How using lenses in RE supports countering misconceptions


This blog is going to introduce the idea of using lenses in RE to help students to understand the way that the disciplines of RE ‘work’ but also specifically how the idea of lenses can help us as teachers address misconceptions in RE.

I’ve developed this idea of lenses to introduce to year 7 to help them understand how people view the world (some people like to call this a worldview). I have already blogged on how lenses are can be an important aspect of student views here and this helps them understand their own personal lens and how it might have been developed and will continue to develop over time. Some have called this ‘positionality’. Ofsted HMI RE subject lead Richard Kueh has shared their thinking on this here and refer to it as ‘personal knowledge’.

However the idea of lenses can be used for students to be introduced to other lenses. In RE this isn’t just ‘religious’ lenses but a wide range of variations and combinations. It gives a framework for them to understand that not everyone if the same as them and as they study religion and belief can give them a better conceptual framework to pin their knowledge and understanding to.

The analogy isn’t perfect and has flaws but for secondary students it is useable and those flaws can even become part of the discussion. Once they’ve been taught about this concept, the lenses can pop up at various times throughout the curriculum. I’ve found it particularly useful in spontaneous discussion with students as a reference point to go back to.

Big questions

This image helps students to consider how different lenses will mean different responses to ‘big’ questions in life and helps to appreciate that their lens or view will come from a different perspective to others’. This could be particularly useful when teaching moral and ethical issues.


Disciplinary lenses


I’ve discussed how disciplinary knowledge is part of argumentation in RE here so the idea of a disciplinary lens is an obvious way for students to be able to see that when we approach a topic or and idea we can also use a disciplinary lens. These lenses provide a way of approaching substantive knowledge (the content of what we teach) from the different disciplines (ways of knowing’) in RE.

Multiple lenses

This is where the power of the lens idea comes through; using multiple lenses.


This image was designed to show that there are multiple possible interpretations to the story of Noah. In particular that there isn’t just one Christian interpretation but several. Also that just because they might associate it with Christianity to let them know that the story exists in other religious texts but this would mean that other religions have a different view of the Christian story.

I didn’t emphasise this at the time but now considering how the lenses overlap could become an important point to make. Where do views overlap on what they believe? What are these points of overlap? I could have my own non-religious view of a religious story that may well be similar in nature to a religious interpretation e.g. I can think that the Parable of the Good Samaritan gives a good guide for life without being a Christian.


This image was designed to help understand Biblical interpretations. We use this for example when looking at the creation story in Genesis. This would support introducing students into Hermeneutics (exploring the different potential messages within a text and interpretations of a text).

Lenses & misconceptions

Whilst writing a different blog that touched upon misconceptions, I realised that this is where lenses are crucial. If I think about the classic misconceptions that students have in RE, so many of them might be prevented with a solid understanding of lenses or with the foundations of lenses already made, to support my explanations to address these misconceptions much clearer and logical for students to understand.

Let’s take some misconceptions in RE and think about how these lenses might be used to address them….

“Science is in opposition to religion”

This misunderstanding comes from the idea that lenses don’t ‘overlap’; the scientific lens cannot be used in combination with a religious one. This layering of lenses allows students to see that there are infinite layers of lenses. If we teach students that certain lenses are not necessarily unique or standalone then this misconception can be addressed by an image like this:

It is important for us to present these as ‘A lens’ it’s one of many potential lenses, not ‘the only Christian lens’.

A good example is looking at views on how the world was created. Many students assume that you either believe in science or if you’re a Christian you literally believe the Genesis narrative. Using the lenses here can help students appreciate that there can be a more complex relationship between them.

Again the layering could also be analysed. This Christian lens has ‘space’ that the scientific lens doesn’t. What does this Christian lens believe that the scientific lens cannot fully mirror? What does the scientific ‘space’ contain that might not mirror with this Christian view? How much do the lenses overlap? Why? Why might the ‘space’ be different for different people?

