The Golden Threads: Substantive concepts in RE


If I teach a topic on Hinduism in one term and another on Christianity the next, what connects them? They probably will both include ‘beliefs’ maybe some ‘practices’ and maybe some textual sources. But is that enough to allow students to make connections and develop an understanding of religion as a whole?

I am going to argue that we can create a better picture of religion & belief by using substantive concepts through our curriculum.

Developing a schema 

Why do we need to do this? RE is a ‘horizontal’ or cumulative subject; knowledge isn’t all hierarchical. I don’t need to know and understand Hinduism to study Christianity (although there may be some cases where it might help). So progression in RE is based on knowing more, potentially disconnected knowledge, in order to begin to create schema. But what makes connections in those schema? There are two ways.

Firstly , the study of the religion itself becomes a schema. As soon as students start learning the basics they can start to pin more knowledge to create a picture of that religion, including the diversity and differences within it. If teaching systematically, this schema is usually a relatively short term one in that it is created in a topic which might be a few lessons a half term/term.

Secondly, we want students to create a much bigger schema. That of ‘religions and beliefs’. This is created over a much longer period of time. We’d hope this begins when they first hear about religions and beliefs and continues for life however the majority of the knowledge, for most, is likely to come from RE. But as RE has such a huge domain of potential knowledge, how can we start to build a student’s schema of the whole picture? How can we start to ‘pin’ knowledge that can seem very disparate and unconnected?

schema in RE

We need to develop a ‘religion’ schema to contribute to an overall ‘religions & beliefs’ schema.

This is where substantive concepts come in. To understand what these are we need to consider the role of knowledge in RE.

Knowledge can be divided into the substantive and the disciplinary. Disciplinary knowledge comes from the disciplines of RE (discussed in this blog). So this leaves the substantive which is the ‘stuff’ of RE. It is the content, the facts, the topics that we teach. Look in any textbook and it will be full of substantive knowledge. So, substantive concepts are the key or ‘big’ ideas within the domain.


Categories of concepts

Many agreed syllabi reference substantive concepts. You may have seen them listed in categories. These are usually divided into three different categories as shown.


I’ve added a fourth category to consider how diversity is an important concept within religions

These concepts are sometimes shown as hierarchical in themselves with a suggestion of teaching them at different key stages. I suggest that they aren’t intrinsically hierarchical but can be used to develop knowledge and understanding across topics.


Sometimes, these are used to create a topic in their own right. For example a topic on ‘prayer’ where students look at definitions of prayer and different beliefs & practices of prayer across religion & belief. I would argue that these kinds of topics can be problematical as they look at the concept in one block which may limit a student’s ability to be able to reuse and reapply that concept later on. However this can be addressed with use of strategies to help with long term memory such as retrieval and ‘testing’. Secondly, as different views of prayer are likely to be based on other key beliefs & teachings that are complex, covering those all those beliefs and teachings as well as looking at prayer itself would take a long time which people probably don’t allocate and therefore the topic may end up being superficial.

This is a thematic approach that, in my opinion, requires a lot of substantive knowledge of the religions being included before you can teach the concept itself, which I suspect is rarely done well.

However if we use these category A/B concepts explicitly across topics and religions, they are taught in context so students can build them as part of their topic schema (and then move on to thematic units if desired). If they are explicitly addressed across topics/religions then they can be used to build up their ‘study of religions & beliefs ’ schema. They become ‘golden threads’; the things that provide cohesion and coherence to our curriculum.

How to explicitly teach substantive concepts?

One suggestion is to use an enquiry question (EQ); that is a question that requires a series of lessons ( across a short/medium/long period of time), where clear substantive knowledge is needed to piece together an answer.


This example shows how the concept of ‘the self’ might be repeatedly analysed across topics/religions through an EQ- It becomes a ‘Golden Thread’

This would need to be skilfully done. It would need to be introduced, either as a lesson introducing the EQ by itself and the explanation that it will be addressed across time or introduced the first time that it is met within a topic. 

Practical tips

  • Write the concepts into curriculum plans to map out where they occur
  • Take time to analyse yourself how a concept can be studied within each religion/topics. What is the substantive knowledge needed to explore the concept?
  • Highlight the EQ when you mention the concept – keep it as a central PowerPoint slide or use a simple image to bring students back to it
  • It needs to be repeatedly referenced and students reminded of the prior learning of that substantive concept. Ask students ‘what did we learn about concept X in Y religion?’ before looking at it in religion Z

The aim of this approach is that once they’ve understood what the substantive concept is they can use it independently to apply to new material (in the above diagram shown by the thread continuing beyond the schemes. Their overall schema can continue to grow due to the Golden Threads giving them ‘pins’ to anchor new knowledge on to.

However we need to be careful not to over rationalise a concept. They can be very complex and over simplification will not help student understanding. We need to be clear that a concept may have different meanings, diverse interpretations and varied influences on believers and their practices. Indeed the ‘non-existence’ of a concept is equally interesting, however should be explored with caution not to show a ‘deficit’ model. The knowledge and understanding of a substantive concept should allow a student to be able to analyse it in a variety of contexts, including in some cases, non-religious or secular contexts.


The different ways a concept can be considered across religions & beliefs

The great thing about this model is that it promotes challenge as part of curriculum design. As students build up their smaller religion schema they are contributing their their overall ‘religions & belief’ schema. This is progression. The curriculum itself becomes the model of progression. They know and understand more and if it’s done well, can use it independently. It overall contributes to their religious literacy. They should be able to talk confidently, using in-depth subject knowledge, across religions & belief on a concept and where appropriate make inferences about how it might work in new contexts.

‘…..curriculum sets out the journey that someone needs to go on to get better at the subject. In short, it models the progress that we would hope (although cannot guarantee) that someone will make. The curriculum is the progression model.’

