchwork thinking game)

So why not think about how you could bring more of these key skills into your RE lessons, they may make your class complain about their head aching, but the reward they will feel as they create big pictures of the learning, make links between ideas and concepts collaboratively will have them asking for another one!

Claire Clinton, RE ambassador for London @Claireclinton67

 

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Let’s talk curriculum planning, online learning and quarantine.

As I sit at my makeshift desk at home, I could not have imagined a month ago that we would be in the middle of a pandemic and thinking about the restrictions and changes to our everyday lives.  Being a teacher means something very different this week than it did a month ago and yet some key things have not changed.  We still want the very best for our school community and want to enrich the lives of our pupils as best we can.   Ordinarily we would be teaching classes full of pupils, and through the resources we have and the experiences we offer enabling them to explore the wider world, exploring religions and worldviews, engaging with sacred text,  asking big questions about life, the universe and everything.

Yet in the midst of these strange times, Religious Education is as important as ever. Someone said to me last week, we are living in a chapter of the history books.  Perhaps we are living in a chapter of the RE books too.

Places of worship are closed, something I certainly never envisaged happening in my lifetime.  How people connect with others, engage in the world around them and how different communities worship is adapting and changing in the context of these strange times.  People are unconnected physically but exploring what it means to be connected virtually.

The many images and stories are a great opportunity for us to highlight the diversity of practice within religions and worldviews for our pupils and move beyond ‘textbook RE’

In the RE classroom, we can help our pupils both now and when things return to ‘normal’ navigate the big questions that arise in times like this and explore the responses.

Whether you are curriculum planning, still in school supporting key workers, or struggling to think of what we should be doing, firstly be kind to yourself.  Your wellbeing and that of your family is the most important thing. Then I hope this sample of ideas might help you:

For your own professional development:

Teach RE have launched a fabulous free self-study module for all those planning to teach, or already teaching religion and worldviews (RE) in schools. https://www.teachre.co.uk/teach-re-course/teachre-free-self-study-module/

Explore research in RE https://researchforre.reonline.org.uk/

Take time to read and reflect:  Reforming RE by Mark Chater has chapters from different voices in the world of RE looking at change in our subject.  https://www.johncattbookshop.com/reforming-religious-education

Listen to some podcasts:  https://www.religiousstudiesproject.com/2019/06/18/discourse-8-june-2019/

https://thepanpsycast.com/

Focus on developing your own subject knowledge: https://www.reonline.org.uk/

https://global.oup.com/academic/content/series/v/very-short-introductions-vsi/?cc=gb&lang=en&

Curriculum planning:

I know many will want to use any time available to plan ahead and think about next year.  Curriculum conversations have very much been at the heart of our work this year.  Here are some resources to help you reflect on creating a meaningful RE curriculum and being able to tell the story of the learning journey your pupils go on in RE.

RE in a broad and balanced curriculum: A broad and balanced tool: https://www.reonline.org.uk/leading-re/re-in-a-broad-and-balanced-curriculum-a-practical-tool/

Intent, Implementation, Impact: https://www.natre.org.uk/uploads/Member%20Resources/RE%20Today%20Resources/RE%20today%20magazine/autumn%202019/Ofsted%20new%20framework%202019-UPDATED.pdf

Online learning:

RE Today is supporting NATRE by providing resources which you can use and share with parents to support home learning. https://www.natre.org.uk/about-natre/free-resources-for-you-and-your-pupils/

New, free BBC Bitesize RE content for Key Stage 3 designed for pupils to use themselves: There are 22 new short films with accompanying information and activities https://www.bbc.co.uk/bitesize/subjects/zh3rkqt

REOnline have produced some home learning resources for RE https://www.reonline.org.uk/supporting-re/

Explore the sacred texts of the world’s great faiths : https://www.bl.uk/sacred-texts

Written by Olivia Seymour, Regional ambassador for the North East.  Follow Olivia on twitter at @Ollyseymour 

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10 steps to increase the presence of RE in your school

With RE curriculum time being squeezed in many schools, coupled with financial restraints, we as RE teachers must be increasingly intentional towards raising the profile of RE in our schools! Here are some top tips on how to increase the presence and gravitas of RE in your school, getting the much deserved attention our beloved subject needs.

  1. Start with the pupils – Enable those who are passionate to support the subject by being ‘part’ of the RE department, e.g. pupil voice forums, contributing ideas to meetings, help with organising visitors, trips, displays or starting a Youth SACRE. Our colleagues over at RE Online have published a great blog on starting a youth SACRE which can hopefully give you some inspiration. You can also encourage ex-pupils who have taken RS related degrees at University to come back and speak to pupils about the merits of RE; sometimes its better coming from them, and enables open discussion encouraged by familiarity.
  2. Find support and partnerships – There are so many high-quality courses to support RE teacher, both paid and unpaid. Additionally, you can make contact with a local NATRE group, schools in your local area or region and Universities to develop links.  There are many different ways of developing your own subject knowledge through amazing websites such as Teach RE.
  3. All pupils have an entitlement to RE – Find out about the legal requirements for compulsory for all pupils in state funded schools, including academies. It is also worth making your SLT and governors aware that RE is being scrutinised more under the new Ofsted framework; there are over 101 comments on RE from recent inspections, available for you to read.
  4. Obtain funding – Do you have limited time or money to deliver the RE you want to? There are many different sources of funding for resources that RE teachers are unaware of. This is an exciting and detailed topic, which we have discussed on Teachers Talk before. Have another read if you’re looking to boost your RE budgets.
  5. Complete a 360 review of the dept – The RE Quality Mark is one way of completing a 360 review of your RE department. To obtain the mark, your schools’ pupils fill in questionnaires.  This could lead to changing schemes of work, developing pupils’ religious literacy skills, using more stories, encouraging deep learning and giving choice in homework/creative projects.
  6. Emphasise how RE is relevant to the job market and the life-skills it provides. Projects such as the “Case studies” from RE Online will assist you to emphasise the academic rigour of the course, especially the careers it relates too.
  7. Have a display of past success – Utilise public areas in your school to showcase pictures from RE trips, visits and quotes from current pupils and ex-pupils about the Universities they went to and the diversity of academic subjects they read. Case studies and success examples  help individuals understand and materialise their potential.
  8. Change hearts and minds. Explain to pupils what potential they have in the course and celebrate recent achievements. Speaking to parents, as well as sending emails and letters and a simple phone call can help challenge misconceptions of the subject. If you really want to open people’s hearts to RE, why not invite parents and governors on trips to see the fantastic knowledge and cultural capital that RE delivers?
  9. Develop cross curricular links with other subjects – RE makes a significant contribution to SMSC, PSD and other subjects “… we know that a rigorous religious education acts as a Rosetta Stone between different subjects: unlocking our ability to make links and understand the great advances in science, politics, commerce, the arts and history.” Nick Gibb (Minister of State -2012). For schools with limited resources, time or budget provisioned for RE, combining Religious Education with cross-curricular activities can open new doors.
  10. Use media to help promote the status of RE. Podcasts, websites and networking with other RE teachers will help to support one another as a community to help ‘Save RE’!  Twitter is a great source of CPD with many RE teachers sharing advice, resources and ideas online. You could enter competitions, for essays or Spirited Arts, or complete an activity in Interfaith Week and invite the local press in. Not only does this grow your school’s presence in the community, it paints the school in a good light and increases the reputation, which every head and School Business manager will appreciate!

Written by Chris Giles, Regional ambassador for West Midlands.  Follow Chris’ schools RE department on twitter at www.twitter.com/sbhsrs or his individual twitter at www.twitter.com/chris_giles_

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No Time for Global Learning!

Two years ago, I was fortunate to be able to complete a Farmington’s Scholarship with this very title. It came from leading a Global Learning Expert Centre at my primary school where I was providing CPD for a network of 24 schools. Attendees loved the idea of Global Learning in principal but struggled to find a way to include it in their curriculum. My Farmington’s developed resources which created opportunities for Global Learning within RE provision. This blog is my thoughts for how you can assist with developing children to be more active and globally aware in RE.

Firstly, look at the Global Learning Skills. Oxfam list these as;

  • Critical and creative thinking
  • Empathy
  • Self-awareness and reflection
  • Communication
  • Co-operation and conflict resolution
  • Ability to manage complexity and uncertainty
  • Informed and reflective action

I then use these skills when designing schemes of work, aiming to include activities which develop these skills and explaining to the children which Global Learning Skill we are developing today. Taking one of these areas to give you some examples on “managing complexity and uncertainty” the sort of opportunities for learning I would facilitate may include;

  • P4C on Heaven and Hell or role of prayer, exploring own views, views of peers and compare with faith beliefs

 

  • Consider how throughout history people have maintained their faith through times of uncertainty, e.g. genocide, Holocaust, migration, if your life changed suddenly what would you want to keep

 

  • Respond to RE related news events including controversial issues, giving children space to reflect, find out what happened and compare views, answering questions honestly showing age appropriate awareness

 

  • Discuss Extremism, Anti-Semitism and Islamophobia, what may have led people to have extreme views and what can we do about it if we encounter prejudice today

At the start of a session, when explaining the intent, I would explain which skill we are including today. Ask the children why it is an important Global Learning Skill and how I am going to be awarding team points for those who demonstrate empathy / communication / co-operation etc. There can then be time to feedback on how they have used those skills at the end of the lesson.

 

Some tips for thinking globally in RE

  • Develop sustained links with your faith visitors booking them on a regular basis so children can link aspects of faith with a believer they have met. Using questions link “How do you think …. would answer your query?” makes it more relevant and develops respect and empathy. Remember to promote diversity, “Some Christians may believe……but other Christians may say …….” Build in age appropriate technical terms.

 

  • Developing questioning techniques with progressive expectations, give children clues but ask them to develop the question and enquiry, make them the detectives, learn about different sorts of questions and how to design them. With younger children ask them to “I wonder……?” when looking at a religious photograph.

 

  • Look at the wider world not just RE in your own locality. Look at places of worship around the world, photographs of worshippers in a variety of communities, how is the same festival celebrated in different or similar ways.

 

  • Whole school approaches which promote Global Learning themes like One World Weeks to raise profile of Global Learning, don’t just teach about different countries, include recent issues and key themes.

 

  • Use Philosophy for Children as a regular method for enquiry-based learning, you are developing children as critical thinkers, listeners who value and learn from each other developing respect and an acknowledgement that you can change your opinions. Use a belief line as a warmup strategy and revisit at the end to see how opinions may have changed.

