A week in the life of…a visualiser in RE


I thought I’d share how I use my visualiser in my RE lessons. It was actually over a fortnight but that doesn’t sound so punchy.

I use my visualiser for: admin explanation/modelling, model answers, modelling presentation/layout, sharing student answers, showing texts/artefacts, writing notes for students to copy, making expectations clear…..

It is important to say that these are all snapshots. The images work alongside much explanation/discussion & nuance that pictures may not show.

This is my visualiser.
It's an old model  (Lumens Ladybug) but I think it's a good one. It has a light, takes pictures & videos and auto-focuses. It’s also bendy so can move to any angle/height.

Year 11 GCSE

For some topics at GCSE we use guided note booklets. I write the notes in the booklet, with the students, under the visualiser.
Another example of note taking that we've discussed and added to together.

Year 11 have their mock exams this week so I spent 10 minutes reminding them what the papers look like....outside the religions papers...
Outside the themes papers reminding them to answer the correct themes!
Inside the themes paper which is presented differently to religions
Reminding them of each question's requirements.
And how to write their themes answers in an answer booklet.

Showing them how to write the number and leave gaps is important.

The more we can reduce anxiety about the administration of the exam, the more students can focus on content and formatting answers.

Year 7

I use an exercise book for my year 7 classes where I write in it and model everything we do including admin, taking care of a book and modelling presentation expectations.

I used the visualiser to remind students of the notes we've already made. I wrote these 'live' under the camera during the lessons.

These are useful if a student was absent as I put these under the camera at the start of the lesson for them to copy if appropriate.
Reminding students of previous notes.

When writing the title and dates etc I emphasise my expectations of presentation. Showing students this myself makes it clear.
I showed year 7 these rosary beads under the camera so they could all see them. We were talking about Ninian Smart's 7 dimensions, 'material'.
This was showing year 7 how to complete their homework trackers inside their books.

Modelling ensures they write the right thing in the right place.
I sometimes use a model structure on a writing frame for students that may need some support in their extended writing. In this case I modelled a simple answer to help some students see how to use their knowledge.
I explained my thinking as I wrote.

Year 9 GCSE

This is a GCSE style question that I went through with my year 9 classes before they attempted an answer.
We discussed the requirements for the question and what it was asking, it is very simple as I was focusing on them being able to structure their answer rather than knowing content.
Student answer* - We had a discussion of what made this a successful answer. Using the visualiser means they can all see a good format and successful structure.
Student answer* - We had another discussion around the successes and the omission of something I'd asked them to include.
I give 'whole class feedback' on common errors/omissions/praise etc. Our 'orange stickers' are quick feedback on an exam question and the next steps the student needs to take. It was the first 5 mark question for year 9 so I explained what it all meant. They then make individual improvements. 
When introducing a new admin system I use the visualiser to show exactly how I want it to be used.
We completed the first few lines so they could do this together and hopefully do it independently next time.
Have you ever asked students to put a label on a polypocket and write their name on the label? I have, without modelling it and have ended up with labels all over the place and tiny writing that needs a magnifying glass to read! I modelled this simple task so they can see exactly what I'm looking for.

Key stage 4 Core RE

This is a key stage 4 core RE sheet. We use a predesigned sheet per topic and students are required to fill it in as instructed. Sometimes I write on an absent student's sheet so the class can copy notes.

*Student permission to share here obtained.


Multidisciplinary argumentation in RE


I was lucky enough to teach A level Critical Thinking a few years ago because it taught me so much about argumentation that I didn’t know. It has heavily influenced my practice in RE especially with regards to assessment.

OCR Critical Thinking paper 2008 – Structure of an argument

One aspect of the course was that students had to know argument structures and the function of each element of an argument. It is this knowledge that heavily influenced me when ‘life without levels’ came along 7 years ago. I started with a design for RE based on argumentation. It was far too complex for key stage 3 based on the time we had and was too challenging for the students. However, it has been constantly refined each year to something appropriate and more manageable.

Writing arguments

I think that students should be able to construct simple arguments to communicate substantive knowledge. I prefer this to be an extended piece of writing but it doesn’t have to be.