Michael Fordham 

Using this model also supports what I think is the main ‘form’ of expressing knowledge & understanding in RE: argumentation. If a student clearly knows a definition/s of a concept, can explain multiple interpretations and diversity of beliefs and practices linked to it, using sources of authority, picking out possible similarities, differences and summarising overall, they’ve constructed a reasoned argument. I don’t need to tell them how to construct an essay; their accumulation of knowledge has already done this for them. Whilst they may need help scaffolding it, they already have the substantive knowledge needed to construct a knowledgeable, well reasoned, logical argument. The content leads to a structure rather than me teaching them a structure that they then need to try to put the content in to.

None of this is new; but it’s relevance is core in curriculum design, which teachers are reflecting on more. This idea may be complex but it is supposed to be part of a well thought out curriculum. We need to be thinking carefully about how our subject works and what we can do to ensure that our students get the best understanding of what it means to study religion and belief. This is just one piece of the puzzle.

*This presentation was part of the TMRSicons conference July 2020.

Differentiation and multiple choice questions


Using multiple choice questions (MCQs) with students has become more popular, probably due to online systems that can provide pre-made questions or that they mark themselves; both saving teachers time.

However, if you wish to write your own, research suggests that you follow some simple guidelines. I will be looking at these and suggesting how you can differentiate using multiple choice quizzes by showing how you can increase complexity. This might be appropriate when considering the different year groups or students that you teach or the purpose of the quiz. If you want it to be quick and ‘easy’, choose the first types of question.

The key for differentiation using MCQs  is to try increase challenge for students in the subject content rather than making the questions more complex in terms of procedure or literacy.

Research suggests:

  • 3 or 4 possible answers are the optimum amount needed
  • Not to use negative statements as much as possible e.g. which of these is NOT a feature of prayer?
  • Keep the incorrect answers linked to the topic, logical and possible, in that they are potential answers (distractors) rather than silly or obviously incorrect
  • Keep the answers to roughly the same length. We tend to write longer answers for the correct answer so ensure this isn’t always the case.
  • Randomise the order or the position of the correct answers so students can’t learn qu 1 is b, qu 2 is d etc
  • Avoid using ‘all of the above’ options

The following suggestions are roughly in order of increasing difficulty:

  1. Simple question, one word answers

Sticking to tier 2 vocabulary keeps things simple and with one ‘word’ answers these can be quick and easy to answer for students.



This swaps ‘rules’ for ‘commandments’ which is a slightly more complex way to check vocabulary understanding


Students need to know what ‘Decalogue’ means and then know what the answer is

Simplify: Make the distractors very obviously wrong. This may be appropriate in some educational settings, for some students.

Extend: Adding in tier 3 vocabulary means you are also testing knowledge of keywords which requires a ‘double step’; understanding the keyword and knowing the correct answer.

Extend: Answers that are more than one word

2. Identify the incorrect statement

These are more challenging as they require students to carefully read all the answers rather than scan for the answer that they know is correct.



3. The best answer

This is more complicated because it requires students to read carefully to identify the subtle differences between the answers and know which is 100% correct rather than partially correct or is the overall ‘best’ answer. These are complex as the distractors can be correct but less likely or important.


4. Extended explanations

Using extended explanations are appropriate in some subjects and are especially useful for A level where more complex, (literacy based) reasoning is needed.


Extend: Use more complex subject language (tier 3) in the question and answers.

Strategies for differentiating all the above

5. Multiple correct answers

This is probably the easiest way of increasing challenge in content without increasing the literacy demands. Students need to select multiple correct answers.


Extend: Don’t tell students how many of the answers are correct. This makes it significantly more challenging.

6. Give the option ‘I don’t know yet’

One of the key issues with MCQs for assessing knowledge is that students can guess and they always have a 1 in 3/4 chance of getting the answer right. If you really don’t want them to guess so you have true picture of what they do/don’t know, adding ‘I don’t know yet’ can help. However they need to be trained to use it! It can go against the whole ‘try your best’ mantra that students may have had drilled into them as they are admitting they don’t know when they could actually guess and might get it right. We spend time going through this with them.


7. Carefully crafted distractors

This is where knowledge of potential misconceptions is really useful. There are certain topics/questions with students where there are often common misconceptions. Using these misconceptions as your distractors makes the question more challenging because instinctively students might go for the misconception answer/s.



Further reading

View at

Blake Harvard is the KING of MCQs and he has several blogs on them including different ways of using them for diagnosis:


View at

Target grades – a round up of research & blogs


Unfortunately there doesn’t seem to be much research on using target grades with students in terms on their impact on attainment, progress or motivation. Yet, there is a growing consensus amongst many teachers that they either have no impact (and are thus a waste of time) or could have a negative impact.

Some have pulled together ideas using some of the research that may link to using grades so I’ve pulled them together here for ease of reference and some possible further reading.

As usual please let me know of any that I’ve missed.

James Theobald –

Dawn Cox –

Ben Newmark in the TES –


Possible research links

Martinez, Paul, Great Britain. Learning and Skills Development Agency, corp creator. (2001) Great expectations: setting targets for students, 2nd ed.

Butler, R.  “Enhancing and Undermining Intrinsic Motivation: The Effects of Task-Involving and Ego-Involving Evaluation on Interest and Performance.”  British Journal of Educational Psychology 58 (1988): 1-14.

Butler, R., and M. Nisan.  “Effects of No Feedback, Task-Related Comments, and Grades on Intrinsic Motivation and Performance.”  Journal of Educational Psychology 78 (1986): 210-16.

Harter, S. (1978). Effectance motivation reconsidered: Toward a developmental model. Human Development, 21(1), 34-64.