 

  • Use pictorial charts to remind children about Global Learning, refer to the Global Development Goals use a Global Dimension or Religious Calendar as a wall chart in the classroom for children to keep an eye on key religious events around the world. Purchase RE resources from around the world and look at the packages they arrive in with the class. Map where the artefact came from and its journey to the UK.

 

  • Push your international partnerships to more than just being pen pals with a display of smiling faces on the wall. Meet face to face, host pupil visits, ask meaningful questions and share RE projects with each other. If you don’t have an international school link, try Connecting Classrooms through the British Council.

 

  • Allow time for children to discuss topical events they may have seen on the news the evening before but don’t always respond to the issue straight away. It’s perfectly ok to say that you will come back to this in a day when you have found our more information. There may also be resources online by then from Newsround etc. Be controversial, take risks.

Other great resources to have a look at include UNICEF’s Rights Respecting Schools and Christian Aid’s Global Neighbours, Global Dimension, Think Global, Connecting Classrooms.

For me, Global Citizenship is all about engaging with the world and the belief that each of us can make a difference. RE lessons seem a great platform for this but a whole school approach is needed so get the rest of the staff on board as well. Share your passion about the world in which you live, if you want to make a difference, however great or small, your pupils will too.

Naomi Anstice National Ambassador for Religious Education Networks. @naomianstice

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Deeply dippy about the ‘deep dive?’

How are you all ensuring your department is deep dive ready?  This question seems to be on everyone’s lips at the moment so hopefully this is a guide to the deep dive.

So what is a ‘deep dive?’

The purpose of the deep dive is to assess the quality of education. A deep dive ‘involves gathering evidence on the curriculum intent, implementation and impact over a sample of subjects, topics or aspects. This is done in collaboration with leaders, teachers and pupils. The intent of the deep dive is to seek to interrogate and establish a coherent evidence base on quality of education.’(Ofsted: Inspecting the Curriculum’ p4)

Intent

What is your curriculum rationale? 

What is taught and why. Why is the subject of value? 

We spent time in the summer term thinking about why we teach our subject.  A further opportunity to debate the purpose of RE! What do we want from our learners when they leave our school?  Doing this as a team helped all teachers understand the rationale behind what we teach.   It was also important that we thought about our learners in our school context.  As a Humanities faculty we also came up with something that would unite us all in our aims and purpose of our subject.

We then thought about what it is we want from our learners in RS when they leave our school.

To have the time and space to have this dialogue enabled us as a school to really consider the value and importance of what we teach and why.  If you expect your students to retain what you’re conveying, you must also reveal to them why it matters.” Robert John Meehan

Implementation

So tell me about your curriculum?

What will I see in your lessons?

Many schools have spent time redesigning their KS3 curriculum, thinking very clearly about what fits where and why?  I have seen a number of ways in which subjects have shares their ‘curriculum journey’

See Michael Chiles’ Geography learning journey here…

We have produced simple, single sheet of A4 which mapped out the curriculum for 7, 8.9,10,11 so we can point out where knowledge was built upon across and between years and show links across subjects.  It can also show the increasing challenge of the assessment tasks.

For example year 9

Year 9 Topics Rationale Links
HT1 Science and the

Philosophy of religion

To address misconceptions that an Empiricist worldview is the only view to take and that Science has all the answers to everything!  This unit gives students an opportunity to engage in classic arguments to the existence of God, which will form a basic understanding for the A level Philosophy element.  It will also develop their ability to construct a logical argument. How do we know what we know? Philosophy, Science, History,

Proud strands (Respect and Achieve)

SMSC

 

The most important thing is to know your curriculum really well and how you have sequenced the content, be able to discuss how you are ensuring students are retaining knowledge and making progress. Ensure all staff know this too!

As a school, we have adopted Rosenshine’s principles to support our learning and teaching.

Deep dive feedback has also shown that inspectors are keen on ensuring that the school’s provision is good enough. Please see NATRE statement on the New Ofsted Framework 

Impact

What will I see in your books?

How would you measure the impact of your curriculum? What is the tangible effect of your curriculum? 

The feedback suggests that there will be no comments made on frequency or quality of marking so the emphasis is on how you will show progress in books.  Teacher feedback and DIRT tasks could evidence where misconceptions have been identified and progress is made.  Read ‘Progress without data – How it can be ‘shown’ & benefit the teacher in the process’

In one case books were not even looked at but the impact the subject had on the well-being and behaviour of the students was questioned.

In short

Curriculum thinking should be a regular professional dialogue between teachers and colleagues in schools. Wherever you are on your journey, these questions could stir your thinking. 

Bear in mind, “If you’re doing something because you think we want to see it and it does not benefit your pupils, then please, do not do it. Continue doing what you’re doing to give children the best, broad-based education possible and inspection will take care of itself. (Ofsted) 

Finally, if you want to read more, NATRE has been monitoring references to RE in both primary and secondary school Ofsted reports under the new framework.

Are you a NATRE member? Click the link, login and download ‘Understanding the new Ofsted framework in the RE classroom’ a document written to support teachers of RE, subject leaders and coordinators in all schools.  Not member? Join today.

Katherine France, Head of Faculty (RS, Citizenship, History, Geography and MFL) The Queen Katherine School, Kendal, NATRE RE Ambassador for the North @KathFrance1975

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Developing your subject knowledge

There is an old adage that you are never too old to learn. I am a passionate RE teacher at heart and love acquiring new information about people’s lives. Every week is a new opportunity in my 30-year career to learn more about my specialist subject ‘Religion and Worldviews’. This last week I had the pleasure of running a tour of five places of worship for faith leaders in Newham as it was Interfaith week. I knew that there would be lots of new learning for them, but I did wonder whether there would be any for me!

I shouldn’t have worried as there was. I found out that Buddhist monks and nuns are not allowed a mirror in their bedrooms. Now I have visited and spoken with many Buddhist monks and nuns over many years but didn’t know this fact. It makes sense if you are trying to not be attached to life here, looking in the mirror and concentrating on your outward appearance wouldn’t be helpful. I could see immediately using a covered mirror in a RE lesson, and asking pupils why a Buddhist might not look in a mirror? Great speculation task potentially, with the answer being able to be revealed.

On the tour we also visited St Mary’s Magdalene Church in East Ham which was built by the Cistercian Monks in the 12th century and I got to see original decorations painted on the walls of the church by the monks (simple and beautiful flowers) and again was awed at the fact that there has been a worshipping community on that site for over 900 years. Finally, I got to enjoy Langar at the Gurdwara we visited and a piece of Guru Nanak’s 550th birthday cake – which was along with the rest of the meal very yummy! Each visit built on my subject knowledge and got me to consider what was important to the lives of the people who come into these buildings to meditate or worship daily, and I beg you the experiences will have enhanced my knowledge and therefore my command of what I choose to teach.

It is essential for us as teachers that we continue to add to and develop our subject knowledge in RE – otherwise, I believe that we will short-change the pupils that we teach. Research tells us that when teachers are not confident in their RE subject knowledge they tend to keep to simple activities around retelling, right & wrong questions, and simple comprehension. These activities do not help pupils to really get the flavour of why people chose or choose to live in certain ways – we need to apply facts and information to 21st-century life, and ask pupils to analyse, compare and contrast their learning if RE is to be challenging and effective. Thankfully it seems Ofsted are starting to ask these types of questions in RE deep dives. I think as hard as this will be in the short term, in the long-term having conversations about education and having the expectation that teachers will do what our teaching standards say is positive.

‘Demonstrate good subject and curriculum knowledge, have a secure knowledge of the relevant subject(s) and curriculum areas, foster and maintain pupils’ interest in the subject, and address misunderstandings.’.

But where to start? Here are places I have found helpful:

I am reminded of the words of John F Kennedy “The greater our knowledge increases, the greater our ignorance unfolds.” Adding to our subject knowledge is a lifetime of work, but I hope you will agree with me that a passionate, knowledgeable teacher is always who I want to be taught by.

Written by Claire Clinton, RE advisor to Newham, Barking and Dagenham and NATRE RE ambassador for London @ClaireClinton67

 

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“I just can’t help putting my hand up – REvitalising my career”

Hands up if you’re one of those people who just can’t help putting your hand up. I am one of those people, I never realised it was a leadership quality until I found myself leading. When opportunities come along, I just can’t help thinking – “oooh – I wonder how our school can get involved.” So much so, that my long-suffering team now audibly groan when I begin a sentence, “I‘ve been thinking…” or “I’ve been reading…” or “I’ve been talking to…”. In short, I can be deeply annoying – I refuse to apologise, things wouldn’t get done if people like me didn’t insist on putting our hands up.

A decade ago, having left a potentially lucrative (but dull), career in law to be a full-time mum, I accidentally became a Higher-Level Teaching Assistant in a three-form entry Primary school in Ipswich. I accidentally became RE lead; accidentally, I took on RE research projects; accidentally, I worked with local faith groups to develop multi-faith reflective story scripts; accidentally, I completed middle leadership courses; ran CPD; spoke at conferences; supported other RE leads. Before I knew it, I’d been leading RE for eight years, and we’d accidentally earned the Gold REQM. Of course, none of these things were accidents – it’s that ‘can’t help putting your hand up’ thing again!

However, even doers can get in a rut. About eighteen months ago, I was considering leaving education altogether. I’m sure this is something every educator has gone through from time to time. I’d been so busy doing things that I began to feel I had outgrown my space when I became a HLTA I’d thought maybe I’d do teacher training eventually. But I didn’t fall in love with teaching, I fell in love with teaching primary RE. If I joined a teacher training programme, I knew the chances were I’d eventually leave RE behind. It seemed that there was nowhere else for my career to grow. I began looking for a new (non-education) career.

At this opportune moment, I was extremely lucky to receive an email from Jan McGuire. Jan was a classroom teacher, curriculum lead for RE (for over 20 years), County Education Adviser and REQM Assessor. Jan is currently the Association of Religious Education Inspectors, Advisers and Consultants (AREIAC) Executive Secretary, REvitalise project Manager and works as a SACRE Local Authority RE Adviser and Independent Education Adviser for RE/ SMSC/ Controversial Issues/ EHWB. Jan invited me to take part in the AREIAC REvitalise pilot. Despite not being entirely clear about what the program was, I jumped at the opportunity to do something different. Finally, all that impulsive putting my hand up for things had put me on someone else’s radar. Early on in our sessions together, Jan told me of a person who had influenced her RE career in singling her out and supporting her development. I wonder how many of us have benefitted from the informal support of another professional? The education system is so special because of the generous people who give their time to develop other adults as well as children.

