Teaching Religious Education Classes


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For many in education, both teachers and students, religious education
is a controversial subject. It is neither a core or foundation
subject: it is described simply as being ‘part of the basic
curriculum’, and until 1988 it was the only subject that was required
to be taught at all (Ashton 2000). The presence of children of
different faiths in many schools, gives the study of religion a
reality, which is more difficult to achieve when all the children are
at least nominally of Christian background or of no faith at all (Dean
2001). However, an understanding of other World religions is necessary
in order that a child can understand what is happening in the World
around them.

The four lesson plans have been based upon the Derbyshire Agreed
Syllabus 2002, and the QCA schemes of work, which have been adapted
and applied, to the agreed syllabus. This project will outline the
knowledge and understanding, skills, concepts, values and attitudes
that will be taught and learnt through them.

The assignment specifically focuses upon year 7, mixed ability
religious education classes. The lessons took place during the spring
term, January at John Port School. Etwall, Derbyshire. I began to
teach at the beginning of term as it slotted in well with the handing
over. That is, myself as a new teacher and the subject; Creation.

The scheme of work had already been laid by the department all
teachers were following the same scheme. On being given the template
I became quite excited at teaching the subject as the topic enables
pupils to enter into a multitude of educational experiences from story
telling, debating, to thinking about religion vs. science. The scope
was enormous in terms of application of creativity and cross
curricular opportunities. Ashton (2000) suggests there is no reason
why religious education should not be interrelated with work carried
out to increase literacy or other curriculum areas, both in thinking,
verbal expression and the use of written language. Further more, it is
a subject that remains to be frequently visited by myself so it also

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made interesting to teach from a personal perspective.

Derbyshire Agreed Syllabus 2002.

As mentioned, the scheme of work was already set in place but was also
very flexible when planning lessons.

3.11 Where is truth about religion to be found? QCA 7A (Where do we
look for God?)

Pupils learn about different ways of expressing meaning and
interpreting the truth (e.g. different types of truth: the difference
between fact, opinion and belief; types of proof and the nature of
evidence; the importance of personal experience) so that they can use
specific religious language and terminology correctly, identify and
express clearly questions of meaning and interpretation, and identify
points of difference within and between religions.

3.12 Where did the Universe come from? QCA 9B (Where did the Universe
come from?)

Pupils learn how questions about the origins of the universe are
answered by religion and science (e.g. Genesis 1-2; the argument from
design; evolution; contemporary scientists who are theists/ agnostics/
atheists); the contribution of Islam to scientific debate about human
origins; how science is portrayed in the media) so they can ask
questions and suggest answers from their own and others' experiences
and ways of seeing the World about the origins of life and the Earth
and their purposes.

3.13 How can we answer the big questions of life? QCA 8B (Jesus'
Resurrection).

Pupils learn about the importance of identifying and considering
ultimate questions and religious and non religious responses to them
(e.g. How might beliefs about an afterlife relate to them on Earth?
Why do people suffer? How do people respond to suffering? What
questions does suffering raise about the existence of God? Where is
hope for the future to be found?) So that they can evaluate various
religious responses to the ultimate questions studied and formulate
their own responses, referring clearly to religious ideas.



Knowledge and understanding
===========================

This particular scheme of work allows pupils the opportunity to
explore creation stories, the idea of mystery and ultimate questions.
Pupils were encouraged to investigate the nature of myths and their
use in helping us come to terms with ultimate questions. My lesson
plans also draw upon inviting pupils to discuss and explore their own
experiences of how we came to be here.

The lessons begin by recapping on the previous and highlighting
continuity between them. The lessons aim to develop progression on the
topic by going from the general to the specific. I also aim to make
good use of oral examination, combined with discussion i.e,….

There is also use of pictures, visual stimuli such as optical
illusions and opportunity for group/pair work. Cooper and MacIntyre
(1996 cited in Dean 2001) indicate that effective learning in the
classroom is greatly strengthened when factors such as these are
developed in classroom practice. As well as the objectives aimed for,
the pupils have increasing opportunities to learn from religion by
developing positive attitudes towards other people and their right to
hold different beliefs. Examples of this could include feeling
confident about their own religious and cultural background or simply
enjoying the stories from a different religious tradition. A child’s
moral and spiritual development is enhanced by talking and thinking
about puzzling questions which may arise from the study of religion or
talking about what matters to them and by listening to what others
have to say.

