In October I found myself seated next to Rob Freathy at an OCR exam forum. Id never met Rob before but quickly learned that he was senior lecturer in education at Exeter university. But more significantly for me Rob was soon contributing to our discussions about RE with references to dialogic learning and asking a question I honestly hadn’t given much thought to. His question was “how do the students know about RE?” that is to say “how do they acquire their religious knowledge?” Rob built upon this asking whether,as teachers, we equip our students with an understanding of different methodologies used in the study of religion? Certainly I don’t even touch upon this until A Level, and even then I would accept that this is not a main feature of my teaching. Rob suggested that if students were aware of different methodologies they could then use and assess the relative strengths and weaknesses of such methodologies. Rob’ s approach to RE presented me with a real challenge, it was an avenue of the study of religion I had not considered and as a result I had not given my students the opportunity of engaging with. Better still Rob’s work in this area had led to him creating and trialling an approach to RE in primary schools that did all the things he’d just raised questions about. I left that forum with much reading to do and a new unit of work to be planned in a new way. I was certain from what Rob explained to me that his work in primary schools could certainly be translated, beneficially, into my secondary teaching context.
Rob, along with his brother, Giles Freathy (a primary school teacher)have developed a team of four cartoon characters. Each character represents a method of research used in religion. The characters are;
Ask-It-All-Ava, she researches by interviewing religious people.
Know-It-All-Nicky, her research is source based.
Have-A-Go-Hugo, his approach to research is experiential.
Debate-It-All-Derek, he is interested in big questions and discussing agreements & disagreements.
Together the four characters are known as The RE-searchers. When teaching using the RE-searchers the students are introduced to the character and his or her methodology. The students then complete their piece of work using the methodology of the character they are working with. Students are then engaged in dialogue about the methodology. If students have worked using more than one RE-searcher over a series of lessons they can discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the different approaches. In this way students begin to consider, understand and evaluate different methodologies used in the study of religion.In primary school Giles tried the RE-searchers work using puppets to introduce each of the characters. As I translated this into an approach for GCSE I have created four short video animations, there is a link for each below;
Our units of work at KS3 are all enquiry based and make it easy for us to trial the RE-searchers approach in the current unit which is ‘Do holy books change lives?’. Our students are being introduced to the four characters in their first lesson, we will set it up as them becoming investigators in RE for the next term. Over the unit they will spend approximately two lessons per RE-searcher investigating the key question about whether holy books change lives. This means we have planned in visitors from faith communities for students to interview, some source work, a P4C style lesson for the work from Derek’s methodology and a range of experiential activities.
It has been creative and challenging planning in this way but the potential that this offers in terms of greater religious literacy and awareness of methodology is really exciting.
If you would like to investigate this approach in more detail you could read about it here Rob and Giles Freathy are also both on twitter.
Obviously, as with any new unit if work, we will learn a lot as we teach it. I plan to blog student feedback as we complete the unit. I will also blog our experiences as we teach it and the impact it has, if any, upon student progress and engagement.