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Faith, scope and clarity

Terence Copley rounds up textbooks for key stage 3 religion

Key stage 3 religious education has a complication other curriculum subjects are spared, no uniform syllabus, since each LEA is required to establish its own locally agreed syllabus. It is permitted to buy into an existing syllabus from another LEA, so the wheel does not have to be re-invented on every occasion, but each syllabus has to be revised every five years.

Locally represented religions are involved in the process of syllabus agreement and despite a mean-spirited revision of the 1988 law to exclude humanists, their voices are rightly reflected in many local planning groups.

This makes for the only democratic syllabus construction process remaining in the curriculum - Jreal teachers are involved in drawing up the syllabus they and their colleagues will teach.

But a national debate is under way about the advantages of a centralised syllabus for RE. Recent trends are towards centralisation.

Whatever the merits and demerits of a local syllabus, or of the non-statutory model syllabuses of the QCA, all two of them, it makes hard work for publishers. This is why some publishers have several different series on the market, competing for KS3 custom.

They have to 'best-guess' the main syllabus landmarks in order to produce texts that will meet local needs, still be viable commercially on a national basis and service the different legal provision for RE in Scotland and Northern Ireland to that of England and Wales.

Publishers seem to agree that centralisation is growing and this new crop of books is increasingly dominated by the QCA non-statutory schemes of work, a question-centred approach in which the actual subject content lacks a coherent syllabus path.

The books have also to address the QCA levels for attainment in RE. Ofsted reports show that Model AT1 for RE, "Learning about Religions", is being delivered better than Model AT2, "Learning from Religion". Reports also continue to draw attention to the failure of KS3 RE in some schools to match and extend the best KS2 work, to be intellectually challenging for pupils, to break out of the "tell a story, draw a picture" graveyard, to match the stimulus supplied in some other subjects at KS3.

Perhaps the impact of non-specialist RE teaching is being felt in these disappointing comments, if teachers with inadequate subject knowledge are failing to get the best mileage out of their syllabus. For them the textbook can be even more important.

This review addresses only complete courses and not the excellent series or one off texts that do not constitute a complete course across KS3.

TITLE

COLLINS. Icons series. Price: Pupil's books pound;8.99 (1-3) ; with teacher's resource books pound;19.99 each; Icons poster pack pound;29.99. Tel: 0870 0100 442

CONTENT

"Icons" implements the "Bishops' Curriculum Directory (1997) for Catholic schools in KS3". It deals with essentially Christian themes like the living Church, Christ the Light, vocation, the challenges of faith and the heart of belief. The standpoint is that of belief, not so much critical belief as reflective belief, but the teacher's books affirm that the key criterion is educational. The text is clear and helpfully illustrated.

LEARNING STRATEGIES

Homework and classwork tasks are identified, along with key words, test sections. Content is dominant in these books, in the text and the tasks, but pupils are encouraged to examine it reflectively.

SUPPORT

A detailed rationale for the course is provided in the teacher's books, along with support under various headings, learning outcomes, tips for teachers, activities for reflection and summaries of key learning.

VERDICT

A packed course series in which the teacher's presentation will (or won't!) prevent children getting lost in the detail of the material and the tasks.

TITLE

HEINEMANN. Modern World Religions series. Pupil books on each of the QCA six religions. Price: (per religion) core pupil's book pound;6.99; foundation pupil's book pound;6.99; teacher's resource pack pound;26.99; CD-Rom pound;34.99; five pack CD-Roms and site licence pound;112.50; single-user upgrade to site licence pound;75

THEMES IN RE: Learning from Religions series. Price: pupil's book pound;8.75 (1-3) each; teacher's resource file pound;44.99 (1-3) each. Tel: 01865 888080

CONTENT

"Modern World Religions" are discrete religion teaching packs explicitly intended to raise standards in KS3 RE, so far on the six QCA religions, Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam and Sikhism.