I soon learned that REvitalise is a personalised mentoring program specifically designed for emerging RE Leaders. ARIEAC realised how hard it was for RE leaders to traverse the gap between classroom practitioner and Adviser, what Richard Kueh calls, ‘professional hybrids’. Teacher agency beyond the classroom is vital in developing the RE visionaries of the future. Through the AREIAC and Culham St Gabriel’s funded project, Jan led a team of established RE Advisers and Consultants who mentored emerging RE leaders across the country. It wasn’t long before I realised just how lucky I was to be included.

Things began to change rapidly. Through Jan’s introduction, I became the Suffolk SACRE HLTA representative, immediately introducing me to another level of opportunities and contacts within the county. Through the mentoring sessions, Jan helped me to recognise my strengths and gave me the impetus and confidence to move forward, her project-writing support helped me structure my vision for multi-school development and express it in a way that caught the attention of our trust board. Jan’s encouragement led me to push our trust board to consider RE development as a priority, the board allocated funding for this development. The work we have been doing as a MAT of 21 primary and secondary schools over the last 18 months, is impacting thousands of children’s learning across Suffolk and Cambridgeshire. It is also vital in supporting and developing RE leads and Head Teachers who no longer have access to Local Authority RE Advisers, even if we weren’t an Academy, these employed Advisers no longer exist in our area- this leaves a huge gap in access to expertise.

My personal growth and opportunities broadened. Without REvitalise mentoring support, I would never have been ready to apply for the post of NATRE East Anglian Regional Ambassador. Another role that, alongside working in school, has opened up so many new contacts and opportunities. I am reaching out to and connecting, hundreds of RE colleagues across our region, many of whom are, like me, the ones who just can’t help raising their hands when the next opportunity comes along. I see part of my role is to support the growth and potential in others, I’ve had a truly inspirational mentor in Jan McGuire- it’s time to pay it forward.

AREIAC, remains committed to developing the next leaders, change-makers, and champions of RE, and act as the conduit between the wider RE world and the classroom. AREIAC are looking to support the next RE leaders on their journey of development; using their AREIAC members’ academic expertise and specialisms and immense experience gathered in the RE classroom and through teaching the teachers of RE.

Could you be the next RE leader to join the programme?

To find out more about ARIEAC please visit: www.areiac.org.uk/

Written by Katie Gooch, Suffolk SACRE HLTA representative and NATRE RE ambassador for East Anglia @goochkt

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Teaching World Views in RE; Humanism

As an RE teacher and someone who would describe themselves as religious, I like the feeling of being part of a community where you share the same belief… God; and that treating others with love and respect is an important part of life and living amongst other people from all walks of life, just as a revered person of a religion teaches, namely for me Jesus.

The main reason I became a teacher of RE, wasn’t because I was religious in any way, nor was it to encourage others to be religious (as that would be going against my role as a teacher of young minds!). The real reason was that I wanted young people to acknowledge and understand the different religions, we come into contact within our daily lives and the cultures that underpin them, of which so many we have embraced today in our modern society.

The one area I would never have thought to be so in awe of though would have been the world view of Humanism.

As a secondary school teacher, Humanism has now become part of the RE curriculum in recent times due to the Commission on Religious Education (CoRE)  and also taught within GCSE specification, therefore I needed to teach myself about this world view and what exactly it all meant in order to relay this to my students.

Humanism, for those who are unfamiliar to it, describes itself as a world view with a focus on scientific explanations of how the world began. The focus is to ensure the happiness of all human beings and to treat others with empathy and respect.  Humanism sounds a lot like religions that we have come to know, doesn’t it? But the main idea is that Humanists don’t believe in an eternal omnipotent being, but that they are unable to agree with the existence of God due to the lack of evidence.

After completing an online course a few years back, knowing that I would eventually have to teach this to my students I learnt that Humanists are just decent human beings who don’t need ‘God’ to give life meaning and purpose to their lives, and found it quite heart-warming to learn about.

My students quickly warmed to the ideas of Humanism, as we know so many of society today now describe themselves as either ‘non-religious’; ‘atheist’ or ‘lapsed’. So, for my students, they found Humanism a refreshing change without attaching themselves to an organised religion or those that were religious respected their practices based on their world view to be so similar to their own.

When teaching Humanism in the classroom I found the national charity Humanists UK provide great resources with teaching materials and connects you to Humanist celebrants in your area that were willing to deliver sessions to students. Hannah McKerchar was fabulous at delivering the different sessions to my GCSE students on how humanists celebrate life at a naming ceremony and funerals and the celebration of love with how marriages work for humanists. From her own personal stories as a humanist celebrant to allowing the students to create their own humanist ceremony. They have become memorable experiences that my students still remember to this day. Which to finish on is the best way we can teach RE and world views through experiential learning and be the memorable moments that our students keep long after their education to help them on their way in a world where religion and world views will always remain.

Key resources to support your teaching of Humanism:

Humanism Website

What is Humanism? How do we live without a god? And other big questions for kids by Michael Rosen 

Written by Suzanne Tomlinson, RE Teacher, Head of Faculty, ITT Co-ordinator and NATRE RE ambassador for the North East. Find out more about Suzanne on her Ambassador profile page.

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Religious Education and Special Needs

In this month’s blog I am going to reflect on the time I have spent with special needs teachers looking at RE and share some ideas they have for making RE for children with special needs a hugely important and enjoyable subject.

In Hampshire I have been facilitating RE and special needs networks for some years now. The group meets once a term and consists of teachers from mainstream and special schools. They also email each other when they can’t meet and share ideas and experiences with each other. The teachers come from right across Hampshire, Southampton and the Isle of Wight and the mix is very helpful because planning and learning for RE can be shared and adjusted based on the experience of the group. This type of format can be used in RE network groups anywhere, as every teacher will have children with special needs in their class. I have learnt the benefit of  taking 5 minutes in any network meeting to consider all the learning from the point of a child with special needs. As the number of children with special needs in mainstream schools is growing, many of you may face similar issues with planning and reaching those children who cannot always access lessons that easily.

In our Hampshire network, RE is based around concepts which form the key focus for teaching. Many syllabi in England have a similar approach and a clear focus, which is very important for special needs. Teachers have commented that real learning occurs when children begin by expressing their point of view or experience of a concept and then listening to the views of others, before learning about the concept from a religious or non-religious point of view. This is a very important approach, as many children with special needs are not always easily able to give their ideas or experiences, but if they can relate the learning to their own life they can often then go on to see the relevance in the learning from a religion. For example, during an RE unit on the concept of emotion in the Easter story a child with autism and attachment needs in my own class freely talked about his own feelings of sadness about being apart from his birth family. This was the only time in his 3 years at school that he had spoken about this in school. He went on to consider the concept in the Easter story with real insight and sensitivity. Other teachers in the group have similar stories. The subject itself and the freedom from writing and grammar outcomes (I appreciate these may well be picked up later in the lesson) can really help children with special needs express themselves in a profound, unique way.

Teachers say that the concepts that worked especially well in their RE were:

  • Belonging
  • Celebrating
  • Change
  • Precious
  • Remembering
  • Ritual
  • Specialness
  • Story
  • Symbol
  • Imagery

All of these are concepts that all children will have an experience of and therefore will be able to access the learning more easily. If teachers were using concepts that were far trickier in class, they went on to consider how to adjust their approach for those with special needs.

When planning RE, all the RE Managers identified the need to clarify the key learning for the children and to make it as interactive and sensory as possible. An example is through using sensory stories or puppets to narrate a story, rather than just reading from a book.

Successful learning always began with something based on the children’s own experiences and feelings.

This was identified by teachers as the key to the children’s understanding and without it, the rest of the information was not understood. The examples below from a School show the depth of the children’s thoughts on the concepts of Birth (made concrete by emphasising what happens on someone’s birthday) and Celebrating (again emphasising the actual experience of a celebration that the children have been too). This learning was then used to introduce learning about how Christians celebrate Jesus being born.

Another area the group commented upon was the importance of changing and adapting planning for children with special needs.

A special school shared an example of their Medium Term Planning for RE based on “Bread as a Symbol”. They changed their planning to meet the needs of their children by offering as many practical and sensory experiences as possible for the children to gain deeper understanding. For example, they made their own bread and considered how bread was used in their own families as well as acting out stories with bread in them. When they then considered how Jews used bread as a symbol, the learning was much more meaningful for them because of the practical actitvities used first.

Another special school was teaching about “Change in Christianity” and decided to adapt planning which told the story of Zacchaeus the Tax Collector (which they felt might be hard for some children to understand) to the gospel story about Jesus calming the storm because children would be able to actually experience stormy weather (recreated through water and sound activities and making boats to sail in different waters on trays in the classroom) and then see the contrast with calm weather.

When you next meet as an RE network group or take part in NATRE’s monthly twitter chat #REChatUK online, take a few minutes to consider what the subject might be like for a child with special needs – does the approach need adapting? Can you make the learning more practical and how can children record their thoughts (for example through signs, speech, drama or music)? It will really help all the children in your class enjoy the RE and learn through fun. Enjoy the discussions!

Written by Justine Ball, Regional Ambassador for the South East. Justine Ball also works for Hampshire County Council as a Primary RE Inspector and Advisor. Find out more about Justine on her Ambassador profile page. You can follow her on Twitter on @justineballRE.

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Where is the progression from KS2-KS3 in Religious Education?

How can secondary RE teachers know what they are building upon? How can they be sure they are not repeating or dumbing down?

One of the challenges for transition from Primary to Secondary RE is knowing how to build on what pupils already know. This could be because the RE content is too large and perhaps not specific enough. Consequently, we have a range of schools doing different RE at different levels of difficulty.

Mary Myatt in ‘Gallimaufry to Coherence’ references Tom Oates’ paper, ‘Could do better: Using international comparisons to refine the National Curriculum in England.’ The background research found that those countries and jurisdictions, which had the highest levels of pupil and student outcomes, are characterised by a clear rationale for what is taught and explicit content to be covered.  Again, there was an ambition to slim down curriculum content focussing on deeper learning with fewer topics pursues at greater depth.  The Commission on Religious Education offers similar guidance, ‘we need to move towards a deeper understanding of the complex, diverse and plural nature of worldviews at institutional and personal levels” (p6 Commission on Religious Education final report).

So is there some value in setting out a statutory National Entitlement for RE as The CORE report suggests? This would identify core knowledge, which all pupils across all schools would gain.  A non-statutory programme of study from Key Stage 1-4 would enable pupils to build up secure knowledge rather than just retain batches of knowledge without clear sequencing and progression. The Geography curriculum for example, has a clear age-related hierarchy of specific content. This allows teachers to have confidence in what they are teaching, with assessment built into the process.

