RE teaching: Use of knowledge is changing & I don’t know enough of it

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Yesterday I went to the first Teach First RE conference. It was excellent. However it confirmed my nagging feeling that I don’t know enough.

My partner always teases me about this in general. When I tell him “I wasn’t taught that at school” he says ” You were educated after 1992, you expect to have been taught. We used to learn without being taught”. So now is the time for me to start more learning in RE than I probably will have ever done.

The use of knowledge is becoming (rightly so) more important but as with many subjects it’s the huge breadth of the study of religion that is daunting. I often hear primary school teachers that are concerned about their subject knowledge but I think as new specifications are being written many secondary school teachers of RE are becoming more concerned, especially non-specialists.

Why are things changing?

In the past I have had a basic knowledge of the 6 mains world religions from the main denominations or schools of thought within them but with little knowledge of the sources behind the beliefs. The shift is moving towards a more analytical type of RE where students need to understand a variety of sources and be able to interpret them to be able to start making some reasoned arguments. Instead of just giving an opinion on a topic, they need to now start analysing ( what I’m calling ‘critiquing’) a variety of views and sources and using these to come to a conclusion. It’s moving from “I think abortion is wrong” to “Having considered different views and sources, overall I think that the viewpoint against abortion is the strongest”.

I think that Andy Lewis mentioned in his session ( I didn’t attend) that it seems that the key stages are moving down i.e what used to be KS4 is now KS3 and what used to be KS5 is now KS4. I would go to a further extreme; for higher achieving KS3 I’ve been using KS5 and the skills needed at A level are now starting to be used with KS3. If we want to prepare students for the study of religions we should start them with those study skills from as early as possible, not ‘spoon feed’ and then they have a big shock at A Level when they’re expected to work in a different way.

How am I dealing with the shift for students?

This year I have been trialling some models that I’ve never done before in key stage 3.

  • Using more sources & views – I’ve attempted to present them with a variety of textual sources, opinions & articles with differing opinions
  • Using critique – I’ve been trying to get my higher level students to consider the reasoning, examples and evidence used in different views and critique them. In this they should look at the logic,reliability, credibility and reason-ability of views without criticising the believer themselves.
  • Independent research – I need to accept that I won’t know everything about everything but students can find out plenty without me with the help of Google. I’ve added this in to my assessment criteria and will be using structures to support students to do this even further from September. They need clear guidance on how to research. Someone at the conference mentioned many students inability to effectively research on the internet. This is our chance to embed these skills. We can teach them what they will definitely need for A level and beyond.
  • Developing reasoned arguments – I am teaching them the basics of reasoned argument writing. It will be this that is at the core of my new assessment model. However it’s the knowledge aspect of the model I have been grappling with.
  • Testing knowledge – I’ve trialled using diagnostic questions or multiple choice questions with students. I’ve blogged on this.Jonathan Porter @JHC_Porter also presented on this as his school does this regularly to embed knowledge in students’ memories.
  • What do we want them to know? – I am rewriting schemes of learning and at the very top I am specifying exactly what we want all students to know in that unit. If we’re clear on this then our teaching and assessment can also be clear. Joe Kirby blogged on his use of knowledge organisers and I’ve had a go at one on the Crucifixion of Jesus Christ. However mine is more complex than Jonathan Porter’s so I need to think about what is/isn’t needed.

How am I dealing with the shift for me?

Social media has had a huge impact. I am in contact with members of faith from a huge variety of religions and denominations/schools. They are a great source of information. I’m reading more as I teach and will learn a significant amount in the coming years. As with many people I didn’t cover much of this in my A levels or degrees so now is the time to learn it. Hopefully universities and training providers will cotton on to this need and provide free/cheap, convenient training opportunities for busy teachers. If SACRES want to start being more useful for teachers, this is a key area they can support them.

Schools also need to recognise that subject knowledge support is essential. It is often overlooked in CPD models.

Problems with time

This is a huge issue for RE; both for teachers and for curriculum coverage.

We feel we need to cover everything in such a short time. However many people are suggesting we cover a little in more depth than trying to teach a lot about each religion. If we teach one religion using the skills we want students to develop then in theory they can use these skills to study any religion.

All of this is moving RE into an academic study of religions, which I agree with. It is our job to structure this for our students so the transitions from each key stage is smooth and the knowledge is long lasting so we don’t waste time repeating that what has already been taught.

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3 thoughts on “RE teaching: Use of knowledge is changing & I don’t know enough of it

  1. Hello Dawn – I found this very interesting and encouraging. Helping students engage and question (interrogate?) faith view points emanating in ever wider circles startng from the students’ own family and friends and moving out to school, locality etc. is a rich source of ‘lived beliefs/ faiths’ will also enable you to learn alongside your students. The N Ireland RE curriculum explores the key role of teacher as co learner This, while while being helped to develop the skills to construct an enquiry model for leaning will empower students in understanding the impact of beliefs on lives and so help them refect on their own personal meaning.
    Many thanks

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