Monday 23 June 2014

#BLOGSYNC - Testing 'Something Else'

Image courtesy of Wikimedia

JUNE TOPIC: What is the best place for testing in schools?

There is much written on testing and in a general sense I would feel unqualified to add much to the debate. However as an RE teacher, I thought I would take just one aspect: the "something else" of RE.

Testing knowledge can be essentially relatively straight forward. A series of questions can quite quickly establish what a student does or doesn't know. The application of knowledge and skills associated with it can also be tested through a series of tasks, although this can be less straight forward. However here, essentially, you have two reasonably narrow bands of testing. Using these methods will demonstrate progress, keep SLT and OFSTED happy. Job done? 

Both knowledge and skills are a fundamental part of RE. However the 'knowledge versus skills' debate is potentially taken further... you have knowledge versus skills versus 'something else'. Some would say this 'something else' is the spiritual dimension, or perhaps reflection element, maybe even the morality? It can certainly be hard to define and therefore even harder to test.

The RE Review (published in October 2013 and available <here>) suggested an approach to RE that involves 3 strands that move on from the traditional: AT1: Learning about Religion and AT 2: Learning from Religion:

   A. Know about and understand a range of religions and worldviews (Know About and Understand)
   B. Express ideas and insights about the nature, significance and impact of religions and 
worldviews (Express and Communicate)
   C. Gain and deploy the skills needed to engage seriously with religions and worldviews (Gain and Deploy Skills)

The review and debate about Levels will continue and at some point a set of criteria will be used to measure students progress either on the AT1 and AT2 ladder or on the new ABC strands. I'm in a Catholic School and we are sticking with AT1 and AT2 and Levels for the time being.

However regardless of what else we are doing with assessment and testing, there is always a sense of morality and a dimension of spirituality that remains present in the RE classroom. Indeed OFSTED must ensure that SMSC (Spiritual, Moral, Social and Cultural) education is taking place throughout the school, yet often it is simply left to the RE teacher to demonstrate it. If it's not taking place in RE, then it is unlikely to be taking place elsewhere!

Good RE needs to be objective, and while working in a Catholic school, I always strive to do this. Those that claim that all faith-schools are simply confessional should perhaps visit one or two. If I simply taught the Catholic view on topics such as abortion, euthanasia and contraception and refused debate on any other view, I'd have a hard life! I also know, I'd be well and truly selling my students short.

Therefore I need to help my students develop an informed, critical sense of morality and conscience. Where is the level criteria for that? Is that Learning From (AT2) or 'Deploying Skills' (Strand C)? How will I measure it? (Against Catholic teaching? Against my own view?) Can I test it? Should I be putting their morality to the test?!? (In short, I think we'd all agree, no!)

The Religious Education Curriculum Directory (3-19) for Catholic Schools and Colleges still has a 'Reflection and Contemplation' strand (download full document <here>):

It is clearly stated here that these are not for assessment but can help students growth in reflection and contemplation. It is a contribution to the pupils ability 'to reflect spiritually and think ethically and theologically'. I do like the extract from TS Elliot poem:

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploration
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

I think it can sum up the 'something else' of RE. We can increase the knowledge about religions, practices, rituals, festivals and way of life. We can develop the skills to analysis critically and evaluate both their own and others' faith positions, yet this ability to reflect and contemplate remains vital. It is far harder to establish the right answer to the big questions in life. Also the Y10 GCSE answer to whether euthanasia is right or wrong can be very different to the 40-something's answer in the face of a gravely ill parent.

I will never know the effectiveness of my ability to help my students develop 'something else'. I hope I do it well so that I have at least started them on their way to deal with some of the challenges that life will bring. Life itself has enough testing moments... if I have done something to help them make the right decisions and choices, then I guess that is my success.

Find out more about Edutronic's #BLOGSYNC <here> - Lots more posts on testing this month! WHy not make your own contribution?

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