Dillwyn Hunt at the recent Cumbria SACRE conference put forward the case of the Mastery approach to RE. This educational philosophy maintains that students must achieve a level of mastery in prerequisite knowledge before moving on to learn subsequent information. The mastery approach breaks subject matter and learning content into units with clearly specified objectives, which are tracked until they are achieved.  Learners must demonstrate a high-level of success before progressing on to the next unit. Rather than accelerated learning by moving on to new content, a student may be given extension –(or more things on the same topic).  The EEF (Education Endowment Foundation) indicates that mastery learning is effective, adding five-month progress but research is widely based upon Mathematics.  Dillwyn shared with the Cumbria SACRE conference a small prescriptive programme of study in Christianity and Islam for RE in KS1, 2, and 3. This programme would allow teachers across a teaching school, network or local education authority to compare the standard of work effectively because assessment should be explicit in what has been taught. Collectively, this  could give teachers confidence in knowing what they are delivering. However, what are the potential dangers of having a prescriptive programme of study from KS1-KS3?

Whilst we may wait for further update on the recommendation from the CORE report, how best can we show progression from KS2 to KS3? One way this may work is by communicating more effectively between primary and secondary colleagues.  The cross phase local network groups are a great way of seeing what is happening in primary and secondary schools in the area.  As a secondary teacher, I think I can often underestimate the challenging RE that goes on in Primary Schools. More talking please!

Written by Katherine France, North Regional Ambassador for NATRE’s RE in your Region project. Katherine is a Head of Faculty at The Queen Katherine School (11-18 school in Kendal, Cumbria.) Find out more about Katherine on her Ambassador profile page. You can follow her on Twitter on @KathFrance1975

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Using active learning to motivate disaffected students and their RE teachers

It’s the last half term of the year and we’re all exhausted. Some of you have had the added strains of exams this term,and motivating yourself to put extra effort into lessons seems like the last thing you ever want to do! Lessons become stale, report-writing takes over, behaviour goes awry, and we just can’t wait until the Summer break.

But in my experience, it’s here where we need to dig in. Students will thank you and even the most disaffected of RE teachers will enjoy teaching RE!

 

“Tell me, I’ll forget. Show me, I’ll remember. Involve me, I’ll understand.” Chinese proverb.

 

Much of our traditional schooling is based on an educational paradigm that has been around since the Industrial Revolution- the purpose of education was to prepare people for jobs on assembly lines. Here’s where the organised classroom was developed, where students sat and received their training from a skilled teacher. But times have changed in the last decades, and education has and must move on.

It is necessary for students to be involved in their learning, instead of having topics and concepts spoon-fed to them. I have found out that active learning benefits teachers and students. Active learning takes pupils from being passive recipients of knowledge to becoming active participants. It involves anything where students are doing things and thinking about what they are doing.

If we want excellent learning to take place (collaboration, motivation, emotionally intelligent, creative thinkers, students involved and participating, curious, questioning etc.) we need to ensure these processes can take place in our classrooms.

Think about your favourite lessons and experiences as a child. Some of our best memories will vividly recall scents, intense feelings, sights and sounds. Active RE lessons involving the senses can evoke memories in their learning; the bitter herbs at Pesach, the call to prayer being played, incense sticks being burned can bring a new dimension to their learning.

I have found that students remember best when they’ve had an experience. They may not remember everything about the festival of Rosh Hashanah, but my year 6s can tell me all about dipping apple into honey at Jewish New Year. They may never pilgrimage to a distant country, but year 8s can tell me how it felt to be dressed in Ihram, throwing stones (things that have upset them rolled up into little balls) at my makeshift devils. They may not pray to a God, but year 7s are able to explain how it feels to be forgiven when they put their Alka Seltzer tablets into the water and watched their ‘naughty thoughts’ bubble up and disappear.

Neuroscience has revealed that our brains are flexible. Brain plasticity means that our brains are physically altered by experiences as connections are made between neurones. These connections grow stronger if the experience is repeated- rather like paths through the woods: at first a new action or piece of knowledge is difficult to learn, as if you have to push your way through the undergrowth. Gradually, as you repeat the action or go over the knowledge, it becomes easier, until eventually the connection is so strong that you can perform the action or recall the information without effort. Active learning can thus be of huge benefit.

Active learning has become a vital element of our RE curriculum. Being creative in your RE teaching is not an easy ride, especially at this time of year, but boy does it pay off! My classroom has been turned into a Jewish synagogue, a Sikh Gurdwara and a Muslim Mosque. My school is predominantly white British, with less than 5% practising a faith. Seeing the faces of the pupils arriving at your classroom is priceless, and hearing that it was “the best lesson ever” as they leave, makes traipsing around the local markets and charity shops worth it.

There are many ways you can get creative in your lessons- art, drama, poetry and re-enactments are only some of the ways that the pupils choose to show their learning. They might perform modern day parables and psalms, write poems about sharing the world, create alternative endings to stories, make social media pages for characters they’ve studied, collaborate on news reels and film making, or spend time in stilling activities or guided meditations. We have held silent art galleries, had pilgrimages around the school, taken part in debates, created models from plasticine and shared karah prashad (a Sikh pudding distributed to the congregation). Candles are regularly lit for reflection times, music is played for atmosphere, and they have put stones into water to symbolise their sins being washed away.

By the way, while active learning can be busy and noisy, Susan Cain in her book, ‘Quiet’, points out that we must not forget the introverts in the classroom. Active learning does not have to include lots of talking but can also allow for reflection and thought. Indeed, research done shows that brainstorming does not produce as much creativity as individuals thinking for themselves.

When other teachers are complaining that they just can’t wait for the holidays as their students are unwilling to learn, be ready to keep your students’ attention and motivation because you’ve been willing to put effort in. I’d like to thank the Farmington Institute for giving me the time to research.

 

Written by Sarah Payne, South Central Regional Ambassador for NATRE’s RE in your Region project. Sarah is a teacher with 19 years’ experience, she leads teams teaching RE and PSHCE, as well as coordinating British Values, Pupil Premium and SMSC in previous roles. Find out more about Sarah on her Ambassador profile page. You can follow her on Twitter on @SPayneRE

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Breaking the timetable barrier – one way forward for primary RE?

One of the great joys of teaching RE and worldviews with primary pupils is its ability to  span so many areas of learning in the classroom and beyond. The subject doesn’t really fit in its own box without other curriculum areas coming into play. Quality RE must be using language and literacy in so many ways; reading, writing, discussion and expression. It must be digging into the history of beliefs and faiths, providing context and exploring tradition and change, embracing and discovering the geography of traditions and beliefs. It cannot avoid links with SMSC and PSHE, exploring religious and non-religious responses to moral questions and philosophical debates. Beautiful works of art, music and poetry must be explored to truly understand the beliefs and values of all worldviews being studied. The list could go on.

So why, when SLT talk of ‘cross-curricular’ RE opportunities and ‘thematic learning’ as important tools for time management and planning, do I feel concern as an RE Subject Leader? Well, I think there is always the risk of the RE being ‘lost’ in the mission to tick boxes. Learning about religions becomes too easy an opportunity for yet more writing in the primary classroom. Cross-curricular RE becomes an easy way to tick a coverage box for OFSTED, something some managers are now seeing is important under the new framework but avoid the time and depth needed to teach it well. Too often an RE/PSHE lesson contains no true RE learning outcomes.  Art activities using tessellating patterns in a prayer mat design or Hindu pots to learn about Diwali might tick the box for art this week, but offer nothing for learning about religious beliefs and actions.   The poetry writing session becomes entirely focussed around English objectives despite offering wonderful opportunities for discussion of belief and human experience.

The positive message is it that it doesn’t need to be like this. A great subject leader should encourage colleagues to embrace the many opportunities RE offers, to reduce time pressures and make links while covering all aspects of learning carefully and thoroughly. In many schools, teachers may not value RE in their timetable: very often due to a lack confidence in their subject knowledge. Perhaps then we must tackle a greater task first, before we can trust any quality RE can come from cross-curricular learning. We must inspire our team with the huge importance of the subject, grow their subject knowledge through quality CPD and resources and encourage them to access local networks for RE.

With a team focus on the importance and value of RE in the curriculum we can seek to flip the system to work in our favour –buying ourselves more time for RE through cross-curricular learning. Arguably, learning about religions and worldviews could connect with almost every other subject in the primary curriculum. Should we teach RE every day whilst we learn traditional stories from Islamic belief in our English sessions? Yes please! A whole week of RE based learning whilst we plan, prepare and write about our art work for this year’s Spirited Arts competition? Great! The discussion of ‘Big Ideas’ continues to excite and interest many of us in the world of RE.  Conceptual learning may be the way forward to really engage pupils in deeper thinking and lifelong knowledge and skills.  It really is a matter of genuinely thinking outside the box –the timetable box in particular. Can we box clever as teachers passionate about time for RE, use the infinite subject links to our advantage and lead the way with big ideas and concepts which hook children into real learning which is useful to them, the world and their future?

Written by Laura Harris, South West Regional Ambassador for NATRE’s RE in your Region project, LTLRE North Somerset Hub Leader and North Somerset SACRE member. Find out more about Laura on her Ambassador profile page. You can follow her on Twitter on @mrsharrisRE

You can also join her Regional Facebook Group here: RE in the South West

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Aspects of developing writing in RE

Mary Myatt, Esteemed Speaker, Educational Consultant and Author of The Curriculum said: ‘Good writing cannot be achieved without good thinking.’

Mary points out that writing can be a bit like ‘digging ditches’ – however, she also goes on to say that ‘the good news is that the writer’s knowledge of a topic is transformed as a result, converting private thoughts into words on a page’.

This certainly reflects my feelings about writing this blog piece. Thoughts and idea that have been mulling round in my head for weeks now need to be put together as coherent words – and it does feel like digging an enormous ditch and at the same time an important way of clarifying thinking.

What then does this mean for our pupils? How can we help them think deeply and then articulate their thinking into the complexity of language and words needed to express their knowledge and understanding in religious education?

During the last term I have been at a number of RE network meetings – both primary and secondary – where one of the main questions has been around the issue of work scrutiny. These conversations have been prompted by the draft OFSTED framework (p.27) which has led to discussions about the type of work that we ask pupils to do in RE and the importance of being able to express ideas in writing.

