Thoughts for back to school class teaching in Religious Studies

Whilst we’ve all been working hard to ensure we provide students with learning resources, we don’t really know how much they’ve learnt over the lockdown period. Here are some thoughts on what we might do when we’re back in school with our classes to help identify gaps and move forward in our teaching.

Keep it positive

Imagine your students walking in to their first lesson back and seeing you in a slight panic saying ‘We’ve missed so much. We have so much to do. We’re running out of time!’ This is not going to help with their mental health or yours! Try to keep your language neutral and non-judgemental. If you have a plan for how you are going to support them, then this will help you to stay calm and collected. Start back with activities and content that you know they already know, are confident in and are part of their usual classroom routine. This gives them a positive foundation to work from.

Find out what they do/don’t know

We may feel that we want to quickly find out what students have or have not learnt, but we need to do this over a period of time rather than all at once, so it doesn’t overwhelm them. The important part of this process is to keep the stakes low. This means that it gives us some simple information about each student without making students feel anxious about completing it and without creating any data that holds them to account, e.g. on a school report.

One of the best ways to find out any misconceptions that students may have is by using multiple-choice questions. The benefit of these is that you can include a misconception as one of the choices. If students choose this as the answer, it may mean they’ve misunderstood something.

For example:
Which of these are a form of greater jihad?
a) Fighting for Allah
b) Doing 5 daily prayers
c) Defending Islam with self-defence
d) Using force to restore peace

If students choose a), c) or d) then they’ve misunderstood the greater jihad and confused it with the lesser jihad.
You could do these multiple-choice questions on paper and go through them in class with self or peer marking, or to save marking time use online self-marking systems such as Google Forms. Either way, research suggests it is important that students get feedback on any incorrect answers so they can see where they went wrong.
As said above, keeping the stakes low is important. This means not making a huge issue of incorrect answers or misconceptions. You’re using them to find out what you need to know; if students feel threatened, they may just guess. If you’re concerned about this, you could add an option,
e) I don’t know yet

Finally remember to call any diagnosis questioning a ‘quiz’ or suchlike; it’s much less threatening than ‘test’ or ‘assessment’.

Interleave missed content with new content

Rather than trying to reteach/recap everything that students were given during lockdown all at once when you see them again, where possible, consider planning the content to link into new content to spread it out over a longer period of time.

Here is how you could approach this.

List the key concepts and topics that you’ve set students to learn during lockdown:

Then look at what you have left to teach them in the future:

Then plan where you can ‘reteach’ or recap the old topics neatly with the topics that you have left.
Here are suggestions of how you could simply link old concepts to the new topics:

Some of the topics may not link in easily, in which case you can plan to ‘reteach’/recap them as a separate concept.

Framing the learning

This is good practice anyway but it may be time to revisit the ‘big picture’ for students so they can see what they have been doing during lockdown and how it fits into the whole topic/GCSE schema.

Create concept maps for each topic – these link key concepts with short phrases (see example above)
Produce topic mind maps showing links using colours and images
Use the specifications – highlight what they’ve covered and what they’ve got left to cover and maybe share the overall plan of how you’re going to do it together.

Use homework judiciously

Again, this is something you will usually do but you may need to carefully rethink how you can help close any knowledge gaps using homework. I personally wouldn’t use homework to learn new content but to embed what you’ve taught, once you’ve covered it in class or previously learnt before lockdown.
Again, quizzes are a good option here but if you prefer to set exam questions make sure they cover the planned content to support long-term memory. OUP’s Kerboodle has some online quizzing resources that can easily be set for students for homework, and some exam practice questions with mark schemes too.

What I’ve learnt from the new ways of learning

This period has reminded me how important it is for us to use retrieval as much as possible with students. Without this constant embedding, students will not have much chance of remembering everything we teach them.
I’m looking forward to getting back into the routine of learning with students. Whilst we’ve worked hard to ensure our students are getting the best deal they can whilst in lockdown, nothing beats being in the same room, directly teaching and discussing RE with our students.

Dawn Cox is a Head of RE and SLE in Essex. She tweets as @missdcox.

You can find information on the support currently available for teachers on the Oxford University Press website.

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