The death of ‘RE is just opinion’!

Many thanks to @ShellTerrell, Critical Thinking Asylum and Zoe Weil for prompting this post.

‘Why do we have to do RE? It’s just your opinion anyway!’ This is a criticism which can easily be leveled at any RE teacher and one that I have had to consider. The worst possible response in the world is ‘because we have to!’ Increasingly the response has been to look at transferable skills, suggesting that all education, no matter what the subject, is merely preparation for a desk job which will make money for society.

Sorry I may have become cynical there.

6 Critical Questions from Critical Thinking Asylum

However, there is a lot of talk of transferable skills provided through academic subjects. It may be possible to reject this (and perhaps it should be) and instead claim that there are core skills which every child should be encouraged to develop at school. One of the corse skills that students should be developing throughout their school career is the development of critical thinking. This skill is core to the way students should study any subject, whether it be RE, History, Maths or Dance. Having a critical approach to learning allows the student to engage with learning in exactly the same way a university student does, or a teacher or a university professor. The 6 Critical Questions are essential for any student wishing to engage in authentic learning! The joy of these 6 questions is that they can be used at any level of education and they lead to development of learning. Whether it is a 11 year old questioning what religious groups say, or a university student considering the implications of historical events on religious thought or an academic text on the development of Cultural Reforms during the Reformation – they are all using Critical Thought and one of the 6 questions, in some form or other!

I am not calling for the introduction of an extra subject called ‘Critical Thinking’ for all – I am suggesting that subjects should/need be taught in a critical approach. Students should ask where their information comes from and the possible influences on that information. Are we really going to accept that it is right simply because the teacher said it? Should students not be looking beyond the teacher and engaging with the real data/text/information?

Thinking critically all of a sudden brings a new light on the question ‘Why do we have to do RE? It’s all opinion anyway!’ These 6 critical questions expose the opinion to new interrogation and all of a sudden new doors are opened to the student. Why does it matter when the opinion was made? What do you mean I need to look at how they said it? Why can’t I compare my ideas automatically with those of a 14th century Islamic scholar from Mecca? RE moves far beyond the realms of opinion. We need to ensure that students are provided with the correct tools in order to do this! These 6 questions provide a fantastic framework for ensuring that students are truly thinking about RE.


Transforming CPD into iCPD

Anyone else travelled half the country for a CPD course? Anyone else ever sat through a CPD course/seminar/workshop doodling or sat there thinking about something else rather than the actual CPD? Have you sat there wondered how this CPD relates to you or thinking ‘I’m not sure this is relevant to where I am in my teaching’? I certainly have! Having been exposed to so many ideas on Twitter and through educational blogs, I am starting to question whether I should ever have to sit through that situation again!

I have seen so many ideas over the month I have been on Twitter which are relevant to me. I am conscious I am going to have to carefully pick and choose the ideas I implement in order to effectively improve my teaching! This torrent of information has made me question what I need to do in order to improve – in essence, prioritise my own CPD.

The key thing is how I got those ideas – all of the ideas were sent to my Twitter account. Within a morning it is possible to have 50 good ideas, resources to look at and dialogues started with other teaching professionals. This has not involved me leaving my classroom, it has not involved me sitting through a day of irrelevant talks just to hear the 1 relevant speaker, I am not speaking to people who I never hear from again.

This CPD is focused on me and how I want to develop and the ideas I want to explore. A development which is taking place in dialogue with others. Whilst I am sat in my classroom on my own, I am in a global staff room sharing ideas! The range of resources as well is staggering – a CPD morning could be spent reading blogs, sharing ideas in a twitter/email chat, could be spent listening to online lectures, listening to podcasts, using twitter to talk to classes of students about how they learn. Suddenly I am choosing what I want to do and how.

Considering the immanent cuts schools are facing, it is highly unlikely schools will be funding external CPD courses when then there is the opportunity of cheaper in house training. With issues such as rarely cover, why would schools pay extra to have staff sit through some expensive training days, all of which isn’t relevant? Technology here offers a way for schools to not only deal with budget cuts but to improve the CPD offered to staff! SMT can offer their staff the opportunity to develop their own teaching practice and therefore the whole school.

CPD needs to reflect the requirements of the individual. It also has to help the individual in the modern teaching environment and help them to be able to engage the students. Students are progressively using technology to help develop their own learning and progress in their studies. The increased use of ipads, iphones and ipods as means of accessing information need not and should not be the realm of just the students. Teachers should be able to help students and other teachers develop using such technological advantages.

Welcome to the age of iCPD.

The value of 2 websites and advice wanted!

I am very conscious of making sure I take advantage of the fact that each day ideas pour into the twitter feed. It is good to read about things which in fact you have already done.