These are some of the points that have been raised:

  • Pupils cannot produce good writing in RE unless they have knowledge to draw on. Pupils may have good literacy skills, but a good piece of descriptive writing is not the same as a good piece of writing in RE.  We need to make sure that the RE is explicitly taught and understood before we rush into asking pupils to write about it.
  • If we want to develop literacy skills in RE, we should also provide opportunities for oracy. Pupils should listen to and participate in dialogue about religion and world views as a precursor for writing. The exam system in schools’ privileges writing, but this means that it is easy to forget that this is an outcome rather than the process of learning.
  • If done well, RE makes an enormous contribution to pupils’ acquisition of language without losing any of its unique identity as a subject. Tier 3 (subject specific) vocabulary in RE not only supports learning in RE, but also in wider literacy and cultural capital. RE often provides opportunities to explore words and their complexity in order to understand religious concepts – e.g. incarnation, salvation, atonement. We should expect pupils to use these words both in their speaking and writing.
  • Pupils can often surprise us in their depth of thought! The writing process provides pupils with the opportunity to express their thinking in response to their learning. Sometimes the best answers are those that go a little bit ‘off piste’ and reveal a philosophical or personal insight that a child has had because of their learning in RE.

However, one other clear message that came from every meeting I had with teachers was the desire to see what the ‘expected standard’ of writing in RE looks like for each key stage. This something that network meetings could address. If teachers brought examples of work to share and compare at network meetings, then they would begin to get an idea of how the writing produced by their children in RE compared with those of other local schools. Alongside this, it is important to share ideas about how we help pupils get to the point – we need to talk about the process not just the outcome. Getting children to write well might seem like digging ditches, but working together will certainly ease the work load and hopefully improve the quality of writing in RE.

Written by Joanne Harris, Head of Humanities and Teaching and Learning at Broughton High School in Preston and NATRE RE ambassador for the North West @JoanneH_RE

 

 

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Loud RE: finding your RE voice

“Find your voice and inspire others to find theirs.” Stephen Covey, American educator, author, businessman and keynote speaker.

As I write this my husband is watching a rugby game, and it is interesting how the noise of the crowd lifts the players who are playing, and this is making me think as teachers we aren’t all that different. Sometimes the hardest thing about leading RE or being a RE teacher is that you can be very much on your own.

I wonder whether you have a ‘crowd’ that are encouraging you in your RE leadership and work? If not, I would say it is essential to find places that encourage you in being a reflective RE practitioner, where you can hear from others about what they do that is successful in RE and be inspired and excited about what you can do and improve in your own practice. This will help you to speak up and out and fine tune your voice in your school. Finding a local network would help – see www.natre.org.uk/about-natre/re-in-your-region/ to get started. You also need to look after yourself and your voice – attending meetings with others that share your passion or interests can help you stay healthy and not to lose your voice.

It is essential to ensure that there is a RE voice in your school. This is for the pupils as well as for the staff. You might think loud voices are negative, but in a busy place like a school, voices need to be loud, clear and constantly present to often have impact.

If we don’t speak up, RE can suffer from a lack of understanding or mis-presentation. Our NQT’s can miss out on training in their first year of teaching, an essential for every school and if the RE voice isn’t loud it can be forgotten – there are so many demands on CPD. To have a sustainable effective RE voice in your school that is respected and listened to we need to use the right tone, timbre and range in different situations in order for the RE need to be heard.

Does your school have a clear vision for RE? Is RE part of your school’s development plan? Is the vision and plan based on voices within the school? Pupils, parents and staff are all important voices that can help inform RE of its next steps.

The curriculum gives plenty of opportunities to run projects/learning in conjunction with other subjects or departments. This week we have had world poetry day, and NATREs Spirited Poetry competition has run giving a way of doing RE and English together. Cross-curricular projects and learning can give RE a way of raising its profile within a school, and make its voice stronger or louder. When was the last project you did with someone else in your school to raise RE’s voice?

Remember to shout about any RE successes in your school! Find opportunities to celebrate what is working well, it will encourage everyone including yourself to keep going!

Finally, in finding your voice and keeping it constantly going you will inspire others to find theirs, pupils and fellow teachers are always looking for role models. Wouldn’t it be great to be someone’s inspiration in this coming week as you speak up for RE.

Written by Claire Clinton, RE advisor to Newham, Barking and Dagenham and NATRE RE ambassador for London @ClaireClinton67

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How to develop partnerships and obtain funding

“Teachers need to know they are not alone and that there are so many networks and avenues of support available.”

Many of us work in isolation as teachers, especially as RE teachers in primary, middle, secondary or further educational settings.  Therefore partnerships, networking and gaining funding to support professional development are vitally important, especially where our subject is marginalised.

Developing partnerships are so important to the growth of our subject whether from a local NATRE group, SACRE, RE Today, Interfaith groups, Universities, local authority, your local diocese or other associations.

Building on the partnership of hosting University of Worcester trainees at our school, we have launched a joint partnership with local schools and the University to form a local

NATRE RE group pictured above supported by other RE professionals, including a visit from the mayor of Worcester on this instance.  The aim of the group has been to provide resources that can be used in the classroom, practical responses to the ‘Commission on RE’ and a free conference on Friday 14th June for sixth form students.

This year as a school we were fortunate to gain a grant for £450 to complete the RE Quality Mark, a further £600 from the Jerusalem Trust for Christian resources and £2k from Culham St. Gabriel’s to form new local NATRE groups and help support conferences.

I believe that any member of staff can start a networking group and apply for funding, creatively resourcing RE, increasing confidence, providing mutual support and give you the hope that you are not alone. Below is a list of some of the trusts that support RE teaching, CPD and higher education courses.

Written by Chris Giles – West Midlands Regional Ambassador and Head of RS – South Bromsgrove High School @sbhsrs  

Here are some links to some useful websites for funding:

Culham St. Gabriel’s Trust: Culham St.Gabriels Trust support RE projects in the UK, including higher education courses.
All Saints Educational Trust: All Saints Educational Trust for students and teachers in the UK.
Edward Cadbury Trust: Quaker foundation mainly operating in the Midlands area for Interfaith and Multi-faith Relations.
The Hockerill Foundation:  Individual grants to support the education and training of RE teachers.
Farmington Institute: Providing scholarships and funding for University courses.
Keswick Hall Trust: To promote and support RE in all schools throughout the United Kingdom.
The Jerusalem Trust: The Jerusalem Trust – to advance Christian education and learning.
NASBBT: NASBTT is a charity that supports schools-led programmes of CPD.
RE Quality Mark: Provide funding for RE Quality Mark and contributions for RE courses.
St Christopher’s Educational Trust: St Christopher’s Educational Trust – improving the delivery of RE and supporting scholarships.
St Matthias Trust:  Advancement of education in Bath & Wells and Gloucestershire, Further and Higher Education
St Luke’s College Foundation: The advancement of further and higher education in RE and Theology
St Peter’s Saltley Trust: St Peter’s Saltley Trust – Supporting Christian learning, discipleship and theological education.
Sarum St Michael Foundation: Sarum St Michael Foundation – Funding for RE in Salisbury and nearby areas in the UK

 

 

Gwreiddio ‘gwerthoedd’ mewn AG

Ymddiheuraf ymlaen llaw am y teitl, sydd ychydig yn gamarweiniol. Byddwn yn awgrymu bod ‘gwerthoedd’ wedi bod yn rhan gynhenid ac allweddol o addysg grefyddol. Fodd bynnag, wrth i gyfnod addysgol newydd gyrraedd yng Nghymru, ynghyd â chwricwlwm newydd ac enw newydd ar gyfer y ddisgyblaeth, mae angen cael trafodaethau agored a gonest ynghylch y pwnc a’i bwrpas yng Nghymru’r unfed ganrif ar hugain a thu hwnt er mwyn sicrhau bod ein dysgwyr yn derbyn eu hawlogaeth a bod CGM, fel y’i gelwir bellach, yn cyfrannu’n gryf tuag at gyflawni pedwar prif ddiben y cwricwlwm i Gymru[1].

Mae’r rhan fwyaf o’r ysgolion, os nad pob un ohonynt, yn gyfarwydd iawn â gwerthoedd ac mae’n debygol eu bod yn arddangos gwerthoedd eu hysgol yn falch er mwyn i bob ymwelydd â’r ysgol eu gweld. Mae gwerthoedd a thrafodaethau ynghylch gwerthoedd a rennir yn sail i lawer o ymarferion meithrin tîm, ar lefel gorfforedig ac o fewn y gwasanaethau cyhoeddus. Fodd bynnag, oherwydd penderfyniad Llywodraeth Cymru i newid cyfeiriad AG a rhoi pwnc ar waith sy’n croesawu crefydd, ynghyd â gwerthoedd a moeseg, mae’n rhaid i ni gwestiynu’r hyn rydyn ni’n ei ddeall o ran moesau, sut y gellir eu hymgorffori o fewn disgyblaeth academaidd drylwyr a chadarn a sut gallwn geisio asesu ac olrhain cynnydd ein dysgwyr o ran gwerthoedd.

Nid yw CGM yn golygu addysgu gwerthoedd! Disgyblaeth ydyw sy’n seiliedig ar gaffael set gytunedig o werthoedd (ni waeth sut y cytunir arnynt), ac mae’n cynnwys tair elfen: crefydd, gwerthoedd a moeseg. Cyn i ni ddechrau meddwl am ddatblygiad ein cwricwlwm, mae angen i ni drafod pwrpas a dibenion CGM. Mewn pwnc y mae sawl fersiwn ohono wedi bodoli (mae dros 10 ohonynt wedi bod), mae angen i’n bwriad fod yn glir. Beth yw ystyr crefydd, gwerthoedd a moeseg a sut gallwn greu ein cwricwlwm i sicrhau eu bod yn cael eu cyfuno’n ddi-dor?

Mae Pestalozzi[2] wedi mireinio’r cysyniad o addysg gyfannol, gan ei fod yn credu bod addysg yn ymwneud â’r pen, wrth i ni ddefnyddio ein gallu gwybyddol i feddwl, bod ein calon yn darparu addysg foesol a’n hymdeimlad o gyfeiriad i ni, a bod ein dwylo’n darparu’r elfen gorfforol o’n haddysg. Gellir ailddefnyddio’r cydweddiad hwn fel adlewyrchiad clir o’r hyn y gall CGM ei olygu.

