Achieving our REQM

reqmAfter just over a year of thinking about applying for our REQM we finally took the plunge in January. More than anything the process of applying for the quality mark has been the most worthwhile aspect. If you are unfamiliar with what the REQM is, or how to apply then click here.

It is good to have professionals external to your department and even the school come in and share their thoughts and observations. We were part of the National Society’s audit in 2014 and this helped us to further develop and refine our KS3 curriculum. We approached the REQM with a similar attitude, trusting that our good work would be recognised but that we’d also gain an insight for further development along the way.

The REQM requires applicants to complete their evidence grids. This is divided into bronze, silver and gold. Filling this in helped us to see where there were aspects of RE that we could develop. For example we will be looking to increase our engagement with parents in terms of their feedback on their children’s experience of RE. We could identify a lot of opportunities for creative responses in class by our students but there is scope to increase the use of music and drama. It was quite encouraging to be able to identify all that we do offer and provide, not just in our department but within the school and more widely in the RE community.  To move into silver and then onto gold it is important to demonstrate this wider impact of RE, both across the whole school but also on a more national scale.

I was quite daunted about the assessors visit and got various guidance via twitter. However the REQM administration team are really helpful. In advance of our assessor visit the admin team were able to put us in touch with a project manager. For us this was the marvellous Mary Wyatt. Being able to talk through the evidence I had prepared and to have some ideas of how the assessors visit was likely to go was invaluable. As I was reminded more than once, this was not an inspection!

In advance of the assessors visit I prepared one small file that contained;

  • a summary of our headline info
  • an analysis of our student questionnaires
  • Correspondance with staff in my school, national bodies and organisations that we’d provided some form of INSET for
  • screen shots of professional blogs, twitter CPD and shared RE pad lets/youtube
  • A table of visiting speakers for the year
  • letters from parents & past students
  • work samples (non-book work) e.g. artwork, discussion trees drawn on tables during lessons

Aside from this we had to have a range of books for the assessor to look at.

On the day of the assessors visit ten students were selected and interviewed by the assessor for about thirty minutes, without me being present. Following this I spent about two hours looking through our evidence and explaining our work to the assessor. This was a good professional dialogue and a great chance for me to unpack some of what we’d offered in our written evidence. Finally the assessor met with out deputy and my line manager for about twenty minutes.

At the end of this the assessor spent about fifteen more minutes feeding back to me before giving us his decision on our QM, which was a gold award.

We are delighted to receive this award but the process has helped to direct our focus for the coming term. We will be specifically be seeking to;

  • develop a trip in KS3 with the support of SLT
  • create a questionnaire to use with parents to get their feedback
  • enhance our creative work by incorporating music/drama in year 9 work

Our experience of the REQM has been very positive. A year or so ago it got us considering areas to really embed before our application and now it has given us some areas to continue to work upon. It has kept the presence of RE at the forefront of school life and recognised the quality of the teaching and learning that we deliver. I’d recommend it to all schools as part of the ongoing development of any RE department.

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Discussion Trees

Last Friday I posted a #pedagoofriday comment about how pleased I was with my bottom set work on discussion trees. This is a simple method I use to help students consider the strengths and weaknesses of any statement. in RE the discussion of such statements counts for a significant number of marks and so is an important skill for us to work on.

On the desk the students blue tack a prepared picture of a tree that then has a statement printed on the tree trunk. On Friday the statement was “It is reasonable to believe that God does miracles”

Without any ‘fresh’ input from the teacher the students consider points to support the statement – these are represented as roots for the tree, and challenges to the statement – these are represented as gusts of wind.

image image imageIn the photos  you can see one table group creating a desk full of challenges, another with plenty of roots , as well as a group who are just beginning the process.

An important part of the process is getting the students to represent the strength of each argument through the size of the root or gust of the wind. This evaluation of each argument should be achieved as they engage in discussion in their table teams.