Seijts, Gerard & Latham, Gary. (2005). Learning versus performance goals: When should each be used?. Academy of Management Perspectives. 19. 124-131. 10.5465/AME.2005.15841964.

Ames, C., & Archer, J. (1988). Achievement goals in the classroom: Students learning strategies and motivational processes. Journal of Educational Psychology, 80(3), 260–267.

Gorard, Stephen. (2005). “They Don’t Give Us Our Marks”: The Role of Formative Feedback in Student Progress. Assessment in Education Principles Policy and Practice.’t_Give_Us_Our_Marks_The_Role_of_Formative_Feedback_in_Student_Progress




Curriculum building in RE


“I’m rewriting our key stage 3 schemes. What would be your favourite topics to teach?”

This, or similar, is quite common on RE Facebook. People have some time and opportunity to review or rewrite their key stage 3 provision so are looking for some inspiration of what to include.

I have no problem people sharing and discussing what they teach but we must have a clear rationale ourselves, for what we believe to be ‘good’ RE and why we include it in our curriculum. There are also things we must follow such as a syllabus.

So what should we include? We can’t teach the whole domain of religion and belief so we need to make some important decisions. This blog is a short introduction of the kinds of things to consider. It’s the start of curricular thinking, not a step by step guide.

In my opinion there are some better rationales for what makes the cut in RE than others. I’ll start with those that aren’t great rationales (all my opinion)….

  • Choosing ‘fun’ or ‘engaging’ topics
  • Topics to try to make students choose GCSE as an option
  • Asking students what topics they want to learn about
  • Avoiding teaching ‘dry’ or ‘boring’ topics
  • Starting the GCSE content as per a specification
  • What another school is doing
  • Avoiding religion  e.g. because it’s not relevant to atheist/non-religious students

There are different reasons why I believe these aren’t great. I don’t have space here but am happy to expand elsewhere if people are interested. 

Instead we need to think carefully about building a coherent, curriculum that is intrinsically valuable in itself and which provides a firm foundation for any further study. And if students don’t go on to further study, it teaches the core elements that might help them continue to understand the world around them.

1. Following the agreed syllabus

There seems to be a misunderstanding by some that as we’re not national curriculum and if you’re an academy you can do whatever you want. This isn’t 100% true.

It doesn’t matter what type of (state) school you are, you have a syllabus to follow; even academies. Whilst academies can choose which syllabus this is, it needs to be followed. You can even write your own syllabus (check legal requirements – I’m sure a scheme of work would not cut the mustard on this) but the legal requirement is that what you teach reflects ‘religious traditions in Great Britain are in the main Christian whilst taking account of the teaching and practices of the other principal religions represented in Great Britain.’ (Education act 1996). You can’t avoid Christianity!

So, your first point of call must be the syllabus that you are following, rather than asking what other people do. They are likely to be following a different syllabus.

2. Systematic vs thematic

Systematic (by religion/belief) needs careful thought of what it is about that religion that we want students to know. We can’t teach everything so what to choose? I believe we should teach core foundational knowledge with which a student could go on to independently study that religion; they have learnt the basics so they can add to their schema. A whistle stop tour of ‘the founder, the holy building, the holy book, the festivals, the clothing, the worship’…..etc potentially gives a superficial overview of a religion. Instead I prefer to focus on the keys that unlock significant  further understanding, mostly beliefs, that can then easily be used to help understand practices. Teaching practices without beliefs well, would be virtually impossible.

Thematic teaching needs to planned very carefully. You cannot just pluck a topic out of the air (worse still be given a topic e.g it’s a humanities topic of ‘water’) and then wedge in every reference to it in any religion you can find.

The only way that thematic teaching can be done well is when students have a strong foundation of the beliefs that are connected with the theme. Otherwise, it will be superficial. Teaching views on abortion in Christianity without any understanding of sanctity of life, creation, the soul etc just becomes learning different views as facts in themselves e.g. ‘Catholic Christians think…..Other  Christians think….’, rather than having a deep understanding of beliefs and then how these can be the foundations of moral and ethical decision making. Before you plan a thematic unit, think carefully if your students have the core understanding to be able to look it the topic from a multiple perspectives or how the teaching of this will be part of the thematic unit.

3. The golden threads

This is where ‘block planning’ (planning disconnected termly topics) can stop a curriculum from being coherent. We need to consider what are the connections between each topic? The threads that we come back to and repeat, from a slightly different angle.

We need to think really carefully about what it is that connects what we’re teaching so that our curriculum is a journey (sorry I really hate that term – especially when it’s turned into a curriculum infographic) through the study of religion and belief. 

One way of doing this in RE is by concept. There are 3 main categories of concept: those relevant to all humans, those that go across religion/beliefs and those specific to a religion/belief. The 1st/2nd types could be used as our golden threads. For example, the concept of ‘truth’ can be explored across topics. Coming back to this concept in several topics gives a type of spiral curriculum where students are expanding their domain each time it is revisited.

Think carefully, what are your golden threads that your curriculum keeps coming back to?

4. The disciplines of RE

I’ve blogged on these here. It is essential that we think carefully about how the disciplines provide the skeleton to our curriculum. Without them we can fall into the trap of teaching PSHE or citizenship in RE or losing the ‘balance’ of what makes multi-disciplinary RE.

It’s all coming together – An introduction to the disciplines of RE


In the past couple of years I’ve been reading and thinking more about disciplinary knowledge (alongside substantive knowledge – the ‘stuff’ that we teach, e.g. beliefs, teachings, practices etc). As with many things, it started by hearing about what other subjects are doing and what it means in different subjects. So what does it mean for the RE community? What has already been said and done in RE?

