Monday, 20 April 2015

Outlaw RE [Think Bomb]

I attended an RE Thinking Day organised by Culham St Gabriel's and I was asked by Mark Chater to plan a 'Thought Bomb' which would engage and energise the participants in the day if the mood got a little flat. We had so much to sort out that we never got the chance. Here are some of the things I was going to say...

What would you outlaw in RE?

Many RE teachers only get 1 hour a week to teach their subject. As a result there needs to be careful consideration, and reflection, on how to use that time. I am lucky to get slightly more time as I work in a Catholic school, but regardless, we never finish the syllabus at Key Stage 3 and finish with just a few lessons to spare at GCSE (as for A-Level, you always need more time!). Time is incredibly precious and there needs to be careful consideration of opportunity cost.

In microeconomic theory, the opportunity cost of a choice is the value of the best alternative forgone, in a situation in which a choice needs to be made between several mutually exclusive alternatives given limited resources. <link>

Sadly time restraints are also coupled with other issues such as 'low enthusiasm' in  RE. There is often a pursuit to make things fun, interesting, relevant and engaging. I fear at times people loose sight of the RE. Lesson objectives are a waste of time for students to be copying, but vital for the teacher, "What RE are you trying to ensure that students learn today?"

Sometimes the RE part gets lost. Really lost.

When discussing this, Daniel Hugill reminded me of this:

I think the two most key things here are the via negativa, what engaging and relevant are not. Sadly this is what sometimes happens.

I decided upon not picking examples that I think are wrong, because actually, everyone does know their own classes best. The teacher is the only one who actually knows if their students are learning or not. It is also a delicate issues as some teachers will spend a lot of time planning such lessons. The key question must be, is this activity genuinely and demonstrably enabling your students to learn and remember things? How do you know? Could you be doing something better with your time?

Some things I would consider making Outlaw RE:

  • Play dough
  • Pipe cleaners
  • Treasure hunts
  • Making masks or costumes
  • Building 'junk' models, particularly of places of worship
  • Drama [it always ends in a fight, even with girls!]
  • Tenuous-link films
  • Word searches [cryptic ones may be useful]
  • Paper aeroplanes
  • Marshmallows and pasta
  • Raps
I am also happy to change my mind on things. I have done many of these in the past, maybe you can convince me why they are still okay for use in the classroom? Perhaps I am growing ever educationally conservative (with a small c) as I continue to teach - after all I found myself nodding along to James Theobold's recent Labour Teachers blog <here> and have been called 'Govian' for being a lover of knowledge!

When you get towards the end of Y11, or Y13, with your classes, you really do realise that time is very limited with them. I need to ask myself, could I have taught them any more? Could I have imparted any more of my wisdom before they go off into the wide world? I am incredibly lucky to have a fantastic education behind me, did I do enough to pass that on? Did I forget that RE is incredibly fascinating in it's own right and that's why I studied it to Masters level? Can I not pass at least some of that on without resorting to non-RE things? Crucially, what am I trying to achieve here... a better knowledge / understanding / skill-set in RE, or how to build things from junk / how to play class clown in drama / treasure hunt 'skills'?

I end with a quote from a favourite film of mine (that I used to, perhaps tenuously, watch in it's entirety with Y9 when we had a small paragraph in a chapter explaining Carpe Diem):

Keating: "Seize the day. Gather ye rosebuds while ye may." Why does the writer use these lines?
Charlie: Because he's in a hurry.

Keating: No. Ding! Thank you for playing anyway. Because we are food for worms, lads. Because, believe it or not, each and every one of us in this room is one day going to stop breathing, turn cold and die. <Source>

Oh and make sure you read David Ashton's RE:online blog on this. Far better than mine, found <here>

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