Our students have had a mixed experience with regards to completing the Religious Studies GCSE. At one end of the spectrum, some have had their full timetable of live teaching throughout lockdown whilst some have had the curriculum set for them to work through independently. And then we may have students that haven’t engaged with their studies at all.
So, what can we do to support them in our teaching now and in the near future?
Narratives are a great way to pull together beliefs, teachings and practices when teaching RE. Most of us love listening to a story and it can be a great way to help us to remember things. People who can remember the order of a pack of 52 playing cards do this by creating a narrative in their heads to remember each card. We can utilise this technique by thinking carefully about which narratives we can use to cover one or more concepts at GCSE. Narratives are particularly useful because they give RE students a ‘peg’ to which they can attach sometimes abstract concepts. We are really blessed to have many stories and narratives to choose from in RE!
Example: The Life of Muhammad
Instead of teaching key concepts in Islam under ‘beliefs’ or ‘practices’ or ‘themes’, consider using the life of Muhammad (dates approximate) to cover them.
If you plan the key events that you want to teach from his life, you can consider which parts of your schemes you want to cover at the same time.
Here is an example of some beliefs and teachings you could cover:
Concept maps are one technique that I have used with my students to allow them to pull together the content that they have been learning. These are like mind maps of knowledge but with the important addition of what makes the links between the ideas.
Here is a simple example:
You can use these at the start of learning to give students some initial structures, whilst learning a topic to start to pull together links or at the end to revise everything together. How much structure you give will depend on your students.
You could give them all the terms/phrases and tell them to piece it all together, or if you have confident students give them a topic and tell them to create their own concept map. I did one together as a class under my visualiser and explained my thinking to them which is good for metacognition. You will probably need to model one or two for them first. It is best to start with a large A3 piece of paper and use a pencil, so you can erase as you go along. This is a great ‘revision’ activity as it requires students to think carefully about their learning and how it all links together.
Testing but keeping it low stakes
We may want to find out what our students know but research suggests that putting them under pressure can affect their performance. This is why I do regular testing but don’t call it a test and don’t tell them about it! They know these come once every couple of weeks and they know that their ‘results’ have no consequences.
For AQA GCSE students, I use a set of approximately fifteen 2-mark questions which all begin with ‘Give two’ or ‘Name two’. I do not just stick to the specification content as we teach beyond this.
I organise the questions as follows:
- Easy questions at the start that I know they will all get to build confidence.
- Some questions on content from the past few lessons to help them embed it in their memories.
- Questions on content from further back including the previous year(s) where appropriate to promote retrieval from long-term memory.
- Questions that I know are foundational for the topic I’m about to teach in the current lesson.
We go through the answers together and they self-mark and fill in any missing or incorrect answers.
Whilst I mainly use these for the benefits to memory and retrieval, you can use these to find out what students know/don’t know from topics learnt during lockdown. I wouldn’t let them know this though as this ups the stakes that are best kept low.
We can use these strategies in our future teaching to help students pull together what they know and to enable us to covertly identify and address any topics we feel they need further input on.
Dawn Cox is a Head of RE and SLE in Essex. She’s written two AQA GCSE Religious Studies A Workbooks for OUP: Themes through Christianity and Islam for Paper 2 and Themes through Christianity and Buddhism for Paper 2