It’s all coming together, in several ways:

  • More of the RE community getting involved in discussions about the curriculum on social media & beyond
  • The disciplines of RE are being written about, discussed & used in curriculum planning
  • My thinking is coming together. I’m a pragmatist and I want to envisage what this looks like for RE teachers and HODs.
  • This blog is bringing together some of the blogs, articles & thinking on the disciplines in RE, which I hope is useful for those that also want to engage with what has been written and modelled.

This blog is for novices. It’s aim is to help those that have no knowledge about the disciplines in RE to start to think about what they are and what they might mean for their own practice. There will probably be more blogs….

So what does disciplinary knowledge mean in RE?

In simple terms disciplinary knowledge is the knowledge that comes from how RE ‘works’. If we were to look at those who study RE at an academic level, it is the ways that they work within their discipline and the ‘ways of knowing’.

The problem is that RE isn’t an subject or discipline by itself at academic levels. It has been suggested that RE is therefore multidisciplinary; it is made from different disciplines.

There are discussions about what the main disciplines in RE are. Many have decided on three: Theology, Philosophy and Human/Social sciences (see  ‘Balanced RE’ & the Norfolk Agreed syllabus). Some have included History (see Richard Kueh in ‘Reforming RE’) and some are suggesting that RS is a discipline.

Why is disciplinary knowledge important?

Looking at RE through the disciplines helps to structure what is learnt in RE. It helps us and our students to discuss the ways in which we can learn in RE. Sometimes RE is conflated with other subjects such as PSHE or citizenship, but when we view RE as it’s own subject, through the disciplines, it can help to differentiate them.

It can help us structure how we approach and discuss substantive knowledge in RE. Instead of teaching students that ‘anything goes’ and ‘all answers are right in RE’ it gives them a set of tools that they can use to look at an issue or a concept and critically engage with it, in a disciplined way.  It helps students to understand where knowledge has come from and how valid the claims are that it makes.

So for RE, if we take a ‘theological’ disciplinary approach, we will look at a topic/concept through a theological ‘lens’. For philosophy, a philosophical ‘lens’ and so on. The ‘Balanced RE’ documents and the Norfolk agreed syllabus have clear suggestions of what these approaches might look like and the ‘tools’ that students can develop using to engage

What does it mean for RE?

If we consider the disciplines when designing our curriculum we are providing a skeleton for our subject; a strong underpinning structure. This means it cannot be confused with other subjects and makes it it’s own subject, which some curriculum leaders need to understand.

Some have started to provide frameworks for doing this. The RE-searchers approach is designed for primary students but could easily be adapted for secondary. The ‘Big Ideas’ model has supporting documents that helps to realise what it looks like in the classroom.

What should I do now?

There’s no ‘right’ answer here. I suggest you read some of the recommended reading below first.  Richard Kueh’s article in REtoday gives a nice introduction to the thinking behind the disciplines, The ‘Balanced RE’ video would be a nice intro to what the disciplines are and how they work and the Norfolk agreed syllabus gives a possible approach. EDIT 8/6/20 : I’ve just read Paddy Winter’s Farmington paper on ‘Professional Disciplinary Dialogue’. It is a brilliant exposition of the issues and resources on the disciplines in RE.

If you want to review your curriculum approach to see what you’re already doing, I really recommend the ‘Balanced RE’ primary and secondary audit tools.

Look on RE social media for examples of what others have been doing. For example, #TeamRE, @TeamRE and the SAVE RE Facebook group. I know people have shared their curriculum ideas.

Whatever you do, I think that the best way to approach anything that is ‘your’s e.g. your curriculum, is not to just copy what someone else is doing. It’s the foundational thinking behind it that matters.

Join in with the conversation; it’s one of the best ways to help clarify thinking and ask questions.

Reflective questions….

  • How can we prevent superficiality (a tick list approach to the disciplines) and encourage deep thinking?
  • What can we do to help curriculum leaders in schools understand how RE ‘works’?
  • How can the disciplines help us distance from PSHE/Citizenship?
  • Are we already including disciplinarity in our curriculum/lessons? How do we know? If so, do we need to emphasise the disciplines more to the students?
  • Should we use a framework e.g. RE-searchers, of teaching the disciplines across key stages or should it be fluid?
  • What does a focus on the disciplines mean for ITE courses?
  • How might teacher CPD reflect this shift/refocus?

A huge thanks to everyone on social media, face-to-face, ‘virtually’ and on the old system of telephone, that have answered my silly questions and helped to develop my thinking. You know who you are. There’s a long way to go.

References & Reading

Paddy Winter – Farmington TT428: Professional Disciplinary Dialogue by Paddy Winter (Contact Farmington to access)

Norfolk Agreed Syllabus 2019 Norfolk Agreed Syllabus

A discussion about the new Norfolk Agreed Syllabus – Questions by Paul Smalley (NASACRE) and answers by Kathryn Wright. Here

A Smith – Blog– Disciplinary Knowledge and RE: an attempt at professional wrestling

Kueh, R. (2019) ‘‘A Matter of Discipline?’ On knowledge, curriculum and the disciplinary in RE’ (Professional Reflection, REToday, September 2019).

Models using the disciplines

The RE-searchers approach

Big Ideas for Religious Education– Barbara Wintersgill

Putting Big Ideas into Practice in Religious Education By Barbara Wintersgill with Denise Cush & Dave Francis

‘Balanced RE’ documents


Key principles of a balanced curriculum in RE – Church of England Education office

Balanced RE website

 Balanced RE video

RE in a broad and balanced curriculum: A practical tool

Self evaluation/audit – Primary

Self evaluation/audit – Secondary 

Book chapters

Kueh, R. (2017). Religious education and the ‘knowledge problem’. In M. Castelli & M
Chater (Eds) We need to talk about RE: Manifestos for the future of religious education
(pp.53-69). London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers

Mark Chater (2020) , Reforming RE: Power and knowledge in a worldviews curriculum John Catt. Suggested chapters….

