Session 1: Religious Education

The objectives of are first RE session of the year was to review the purpose and importance of RE within the primary curriculum and to review our subject knowledge in RE. I will begin my reflections on my first RE session of my second year of my BA in Primary Education (QTS) course by discussing the question ‘what is the place of RE in the primary school curriculum?’ This is an interesting question, firstly because religious education does not form a part of the National Curriculum. Although this is the case the teaching of RE is still statutory, RE is determined locally and therefore must follow the locally agreed syllabus, something which is provided by the SACRE (the standing advisory council on religious education).

It is also therefore important to consider what is the statutory role of the teacher, with their main role being not to preach or indoctrinate. When children learn about religion it is important that they develop an enquiry into and investigate the nature of religion, its beliefs, teachings and ways of life, sources, practices as well as forms of expressions. What children should be taught from religion is to develop their reflections on and in response to their own and others experiences in light of learning about RE, develop their ideas and ask themselves questions about their own identity.

With the session already establishing what the role of the teacher is as well as what the children should learn from the sessions, as a group we then looked at answering the question ‘what is RE?’ through an activity done in small groups. The activity comprised of a series of cards in different colours: red, amber and green. On the cards there were a variety of statements such as ‘to teach children about a religion’, ‘to help develop a sense of right and wrong’ and ‘to be aware and respect the beliefs and practices of others in the community’. Each colour stood for a different factor, green represented what is RE, amber is possible RE and red is not RE. We worked in groups to complete this activity and the answers and photographs from which can be seen below:

Green:

–       Religion is important to many people so we need to know about it.

–       To help pupils develop their own ability to express belief and listen to those with different beliefs.

–       To provide an opportunity for pupils to explore important questions of meaning and value.

–       To be aware and respect the beliefs and practices of others in the community.

–       Pupils to know about religious traditions, beliefs and practices and understand why they are important to people.

Amber:

–       To help develop a sense of right and wrong.

–       To develop questioning, researching, reasoning skills etc.

important to RE

Red:

–       To teach Christianity to pupils

–       To teach pupils their cultural heritage

–       To make everyone spiritual

–       Children need to know the Bible if they are going to be good adults.

–       To instruct children in the religion of this country

–       To teach children a religion

–       To enable pupils to make a decision about which religion to follow

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After the activity we then moved on as a whole group to discuss the main purposes of RE. These purposes include providing an opportunity for pupils to explore important questions of meaning and value, as well as for pupils to value their own beliefs but also to gain an awareness and an understanding of the beliefs of others. Another purpose is to allow pupils to express their beliefs, pupils should also be aware of the beliefs of others within the local community. Pupils should know about the religious traditions, beliefs and practices and understand why they are important to people. The children should also be aware that religion and beliefs are important to many people and they should have an understanding of how this impacts upon everyday life.

Whilst the purposes of religious education had already been well established within the session it was also important for us to consider the many benefits of RE. Benefits of RE include: developing an awareness of cultural heritage, helping to develop a sense of right and wrong, extending spiritual development, informing pupils about religion and developing questioning, research and reasoning skills.

So what is RE not? RE is not about just teaching a religion. It is also not instructing children in the religion of the country. Nor is it about teaching them to know a religious text off by heart. It is important that as a teacher, I accept that my views should not influence the way in which I teach RE. I had never really considered this in depth, however after much thought when teaching religious education in future I need to take these ideas and make sure that I do not put them into practice.

Within our session, we also did some activities as a whole group that could be used with a class of children. The first of these, was the noun ice breaker activity. As we were a group of students who know each other and the lecturer was new to the university this activity worked well. It is therefore possible to say that if I was a new teacher and did not know my class of children very well, yet they know each other well through being at school being for a few years with each other. This would therefore be a perfect ice breaker activity in order for me to get to know the class of children. The activity was titled ‘If I were’ and as students we were paired off. We then had to choose one noun to describe something about ourselves to our partner and then introduce our partners to the rest of the group. I thought this activity worked well, as even though I know a lot about the people within my group it gave me the opportunity to find out some things that I did not know about them. This is exactly why this activity would work well with children. The other activity we did as a group was called snowballing. This activity involved each table group being given an A3 sheet of paper, and being given a topic to write down everything they know about that topic within a time limit. As groups we had a different religion and were given sixty seconds to write down everything we know about the religion within the given time limit. We then had to scrunch up the piece of paper into a ball (snowball) and throw it to another table before then receiving our own snowball to repeat the activity again. This activity was made more complex, by us having to challenge any information that had been written that we believed to be incorrect/ not quite accurate. I thought this was an excellent activity to assess children’s current understanding as well as to give them the opportunity to challenge others thinking and have debates as well as discussions about their ideas.