Mae crefydd yn cynnwys y cysyniadau o greu, ymddwyn ac ymberthyn, gan gynnwys ond heb fod yn gyfyngedig i agweddau ar athrawiaeth, defodau a mytholeg. Mae crefydd a chred yn anniben ac mae’n dod yn fwy anniben. Gellir ystyried gwerthoedd a moeseg fel rhan o grefydd ond gallant hefyd fod ar wahân. Rydym yn deall gwerthoedd ac yn cyfeirio at ddelfrydau, rhywbeth da, rhywbeth sy’n werthfawr; megis safon. Mae moeseg yn ymwneud â’n gweithredoedd a’r hyn rydyn ni’n ei wneud, ac mae’n codi’r cwestiwn o sut rydyn ni’n dysgu beth i’w wneud. Mae crefydd, gwerthoedd a moeseg yn arferion bywyd pob dydd.  I symleiddio, mae Crefydd, Gwerthoedd a Moeseg yn cynnwys yr hyn y mae pobl yn ei gredu (crefydd), yr hyn y maent yn ei gredu a sut maent yn mynegi hyn (gwerthoedd) a sut mae’n effeithio ar weithredoedd (moeseg). Mae hynny’n ofyniad mawr ar gyfer pwnc sy’n aml yn derbyn y lleiafrif o’r amser ar yr amserlen!

Mae’r Cwricwlwm i Gymru, a lansiwyd yn 2022, yn rhoi’r cyfrifoldeb am y cwricwlwm i bob ysgol unigol. Pwrpas cwricwlwm pob ysgol a lleoliad, yn ôl canllaw’r Cwricwlwm i Gymru (CiG), yw cefnogi ein plant a’n dysgwyr ifanc i fod y canlynol:

  • dysgwyr uchelgeisiol, galluog sy’n barod i ddysgu drwy gydol eu bywydau.
  • cyfranwyr mentrus, creadigol, sy’n barod i chwarae rhan lawn mewn bywyd a gwaith.
  • dinasyddion i Gymru a’r byd sy’n egwyddorol ac yn wybodus.
  • unigolion iach, hyderus sy’n barod i fyw bywyd gan wireddu eu dyheadau fel aelodau gwerthfawr o gymdeithas.

Mae CGM, yn debyg i’w ragflaenydd, AG, yn bwnc sy’n cael ei benderfynu’n lleol o hyd, gyda maes llafur cytunedig a chorff ymgynghorol sefydlog i’w gefnogi. Mae trafod y llwybr rhwng sybsidiaredd (y rhyddid a roddir i bob ysgol i ddatblygu a llunio ei chwricwlwm pwrpasol ei hun) a gynigir gan y Cwricwlwm i Gymru, ynghyd â’r gofynion cyfreithiol ar gyfer darpariaeth CGM wedi golygu bod gofyn am ofal, pwyll a llawer o ddeialog proffesiynol. Fy mhrif nod oedd cynnig maes llafur sy’n cynnal statws cyfreithiol y pwnc mewn ffordd ymarferol a chefnogol ac roedd y nod hwnnw’n cynnwys yr elfen ‘gwerthoedd’ o’r pwnc a dyna fyddai’r rhan fwyaf anodd ei chynllunio.

Mae ‘gwerthoedd’ yn air sy’n gorgyffwrdd ond mae’n wahanol i ‘foesoldeb’ a ‘moeseg’. Mae gwerth yn rhywbeth mwy personol, yn rhywbeth a ddewisir neu sy’n oddrychol yn hytrach na’n beth arferol neu’n orchymyn. Yn debyg i economeg, mae gan rywbeth werth os yw’n werthfawr i rywun. Gall y cysyniad o werthoedd fel arfer gael ei fynegi’n gryno. Mae astudiaeth ddiweddar am Genhedlaeth Z yn dangos bod pobl ifanc yn aml yn mynegi eu gwerthoedd. Mae llawer yn ceisio dod o hyd i bobl sy’n rhannu’r un gwerthoedd â nhw ac yn osgoi’r rheini nad ydynt yn eu rhannu. Fel y dywedodd un disgybl: “Rwy’n ceisio grwpio fy hun â phobl sy’n rhannu’r un farn â fi… rydyn ni’n debyg iawn o ran ein gwerthoedd.”  Gall gwerthoedd weithredu fel marcwyr o hunaniaeth, arwyddion a chanllawiau.

Gall moeseg ac ethos ymwneud â defodau cyffredin, pob dydd neu arferion bywyd a rennir yn y gymdeithas. Maent yn cael eu rhoi, ac nid oes angen eu mynegi o reidrwydd. Mae pobl yn fwy tebygol o ddewis eu gwerthoedd dros eu hunain, gan unigolion a sefydliadau. Gall y ‘pecynnau’ unigol o werthoedd fod yn bersonol ac yn unigryw, hyd yn oes os bydd y gwerthoedd sy’n rhan ohonynt yn rhai a rennir gan lawer o bobl. Gall gwerthoedd gael eu mynegi mewn un gair, fel ‘gonestrwydd’ neu ‘barch’, neu gellir eu crynhoi mewn brawddeg fer megis ‘gadewch y byd fel lle gwell na’r un y daethoch o hyd iddo’.

Mae ‘datganiad o werthoedd’ ar gyfer sefydliadau wedi dod yn gyffredin. Gallwch ddod o hyd iddynt drwy wneud chwiliad cyflym ar unrhyw wefan swyddogol. Mae’r datganiadau hyn yn helpu i ddiffinio sefydliad wrth edrych yn allanol ac yn fewnol: maent yn dweud rhywbeth wrth bobl allanol a chleientiaid posib; ac i weithwyr ac aelodau. Yn y gorffennol, byddai gan ysgolion arwyddeiriau Lladin, ethos cryf a chysylltiadau agos ag eglwys. Yr hyn a oedd yn absennol oedd y datganiad o werthoedd cryno, gweladwy a fformiwläig sy’n bodoli heddiw.

Mae uno crefydd, gwerthoedd a moeseg yn gofyn am lawer o ofal ac ystyriaeth o ran sut i lunio cwricwlwm ond rhaid hefyd sicrhau bod y cwricwlwm yn heriol ac yn ddyheadol, a’i fod yn galluogi dysgwyr i gael cyfleoedd i wneud cynnydd o ran eu gwybodaeth, eu sgiliau a’u profiadau. Yn unol â deddfwriaeth, rhaid i’r cwricwlwm fabwysiadu ymagwedd sy’n wrthrychol, yn feirniadol ac yn blwraliaethol, ac er y gall hyn fod yn fwy syml mewn perthynas â’r agwedd o ‘grefydd’, yr her fawr yw’r cwestiwn o sut rydym yn mabwysiadu’r ymagwedd hon o ran yr agweddau o ‘werthoedd a moeseg’! Rydyn ni am i’n dysgwyr gaffael gwybodaeth a dealltwriaeth fwy soffistigedig o gredoau, ymarferion a gwerthoedd crefyddol ac anghrefyddol. Mae angen i’r cwricwlwm, sy’n dod yn fodel cynnydd, gael ei lunio mewn ffordd sy’n galluogi her a chywirdeb academaidd. Rwy’n gyffrous i weld sut bydd y rhain yn troi’n gwricwla CGM byw, go iawn, sy’n darparu her i’r dysgwyr ac yn grymuso athrawon wrth iddynt ddefnyddio’u sybsidiaredd ac ymreolaeth dros ddyluniad y cwricwlwm, gan roi eu dysgwyr wrth wraidd eu haddysg.

Jennifer Harding-Richards: Ymgynghorydd CGM

Yr Athro Linda Woodhead MBE: King’s College, Llundain

 

Embedding the ‘values’ into RE

Apologies in advance for the somewhat misleading title. I would suggest that ‘values’ have always been an intrinsic and essential component of religious education. But with the dawning of a new educational age within Wales, a new curriculum, and a new name for the discipline, open and honest conversations around the subject and its purpose in twenty first century Wales, and beyond, are necessary to ensure that our learners receive their entitlement and that RVE, as it is now known, contributes wholeheartedly toward the achievement of the four key purposes of the curriculum for Wales[1].

Most if not all schools are more than familiar with values and will probably have their school values proudly on display for all visitors to the school to see. Values and discussions around shared values form the basis of many a team building exercise, at both corporate level and within the public services. But with the Welsh Government’s decision to change the direction of RE and instate a subject that explicitly embraces not only religion, but values and ethics, we are forced to question what we understand by values, how they can be incorporated into a rigorous and robust academic discipline and how we can possibly hope to assess and monitor our learners progress in values.

RVE is not values education! It is not a discipline that is solely based around the acquisition of an agreed set of values (however they may be agreed upon), it is made up of three components: religion, values and ethics. Before we even begin to think about the development of our curriculum, we need to grapple with what the purpose and aims of RVE actually are. In a subject that has undertaken more incarnations than Dr Who (a slight exaggeration, but we are now almost in double figures), we need to be clear about our intentions. What is meant by religion, by values and by ethics and how do we craft our curriculum to ensure that they are all seamlessly woven together?

Pestalozzi[2] refined the concept of holistic education, believing that education was about the head, using our cognitive ability to think, our heart, giving us our moral education, our sense of direction and our hands, the physical element of our learning. This analogy can be reused as a clear reflection of what RVE can potentially be all about.

Religion incorporates the concepts of believing, behaving and belonging including, but not limited to, aspects of doctrine, ritual and mythology. Religion and belief is messy and becoming increasingly so. Values and ethics can be seen as part of religion but could also be separate. We understand values to refer to ideals, a good, something that is valuable, a standard. Ethics are about actions, what we do, and beg the question of how we learn what to do. Religion, values and ethics are lived practices. To simplify then, Religion Values and Ethics incorporates what do people believe (religion), why do they believe and how they articulate this (values) and how does it impact on actions (ethics). That’s quite a big ask for a curriculum subject that often has minimum timetabled time!

The curriculum for Wales, launched in 2022, places the responsibility for the curriculum with each individual school. The purpose of every school and setting’s curriculum, according to the Curriculum for Wales (CfW) guidance, is to support our children and young people to be:

  • ambitious, capable learners, ready to learn throughout their lives.
  • enterprising, creative contributors, ready to play a full part in life and work.
  • ethical, informed citizens of Wales and the world.
  • healthy, confident individuals, ready to lead fulfilling lives as valued members of society.

RVE, like its predecessor RE, remains a locally determined subject with a locally agreed syllabus and a standing advisory body to support. Negotiating the path between the subsidiarity (the freedom assigned to each school to develop and craft their own bespoke curriculum) offered by the curriculum for Wales, with the legal requirements for RVE provision has required care, caution and a great deal of professional dialogue. Offering a syllabus that maintains the legal standing of the subject in a practical and supportive way was always my overarching goal and it was always going to be the ‘values’ part of the subject that would be the most difficult to map.

‘Values’ is a word that is overlapping but distinguishable from ‘morality’ and ‘ethics’. A value is something more personal, chosen or subjective than a norm or a commandment. As in economics, something has value because someone values it. Values can usually be articulated succinctly. A recent study of Gen Z finds that young people are often articulate about their values. Many seek out those who share their values and turn away from those who do not. As one student said, ‘I kind of group myself with people who share my same views… we are really alike in terms of our values.’[3] Values may act as identity-markers, signposts, and guides.