  • Richard Kueh – Disciplinary hearing: making the case for the disciplinary in Religion and Worldviews
  • Gillian Georgios & Kathryn Wright – Disciplinarity, religions and worldviews: making a case for theology, philosophy and human/social sciences

NB. I am aware the featured image does not include all religions

Using booklets in teaching: Research, pedagogy & practice


Following a few discussions on using booklets on Twitter recently, I thought I would pull together some resources on it. I suspect there is little research on the use of these types of booklets in school teaching as yet so the resources are mainly blogs on how people are using them.

It’s important to recognise that the content and design of booklets vary; some are guided notes and others more a ‘text book’ approach. Also, and possibly the most interesting is how these are being used pedagogically. I suspect that there is a wide variety of approaches and hopefully the blogs included give an insight into how they are being used in the classroom.

Please let me know of any blogs and/or research to add.

Pedagogy & Practice

Ruth Walker – Booklets:10 principles of production

Ruth Walker 

Ben Newmark

Adam Robbins This has a great set of  possible objections and responses to using booklets

Jo Facer– English

Adam Boxer– Science

Dan Rodriguez-Clark Maths

Mrs Educate – RE

Dawn Cox – RE – Guided notes

#CogSciSci – Science –

Greg Thornton – History -Twitter thread

Some possible linked research

The research for scaffolding notes for students is interesting. It’s overall positive for learning. The benefits of guided notes include increased accuracy, frequency of notes and improvement in tests. Research also suggests that students prefer using guided notes. Another interesting finding is that guided notes can benefit students with SEN (Lazarus 1993).

Konrad et al (2009) say ” Results indicated that guided notes are an effective and socially valid method for increasing note-taking accuracy and improving academic performance, particularly for school-age students” .

This Cult of Pedagogy podcast and blog has a great summary of the research on note taking.

Research summaries for using booklets (not necessarily in school education)
Yaghobian M, Yaghobi T, Salmeh F, Golmohammadi F, Safari H, Savasari R, et al . Comparing the Effect of Teaching Using Educational Booklets and Lecture along with Educational Booklets on Nurses’ Knowledge about Professional Laws and Regulations. Iranian Journal of Medical Education. 2010; 9 (4) :372-380

This study looked at nurses and learning their professional laws and regulations.  There were 3 groups. Group 1 had the booklet and lecture, Group 2 only the booklet and Group 3 was the control group. After pre-test and post-test the 1st group’s mean score increased most.

Agustiawan, A., Sofian, S. and Husin, S., IMPROVING STUDENTS’VOCABULARY BY USING BOOKLETS. Jurnal Pendidikan dan Pembelajaran7(7).

This action research, small scale study looked at using booklets for students learning English vocabulary. The researchers conclude that using the booklets increased their vocabulary, it was ‘easier’ than before and students were  ‘enthusiastic’.

+ the usual research on retrieval etc!


Curricular Enquiry Questions in RE – Blog 1


I have spent a long time reading and watching history teachers discuss the use of enquiry questions (EQs) and have considered how they might support forming a curriculum in RE.

As I’ve been discussing and thinking about how these might work in RE I think it is best to divide my thoughts into more than one blog. This blog will look at what I mean by curricular enquiry questions drawing on mostly historical examples & sources.

Throughout, I have questions which I don’t have answers to. I’ve written them in italics. If you do have any answers, please let me know!

What is an enquiry question?

Firstly it is really important to differentiate curricular enquiry questions with pedagogical enquiry. Christine Counsell explained this to me:


The latter, pedagogical enquiry is often known as ‘Discovery learning’ or using an ‘enquiry cycle’ where students are tasked to follow a set process for investigating a topic. My understanding is that this pedagogy primarily focuses on the skills that students are developing during the enquiry process with the substantive knowledge being part of the the output. The questions that are used in an enquiry cycle can be generated by students. This pedagogical model has been presented in some RE agreed syllabuses as the way that RE could or should (?) be taught. This blog isn’t about pedagogical enquiry learning but the research from Kirschner et al (2006) outlines some of the issues associated with this type of pedagogy.

To be clear, this isn’t a false dichotomy of ‘curricular enquiry questions’ vs ‘enquiry learning’.  They are different things that both use substantive knowledge and skills.

However, are the questions used in pedagogical enquiry useful for curricular enquiry?

What are curricular enquiry questions (EQs?)

So, to be clear, in this blog I’m talking about curricular EQs. What exactly are these? Here are definitions from the History community:

According to Michael Riley (2000) they:

• capture the interest and imagination of your pupils?

• place an aspect of historical thinking, concept or process at the forefront of the pupils’ minds?

• result in a tangible, lively, substantial, enjoyable ‘outcome activity’ (i.e. at the end of the lesson sequence) through which pupils can genuinely answer the enquiry question?

Practically they are:

  • the foundation for a short sequence of lessons (perhaps 3-6?)
  • Covering a central (historical) idea
  • Academically rigorous
  • Rely on substantive (& in History disciplinary knowledge) knowledge to answer coherently whilst developing skills ( the ‘opposite’ to enquiry learning’?)
  • Are always curated by the expert (the teacher)
  • Sometimes address a ‘topic’ within a single question, sometimes as a pair or even trio of questions – if one question doesn’t cover a whole ‘topic’ then a second may be needed
  • Since Riley, many have argued they should reflect the types of questions historians are asking

What makes EQs academically rigorous in RE?

What might RE use as it’s disciplinary knowledge at school level?

What questions are Theologians, Philosophers etc asking about religion that might be useful for EQs in RE?