Pupil books are in foundation and core editions, with simple but appealingly rich covers using symbols. The teacher's books provide extension tasks and assessment opportunities. "Themes in RE" as the title states is a thematic treatment, using relationships, right and wrong, power, space, time etc but intended to address particularly AT2, Learning from Religion. Bright but slightly disappointing visually, with an over-dependence on line drawing and small font text.

LEARNING STRATEGIES

Pupil tasks in "Modern World Religions" are headed "Learning about" or "Learning from", as appropriate and learning objectives are specified in the pupil texts. The teacher's books relate the material to the QCA levels, add ICT-related tasks, end-of-unit expectations. "Themes in RE" contains interactive learning strategies.

SUPPORT

"Modern World Religions" offers a high level of teacher support but not in deepening their own subject knowledge. "Themes in RE" teacher's pack contains an excellent 15 page introduction to KS3 strategy for RE as well as worksheets and assessment tasks. The CD-Rom contains very useful material including tasks with writing frames.

VERDICT

"Themes" has more depth than "MWR" but "MWR" has more visual appeal to the pupil user.

TITLE

HODDER amp; STOUGHTON. Connections Series. Price: Foundation pupil's book. pound;8.99 (Years 7-9) each; Mainstream pupil's book pound;8.99 (Years 7-9) each

SEEKING RELIGION SERIES. Price: core pupil's book. pound;6.99; foundation pupil's book pound;6.99; teacher's resource pack pound;29.99. Also a separate book on Jesus, which could be used apart from the series at pound;6.99. Tel: 020 78736000

CONTENT

"Connections" thematic treatment is based on the QCA scheme of work, so topics such as Where do we look for God? What does Jesus mean for Christians today? A visit to a synagogue, etc are covered. Illustrations are bright and lively although the cover to Book A looks twee.

"Seeking Religion" is a well-established introductory series to world religions that has been around for a decade, with unusual covers that make religious activity look enjoyable.

LEARNING STRATEGIES

The "Connections" text is punctuated with Stop amp; Think activities for discussion, Pause amp; Record for writing and Rewind for revision. End-of-unit tasks are supplied as are links to citizenship. The Foundation texts have larger font, fewer words, more chatty style and some differentiated activities. The pictures inside the "Seeking Religion" texts are bright and informative. Challenging text in the core editions is appropriately simplified in the foundation. Key quotes are boxed. The activities concentrate on comprehension and understanding and are more geared to AT1.

AT2 is not ignored. The text is pre-Levels but gives good scope for extra Level-related activities to be written in. Not much room for active learning.

SUPPORT

"Connections" CD-Rom, priced pound;60, will appear in the summer 2003 and will include differentiated activities, lesson plans for each unit.

"Seeking Religion" has six new photocopiable teacher's resources, one for each of the six religions.

VERDICT

"Connections" is a pleasant journey through the QCA question-based scheme of work, using a range of learning styles, which would need some additional tasks at the top end to stretch the most able. These may be in the forthcoming CD-Rom. "Seeking Religion" contains good material visually and in the text. A safe bet rather than an adventure.

TITLE

JOHN MURRAY. This is RE! series. Price: Pupil's Books pound;8.99 (1-3) each; Teacher's Resource Book pound;25 (1-3) each. Book 2 due May 2003, Book 3 due later. Tel: 01235 400400

CONTENT

Thematic approach: what is RE? Worship, the Bible, Christians and justice, the Buddha, the environment, creation stories, the big picture.

Strong visual impact. Illustrations all colour. Each unit has a key question. Attention is given to Learning from as well as Learning about. It addresses the QCA scheme of work and the eight level scale and can be used flexibly to fit within an existing course. The teacher's book contains detailed notes and photocopiable worksheets to extend the pupil text. It attempts to draw pupils into the centre of each religion being studied.

LEARNING STRATEGIES

Enquiry learning. Book pitched at QCA Level 4 but intended to be used by pupils of all abilities from 2 to 5.