“Catholics are not Christians”

This may come from a lack of understanding of Christian denominations. Considering different denominations as different lenses can help students understand how lenses can have commonalties but also differences.

This first image illustrated that the denomination lenses are separate however this second image could be used to discuss similarities and differences. I guess it almost becomes a three way Venn diagram. It is important here to start unpicking the difference between doctrine and personal views as well.

Some historical substantive knowledge here would also probably help.

“Everyone in a denomination believes the same thing”

This links in to the misconception above and gives a good opportunity to explore the difference between doctrine and personal belief. Students need to understand that whilst someone may identify with a specific denomination/school/sect this doesn’t mean that they agree or indeed believe its official doctrine. An example of this is where a personal religious lens meets a doctrinal religious lens. Issues where this might provide a useful structure are controversial issues such as abortion, contraception & sexuality.

This shows that even within a denomination there are variations of ‘lenses’. You could explore what these might include and why they exist. This will mean looking through theological and social science lenses so should include a rich discussion on interpretation & personal belief.

“Sikhs have a kirpan to attack people”

Context is such an important concept in RE. Students need substantive historical & cultural knowledge to be able to understand that their 2021 lens may not interpret things in the same way as a 30CE or 640 CE lens or even a 1960CE lens. Having a sense of ‘time’ and ‘context’ can be help to prevent these misconceptions. Students can’t help but apply a 2021 UK lens when introducing the kirpan. Their context is “knives are used for cooking or for stabbing someone. The kirpan looks like a knife so….”. Using historical knowledge and ‘time’ lenses can help students to understand the historical, symbolic and spiritual significance of the kirpan for Sikhs

“A large % of the UK is Muslim”

I’ve heard this a few times. Students have an overinflated view of the numbers of Muslims in the UK. A social sciences lens is perfect here. Looking at the reality of numbers will help them to get a more realistic picture of the Muslim Community. And of course it’s important to then unpick where this misconception has come from e.g. the media, family etc

“Jesus was white”

A classic misconception but do students understand how this idea has come about? This is a great topic to look at sociological, cultural and historical lenses.

I’m going to stop now, I’m sure you get the idea. I’m sure there are other misconceptions that might use the lenses differently. This isn’t for every lesson; it’s for when the analogy can support understanding. As we gain experience as teachers, in some cases we do what we can to counter misconceptions before they arise. I hope this has provided some inspiration to how the lenses can help provide a framework for discussing and addressing misconceptions. I’d love to hear more examples.


Should we spend time finding out what students have learnt during a lesson?


I will start by saying that I think this might be difficult for me to explain my thinking and I suspect I will give up trying to clarify! I also suspect that some of this is engrained in what people have always been told should be in their teaching and will defend it regardless. Regardless, I hope this blog gives some things to ponder on.

In normal times I hear teachers speak about spending time in lesson doing whole class activities with the purpose of finding out what students know/understand/have learnt in that lesson. I don’t mean independent practice (although there are possible issues with this) I’m thinking about tasks where the teacher makes the students all respond at the same time, in the lesson. For example, using whiteboards to hold up an answer or giving them a multiple choice and the students hold up their fingers to correlate with what they think the correct answer is. Also, in some cases individual activities in front of the whole class such as ‘targeted questioning’.

I’m also not talking about retrieval activities that have the purpose of helping students to remember in the long-term; this is a different purpose. I’m discussing when a teacher does an activity to find out if all the students know/understand what they have just learned/have made progress in that lesson which I think may be a waste of time in doing exactly that.

During online learning I’ve seen people spending time trying to replicate these activities however as there are additional issues with remote teaching I’m not including it in my argument here.

Bjork & Bjork (2006) back my concern when they say “teachers….are at risk of assuming that performance during instrcution…is a reliable index of learning – that is, that performance during instruction is a valid basis for judging whether the relatively permanent changes that will support long-term performance have or have not taken place”

So what we think we are finding out from these activities might not be quite what we think.