Ethics and ethos may have to do with matters of common, everyday custom, or habits of life shared across society. They are given, and they do not necessarily have to be articulated. Values are more likely to be self-selected, both by individuals and organisations. The individual ‘packages’ of values may be personal and unique, even if the values of which they are composed are usually widely shared. Values can be captured in a single word like ‘honesty’ or ‘respect’ or summed up a short formulation like ‘leave the world a better place than you found it’.

For organisations the ‘value statement’ has become common. A quick search of any official website will rapidly locate them. These statements help to define an organisation in both an outward-facing and an inward-facing way: they speak to outsiders and potential clients; and to employees and members. Historically, schools might have Latin mottoes, a strong ethos and close links with a church. What was absent was the compressed, publicly visible, formulaic value statement of today.

Amalgamating religion, values and ethics requires not only a great deal of care and thought around how to design a curriculum but must also ensure that the curriculum is challenging and aspirational and allows learners the opportunities to progress within their knowledge, skills and experiences. In line with legislation, the curriculum must adopt an approach that is objective, critical and pluralistic and whilst this may be more straightforward with the ‘religion’ bit, there is real challenge about how we adopt this approach with the ‘values and ethics’ part! We want our learners to acquire an increasingly sophisticated knowledge and understanding of religious and non-religious beliefs, practices and values. The curriculum which becomes the progression model needs to be constructed in a way that allows academic challenge and rigour. I am excited to see how this translates into living, breathing RVE curricula that provide challenge to learners and empowers teachers to utilise their subsidiarity and autonomy of curriculum design, placing their learners at the centre of their learning.

Jennifer Harding-Richards: RVE Adviser

Professor Linda Woodhead MBE: King’s College, London

The abridged version of this blog can be found at: Amalgamating religion, values and ethics – RE:ONLINE (reonline.org.uk)

Strictly RE: A multitude of ideas for religion and worldviews curriculum creation

This is my second Strictly RE conference and after writing 26 pages of notes, I really wanted to reflect on my practice following the conference.  I’m currently in my fourth year of teaching RE and a member of Sefton SACRE.

Reflecting on the Strictly RE Conference 2024 I now have a multitude of ideas that I want to implement in the classroom.

Weekday inspiration: My conference started with a weekday session from Michelle Sullivan with a focus on challenge in the RE curriculum and what this looks like.  Mary Myatt talks about high challenge but low threat.  As teachers we don’t want to make things too easy for students but at the same time we need to ensure that there is ambition for all students (Ofsted, 2021).  From this first session, there were three takeaways that I refer to when planning and adapting future units and assessments:

  1. Do our lessons actually answer the Enquiry question?
  2. Can students answer the Enquiry question?
  3. Do we assess the Enquiry question?

At Meols Cop we have booklets for all our lessons with the enquiry questions at the front, but on reflection I’m now asking myself, ‘do I actually refer back to this question?’, ‘are students understanding why we teach a certain lesson and how this links back?’.

Strictly Weekend: The main conference, opened by Lat Baylock really opened my eyes to how we, as RE teachers, need to build a curriculum for the future.

  • Are we, in our curriculums covering a diverse range of worldviews?
  • Are we embedding the census data into our lessons?
  • Are we including a range of religious views and non-religious worldviews?
  • Do we include a diverse range of images when referring to religious figures e.g. Jesus?

In my teaching it has made me start to include more conversations and discussion on the census data, bringing in different styles of artwork into the lessons, and giving students time to reflect on these.  Also, when redesigning and reflecting on our assessments to assess the knowledge of students, reflecting on if this actually answers the enquiry question.

Seminar sessions

Worldviews curriculum creation: The conference felt really sequenced as my next session From Rachael Jackson-Royal focussed on digging into how we actually create a worldviews curriculum for students at KS3.  This idea of a worldview’s curriculum changes our focus from just looking at the big 6 world religions to allowing students to encounter a range of worldviews and demonstrating that everyone has a worldview.  When we prepare the lessons, are we including a range of religious and non-religious worldviews?  This also made me think

  • How much do we embed, explicitly, the different disciplinary lenses after teaching them in year 7.
  • How do the disciplines shape the content of the lesson?
  • How will the disciplines shape the interpretation of findings?

AI: The next session from Joanne Harris was one that I was really interested in finding out how other people use AI in the classroom with ‘Chat GPT’ being the focus.  Currently I’ve used Chat GPT to support the creation of worksheets using Diffit, and writing model answers and MCQ’s on Chat GPT or Claude.  Joanne explained that Chat GPT can be used really effectively in the classroom and we should be teaching students how to use it effectively , rather than just copying a question and copying the answer given.  She talked about copying a question into Chat GPT in front of a class then getting students to analyse where they could gain marks, but also where the students knowledge could significantly improve the answers of the GCSE style questions.  I also want to further explore how we can use AI to support students with their revision when outside the classroom.  Although there are some ethical concerns with using AI, it is something that I have embraced in my teaching practice, and has really reduced my workload in terms of writing MCQ questions or summarising documents.  Another amazing feature with both Claude and Chat GPT, is if there is a highly academic piece of reading, AI can summarise it in an age appropriate way for our students.

Scholarship: The final session I attended was Joe Kinnaird’s use of scholarship in the classroom.  One of the key elements of scholarship is to develop the literacy of students, unpacking concepts and ideas with details.  Scholarship should also demonstrate diversity within the curriculum.  Rather than getting students to just focus on comprehension, getting students to really develop the ‘ways of knowing’ from the text, and linking the meaning to the inquiry question.

Strictly RE 2024 has given me an opportunity to continually adapt our resources to provide students with a high quality RE curriculum whilst helping me think about how this is religion and worldviews focussed.

Andrew Norcross

Follow me on X: @MrNorcrossRE

You can teach an old dog new tricks…

Matt Pitcher @re_runner

I was really enthused this year to attend Strictly RE ’23 as I was getting the chance to listen to one of my RE heroes, not once, but twice. I first attended a CPD training session with Lat Blaylock in 2004, when I was just starting out as a new Head of Department of RE in a big, inner city school. It was inspiring, it led me to bring in some fundamental ideas into my RE teaching that I still use today. I hope for more.

And I got more. Lat presented two sessions – “The Dynamite of Diversity in Christianity” as a twilight before the weekend, and “A Speedy Dozen: 12 illustrations of excellence in RE” on the Sunday. All I can say is that when Lat presents an idea or resource I immediately think “I can use this in my lesson on…”, “That’s a great example that could help me explain…” , “I’ve never taught it that way before but I will now.”

Isn’t that the point of CPD? Listening to something that sounds simple, is simple but will really augment the teaching and learning within the classroom. Like I wrote earlier, I still use some of Lat’s ideas from two decades ago. A much developed and evolved Comment Decoder for speeding up, but sharpening up, my marking and feedback, “My Wise Philosophy”, a great activity that Lat has developed into being about Worldviews (you were well ahead of the curve there Lat) and the images of Jesus lesson where we look at how different cultures envisage Jesus.

It was great to see two of these ideas still being showcased but I cannot wait to use the Ali Caligraff examples of an Islamic artist in developing my Islam lessons, and another artist, Phillip Schwartz and his work on depicting the Holocaust. The work of Manni Kaur and the Pingalwara is going to add so much more depth to my Sikhi scheme, showing the work of hope and compassion. That’s just three great examples of ideas that are simple in their execution but will have a massive impact on giving depth and flavour to the learning.

Lat’s evening session also inspired me to start to think where can I add some of these activities to my curriculum? Although the session was for later KS2 and KS3 I immediately thought I can use the global Christianity activities to my GCSE lessons on the growth of the global church and evangelism. They suit the topics so well. Add to that the work on denominations and the tree diagram – I touch on it in my introduction lessons for the GCSE but this is giving me more in my toolkit to go back and improve and enhance my lessons.

Lat also used a few of the resources and articles that have been featured in RE Today. This is a great resource, not just the curriculum books that come along with each edition (thank you Stephen and Fiona et al) but also the headline articles that feature in there. Some quick ideas about how to use them and you’re doing so much more in the lesson, using rich text, views and opinions, evaluation and analysis, bringing a real context to the ideas taught and learnt.

My title for this blog is “You can teach an old dog new tricks……” and seriously, this aging RE teacher has just given some of his lessons a boost from just two hours with Lat. Thank you Lat and thank you NATRE for a fantastic opportunity for the RE community to come together and share their ideas.

Religion and Worldviews: We do have time to teach it all

I felt positive after reading the RE Research Review published by OFSTED due to its recognition ‘officially’ of personal knowledge. Whilst many RE teachers have been champions of personal knowledge, we often strive for documents of support to have difficult curriculum conversations with SLT. In my classroom, worldviews have been a key to opening up a wealth of time within the curriculum that puts personal knowledge at the forefront of my teaching. However, one theme I have noticed within CPD on religion and worldviews is ‘we just do not have time to do it all’.  

I was lucky enough to attend the NATRE curriculum symposium I came back full of ideas and hope, I knew I had to redesign the KS3 curriculum which put religion and worldviews at the heart of my pupils learning. Following the symposium, I put together a two-week trial of a worldviews curriculum using mostly NATRE resources on lenses. Christmas came we moved on to a new unit. To my amazement, I found pupils oracy, understanding and engagement flourished and academic writing had developed. By exposing pupils to worldviews and allowing pupils to explore their personal knowledge I had in fact allowed them to understand the diversity and lived dimension within religion which is needed in all key stages. 

Our next unit was on ethics unit and without editing the resources at all, we had a deep student led discussions on how worldviews may impact how a Christian sees certain issues. This continued, assessments improved as they looked at both sides of arguments with ease and understood the difference. Teaching in a school with a religious designation, whereby we have a large proportion of students from the Sikh faith, I had always wanted pupils to be aware that being Sikh is a lens they see the world through. This has been beneficial as it has allowed the students to explore lived religion, empowered them to understand where diversity in faith comes from, and to be proud of their own diversity. Students have reflected on feeling Sikh due to a belief in God, but also through shared identity, family unity or due to their nationality or ethnic background. 

By March I was totally convinced a religion and worldviews curriculum was the way to move forward. I designed a curriculum that did not tell pupils why we study RE but showed them the value and importance of religion and worldviews in their community. All units and lessons ask pupils questions they can use their substantive and disciplinary skills to explore.  

I am only at the start of this journey, but the pupils have responded incredibly well, and I have been blown away by the language they are able to use.  

Learn more about the curriculum symposium and see films of the speaker presentations here.