It was with interest that I read the articles by published by @samrangelSITC and @CreativeEdu ‘Why every teacher should have two websites‘ (original post here) and principally the final lines: ‘Every teacher should have at least two websites. One for the class, and one for the world. Start today. I look forward to answering your questions and shooting down your excuses.”

I have already started writing on some of these sites but it was very much dabbling with ideas at the end of term. Now as the Christmas holiday provides a little more space I have decided to up the work on these so that they are fully functioning sites by next term! They may not be complete but they will at least be functional!

Hopefully these will mean much more blogging from me and far more technology in the classroom.

My personal reflection site –

My work sites for school: (started today!)

I am conscious this also means that there will be a lot more questions! However – that is what twitter, email and the internet are for! Oh face to face conversations with people!!

I would always be keen to hear feedback on these sites (maybe in a few days as one only went live today!) – hopefully speaking to other teachers will mean there will be some really constructive advice. I would be very keen to hear where to improve rather than ‘it looks nice!’

Reflective teaching through Twitter and Marking

I have recently started using Twitter on a regular basis through TwitterDeck. I was not convinced when I first heard about it but then started to read more and more articles about professional communities being created online rather than people merely telling the world exactly what they had eaten for breakfast. The key principle benefit I have found is that whilst I sit here working, there is the constant beep from TwitterDeck from people who are doing the same as I am, thinking about teaching. All of a sudden I have found myself sitting in a massive online staffroom with people wanting to share ideas, tools and practical advice on pedagogy and teaching.

The benefit is already clear. Even without commenting, just listening to the conversation reminds me of the 101 things a good teacher should do when preparing, teaching or marking for the benefit of students. It is true what they say – enthusiasm is infectious. Even in the dying days of the Christmas term, there are still hundreds of ideas being shared which gives that boost to help my teaching. However, never one to be quiet, the possibility of sharing ideas and getting constructive professional feedback is brilliant. The day to day workings of a school can remove a teacher from the meta-teaching which is needed for good teaching. The teacher gets lost in a myriad of work surrounding duties, paperwork, updating databases, minor classroom behaviour management issues. Having the chance to take part in the debates such as #ukedchat puts any teacher back in the meta-teaching debate and therefore gives the teacher that chance to think about their own teaching and student learning.

I am sitting here on the second day of the Christmas holidays marking a set of 30 year 8 history books. One of the topics they have been looking at is the Reformation and the impact on the English Church. The marking I have done is different to what I would usually do simply by having access to TwitterDeck up and running in front of me. It’s like have another teacher in the room with you. Constantly reading really upbeat positive tweets about teaching and sutndet learnin has had a positive impact on my marking. Usually I would move through the work and comment on key pieces of work and comment on their presentation and provide some targets at the end of the marking in each book. However, rather than commenting I have this time entirely focused on questioning and getting the students to think about how and why they can improve their work.

A typical answer to one question set has been: ‘They would have needed to think about the rules from the Church and the Monarchy’. Initially my feedback would have included:

  • Write in full sentences
  • Careful with handwriting
  • Be specific

Having been reminded about the value of dialogic learning which can be in written as well as spoken form:

  • Does this response have all the information you wanted to say?
  • Where can you develop this answer?
  • Why are specifics really important when writing for an audience?
  • Do YOU understand what you have written here?

The value of learning has also pushed me back into thinking about exactly what I am teaching and why! Rather than writing about the standard of their writing I have been now focused on the HISTORICAL nature of the work they have produced. This has meant that every book marked so far has had historical related comments:

  • How diverse were opinions on the power of the church and monarchy?
  • What caused people to think about these rules?
  • Which do you think had more of an impact – the Church or the Monarchy?
  • Priests had to listen to the Church and the Monarchy. A) Which do you think the priest should listen to? b) Which do you think the priest did listen to? Why do you think there was this difference?

I am not going to lie – the marking has taking me longer but I certainly feel it is more detailed and, if I give the students a constructive task in the 1st lesson back in which they have to comment on the marking and set their own targets, I feel it will have definitely been a worthwhile task!

It is interesting then how both the marking and Twitter tie together and both provide me with a key review of my teaching and hence student learning. From Twitter there is the constant message of student activity and encouraging the students to learn for themselves. Tweets have pointed me to videos and blogs which have given me ideas of how to make the lessons more student focused. It is interesting then that I mark books and have seen some lessons where I have done all the work and the students have done little. They have had to listen to me talk and then write down ideas I’ve written on the board where I have got into the task they should have done for themselves. Twitter, marking and this blog are all pushing me to become reflective about my teaching. The next step is to become active about my reflection rather than just posting musings! I just hope that I organise my time wisely enough so that even in the middle of term, there will be time for preparation, teaching, assessment and reflection!

Blogging on the go…

Having just downloaded the WordPress app I should now be able to blog from wherever. Hence this test post.

Blog at