The Historical Association gives a clear definition of how EQs work here (my emphasis):

The enquiry question in history teaching is therefore a planning device for teachers, enabling them to structure coherent sequences of lessons, building knowledge systematically within well-organised frameworks. It thus helps pupils to see the links between one lesson and the next, and through sustained attention to a single question, ‘to make connections, draw contrasts, analyse trends’ as the National Curriculum requires. Pupils’ ability to answer the enquiry question at the end of the sequence – most often by means of a written narrative or analytic essay – also serves as a fundamental means of assessing both their historical knowledge and their ability to produce an analysis in response to a type of historical question before moving on to the next lesson sequence.

The first point of this is an interesting one. Not only can EQs support a short-term series of lessons but can be used as part of curriculum planning. The Historical Association suggest that EQs can support curriculum coherence, so rather than a curriculum being a series of disconnected EQs, each EQ should be informed by the prior EQ and influence the subsequent one. Logically if one requires certain substantive knowledge to understand and answer it that won’t be covered in the EQ lesson sequence, then the EQ that deals with that substantive knowledge needs to precede it.

Can we use the concept of historical EQs and transfer how they are used in RE?

How might we organise the role of enquiry questions in RE?

Hugh Richards in this brilliant document organises the role that historical enquiry questions can play in several ways which could help inform how enquiry questions could be used in RE:

Hugh’s role of EQ in history

Possible role of EQ in RE ?

RE example EQ?

By historical period By religion? (or worldview if you want to use that term) Will Islam soon be the biggest religion in the word?
By first order concepts The core concepts in RE ‘belief, ‘commitment’, ‘diversity’ ‘morality’ etc How might belief in God impact the day-to-day life of a Jew?
By second order concepts We don’t have these in RE. Could these come from the disciplines? EQs in the main disciplines of RE; Theology, Philosophy & Social Sciences (see The Norfolk agreed syllabus for clear examples of this) What can be considered as the strongest arguments against life after death?
To cover a theme in breadth Known as Thematical teaching in RE, cross-religion themes e.g. Prayer in Islam, Christianity & Hinduism Is prayer the same in Islam, Christianity & Hinduism?
To delve into a narrower topic in depth by concept within a religion e.g. Sewa in Sikhism Do you have to perform Sewa to be a Sikh?
To unlock a rich and meaningful sense of period to unlock a rich and meaningful sense of….belief? practices? Religion? Why is Christianity declining in the UK?
Using scholarship to bring students in the work of Historians Bringing in the work of Theologians, Philosophers etc How far does Aquinas help Christians understand the origins of the universe?
Explore local history To explore local religious demographics Why is there a purpose built Gurdwara in Ipswich?

Are these correct equivalents? Do the equivalents work in RE? Are there more/different roles of EQs in RE?

Are my RE examples ‘good’ EQs? (I’m a novice at writing them and it’s difficult!)

Would providing an answer/response to these questions after a short (3-6 lesson) sequence of lessons be a useful way to assess students understanding in RE?

What is the disciplinary knowledge from the disciplines at school level RE?

What’s the difference between an interesting question and an enquiry question? What makes a ‘good’ RE enquiry question?

This is what I’ve been trying to work out. The problem is that when I see one, I think I know it would be a good EQ but writing them is really tough. In my head it requires a large amount of substantive knowledge, given by the teacher and will allow students to select which they feel is most useful in answering the EQ.  It leads to an overall judgement that the student has to conclude based on the evidence studied rather than just a presentation of knowledge. It requires analysis and synthesis skills to present a good argument that answers the question. It gives the students so much substantive knowledge that they don’t just write ‘no’ or ‘yes’ to EQs that might seem like closed questions. And the question is so interesting that they are motivated not to just write ‘no’ or ‘yes’.

Riley (2000) references an activity designed by Christine Counsell called ‘The Dodgy questions Game’.  ‘Dodgy’ questions in history could be those that are historically invalid, encourage ‘morally superficial or anachronistic judgements’, are not academically rigorous or have sloppy wording. They may focus too much on trying to capture students’ interest (by being controversial?) rather than focusing on what we want students to learn from answering it.

What might the ‘dodgy question game’ look like in RE?

Which of these would meet the enquiry question criteria? Which are ‘dodgy in RE?’ What might be the issue with these?

  1. Why is Jesus important?
  2. Why is Jesus important to Christians?
  3. How has belief in Jesus affected life in the UK today?
  4. How do we know about the life of Jesus?
  5. Did Jesus exist?
  6. Who was Jesus?
  7. Why should we listen to what Jesus said?

One criticism of some historical questions is that they elicit morally superficial answers, but in RE could these be used as part of moral arguments? 

Are ‘dodgy’ RE questions different from ‘dodgy’ historical questions? If so, Why?

Is there a place in RE for controversial EQs?

Finally, I asked RE colleagues their views on what make good EQs in RE and had some really interesting responses:

Nicki McGee responded “I like a question that challenges the students to do more than just agree or disagree because they can probably do that ( albeit badly) without our input. It gives some students an excuse for a lazy answer…..rather than “ is there life after death?” I would ask “ does believing in an afterlife improve the current life?”

Another RE colleague Sarah Stewart said “I particularly like quite loaded questions – ones with a deliberate bias that ignite discussion. For example, “Should Christians be greener than everyone else”?”

Joanne Burt added “I don’t think there necessarily is a difference but an enquiry question is always capable of being opened up for deep exploration – in fact it always leads to this.”

And from adviser Pat Hannam  “In both cases (RE and History ) it needs to have something that engages us and makes is want to go ou a journey with the enquiry…. and lead to making discernment in some way … at the end”

Hopefully that’s provided a foundation for further thinking. In my next blog/s I will look at suggestions of EQs in RE, what might be the specific challenges of using them in RE, what they look like within curriculum planning and what might be the overarching big questions for RE.