When compiling the lesson plans, I have tried to be aware that the
success or failure may well depend upon the extent to which the class
are of multi faith (could amount to dogmatic beliefs), including any
atheists. Therefore, with this in mind, I chose to incorporate
stories, which would allow for diversity of faith such as, the Chinese
story of creation and the parable of the blind men, (see lesson
plans). As inclusion and enquiry to this scheme of work were
paramount, I also included a lesson that would engage pupils in
understanding the scientific explanation. In terms of inclusion, this
particular lesson would engage those without any religious beliefs and
was felt to benefit the boys as in previous lessons they made regular
references to the Big Bang. Furthermore, I had taken note from the
Derbyshire SACRE report 2002, which indicates that children should be
provided with opportunities to understand religious concepts and
symbolism both in Christianity and other religions.

Skills.

Progress of religious education is dependent upon the application of
general educational skills and processes. There are some skills, which
are central to religious education and I have tried to reflect these
in my learning objectives and opportunities. For example, asking
relevant questions. Through the teaching of this topic considerable
possibilities arise for reflection, a chance for the pupils to reflect
on their own feelings and experiences. Other skills are also
strengthened by the subject such as analysis, expression,
collaboration, empathy, interpretation and performing (see lesson
plans). The use of teacher questioning was used after reading that
questioning within the right context can aid in pupils developing a
desire and therefore to enquire more. With this confidently in mind,
pupils are said to become engaged and make further enquiries, even
after the explanation is complete (Wagg and Brown 1993). Questioning
can also provide a valuable indication of a pupil’s prior knowledge
and assist in teacher pitch, enabling the teacher to know what to
spend more time on teaching and what not.

A social constructivist approach to learning (as pioneered by
Vygotsky) is the method employed. That is, the social interaction of
the pupil is fundamental to development as the pupil constructs their
own understanding influenced by the ideas, values and norms of the
World around them (Mooney 2000).

Attitudes and Values.

Attitudes such as respect, care and concern should be promoted through
all aspect of school life. There are some attitudes which can be built
upon through the study of religious education; these attitudes can
also strengthen what can be learnt from that experience. Within
practicing teaching I hoped to adopt an atmosphere where pupils may
discuss openly ideas, listen to each other, be non judgemental and to
always keep an open mind. In turn I would promote self understanding,
where a pupil can develop a mature sense of self worth and value.
Other attitudes would include openness, commitment and enquiry.

Lesson Planning.

Lesson 1: Introduction to the subject Creation

Lesson 2: Parable of the blind men and the Elephant.

Lesson 3: Chinese story of creation.

Lesson 4: The Hindu story of creation.

Lesson 5: The Christian story of creation and the Big Bang theory.

Lesson 6: Our own creation play from what we know, believe or have
learnt.

The first lesson consisted mainly of both the pupils and I getting
familiar with each other. I began the class by asking pupils what they
expect to gain from having religious education. I asked what their
expectations of me, their teacher were. I then explained my
expectations of them, discussing what I would be teaching over the
next six weeks. I began to ask pupils whether they already held any
ideas, explanations. The class appeared enthusiastic and very willing
to share thoughts. I then asked whether the class would believe me if
I were to tell them that the World was created in 6 days and God
rested on the 7th. Most pupils said, "no". The lesson then moved into
its core, pupils were asked to write in their books what they think a
myth is followed by fact. After a couple of minute's pupils fed back
and we were led nicely into the game, "Call My Bluff". This activity
was set to encourage pupils to think about how certain statements,
narratives are convincing through who is saying it and how it is said.
The pupils had considered the activity as I asked the very same
question at the end of the lesson and pupils responded with, "I don't
know". Dean (2001) indicates that what is needed in a good teaching
method is to present the material to pupils in a way that is likely to
engage their curiosity and interest. This in turn will enable pupils
to relate to their own interests and experiences in order to deepen
and broaden their understanding. I hoped by providing many windows to
investigate creation through story telling, group work, discussion and
sensory stimuli it would keep pupils engaged.