I then extend the task by introducing some philosophical arguments. In this case it included arguments from Hume, Swinburne, Aquinas and Wiles, plus a little info on quantum physics. The students decide whether what they are reading is root or wind, they summarise key points and write down accordingly.

The final part of the task is for the students to then discuss and agree on the final state of the tree. They indicate this by using a ruler and drawing a line to indicate if the tree remains vertical, or blown at a greater angle. They may even suggest it has in fact been felled. Obviously they are considering whether the arguments against the statement are more effective than the arguments for the statement, and most importantly, to what extent this is the case.

I then photograph their group work. The following lesson students get a copy of their group work for their own books but also to use as they provide an exam response to the discussion statement that they have worked on.

This approach works well with the whole range of abilities and can be modified based on the material you give each group to work with

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RE-searchers: A dialogic approach

researchIn 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;

Hugo
Derek

Nicky

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.

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New Year’s Resolutions from a Head of RE

new yearIt’s so easy to have a million big dreams and plans for the year ahead, but its too easy for them to remain as dreams and to not materialise into action. Worse still is to act on a million things but to remain unaware of impact, being busy but lacking effectiveness. In 2015 I have decided to focus on a few specific ‘projects’ being mindful of purpose, expected impact and the need to build in a reflective process.

So here, below, are the ‘projects’ for 2015. I will blog on each of these during the year, maybe some of this will be of benefit to others!

1. Apply for the RE quality mark (REQM).

The REQM (more information can be found here)will help us as a department to reflect upon our practice as we prepare our application. The evaluation from the external assessor will be a welcome source of feedback which we hope will enable us to further develop the learning opportunities for our students. Whatever award we succeed in achieving will be a mark of our ongoing hard work of proving high quality Religious Education for our students.

2. Continued development of our new units of work for KS3

As I have previously blogged about here we have revamped our KS3 curriculum in the light  of some of the feedback from the RE audit, carried out by The National Society. This year we will complete the writing and teaching of four new units of work. This currently involves using the work of Freathy and Freathy in an approach they have trialled in primary schools. You can read more about this dialogic approach to RE here. This has already extended our work to involve interviews by students with members of different faith groups, independent student research and an element of experiential learning which we have previously not used. We will use measures of student progress, student voice and our own reflections to evaluate the impact  of these new units of work. Prayer spaces, OMG week and a year 7 retreat are all being built into this work.

3. Ongoing development of the use of technology to help students and parents engage with the subject.

Last year we began using twitter as a department. Over this time we have built up a following of almost 200 students in a school with 900 students. We trialled a couple of online twitter revision sessions last May. This is an area we want to make maximum use of, especially in the coming exam season. Last year we also developed GCSE padlets and animated videos for revision. Both of these resources need to be built upon this year, broadening the resources available and responding to the student’s requests for more material in this format.

I think that focusing on these three areas of development should be manageable. None of these projects is a ‘stand alone’ activity. Rather each one is partially about consolidation as well as progress. With the huge GCSE changes that we are facing I think we need to take care to fix our sights firmly on maximising high quality RE, beginning at KS3 (for us secondary teachers), so that whatever KS4 brings our way, our students are engaged and equipped.

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Clone Wars!

clone-wars-9

This is a lesson that we do for our GCSE work on cloning but the same approach could be used for a range of topics in different year groups. It’s a fun combination of problem solving, information gathering and collaborative work. The students enjoy the lesson and once the teacher has put the time into the planning, the lesson itself is all about students working and the teacher enabling!

Desks are arranged to seat four students in every group. Every group of four has the following things on their desk;

– laminated instruction sheet

– Large sugar paper for poster work

– Envelope containing the pieces to four puzzles

– A security badge signed by the teacher

– An A4 sheet of images for use on the poster

– 4 identical worksheets for each student to complete (see below)

cloning

The teacher has 8 sets of clues and 8 GCSE textbooks at the front of the class.