I think students should know the basics of an argument; reasons and a conclusion. They can then add evidence to support their reasons which can come in several formats including quotations, statistics and examples. They can then begin to assess the quality of reasoning to begin counter arguments. This is a higher level skill that we do some of in our core KS4 when looking at the logic of philosophical arguments. We teach a simple version of assessing reasoning at GCSE in the evaluation questions when we look at the possible strengths and weaknesses of reasons presented in an argument.

If you are in a school with high attaining pupils you could certainly also begin to teach students logical fallacies that are a key element of weak reasoning. This could also include analysing analogies. Some of this is part of A level philosophy courses but can be adapted to start earlier in the curriculum.

Disciplinary knowledge

Now that my thinking is turning towards the multidisciplinary nature of RE I have been considering how important argumentation is and how we can use it as a foundation for the development of disciplinary knowledge and in turn, assessment.

Whilst I don’t think that our students should be writing academic papers I do think that we should keep in mind what we know about how theologians, philosophers and social scientists write in the field of production. Their writing shows the type of substantive knowledge they use and the disciplinary knowledge used in their discipline. Richard Kueh (2019) calls this the “sum total of the tools, norms, methods and modus operandi of the way in which humans go about exploring a field of human knowledge that has its own set of conventions”.

In our field of reproduction, in school, we should reflect how our subject ‘works’ by teaching students some of these tools and methods.

But what are they? I’ve not seen much written about this for key stage 3/4 so I’ve put together what I propose would be appropriate as a starting point; keeping it simple and manageable.

TheologyPhilosophySocial sciences
 Sources of wisdom and authority
Data & statistics
HermeneuticsLogicReliability, significance
Using quotations from sourcesIdentifying strengths & weaknesses of reasoningQuestioning the data & its source

Using enquiry questions (EQ) can help to teach disciplinary knowledge as the content that is taught in order for students to answer the EQ including the methodologies that you are focusing on. So, depending on the (enquiry) question that you want a student to answer, they will answer from at least one of these disciplines using the methodology associated with it.

Examples on the existence of God…
  • TheologyWhat sources of wisdom and authority do Christians use to support the existence of God? – Students may use the Bible & other Christian sources such as the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Church statements etc
  • PhilosophyWhat are strengths and weaknesses of the arguments for theism & atheism? – Students might look at the logic of the reasoning including probability, logical fallacies, false analogies etc
  • Social Sciences What do surveys about the existence of God tell us about theism in the UK/world today? – Students may use real survey data and question its reliability, significance etc

If you have plenty of time to teach & students grasp the different disciplines you could venture into the multi-disciplinary essay, where students use multiple methodologies in their arguments.


When it was announced that the government were ditching levels, there was a fantastic opportunity for teachers and schools to come up with a new assessment model that would avoid the pitfalls of levels. Sadly, this didn’t really happen in most cases. Many teachers didn’t have the knowledge of assessment needed and schools didn’t provide CPD on it. Schools came up with systems which restricted teachers and the whole thing turned into, in the best cases just rehashed levels and other cases a mess of grades and flightpaths.

I think that using argumentation is a good way to give a disciplinary focus to assessment in RE. In key stage 3 we look at how students present substantive knowledge through very simple arguments.

For example…

  • Reasons – Have they given the key reasons? Have they explained them using evidence?
  • Evidence – We mainly use sources of wisdom and authority via quotations for this (our key stage 3 years 7-8 is Theology heavy) – Have they chosen an appropriate quotation that support their point? Have they explained it? Have they explained what it means for the point being made?
  • Conclusion – is it logical? Does it summarise the key arguments?

Where appropriate, the assessment of the evidence and possible counters comes from the disciplinary knowledge. If I use some statistics about the number of people that believe in life after death and Heaven when discussing Christian views on life after death, I can then assess the reliability and validity of the source and data as part of my argument. I can use logic or lack of it to critique a philosophical argument.

In this way, progression comes from students knowing more about the topic and being able to use disciplinary tools to present this information. They ‘get better’ at using the skills of argumentation to share their knowledge. Our assessments focus on how a student is developing in their use of argumentation, in a very simple manner. Progress means getting ‘better’ at it.

Problems with this method

One criticism of this method is that it seems ‘content free’ however we have designed task specific mark schemes which deal with the substantive knowledge being used in their arguments. The best student arguments include specific topic knowledge including key concepts, keywords and show a good understanding. ( We also do knowledge quizzes at key stage 3 on every topic).