The second lesson was titled, "The Parable of the Blind Men and the
Elephant". This lesson was really a continuation of the first in that,
pupils were thinking of ultimate questions and answers. I began with a
recap of the first lesson and asked pupils whether they could give me
an example of stories that had altered some way through time. Pupils
were later put into six groups of four and were asked to decide who
would be number one to six. I explained this was important as 1's
would need to have a good memory and 4's would need to be happy about
speaking out in front of the class. I then took the 1's aside and told
them the story of The Blind Men And The Elephant (See lesson Plan2).
The remainder of the class were asked to write in their books what
they thought the title meant. The pupils had to remember the story and
it was passed down to the number 4's who took it in turns to read out
what they had written down of 3,s account. This activity was
especially good for differentiation however, could be tricky if there
are issues of behaviour. Again, the activity aided in what I had spent
explaining at the very beginning of the lesson re: enquiry and
answers. All pupils understood that the various stories we were about
to embark upon may be different but didn't mean they were wrong.
Indeed. the first unit of the agreed syllabus, 3.11 had been fulfilled
by these two lessons.

The third lesson was designed to actually inform pupils about other
stories of creation. I felt it was an appropriate lesson to begin
exploring other World, cultural views of how we came to be here. It
also slotted in with the agreed syllabus, unit 3.12 and was a
continuation of the previous two. The activities were planned towards
inclusion and differentiation, (see lesson plan 3).

The fourth lesson was set out in conjunction with the latter as I
wanted pupils to remember the story of the Blind Men (Lesson Two). I
purposely chose to read the class this story as it was not to
dissimilar from the Chinese. Pupils were invited to work in two's for
two minutes and decide what the similarities between the stories were,
if any and why. This was also an opportunity to bring a little cross
curricular activity. Pupils were asked to think about Geographic's,
were handed a map of India and map of China. Unit 3.12 QCA 9B was
fulfilled.

Lesson five completed the entire units of 3.11 and 3.12. Pupils were
given a story of creation from a Christian perspective along with the
scientific theory, Big Bang. I proceeded to teach this with
illustrating the expanding universe through the use of a balloon. I
also enquired to see whether pupils would be confused by thinking that
the two could/is not met by some individuals. Most believed it to be
an either or situation thus led into another interesting discussion,
mainly steered by boys.

On reflection, the balloon activity worked very well with all pupils
fully engaged and understanding the position of dots on the balloon
with galaxies.

Lesson six was planned to engage pupils' with the bringing of all the
lessons together. Pupils were asked to recap and had the opportunity
to discuss what they believed to be true. I then set the task of
asking pupils in small groups to write either their own version, what
they believed or what they had learnt in a script. I informed pupils
they would be acting out the play and so had to be take it seriously.
Also, I purposely put individuals into groups where I knew there were
opposing ideas. This was to allow group dynamics reach a point where
pupils would have to negotiate and even encourage persuasion through
discussions. Although this activity was rather noisy, when wandering
around the classroom, all pupils remained on task and were
enthusiastically discussing their ideas. Unit 3.13 was met, pupils
were to learn the importance of identifying and considering ultimate
questions.

Were the learning objectives met?

The learning objectives can be seen in all lesson plans, see appendix
one. Reflection from assessment would suggest the learning objectives
were met. Assessment extended into subject depth of group discussions,
level of completion of homework and the standard of work demonstrated
in exercise books.

Reflection: Would I change anything if I were to write the same scheme
again?

On reflection, I feel the subject was very exciting and multifaceted.
The subject itself allowed me to explore many different teaching
methods that were both teacher and pupil led. As this was my first
teaching placement I felt I learnt allot from the pupils and as
mentioned previously, the pupils had also taken something away. I
would change very minute details such as organising group work and
timings over tasks. Beyond this, a very enjoyable scheme of work to
teach.


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