The aim of the lesson is for students to gather knowledge about different types of cloning, the issues it raises and the different Christian responses.

To be successful each group must complete 1 poster containing four completed puzzles and their personal opinions on cloning, plus each student must complete the worksheet.

To do the poster students will have to open the envelope and complete the four puzzles that they find inside. They must check that they have completed them correctly by checking against the text book information. Once they are sure that they are correct they can stick each puzzle on to their poster. As you can see below the puzzles we use are four triangles each made up of four smaller triangles which the students have to correctly sort and put together.

clone puzzle2      clone puzzle23

Onto the poster the students must add a title, explanations of their own views on cloning and any images from the image sheet that they want to illustrate their work.

The second thing they have to do is fill in the worksheet. However the information  that they need to enable them to do this has been stuck on  four clones (cardboard people see photo below) and placed in four different places around the school. To gain the information students have to take a typed clue from the teacher about the location of a clone, solve the clue and then go to the clone. Once at the clone the students can take a photo of the info or write it down.  Only one student from a group is allowed to go and find each clone and the student who has permission to be out of the room takes their signed security badge with them. On their return the student shares the info with the group and they add it to their individual worksheets. They may then ask the teacher for their next clue. Obviously the teacher does not give every group the same first clue, this avoids every group getting the same information first.

clones wall1

Organisation by the teacher is key. Each table should have a number and each set of clues should have corresponding numbers so the teacher can keep track of which group has had which clues.

This usually takes our classes 40 minutes. The students enjoy this process of gathering the information and they get lots done. We follow this lesson up with a lesson that requires the students to apply what they have found out to some exam tasks. This process of application is important because whilst they have gathered the information they have done nothing to assimilate it in the first lesson.

To add a competitive edge we put the names of the students who complete the work well and with five minutes to spare into a year group RE raffle with Costa vouchers as prizes!

 

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A Balancing Act: Heping Students To Evaluate in RE

One of the things that our studesee sawnts often find the hardest to achieve is writing a well considered evaluative essay. Ultimately we want them to be able to  present a thesis which they can then write a sustained argument for. As they do this we want them to be able to explain opposing perspectives and justify their dismissal of them. No wonder they find this hard – it is after all requiring higher level thinking, and to get to this point they need to be well equipped with sound knowledge and understanding of whatever the topic is.

We have been working with one method of teaching this recently and for many of our students it has been really helpful.

The strategy has three parts to it;

see-saw

1 – The students start with a template of a see-saw (see above) and on it they write the contentious statement that they will be required to respond to. For example “Voluntary euthanasia is wrong”. On one side of the see-saw they write ‘agree’ and on the other side ‘disagree’.

2 – The students are then given a set of opposing views on the topic or they are asked to generate  opposing views on the topic. So in this example a set of opposing views on euthanasia. (A sample of this can be found on my padlet resources to go with this blog.) The students have to sort the opposing views into two groups, for and against the topic.Having done this they place the views on the correct side of the see-saw.

3 – Now for each argument on the see-saw the students assign it  a score. For example  5/10. Obviously the higher the score the stronger they feel the argument is. As they go through this process they need to consider whether they believe each argument has any flaws and to what extent these flaws affect the strength of the argument. When working in pairs or groups of up to four this process creates significant discussion and helps develop the students’ thinking.

Having scored each argument they can total up the score on each side of the see-saw and identify the relative strength of each side of the argument, setting the see-saw at an appropriate angle.

1seesaw

Having completed the task the students now have a clear visual impression of which side of the discussion holds the greatest sway. From this they can go on to write a thesis, select the strongest individual arguments and create an essay plan. We have used this across different year groups, including with year 13 last week as they were evaluating Via Negativa. Students have generally found it helpful and the process helps to both embed knowledge and engage students in meaningful discussion about the value of an argument.

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Here’s what has stuck!!!