I suspect that a lot of this practice comes from the ‘proving learning/progress every 20 minutes’ phase in teaching which possibly originated from Ofsted inspections at the time. I wonder if these are just a hangover or if people have really thought about if they’re impactful? Whilst it might not be being done every 20 minutes have the activities continued?

It wastes time

I also think that they waste time. I’ve tried to think of an analogy to represent what I think happens with teachers that do this. It’s not a great one but here goes…

A child is NOT a dustbin

Let’s imagine someone is trying to fill a large dustbin full of mud as quickly as possible. They need 30kg of mud in the dustbin. They start filling it and then take it over to the scales to weigh it. It’s 5kg. So they take it back and continue filling. They want to check it again so take it back over to the scales and reweigh it;15kg. Time is ticking by, so they drag it back and carry on filling it. They must be nearly 30kg so they take it back to the scales and it’s 29kg. So they go back…..

I am not equating students with buckets! My point here is that it was probably a waste of time keep weighing the dustbin. The quickest way to fill the dustbin would be to just carry on and not keep stopping to weigh it. Ignoring all other flaws in the analogy I would say that the time and activities that is spent in classrooms finding out if students know things might be better used keeping on teaching them instead of trying to measure the learning.

I think this is one of the big issues with these activities; I can’t see how the time doing them is better than teaching students more or recalling for long-term memory.

In some classes, using whiteboards will take time to setup and take time on the inevitable training needed so that students don’t draw penises or wipe the ink all over their hands. At a minimum that would be 5 minutes total giving out and taking in? I know some schools have a whiteboard ready for each lesson but for those that don’t it’s a factor.

Imagine you’re the child that gets the questions correct every time. Assuming that there are occasions when others get it incorrect if the teacher chooses to go through the incorrect answer then you have to sit each time listening to something you already know. If you’re the student that often gets it wrong, the teacher may well say ‘Brian got this wrong so I’m going to go through it’ or ‘Brian how did you work out that answer?’. Poor Brian, being named. Easy solution, don’t say Brian’s name. But Brian knows that each time this repetition of explanation is for him. Not a great feeling. And then how do you know what his misconception might be?

And if you’re the student that doesn’t understand, you may feel pressured to write something on the whiteboard so any indicated of a misunderstanding is completely undermined by the fact they just wrote any answer down; there is no rationale for it (that the teacher my try and spend time doing).

And what if Brian still doesn’t get it after your second explanation? Do you keep on asking everyone? At which point does the majority understanding outweigh the few that don’t? How long do we carry on, on the same topic? If we keep diagnosing problems we’re making things very complicated

There are other uses of time that are much better for learning. Filling the dustbin more and more (overlearning?) is better than continuously weighing it.

We should focus on teacher exposition

This is one of the key factors. This model means that a teacher is spending more time repeating an explanation in the moment rather than the emphasis being on refining it for next time. As you become more experienced as a teacher you should pick up on common misconceptions on specific topics and pre-empt these before you teach the topic again. Does the in-class method prevent out of class reflection of exposition? Of course not, but I think that there should be a significant emphasis on refining for next time.

Also, if Brian got the answer wrong, there has probably been a misunderstanding somewhere. Without asking him you won’t know what that is. Again, asking him publicly isn’t ideal. And then what? Some teachers will repeat the exact same explanation. If they change their explanation to meet his misunderstanding, why didn’t you explain it like that in the first place? Once the misconception is there it is very difficult to ‘un-do’ it.

Asking ‘targeted’ questions

I hear people saying we should plan who we ask questions to to see what the group have understood. I find it utterly bizarre that you would calculate who to ask something that would be representative of anything other than what that the student can answer there and then. Being told to ask pupil premium students first is just ridiculous and frankly embarrassing. Asking your ‘high attaining’ student a difficult question to ‘challenge them’ – they’re probably clever enough to realise this. How frustrating to never be asked a simple question once in a while. And your low attaining student being the bench mark; if ‘Christine gets it then everyone else will get it’ is again just horrific rationale for asking her a question.

