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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