#EduBookChatUK recommended ‘Make It Stick’ by Brown,Roediger III and McDaniel. A keen reader I quickly bought a copy and after the first couple of pages I was hooked. But here’s the thing, I’m writing the blog without the book next to me because I’m applying some of what I have learned from it to try and learn it better! Confused? Well read on for three of the nuggets of practical information that I have gleaned from the book and managed to recall. Hopefully this will be sufficient for you to then want to read it yourself, and you should because it there is so much more to it than what is in this blog!

The book sets out to debunk common myths about learning and to replace these myths with the ‘science of successful learning’. I suppose another title would be ‘how to help children to actually learn’ or ‘No, reading something lots is never going to help!’.

Here are the three points I can recall and which have already had a practical impact upon my own teaching.

text

So first I discover that re-reading a piece of text in no way increases learning. Nor does highlighting the text, regardless of how many colours you might use. Simply it seems re-reading keeps something fresh in our short term working memory but after a more extended period of time, when the text is no longer being read, the information has not been retained. Deep learning can’t be achieved in this way.

I know so many students who seek to ‘learn’ in this way. So what should they do instead. It turns out that retrieval of recently read material is a process that does help to begin to embed learning. By this we mean recalling and summarising something you have read without returning to the text itself. Hence me writing this blog without reference to the book! Evidently the effort required to retrieve information is the key. The effort itself is the important part in translating information from short term memory to deeper learning.

This brings us on to the significance of low risk testing. Research referred to in the book demonstrates that such testing after a week, then maybe two weeks significantly helps embed the learning. Basically yes to test!

Students can also self test. So rather than just summarising something they have read they can create questions to then check their learning. This process also helps the student to work out what it is they haven’t yet retained. In response to this I have had my A Level students read a summary of material from the summer term, write five questions and hand them in. Little do they know that they will be answering someone else’s set of questions next lesson with no notes to work from. Furthermore they will then mark each others answers from memory before finally checking against the original text. Not rocket science but cognitive science that has affected my teaching!

Michael-Jordan-layup
The book makes effective use of sporting analogies to make this next point. Often in sport a skill will be practiced in a block. That is to say the lay up shot in basketball will be the focus of a training session. The thinking being that repetition and focus on a specific skill will help the skill to be effectively learned. However this is also a myth.

Rather than block practice learning in any subject is better when the content is interleaved. For example in PE this may mean dipping into practicing a lay up shot for fifteen minutes of the session, then switching to dribbling and then to something else. Progress on these skills will be slower than blocked practice BUT the learning will be deeper. Again the effort required to switch between content, perhaps returning to something two weeks after originally looking at it, changes the learning so it is long term. Application in the exam is better as the research in the book demonstrates. In response to this I have switched from teaching my A Level unit on miracles and have moved to religious language, where as normally I would have gone on to religious experience. What I normally do is easier, and the switch has been challenging for me and the students. However when we return to religious experience our retrieval of miracles work will deepen their learning and over time should produce better results.

problem
This next point in the book really struck me as I am a huge fan of problem solving in the classroom. The book thankfully tells us that problem solving can be a highly effective way of ensuring that students are learning. However I didn’t realise how arriving at the wrong solution can help to strengthen a students learning. Now I’m sure ,like me, you already know that building upon prior learning really helps build links in the students’ brains and this makes learning more effective. The book then explains that when solving a problem students will be working with prior learning to reach their solution. The process of retrieving the prior learning for application in the current problem is all the time deepening that existing learning. If the solution to the problem is correctly reached the challenge of achieving it necessarily increases the durability of the learning. However if the solution to the problem is incorrect the retrieval of the prior learning has already strengthened the route to the answers before the answer is corrected. Genius.

In fact that is it, brains are genius. This book just helps us understand that genius a little better and presents ways in which this understanding can then be practically applied. There’s a good dose of Dweck in there along with teacher and student tips at the end. Worth sharing with students and staff alike…no actually not just worth sharing but essential to share.

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