Task specific mark scheme template – we decide what it is that we want to see in student essays for the elements used in the enquiry question

Another critique that I’ve heard from an RE colleague of our system is that it is just bringing GCSE ‘down’ to key stage 3. This misses the wider context of the role of argumentation in RE as a subject. Yes, students are required to do some of this at GCSE however it is also a disciplinary framework for presenting substantive knowledge. It is a developmental process that, if they choose, leads them to writing academic essays at university and beyond, it isn’t ‘doing’ GCSE at key stage 3.

Benefits of argumentation

The benefits for students in following this model for argumentation are numerous.

Firstly, argumentation is multidisciplinary which is a great benefit for RE as it pulls together its disciplines to give students a ‘format’ in which to present well presented arguments. This is appropriate across subjects. If we teach students that this is a good foundation structure for academic writing it will help them in their further studies.

Secondly, it provides order and structure in a way of organising the substantive knowledge students learn from a potential list of facts into something that has coherence and application.

Thirdly, as the origins of my thinking are from Critical Thinking, it teaches the important skills that critical thinking offers. If you had plenty of curriculum time or particularly high attaining students you could easily go deeper into logical fallacies. It provides challenge and dare I say ‘transferrable’ skills.

It offers a ‘golden thread’ of coherence across the curriculum. Otherwise we may be teaching a random set of topics without anything to hold it together. This overarching principle of argumentation pulls the whole curriculum together regardless of the substantive knowledge being learnt. Ofsted say that progress is ‘knowing more and doing more’. Argumentation does this. They know more about how the disciplines work and they can do more by creating reasoned arguments using this knowledge. The curriculum of substantive and disciplinary knowledge IS the progression model (Counsell 2019).

It is actually flexible in terms of task. Whilst I stick to the written essay, students could equally be assessed on arguing through an individual presentation or with an argument accompanying a creative task (as long as the creative bit doesn’t take longer than the argument?). If you are really quick and observant you could assess a class/group/paired debate but that would be quite complex.

It provides students a way of critiquing reasoning in a non-personal, logical manner. It’s not someone’s random opinion on religion or an issue but a well thought out discussion using logical and reasoning. Paddy Winter says “the need to induct students into the nuances of the disciplinary conversation ensures the subject is not reduced to ‘an opinion based subject’ but instead the academic, knowledge based aspect of the subject is recognised.”(Winter 2019). For me, the benefit of this is that it presents RE as an academic subject to students. There are agreed structures and processes that they need to learn and be able to do. It’s not just a free for all.

I’m not sure Fancourt et al (2020) would agree that our system does this but they say “A more refined approach to justifying and evaluating arguments could more powerfully promote both participation in a plural society as well as students’ epistemic and empathetic flexibility, and this provides a valuable intellectual space within the curriculum, since other subjects rarely offer such rich opportunities for such varied argumentation.

As ever, I’m not presenting a completed, perfect model. We’re nowhere near this.

References & Further reading

Fancourt, Nigel & Guilfoyle, Liam & Chan, Jessica. (2020). Argumentation in religious education in England: An analysis of Locally Agreed Syllabuses. British Journal of Religious Education. 10.1080/01416200.2020.1734916. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/339512009_Argumentation_in_religious_education_in_England_An_analysis_of_Locally_Agreed_Syllabuses

Kueh, R., 2019. A Matter of Discipline? On knowledge, curriculum and the disciplinary in RE. Professional Relection – REToday, Issue Sept.

Counsell, C., 2018. Impact: Journal of Chartered College of Teaching – Taking Curriculum Seriously. https://impact.chartered.college/article/taking-curriculum-seriously/

Paddy Winter (2019) – Farmington TT428: Professional Disciplinary Dialogue. Contact Farmington to access

Student views -Developing the idea of lenses in RE


I’ve had a draft of this post for a long time but I thought I’d edit it and publish following #RExchange2020.

I’m not a normal RE teacher, in many ways! I don’t plan for students to give opinions in my classroom. I don’t ask them for it in my questioning nor in their writing. I was one of a few teachers disappointed when the reformed GCSEs allowed students’ personal opinions in evaluation questions. This is not because I think their opinion doesn’t matter; it’s more complicated.

Some say that it is one of the main selling points of RE; everyone has an opinion and no-one is wrong. I’m wary of this. Just giving an opinion on something is not what makes an academic subject. Academic papers aren’t just people’s opinions on an issue. Giving an opinion on something does not guarantee that a student has processed anything and doesn’t instantly add to lesson because they’re ‘engaged’. It’s much more subtle than this.

