A New Direction in RE

stone

About five years ago I had a bottom set RE group made up of about ten boys and one girl. The group were meant to be studying for the GCSE short course. The lack of status attached to the short course added to the existing disengagement of this group. Their disengagement was not unique to RE but in RE it seemed to be intensified.

I passionately believe that RE should be one of the most dynamic and engaging subjects on our curriculum in which higher order thinking is part and parcel of everything that we do. A subject in which challenge, relevance and a healthy dose of subversity merrily co-exist to create a most marvellous subject. So for me as their teacher this group presented a genuine problem which needed solving. Afterall if my perception of the subject was correct then somewhere along the way this had got lost for these students. My task was simple, I needed to re-engage or perhaps even for the first time ignite in them some of the passion I felt for the subject.

For me the short course GCSE was not the way forward with this group of year 11. I had under a year to move them to a point where RE would become engaging, worthwhile and affirming, a possible F or G from a half GCSE was not going to be our motivator. The outcome of this serious reflection on my part was what is now known as DARE.

DARE simply stands for Diocesan Award for RE and is run via the Guildford Diocese. I wrote the award after liasing with the Diocese. The award is made up of three basic elements, these are;

1 – A research task that investigates the Christian teaching on a theme or value
2 – A practical project designed by the individual school. The project puts into practice the teachings or value from the research. This project can either be local, national or international.
3 – A written evaluation of the effects the students observe from their practical project. What effects do these Christian values have in the real world. Is there any worth to holding such values?

For my group in this first year of the award we investigated death and coping with loss. This in itself was challenging but very real and relevant to many of the students. After our research the students then set about redesigning a memorial area on our school site. Each element was carefully planned. An hour glass shaped decked area to represent the passing of time and our mortality, a large sail shelter to represent God’s oversight, a large carved granite stone with a hole through the centre displaying the words “fix you eyes on what is unseen”. However our project was not a paper exercise. The group then put together two presentations, one to our headteacher and the Diocese and one for our site manager. The first presentation was a bid for money to turn the design into reality. The second presentation was a bid to have the hands on support of our grounds manager as the group were going to be doing ‘the build’.

With £2000 raised a further £3000 was needed so the students and I spoke to the school in an assembly and asked for fund raising activities to take place to help cover the cost of buying the granite stone. Meanwhile every Friday period 5 we went out and began digging holes for fence posts, bigger holes for the sail posts and more holes to dispose of concrete we had to break up!. The groundsman came and helped the boys construct the decking frame. Slowly my class were creating something new and wonderful and with pride. The first day we put a spade in the ground I suddenly knew that this had to work, now eveyone was watching! And they did it, they produced an amazing space, every part of that garden we physically built together. One student who carefully painted every fence post and slat is now one of our site staff!

They wanted to be in RE, they wanted to put their learning into something lasting and what they believed to be worthwhile. Oh and within two weeks, yes really just two weeks, the school had raised £3000 and the memorial stone was paid for.

Before they left at the end of year 11 these students evaluated their work, they reflected on the Christian teachings about death, they gained their DARE certificate. But most importantly RE had become a subject that mattered and which they would take away so many positives from.

After that we had a DARE where a group planned and provided sessions for severely disabled children from The Children’s Trust at Tadworth, Surrey. Another group investigated the Christian teaching on service and then they spent time visiting an care home and spending time with the residents. One group also linked to Rainbow House Christian Children’s Orphanage in Kenya having investigated Christian teaching on poverty. The group sent hand made classroom resources and raised money to pay for two massive water tanks. This project has been amazing because our current year 9 have supported the orphanage for the last three years, and continue to do so. Enjoying a visit from the orphanage founder when she visited the UK last summer.

Now I carry on doing DARE but I do it as an extra-curricular part of our RE provision. The group at the moment have the most wonderful free range book currently travelling around the world to different schools, investigating what others are doing to care for the environment. We have a blog detailing where it is and what we are doing as we transform another part of our school site. This week we should be buying some trees to help off set some of the carbon footprint created by the book. Please have a look at our blog it is at prioryDARE.wordpress.com

Why have I written this post? Well first to remind me afresh that sometimes I need to take a new look at my subject just to check that it is being what it really should be, not in my head but in the experience of my students. And secondly to perhaps inspire and encourage others to be creative and open minded about their approach to RE.

Please do get in touch if you are interested in doing DARE in your school.

mosaics

Mosiacs on the right were created after we investigated the Christian values of our school. The values are founded upon the relationship observed in The Holy Trinity.

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About Learning to Teach Lorraine Abbott

AHT in a Surrey School i/c of Chaplaincy Author for Hodder Education
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