Reflections from #StrictlyRE – On the edge of something big


Thanks so much to the NATRE team and everyone who ran sessions. I felt it was a conference at the front of the changes in RE. We are about to embark in a period of change and whilst it may be worrying, it has the potential to redefine how we teach & how children experience religions. We’re on the edge of something big…..

I thought I would reflect on my thoughts on the issues raised,mainly on knowledge and assessment. My thoughts are mainly a result of Deborah, Daniel and Dilwyn’s sessions and previous concerns about assessment without levels. I will, as usual, play devil’s advocate and ask questions. Please do respond to them in the comments.

Core knowledge

It was suggested that, like other NC subjects we should have a set of core knowledge that we expect every child to have at a certain point e.g at the end of each key stage. I agree with this. I think it would help to resolve an issue that secondary teachers have in that children come to us with a wide range of knowledge. If they’ve been in a faith school, their knowledge of a particular religion far outweighs that of those who may have had little/no RE.

However would this core knowledge apply to faith schools? I believe it should.

Assessing the core knowledge

  • Whilst new systems of assessment are up for grabs at the moment, is there a danger that the core knowledge will become like a check list and that proof of the knowledge will come in the form of testing over and over?
  • Will some teachers see the list of knowledge as the minimum and only address the minimum and do nothing more all year?
  • Will some schools aim to whiz through all the core knowledge in one or two days and then have no more RE?
  • Will core knowledge reduce our subject to rote learning of facts and lose the uniqueness of what else it has to offer?
  • How does this work with whole school data tracking systems which I’m sure schools won’t just ‘drop? 
Will core knowledge become a checklist?

Will core knowledge become a check -list?

A hierarchy of core knowledge

I missed Dilwyn’s second session where I think he went through this. Daniel briefly mentioned the importance of knowledge as well. We have a problem in schools the misinterpretation of Bloom’s Taxonomy has been used to perpetuate the myth that ‘knowledge’ is a low-level skill.

Would you say these surgeons were low level with their amount of knowledge?

Would you say these surgeons were low-level learners with their level of knowledge?

However we need to be careful that we don’t think that higher level knowledge is just about knowing more. It is about knowing more, in-depth. Higher level knowledge becomes very specific and focussed.

So if we go this way, will we start a whole new system, that is essentially levels of knowledge?

Were levels in themselves the issue or the way in which they were used? 

Should knowledge be the only thing we assess? 

Whilst sat pondering this I found some suggested models of hierarchy of knowledge. I haven’t yet had time to digest and apply these but here they are for reference. If anyone knows more about these it would be great to hear.

If I think about this in my own practice I have recently been teaching Buddhism to year 9 and have a very able group. I haven’t taught a class like this before so I’ve had to really think about what I can do to challenge them. I decided to focus at the concept of Enlightenment and how it is achieved. We really drilled down on different interpretations of how to gain Enlightenment & then critiqued these views in order to conclude which may be the ‘best’ way to become Enlightened. Students were encouraged to do their own independent research and I offered them some seriously high level, in-depth content. As it was the first time I’ve taught this there is so much I will do differently next time but I think I had an insight in how depth of knowledge on one aspect began to challenge them more than if I’d spent those lessons going through ‘more’ Buddhism with them.

In the next topic I am going to trial getting them to choose their own ‘drill down’ question that they need to research and write an academic argument on. I think I will have a wide variety of outcomes which I will risk being less than if I ‘dictate’ to them what they should do but I’m prepared to allow them to ‘jump into the deep end’.

This leads neatly into…

Academic Rigour

This group have taught me that I need to really begin to focus on what makes a high level RS student from the top down. I think that embedding critical thinking skills (reasoning & assessing credibility) will help us to achieve a high level of rigour.The TES reported that too many children are leaving school without the critical thinking skills that are needed for university. I really believe that this is an opportunity for RS to develop key skills needed in life and in turn help students to create high quality academic pieces of writing.

This idea fits in neatly with the new GCSE and A level draft objectives so developing it lower at key stage 3 seems to be a logical step for us to take.

Draft GCSE

The new draft objectives link directly to critical thinking skills.

Academic rigour – What I’m trying out

I am trialling using critical thinking skills with students to support them in achieving a good standard of academic writing.  I will be sharing some of my findings at #TLAB15  Sorry for the plug!) and will also blog on it.

Daniel Hugill also mentioned those disciplines that are mentioned in most Exceptional Performance descriptors at key stage 3.

‘disciplines and methodologies for the study of religion: history, sociology, psychology, linguistic analysis, literary criticism, and theology’

I really want to investigate what these might ‘look like’ at key stage 3. How can we, in such a small amount of time with the students, get them to use all of these in their work? It seems impossible but maybe now this is the time, to think how we can manage this effectively.

I’m also trialling the use of ‘optional research (homework)’ by putting some recommended articles on our ShowMyHomework system so if anyone fancies some ‘around the topic reading’ they have a starting point. Unfortunately I don’t know how much this is used. It would be great to have a ‘hit’ counter’.

Finally I’m training them to evaluate views and suggest conclusions without using the word ‘I’. some find it odd but I’m trying to teach them that a conclusion should be decided from logical reasoning not ‘just what they think’ or in some cases ‘what they’ve been told (by an adult?)’.

I’m considering how I can create a ‘tool kit’ (sorry for the edu cliché with huge respect to recently deceased Paul) to support students in achieving academic rigour in the study of religions. Is this possible?

Teacher Research & Reflection on Pedagogy

This wasn’t mentioned in any of the sessions I attended but I think it is also what we as a community need to engage in more. If we are putting more rigour into the study of religions then we too must engage in a study of how we are teaching it. Most of us probably do this without thinking. We try something. If it doesn’t work we ditch it or tweak it. Some of us share our successes so others can use it and tweak it. However I feel that with the statistics of how many non-specialists we have teaching our subject and people worrying about resources we are on a back foot with this one.

Do we as a community think about learning? how we teach? rather than asking people for resources for the topic we are teaching? There seems to be a current trend of sharing resources & worksheets rather than sharing HOW we’re teaching. The talented Andy Lewis has shared some research he is doing but in his Head of Year role (who cares!) however there is far less interest in this than if someone offers to share a scheme of work. Those of us that are specialists, do we need to spend more time thinking about the ‘how’ and the ‘why’ alongside the ‘what’?

This post was never supposed to be so long so I’m going to stop. Any comments very welcome.

Exciting times.


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