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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