Assessment is formative and summative with a range of different types of tasks.

SUPPORT

For the non-specialist the teacher's book backs up the pupil book very well and the PGCE student reviewer found it extremely helpful. The teacher support materials concentrate on extending the range of pupil activities rather than deepening the teacher's subject knowledge.

VERDICT

A lively collection of material, pupil friendly, with a high visual impact.

Lacks coherence in terms of progression through the different units.

TITLE

NELSON THORNES. New Steps in Religious Education. Price: Foundation Pupil's Book pound;8 (1-3) each; Teacher's Support Pack pound;32.95 (1-3) each; DIRECTIONS. Price: Books 1-3 pound;9 each. Flexi RE. Price: Pupils Books pound;8.50 (1-3) each; Teacher's Lesson Planner pound;35 (1-3) each Tel: 01242 267100

CONTENT

"New Steps" is an established (1991) and well-written thematic treatment (in a new edition) of such issues as founders, buildings, people at prayer, symbols, holy books and rites of passage. The text is clear and well illustrated. "Directions" is thematic: where do we look for God? Who was Gotama Buddha? What does the resurrectionI mean for Christians? Why do we suffer? The text is more substantial than "New Steps" but the same colour visual impact is retained. "Flexi-RE" addresses such issues as Jesus and his teachings, prayer, aspects of Judaism, Christmas, aspects of Islam.

LEARNING STRATEGIES

Pupil activities in "New Steps" are fairly basic and don't relate to QCA levels etc. They address AT1 more than AT2. "Directions" has the benefit of being 10 years later in time. ATs 1 and 2 are both addressed. Good ICT and citizenship links are provided. The pupil tasks are varied. "Flexi-RE" pupil tasks are contained in the lesson planner and not in the main text.

SUPPORT

A Website for "Directions" at www.nelsonthornes.comdirections contains lesson plans and guidance on assessment. With "Flexi-RE" each pupil book has an accompanying lesson planner with worksheets and suggestions for differentiation.

VERDICT

These are all attractively presented series. "New Steps" is of its time, rather content driven. "Directions" has the edge in visual impact and pupil tasks in the text - which could lead to innovative and exciting results - and also in the range of tasks involved. "Flexi-RE" has the least impact.

TITLE

OXFORD UNIVERSITY PRESS. Religion for Today. Price: Book A pound;8.50 (key stage 3); Pupil books 1-3 (Years 7-9) pound;8.50 each; also teacher's resource file pound;20. Tel: 01536 741171

CONTENT

Book A provides an introduction to each of the six QCA big religions and is intended be used across Years 7 to 9, while each of the three pupil books is Year-specific and geared to the QCA scheme of work and question-centred approach. Book 1 is "Some hard questions". Book 2 is "What difference does religion make?", Book 3 asks "What is our response?"

The earlier "Religion for Today" series, seven pupil books (pound;6 each), on each of the six religions and an added one on Jesus, is retained and it is suggested they are used to supplement work on individual religions in the new course.

LEARNING STRATEGIES

The pupil tasks cannot be accused of low expectations or a continuance of KS2 approaches. Many are based on evaluation of different source documents.

AT1 and 2 are peacefully merged.

SUPPORT

The teacher's files contain mainly supplementary photocopiable worksheets and assessment tasks which relate to the QCA levels. Very useful and also provides a firm rationale for the texts.

VERDICT

Visually good. Intellectually provocative. Religions come across as dynamic entities with which pupils can engage. The text of Pupil Book A is formidable and the tasks will have to be adapted. But it does back up the other three books in depth. The written text of all the pupil books might do with complementary foundation books for less literate pupils. The relation of the two series to each other and of Book A to Books 1-3 could be more clearly spelled out.

Terence Copley, Professor of RE at the University of Exeter, carried out this survey with the help of PGCE student Charlotte Aaron

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