Using this type of targeted questioning to make inferences about learning in my opinion is not only a waste of time for everyone else in the class but has dubious foundations. Just ask them all the same question on a piece of paper to answer in their own time.

Does it really tell us what they’ve learnt?

This is where Bjork comes in again. There is a difference between performance and learning. And performance was exactly what people wanted for Ofsted inspections and high stakes lesson observations.

I’ve seen this most in maths teaching. A teacher teaches students a methodology of working something out, gives examples, the students practise. They can do the method themselves. Their answers show this. BUT when there’s an end of unit test which requires application of the same methodology, they all leave it blank or get it wrong. What happened?

Again, it’s not the fact that the teacher has got them to do the practice that matters; practice is important. It’s the inferences made from the results of the practice in one lesson that matters. Saying they could do it therefore they have learnt it is not true. A teacher needs to do much more for it to ‘be learnt’. Which comes back to the issue of time. I think a teacher should spend more time working on long-term memory in lessons (which may be independent practice!) that trying to prove they’ve learnt it. It’s the use of time and inferences that matter.

The teacher has confused ‘performance’ that they can correctly use the method with them having learnt it which is temporary with long-term learning.

The distinction between learning and performance is
crucial because there now exists overwhelming empirical
evidence showing that considerable learning can occur
in the absence of any performance gains
and, conversely,
that substantial changes in performance often fail to
translate into corresponding changes in learning

Soderstrom, N. C., & Bjork, R. A. (2015). Learning versus performance: An integrative review. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 10, 176-199.DOI: 10.1177/1745691615569000.

Does it depend on the subject or what we’re asking them?

My perspective on this comes from teaching a humanities subject. I find that when I teach new ideas students are more than willing to ask questions about it. My relationship with them means that are happy to do this. Their questions bring up any misconceptions which I can deal with there and then. Maybe some students don’t want to ask and I’m preventing them from being able to share the misconception? Maybe a student has carried on with a misconception because they weren’t confident to ask me? I think I go over and over content and then apply it to new contexts that this may be just as good as spending time finding out individual misconceptions, but with the added benefit of overlearning & lots of retrieval.

I can see that subjects like maths and science might want to use whiteboards for example for students to put their answer to a numerical question. It’s a quick way to see if students have understood. But my previous arguments hold on this. Would individual practice without the pressure of answering at the same time as everyone else be better? Wouldn’t it be better if students that get stuck on work ask for help individually? Maybe this is also about teacher-student relationships?

Does it depend on teacher experience?

When you teach a new topic you won’t have such a clear idea of what the common misconceptions are so your explanations may not be refined to address them. Once you’ve taught it a few times you should pick up on these and change your expositions. So maybe these techniques are needed the first time you teach a concept, not necessarily to find out who has the misconceptions but for the long term gain of being able to identify them and address them before they arise next time the topic is taught.

But we need to deal with misconceptions straight away…

Yes of course we must but having 32 students holding up answers and then responding might not be the best way to do that. Students need to understand foundations to be able to move on to higher level understanding, I just am not convinced that these strategies are the best way of finding out if truly understand it or if they are ready to move on.

I’m a reflective teacher and want to find out what I’m missing out on in my teaching. I want to make things better. However with these strategies I just can’t see how my students are missing out. I’m just going to keep filling the dustbin….

Bjork, R. A., & Bjork, E. L. (2006). Optimizing treatment and instruction: Implications of a new theory of disuse. In L-G. Nilsson and N. Ohta (Eds.), Memory and society: Psychological perspectives.

Soderstrom, N. C., & Bjork, R. A. (2015). Learning versus performance: An integrative review. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 10, 176-199.DOI: 10.1177/1745691615569000.