After this session, I began my directed study by exploring the web links that had been left on the power point. The first was http://www.reonline.org.uk/knowing/what-re/. This website contains pages which can be clicked on with information about all of the religions that children learn in school as part of their RE teaching.

re online image

 

I thought this website is a fantastic resource that can be used by a
trainee teacher or experienced practitioner to provide thoroughly detailed
information that can develop and consolidate existing subject knowledge. The
website could also be used in upper key stage two (year five and six) children
in order for them to carry out their own research about religion as part of
work within their lessons or for homework. The second web link http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/. Is another
fantastic resource which can be utilised by both practitioner, trainee and
pupil alike. It has been created by a highly trusted source within schools (the
BBC) and again similarly to the first website contains a lot of information
about each religion studied within school. It is very informative, yet very
user friendly which makes it suitable to be used with older key stage two
children.

The third and final web link that I had the opportunity to explore was http://www.natre.org.uk/. I believe
this website is great for trainees and practitioners. It has a variety of links
on the side panel on the left hand side which lead to free resources for RE.
The links also lead to information about how RE can be used in other curriculum
subjects and vice versa in order to achieve linked learning.

natre image

Next, it is important to move on to the directed tasks that were assigned for the first RE session. The first of which was to read pages 18-24 of ‘Achieving QTS Teaching Religious Education Primary and Early Years’. The information on these pages is about the basic pedagogical principles which should be taken into consideration when planning and teaching RE. The first pedagogical principle is to remember the child. “In all the discussion about RE and concerns about ways of approaching the subject it is important to remember that at the heart of education lies the child” (McCreery et al, 2008, p.18). This is an important principle, as the child should be the central focus when planning and teaching RE. The second pedagogical principle is start with the particular and help children see connections. This is important so that when teaching about a religion it is not interpreted incorrectly by children or upsetting children who may practice the religion being studied. That is why when teaching RE it is important that you start with the particular (the religion) and help children see the connections (similarities and differences to other religions) when teaching RE. The third pedagogical principle is to look for similarities between children’s experience and the specific religious experience. “In all teaching it is generally good teaching practice to make links with what the children already know when introducing them to something or someone new” (McCreery et al, 2008, p.20). This is because it helps the children to understand the information better in comparison to if this did not take place. It is important to recognise that there are many similarities to religious practices to everyday life which can be used as a starting point at the beginning of an RE lesson and as an extension activity after an RE lesson. This is a good principle to incorporate within RE lessons because it “creates opportunities for children to think about and reflect on their own lives and can also give space for children to value their own home lives and background” (McCreery et al, 2008, p.20). The fourth pedagogical principle is also acknowledge difference. This relates to the third principle as it is important that the practitioner doesn’t overemphasise the fact that there are similarities between religion and everyday life, they should also acknowledge the differences. Children should appreciate that “in the vast majority of instances difference is not only okay but it is something which enriches our experiences, enables growth and, with it, learning” (McCreery et al, 2008, p.20). It is important that the idea of difference is accepted by children in order to avoid further problems in future such as prejudice. The fifth pedagogical principle is to draw out themes for AT2. I think this principle is something which should occur within RE teaching as standard practice, as good teaching of RE should be based on both AT1 and AT2 (although this will be discussed further in session two). The sixth principle is seek to engage head, heart and hand. This principle is important because “RE cannot always be fun- indeed there are times when it is inappropriate for it to be fun” (McCreery et al, 2008, p.23). This is vital because there are many topics covered within religious education that cannot be made into a fun and interesting lesson because of their serious nature e.g. death. It is therefore important that they are engaged through their head, heart and hand in order for the teaching of RE to reach the children on a deeper level. The seventh and final principle is to use as many senses as possible. This is important as a method of engaging children within RE and getting them to participate and experience the lesson. The use of a multisensory approach not only benefits a class of children as a whole but it also benefits children who may have English as an additional language or children with special educational needs as it puts the lesson in a context which both groups of children may be familiar with through their own experience. After completing this task, I have reflected on my own experience and when teaching RE in the near future I need to make sure that these principles are considered when planning and teaching RE in schools.