Thanks to everyone that has contributed to the discussion and to my thinking on this so far.  Especially @hughrichards who has been incredibly generous with his time and advice and to @Buisst_Teaching for checking this blog draft through. I hope I’ve not misrepresented views.

Please let me know your views on here or on Twitter @missdcox


Links & Reading (pay wall)

Paul A. Kirschner , John Sweller & Richard E. Clark (2006) Why Minimal Guidance During Instruction Does Not Work: An Analysis of the Failure of Constructivist, Discovery,
Problem-Based, Experiential, and Inquiry-Based Teaching, Educational Psychologist, 41:2, 75-86,

Click to access into_the_history_garden.pdf


Click to access into_the_history_garden.pdf



Click to access nnn-2.pdf



Blog collection: Generating 2020 GCSE/A level grades


This blog is purely a collection on how exam centres can generate the GCSE/A level grade required to submit to the DfE in 2020 & some general blogs on the situation.

The Government have issued this which is the definitive document at the moment DfE document –

Ofqual blog 

Ofqual video for teachers

Blogs & videos

Kristian Shanks –

Chris Baker

Andy Byers – video

Andy Byers – Blog –

Tom Sherrington –

Matthew Evans

Matthew Evans 2

Alan Brooks

Carly Waterman

SSAT- Tom Middlehurst

Lewis Fenn Griffin


Ben Preston

Dawn Cox (not written for this context but may be of use)

OCR video

General blogs on the overall situation 

Not on generating grades but generally on this process – Gill Wyness-

Race Update 5 – Grade Predictions and Assessment during Covid-19-Dr Shahmima Aktat-

Ben Newmark- What about pupils at turnaround schools?

The possible fallout from cancelling exams for teachers



There will be many consequences in education due to Covid-19. It’s not possible to even predict what they will be at this time when we don’t know how long schools will be closed.

However, one thing we do know, is that the GCSE & A Level exams have been cancelled and the DfE announced on Friday how student grades will be calculated. This blog will be specifically focusing on the potential fallout of this for me as a classroom teacher. As with anything, depending on your view of assessment and accountability, we will have differing opinions on whether these consequence s might be a good or bad thing. I will give my opinion on what I think.

In year data collection

We were just getting to a stage, where most schools were reducing the amount of times that staff have to enter data onto whole school systems, reporting student progress/attainment. Some schools may choose to use this data on their students to help generate a grade to submit to the DfE. However, this is potentially problematical. Depending on the school/teacher, this data was never designed to be used as a predictor of the actual grade a student may get. If it is used internally to monitor or judge teachers they may be overinflated. If they’re used with students as a motivator they might be under estimated to encourage a student to work or slightly overestimated to encourage an unconfident student to carry on.

A positive of this is that schools may look at the process used for teachers to calculate what they are entering into the system. The downfall of this is that leaders may only be using it for the end results rather than the journey of getting there. For me this data, is part of a discussion within our department and with my line manager. Not just an exam grade predictor tool. Will leaders reintroduce more data collection for the possibility that this might happen again? Let’s hope not.


Mock exams

These have been a focus of discussion amongst teachers. Some even believed that the DfE would get us to send student mock exams to exam boards to mark or for moderation. One person insisted that the rule is that papers have to be locked up after students have sat them, for unseen circumstances. These people clearly have no idea what other people do regarding mock exams.

I tweeted a long list of problems with using mock exams to generate predicted grades:

  • Students sat different papers to generate a grade
  • Grades were calculated using different boundaries
  • Some subjects haven’t done mock exams
  • Mock papers have gone home
  • Predicted grades could have been manipulated for….
    • motivation
    • course entry
    • assumed work student will do
    • parental/student pressure
  • All teachers aren’t exam board trained in accurate mark scheme marking
  • You can’t apply a previous set of boundaries to a different cohort
  • Teachers may have been intentionally harsh/lenient in their marking
  • Teachers have a vested interest in positive results (linked to performance management/pay)
  • Teacher predictions are generally poor

Following this year, my concern is that school leaders might change how mock exams are used in schools.

I strongly believe that all work students do is formative, until the final exam. They should have opportunities to learn from their work and be able to look at them as part of their revision notes. Locking them up in a cupboard stops this.

I don’t use marks/grades with students throughout the GCSE. I’ve blogged on my thoughts on data, many times….

I really hope that due to this leaders don’t start doing things like creating spreadsheets of made up data to ‘track’ student ‘grades’, make us grade pieces of work that are upgradable e.g. one exam question, choosing the paper that students do as a mock instead of leaving it to the HOD, making me mark using marks/grades, using previous grade boundaries to apply to anything a student writes (grade boundaries don’t work like that!)….. all of these things don’t improve learning, they take up teacher time to try to calculate something that can’t be accurately calculated.

Weighing the pig doesn’t fatten it but might some school leaders think that students need to do more exams to give more data? I personally don’t have a problem with students practising but when it’s formative, not summative. Those that love a ‘walking, talking mock’, would spend hours of year 11 with students in a hall, instead of thinking about the long term learning of a student.I would be mightily annoyed if we have to set more exams, mark them and then not be used for learning…..

Exam board predicted grades

Those of you that have been teaching for a few years will recognise these. We used to have to complete them a few months before the exams to predict which grade we think a student will get. These were then sent to the exam board in the belief that if for any reason a student didn’t sit the exam, this is what the board would use. However, without any communication that I remember, they stopped.

In my own experience of these coming into use, I once had a student that broke their arm on the day before the exam and was too ill to complete the exam. I had predicted them a ‘C’. They were given an ‘F’. Why did this happen? Well, someone on Twitter pointed me to this research by OCR, at about the time general OMRs were ditched.

Unsurprisingly, teachers were more likely to be optimistic than pessimistic with grade predictions.