KS3 work after 5 weeks of a Religion and Worldviews Curriculum:

When I look at my KS4 classes it is so clear in their work that a religious and worldviews curriculum would have benefited them. I am looking forward to seeing the same work completed by my current KS3 pupils.

Year Ten work after not having had a Religion and Worldviews curriculum:

How do we fit it all in? Honestly, we cannot, and things will be left out. However, I asked myself what I was doing to prepare pupils for what has not been taught and I know the work I am putting in here does this. I strongly believe in embracing religion, worldviews, and personal knowledge we give justice to the ever-changing religions and worldviews we teach about. I cannot predict what faith will look like as my students grow up, but I can provide them with the skills they need to encounter a changing and difficult world with an academic foundation. With the tools given to pupils when embracing worldviews, pupils will continue to learn outside of the classroom and their learning experience does not end with our curriculum.

 

Aleicia Mehta

How I read Scripture with KS3

My context 

I teach in a secondary school with a culture of direct instruction, cold-calling students to read aloud and encouraging them to project their voices when doing so. My department uses anthologies partly to encourage a culture of reading at length.  We often use original scriptures or extracts from a scholar. 

 I also use the model of “I do, we do, and you do” with my classes. My students are also used to using choral response to learn and practise new vocabulary or information.  I am currently teaching a unit of work on faith stories from the Abrahamic faiths, this means that in most lessons, we will be reading a piece of scripture.  

My problem 

Religious texts are often difficult to read and filled with archaic and strange words, I was worried that using a popcorn reading method meant that students were not listening to the text because they were on high alert for their names being called. Perhaps they were scanning forward to look for difficult words or practising those words so that they did not look daft in front of their classmates. 

In addition, despite me encouraging students to project and speak slowly, many were mumbling into their anthologies or reading fast to get it over with. 

What I am trying 

I am using the “I do, we do and you do” method when reading as a class. 

I tell the class that I am going to read first, and I want them to pay attention to how I pronounce new words, how I project my voice, including how I look up from my anthology and the punctuation pauses that I make. I then read a section of our text to the class. As I do this, the students follow with their rulers on the numbered line. This means that everyone is following, and it reduces background noise. I also know that the students have heard me very clearly reading the text to them; they are not straining politely to hear a nervous classmate.

I then pick out the tricky words, last week we were reading the call of Abram, and so the words included Abram, Canaan and Sarai. The class then choral response those words; this is particularly important if they are words they are likely to use when responding to questions. If I am going to use cold call in my classroom, I have a duty to do all that I can to reduce any anxiety that might cause, and this includes making pronunciation clear.  

Now that I have modelled the reading and practised pronunciation, I can ask my students to read aloud.  Hopefully, they will do so clearly and gain from the practice of reading to the class.  However, if it is hard to hear, I do know the students have heard me read previously. 

This does take longer; however, I personally think that hearing a story twice can do no harm.

Glossary

Cold Calling – Rather than hands up for a question, the teacher picks students to answer questions.  

 

Choral Response – The teacher says a keyword and the students repeat it back in unison. This might be repeated.

Popcorn reading – The teacher picks a student to read from a text.  After a few lines, the teacher stops the student and “randomly” asks another student to continue reading.  This continues until the full text has been read. 

 

Nikki McGee is a member of the NATRE Executive and the RE Lead for Inspiration Trust 

How I… put my wellbeing first

When I plan my week ahead, I will always prioritise my food plan for the week. Food has always been a priority for me and coming from a culture where everything revolves around cooking and eating, this is key to my wellbeing.

I also plan in when I will drink water and coffee to make sure I am hydrated particularly during the day so I can concentrate and perform as best as I can as a mum and in my role at work.

The next on my priority list for my weekly plan is exercise. I book my yoga classes in advance, morning gym sessions twice a week and my weekly salsa dancing which is the highlight of my week. Being a very sociable person, seeing my family and friends is also a priority and enables me to remember who the important people are in my life. I need at least 8 hours of sleep so this is factored in and I am then able to fit my work priorities and taxi driving commitments for my children.

Essentially, I make sure I meet my basic requirements (Maslow’s hierarchy) before work which enables me to put my health and wellbeing first. Without my health, there is no me, there is no mum and therefore I won’t be in the best place to do the job that I love.

Written by Shammi Rahman 

How I… plan and teach Islam practices at GCSE

One of the problems with practices units at GCSE is they can become little more than lists of practices.  Without any coherent binding that helps them hang together, making them more memorable, students learning can be superficial.  I also want to make sure that students are able to realise the links between Islamic practices and beliefs such as tawhid and risalah.

So when planning the Islam practices unit at GCSE, I decided to first of all provide some historical context about 7th century Arabia, noting that loyalty to tribe was paramount, and then introducing the new community of Islam with its new social order.  This then raises two key concepts.  Firstly, islam (submission to God) and ummah (the community of believers). 

Once students have understood these two concepts, including how they marked the Muslims out as distinctive to the tribes of Arabia, we then study the different practices.  However, when we have learned about Islamic prayer, for example, students are expected to explain how the practice of prayer relates to the concepts of islam and ummah. 

This might include: 

  • islam – prostration; starting and ending the day in prayer; making time/prioritising in the day to pray when it may not be convenient; washing giving a sense of preparation for an important act; the ritualised aspects of prayer 
  • ummah – Jummah prayers are congregational; body positions adopted and words are the same around the world; all facing towards the same place

This relating of practice to concept means that there is an inbuilt opportunity for students to use their learning in a new way, thus reinforcing that while extending their understanding.  It also means that their writing about practices has more depth as it is no longer only about the action, but about the deeper significance of these actions for Muslims.

Written by Ben Wood 

How I have developed links with a local University

Many of us work in isolation as RE teachers, therefore networking is vitally important, especially when you have a subject area that is marginalised.  Teachers need to know they are not alone and that so many networks and avenues of support are available.  

I found the local University by looking at two websites: NATRE and TRS

Universities want to hear from local schools to develop links as together we are so much stronger.  As a school, we hosted Worcester University trainees at our local NATRE group for Secondary RE teachers providing resources, research and mutual CPD support.  As a focus of this meeting, we had a ‘share and inspire’ session looking at teaching resources that PGCE RE trainees from the University of Worcester had created. 

I believe that any staff member can start a networking group or partnership with your local University, creatively resourcing your subject and increasing confidence and knowledge.   

To quote Rebecca Davidge, University of Worcestershire Senior Lecturer, about the importance of the collective power of networking and practical ideas that Universities can support you with: 

Colleagues working in the University sector recognise teachers’ invaluable role in preparing students to study at this level, and often the passion they have instilled in students for religious education. I have lost count of the times students have attributed their love for the subject to their RE teacher at school (and they often say they want to be a teacher just like you!) 

  • We have experts in RE across all phases of education, from EYFS upwards. Teacher Training in Primary, Secondary and Further Education is our raison d’être, so we are in an excellent place to support learning and teaching. 
  • University staff are conducting the most up-to-date research, and as research-driven pedagogies drive our teaching, we are in an excellent place to see what new thinking, ideas and strategies are coming through literature – we are also not afraid to question these! 
  • We have strong links with NATRE, local schools, places of worship and interfaith forums to strengthen the work of RE departments in our local schools. We run a NATRE/UW RE Hub, which meets termly to discuss relevant topics (e.g. most recently, faith and sexuality) and provide CPD (e.g. the launch of the Locally Agreed Syllabus). These are very well attended, and attendees’ generosity, kindness and collaboration are inspiring.”

Author: Chris Giles

How I organise teaching RE in EYFS

By Catriona Card. Follow her twitter here! 

I teach in the Reception unit of a 3 form entry primary school.

Much of our RE teaching is blocked, although increasingly we have one or two lessons before or after the block. Most of our units link with a book, a story or a festival.

We begin each lesson with whole class input. This might include, for example, reading or telling a story, introducing a persona doll and their family and a special book or artefact. As part of this whole class time key vocabulary will be introduced and explained.

Following this the children split into their two half class groups, one with the teacher and one with a TA. In this smaller group children will revisit the story and discuss it further, focussing on particular questions that have been identified in advance. The first lesson in a unit will usually provide an opportunity for children to link the new learning back to their own experience. For example in a unit on Special Books, having been introduced by the adults to their special book and why it is special and met the Muslim persona doll who has brought her children’s Qur’an story book and talked about how she looks after it, the children then share their special books. We use our learning platform to facilitate this, asking parents to share photos in advance of the lesson.

The children are then encouraged to develop their thinking further using the provision areas. Children might for example create somewhere to safely keep a special book, they might draw their special book and talk further about why it is special, they might recreate a celebration in the domestic role play area.

How do you organise RE in your setting? Do let us know in the comments below.

How we used the Prophet Muhammad’s life journey to teach GCSE Islamic beliefs and practices

By Chris Giles. Follow his Twitter here!

My context

We work in a large comprehensive school in the West Midlands where students opt for GCSE RS and are taught 5 to 6 hours a fortnight.

My problem

We decided to review the GCSE curriculum as most students struggle with Islamic literacy and see the beliefs and practices sections of the course as two separate entities. We also wanted to update our resources.

What we are trying

As a team we planned lessons based around the chronology of Muhammad’s life:

Lessons 1-2: Before the Prophet 1: Allah and Creation

Lessons 3-4: Before the Prophet 2: Ibrahim, Hagar and Ishmael

Lesson 5: The Prophet Muhammad Part 1: Birth and early life of the Prophet

Lesson 6: The Prophet Muhammad Part 1: The Revelation

Lessons 7-8: The Prophet Muhammad Part 2: Salah and Worship

Lessons 9-10: The Prophet Muhammad Part 3: Generosity

Lessons 11-12: The Prophet Muhammad Part 4: Medina and Conflict

Lessons 13-14: The Prophet Muhammad Part 5: Conquering of Mecca

Lessons 15-16: After the Prophet 1: Sunni and Shia split, the Imamate and the death of Ali and Hussain

Lessons 17-18: After the Prophet 2: The Day of Judgment

Evaluation

Most students were able to see how Prophet Muhammad’s life as an exemplar linked with both the Islamic beliefs and teachings sections of the course. For example, in a question on Sawm students were able to relate to both the beliefs surrounding Prophet Muhammad’s revelations and to the Prophet’s own practice of fasting.

Most students improved their Islamic literacy with regular knowledge tests on key words and quotes and some understood exam questions better.  However, the challenge remains with some not making the links between beliefs and practices and the religious literacy of weaker students.  Our next project is to reform the Christian belief and practices through the life of Jesus from our lessons learnt.

Chris Giles

Image credit: ‘House of Worship‘ by Age 13 student from York High School