Creating Conditions for Learning
Ideas, guidance and suggestions to help you make the most of your physical space, to use creative learning techniques, and establish expectations in order to realise your vision of RE.
Conditions for good learning
A stimulating and encouraging learning environment tell students, before they even sit down, that they can expect to be challenged, engaged and inspired. Here are some ideas to achieve this space:
- Communicate your expectations by displaying high quality work in a way that makes it clear why it is high quality. It should not just be very colourful, but reflect a challenge met or an important skill mastered;
- Display a range of high quality work reflecting the variety of ways pupils can access good RE; through art, sculpture, poetry, extended writing, digital photography, and so on;
- An ‘RE in the News’ display, updated by you and your pupils, communicates the constant relevance of RE to our modern world;
- Create a ‘Big Questions’ board, basket, box, washing line or mobile, for the big questions you don’t have time for but wish to return to. This shows students that their searching questions are important, relevant and applicable to the whole curriculum;
- Your walls are the easiest way to communicate your vision of RE. Set the tone you are looking for in your displays: thoughtful, creative, challenging, philosophical, respectful, meaningful or controversial RE. If your displays generate questions, they are doing their job.
The links below contain more detailed information on two particular ways of using space:
'Learning outside the classroom' (LOtC)
Organising ways of learning
RE teachers’ most common complaint is the lack of time for a subject of such richness and complexity. However, using the school curriculum in creative ways could buy more time for RE:
- In Primary, why not use the wider curriculum? Read a religious story, a religious text or a poem exploring a religious theme in Literacy, which you can then analyse in your RE lesson later that week? Topics taught in History or Science, such as war or evolution, can be revisited in RE to explore the questions of meaning raised. One hour spent considering a religious story in RE could become three hours expressing responses in an Art afternoon.
- Across the phases, some schools support the idea of RE Days, where six or seven hours of RE are collapsed into one day. Some teachers prefer RE Days for the depth of analysis they afford. They work best when all staff involved are well-prepared and materials are well-designed. A successful RE Day can create a buzz which serves to educate staff and pupils about what challenging, creative and engaging RE is all about. Some ideas for themes: 'Science and RE' (utilising Science specialists); 'Faith in your community' (involving a faith walk or outside speakers); and, 'Stewardship and the environment' (involving Geography specialists and a visit to a local wild place).
- Some schools collapse RE into a Humanities block with associated subjects such as History and Citizenship. This can be hard to manage but is not a disaster for RE as long as it well-designed. Take the lead for the RE sections of the block to ensure that RE does not disappear. Protect RE-specific skills and content and make it clear when pupils are engaged in RE-specific activities. RE could benefit from being part of a wider curriculum where RE skills and RE content are seen as widely applicable.
How do some people organise RE?
- Discrete teaching of RE: Many schools use one or two weekly lessons of RE as the standard way of designing the curriculum. The advantages of this are that pupils get used to the RE lesson, the progress they make can be steady and continuous, and teachers ‘know where they are’. The main disadvantage is that pupils’ weekly experience of RE can be too spread out for the deeper learning that the subject invites to flourish. RE can also sometimes be squeezed out of the the weekly timetable by other curriculum pressures.
- Blocked Time: Some schools use a themed curriculum approach to RE. A series of lessons in the humanities or other subjects are themed with a relevant focus for RE, for a fixed period of time determined by the outcomes to be delivered. Blocked learning can last for two weeks or for longer - half a term, for example - and pupils spend five hours a week or more learning RE and relating study to History or Geography. In the next half term, the focus might be more on one of the other subjects. The main advantages of this are that pupils get a deeper and more continuous experience of RE. Working in depth allows children the time they need to consolidate their learning. A disadvantage is that some schools use arbitrary themes or fail to plan RE into the programme at sufficient depth. Specialist teachers’ involvement in planning is crucial.
- Focussed RE day or week: Some schools use an ‘RE Week’ or an ‘RE Day’ to focus learning, then follow up the ‘big experience’ with linked lessons over several weeks. Planning for such ‘big events’ is demanding of teachers, but can, for example, help the whole school to focus and develop the subject. A day is about five hours, so is not, of course, a substitute for a term’s work! Effective work on a week about 'Respect for All Religions', an 'Easter' or a ‘Creation Week’, or a week on 'Spring Celebrations' in different faiths is possible, as are many other themes. The key to success is clarity about the RE learning that is planned.
- Creative curriculum planning can present both opportunities and challenges for RE: are all staff confident to teach the RE component? Why do inspectors sometimes find that RE is least well covered in an integrated programme of learning? Do some themes enable RE to be taught effectively, but do other themes exclude RE? Schools must consider the programme of study within the whole syllabus and teaching arrangements in other subjects in deciding whether RE learning is well served by creative curriculum planning.