UCAS statistics show “In 2019, 21% (31,220) of accepted 18 year old applicants met or exceeded their predicted grades, a decrease of 3 percentage points. In addition, 43.2% of accepted applicants had a difference of three or more A level grades”. What this tells us, is that when the stakes are high, predicted grades are high!

So, the high stakes nature of teacher prediction makes it unreliable. Asking teachers to do it more won’t make it any more reliable, in fact if it is high stakes it gives teachers more reason to be generous. Will exam boards bring these back? Doubtful. If they do, it’s more teacher work.

The positives

Maybe there will be some positives to come from this unprecedented (Yes, I said that word) situation. My hopes would be:

  • Teachers learn more about how exam boards generate exam grades and how papers and grade boundaries are linked
  • Consider our use of internal school data more carefully, in many cases not relying on mock grades but the student’s whole GCSE/A level experience
  • Ditching revision and teaching it well
  • Considering the whole curriculum and how it feeds into KS4/5
  • Discussing students individually, not focusing on data output from a spreadsheet
  • More leaders realising that predicted data isn’t always reliable

I really hope that we don’t go backwards, due to this hopefully once in a lifetime event…..

Using booklets for guided notes


In the past couple of years I’ve seen that many teachers have been using booklets with students. These look like mini text books but with the advantage of being bespoke and generally having better tasks/questions for students to complete than the average text book.

I’ve not gone down this route as I’m a ‘chalk and talk’ type teacher that gives the students the info they need from the front rather than from a text. They’re also a lot of work. I could spend hours creating these.

However, I’ve come up with a different way of using booklets; guided notes booklets.


I have for the past 5 years promoted note taking with students. We expect it from year 7. We give them some guidance on what makes good notes and I constantly remind them in lesson about making notes. I put ‘core notes’ on the board that everyone has to write and then remind them to make independent notes. Some students do loads of independent notes and some do none. For GCSE I thought it would be useful to ensure that we cover the whole specification by creating a booklet that has every element of the specification inside it, laid out, ready for notes.

Our guided notes (also known as scaffolded, skeleton or skeletal notes) give students a simple structure for their notes based on the content being taught which differentiates them from generic templates such as Cornell notes.

The research

The research for scaffolding notes for students is interesting. It’s overall positive for learning. The benefits of guided notes include increased accuracy, frequency of notes and improvement in tests. Research also suggests that students prefer using guided notes. Another interesting finding is that guided notes can benefit students with SEN (Lazarus 1993).

Konrad et al (2009) say ” Results indicated that guided notes are an effective and socially valid method for increasing note-taking accuracy and improving academic performance, particularly for school-age students” .

This Cult of Pedagogy podcast and blog has a great summary of the research on note taking.

The practice

I’ve made booklets that cover some of the units that we teach; essentially a whole topic. I’ve had to guess the amount of space needed for notes but used the previous year’s notes from a student’s folder to guide me on space.

The booklets include keywords, comparison charts, some diagrams where appropriate, extra independent notes pages and some information that we would have presented on individual sheets, such as quotations.



For students that have to use laptops for their work, I send them the blank template and they complete with typing.

As I have a visualiser I have one booklet per class I teach and will often complete the booklet with the students. This models my expectations, ensures I only get them to write what can be fitted in the boxes and makes sure they all get the minimum same content.

my booklet

Student views

After using the booklets for the first time, I thought it would be useful to hear what the students think about them and get some useful feedback. Here are the questions I asked (via a google form) and selected  responses that summarise the main points.

What are the benefits of using a booklet?

  • “All my answers are in one place and are easy to find”
  • Don’t write unnecessary information”
  • The benifits of useing booklets are that you have all your notes in one place. You have pre written titles and you have paragraph structures when applicable” (sic)
  • “It’s good because you have all the knowledge written down on one sheet instead of loads of different sheets to look back on.”
  • The answers are clearly in an area which is visible and it stays neat and clear.”
  • It is set out better and puts all the work together. It also shows us the amount of work needed for a certain lesson.”
  • Decreases amount of loose sheets”

What are the problems with using a booklet?

  • Not enough space for people with big handwriting”
  • There’s not enough space to write everything”
  • There is limited space to write.”
  • Can sometimes be overwhelming”
  • “Some of the spaces are quite small, so limit the amount of info you can write.”

For the Theme E booklet, if we used it again next year, what do we need to change?

  • More space, some brief directions on what to do on each page for if we have a cover”
  • Titles,, We had to change some eg. from some Christians to some Muslims”
  • Add a notes page and more space to write in the boxes”
  • Just work out reasonable spaces for each part of the booklet so we don’t run out.”

From this feedback I’ve made every other page a blank notes page so they have more space for independent notes.


I probably should have followed this questions up with ‘why?’.

Any further USEFUL comments to help us

Examples of student work

These show how notes are made in the gaps and how the extra note space can be used for ‘free hand’ notes.


These booklets seem to be well received by students. They are fairly quick to make. They ensure that we cover all the points in the specification. They’ve been adapted so students have structure and the chance for lots of independent notes. We can easily edit them each year and add/remove what’s needed. Students and I can easily see what they’ve missed and can easily copy from another student. A huge benefit for me is that my ‘marking’ is checking for gaps. They’re useful for revision as all notes are in one place, clearly labelled. These are a structured start for students on note-taking, which can support them as they move to higher study, as they can see the benefits of layout and clarity of notes.

Potential draw backs include photocopying costs and students losing the booklet with everything in (no different to an exercise book). Some may be concerned that it limits teaching styles. It doesn’t matter how the content is taught, these booklets are just a record of the key learning so I think teachers can teach how they want then complete the booklet.

I will be making more for GCSE topics. I’m not yet concerned about using them at key stage 3 but it might happen one day.