Now you’re thinking that I don’t allow students to give opinions in my classroom. This isn’t true. I do! But I want it to be part of a carefully planned process not just ‘Hey class, what do you think about abortion?’.

In my opinion, one of the main purposes of RE is that we want to develop religious literacy and for students to be able to have well informed, in-depth, confident discussions about religion & belief. And, where appropriate can go on to study more. Independently using the tools and methods we’ve taught them. It’s the informed part that matters in their opinion. Informed means that they know where they’re coming from in their opinion. They have the relevant substantive knowledge and they know and understand other perspectives on the issue. They’ve come to a considered opinion not just an instant response.

Using the idea of lenses has provided a tool for us to use that could be part of this idea of religious literacy.


I’m a pragmatist. I listen to what people say, synthesise with what I’ve read and come up with a practical solution for teaching. This is where our year 7 introduction to RE lessons have developed.

Freathy & John discuss ‘Encountering Oneself: Reflexivity, Reflectivity and Positionality’. This idea of how we view the world has become a key part of my recent thinking on how we introduce the study of religion & belief.

We were missing the role of the student in the study of RE because I have been adverse to random student views being used as an essential part of RE. I wanted something that is structured and useful as a tool in their future learning. I think the focus of having a lens might do this.

I want students to see that how they view the world is not how everyone views the world. Even in a room of 32 students who we may think have had a similar upbringing, their lens will be different to the person sitting next to them. The importance of understanding your own lens is shown when students encounter ideas that contradict or challenge their own view. We are giving them the tools to process these differences. I will be saying ‘ah but that’s because of your lens’ many times in the future! And I hope they start saying this to themselves and maybe to others as they develop their understanding.

It is these key points of seeing how other people see things that determines whether a student has a misunderstanding or superficial understanding of an issue. If they don’t understand the idea of context when studying religions & belief, they will make judgements based on their own lens.

Which is where carefully selected and planned substantive knowledge (or content) is essential. If we don’t provide students with in depth, contextual knowledge, they will apply their 21st century, ‘British’, teenage lens to something and make a judgement without being informed. Recently we’ve been discussing the laws on homosexuality in the UK and some of my year 11s have struggled to grasp how views have changed, because they don’t understand how anyone could have a different view towards homosexuality to them. Without contextual, historical, knowledge of the UK they won’t fully understand why the laws have changed. Not just the what, but the why.

We aren’t saying that anyone’s lens is ‘right’ or ‘wrong’; we’re saying that the existence of personal views will determine how we see things. If we try to understand another lens, we may not agree but we come from an informed place. We don’t just have an opinion, but an informed opinion.

In class & homework

So we presented this idea of lenses to Year 7 students and asked them to consider what things might have influenced or changed their lens over time. This is a big challenge for 11 year olds! It was really interesting to see who grasped this concept and those that didn’t. For a start they have to understand that we’re using a metaphor* which takes cognitive skill in itself.

We discussed what could influence the creation of a lens in general and I added some key ideas (see image) to start them off. I then set a homework for students to complete their own lens and annotate what has contributed to their own lens.

So far it really has been a mixed bag in terms of understanding. But this is not about understanding from two lessons, it’s a long term strategy.

A journey not a destination

I think that simple step of understanding that you have a different lens is the beginning of the journey. In RE we will try to reference it as we travel through the curriculum however their lens journey will continue for the rest of their lives.

I think instead of people trying hard to directly teach and develop empathy, or measure spirituality, just giving students an understanding of lenses might have a role in this. We don’t need to try to test or measure if students have grasped these things we need to focus on what we will include in our curriculum that provides opportunities to reflect back over and over. It’s am ongoing Golden Thread not a unit of work to be covered and assessed.

So, that’s where we are. Just to be clear, we’re nowhere near doing this perfectly. This blog is not about a finished product. It’s our goal for our curriculum and department development. Small steps.

*There was a discussion in Stephen Pett’s session at #RExchange2020 about whether using lenses is a good idea. He used a slightly different example of the lenses you put on top of glasses or the lens that opticians use to test eyesight. I think if the students can grasp the concept of their own lens through any of these, they will move on from the metaphor, so to some extent it may not matter.