Other essential reading from the session included reading chapters 2 and 3 from the ‘Achieving QTS Teaching Religious Education Primary and Early Years’ book.

Chapter 2- the chapter discusses the big question ‘what is religion?’ and looks at Ninian Smart’s approach to answering this question as outlined by his seven dimensions of religion; practical and ritual, experiential and emotional, narrative and mythical, doctrinal and philosophical, ethical and legal, social and institutional and the material dimension. The chapter also goes on to look at potential issues when teaching religious education and provides suggestions for how these can be overcome. Finally, the chapter concludes by looking at the disadvantages and advantages for taking a cross-curricular approach when teaching RE.

Chapter 3

This chapter is about different teaching strategies that could be used to teach varying aspects of religion including; festivals, artefacts, photographs, DVDs/Videos/TV programmes, visitors from the faith, visiting a place of worship.

Another directed task for this session was to reflect on the importance of RE. “Religious Education (RE) can be one of the most dynamic and exciting areas of the curriculum to teach, for it is here that children gain an understanding of the rich world of faith and explore some of the those questions which are fundamental to human existence” (McCreery et al, 2008, p.1). The reason why I began this discussion with a quote, is because I feel this quote sums up perfectly my view on why RE is important. I think as well as this, RE is a unique subject as it is the only subject that teaches about world religion, faiths and beliefs in the National Curriculum. It is also unique as it raises questions about the very meaning of the life and the issues which are raised through RE cannot also be answered because the answer is unknown. However whilst this is the case, this also means that discussion is created between the teacher and the children. It would be a shame to think that without RE, none of this teaching and unique learning would take place. RE is therefore important to make sure that this unique style of learning continues as a part of education.

As well as my directed tasks, and essential reading I also did extra reading of my own. The first can be found online at http://wrap.warwick.ac.uk/2926/. This web link takes the reader to an article titled ‘Religions and education in England: social plurality, civil religion and education pedagogy’. The article was an interesting read detailing how in England religious groups have a say over how religion is taught in schools. The article also goes on to talk about how society has changed over time and the equality that has been gained as a result of this. The fact that the United Kingdom is now classified as a multicultural society also has impacted on the teaching of religion due to the fact that it is important for everyone to be aware of multiple faiths and beliefs as many cultures and traditions can be found within the United Kingdom. The second piece of extra reading that I did was the 2013 Ofsted report ‘Religious education: realising the potential’ this report can be found at http://www.ofsted.gov.uk/resources/religious-education-realising-potential. The report identifies barriers to the teaching of RE which are preventing the teaching of the subject from being outstanding. The report also identifies ways in which the teaching of RE might be improved, as the report has found the teaching of RE to be less than good in over half of the schools that Ofsted visited. The report then goes to identify strategies to improve the teaching of RE, one of which was to focus a lesson around an enquiry in order to get the children asking questions and learning about religion through the process of enquiry. Overall, the report has found that the teaching of RE in primary schools is not good enough and requires significant improvement. Reflecting on my own practice, when planning and teaching RE in future I need to make sure that I have taken on board what Ofsted have said about the teaching of RE and make sure that I am teaching RE in a way which not only covers the local syllabus but also so that it engages children and meets the requirements of Ofsted for example, through the use of an enquiry.

Reference List

BBC (2013) Religions. BBC [online]. Available from: http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/ [Accessed 12th October 2013].

Jackson, R. and O’Grady, K. (2007) Religions and education in England: social plurality, civil religion and religious education pedagogy. University of Warwick [online]. Available from: http://wrap.warwick.ac.uk/2926/ [Accessed 14th October 2013]

McCreery, E., Palmer, S. and Voiels, V. (2008) Achieving QTS: teaching religious education. London: Sage Publications Ltd.

NATRE (2013) The National Association of teachers of Religious Education. NATRE [online]. Available from: http://www.natre.org.uk/ [Accessed 13th October 2013].

Ofsted (2013) Religious education: realising the potential. Ofsted [online]. Available from: http://www.ofsted.gov.uk/resources/religious-education-realising-potential [Accessed 14th October 2013].

RE online (2013) What RE. RE online [online]. Available from: http://www.reonline.org.uk/knowing/what-re/ [Accessed 12th October 2013].