Do you enjoy teaching RE? I used to dread these lessons, but lately I look forward to them. Why? I had been feeling a bit burned out on RE days, after two hours of literacy followed by numeracy, so for my own sake, and the sake of the pupils, I determined to make RE as creative as possible.
I have always been convinced that children know a lot more about religion and spirituality than we give them credit for. And yet, in my haste to cover all the objectives in our RE scheme of work, I have often rushed through lessons, giving pupils little opportunity to offer their own insights and reflections. I decided to rethink my RE lessons at Bishop Loveday CE primary school in Banbury, and to tackle the RE objectives more imaginatively. This year I have tried to offer at least one opportunity for the children to be creative in each lesson. This might simply be by organising an open-ended discussion, but it may involve art, drama, poetry, games, music, dance; not necessarily in the RE lesson itself, but by creative use of links in other subject areas, (what we used to call the integrated curriculum).
The results have been very pleasing, not just in terms of the quality of insight, empathy, and more that has been revealed in the pupils, but also because I have often found my own beliefs and values challenged and stretched. As all creativity requires stimulation, I have tried to vary the types of stimulation in RE lessons. This has been assisted by some fantastic resource books now available.
From Don't Just Do Something, Sit There by Mary Stone (pound;6.50 Religious and Moral Education Press (RMEP), tel 01603 624483), I tried her guided visualisation on the life of a leaf, to introduce the idea of stages in life and rites of passage. The children's empathetic, responsive writing amazed me: an example of their leaf poems is below.
I used Writing and Poetry Toolkit by Margaret Cooling (pound;13.99 each from RMEP), a prolific writer of RE teachers' books, to adapt ideas about using acrostic poems, to encourage reflective writing on the topic of war and peace. This followed a trip to the Imperial War Museum, where RE work on Judaism has been linked to a history topic on the Second World War. Again the resulting writing was fascinating: see "Suffering and War".
Jesus through Art and The Bible through Art, also by Margaret Cooling (pound;24.99 each, from RMEP) contain some intriguing A3 depictions of Bible stories, and are also crammed with multimedia follow-up ideas and worksheets. I used ideas from these books and additional pictures and thoughts about God by five-year-olds to initiate a discussion about what God might be like.
The Day I fell Down the Toilet by Steve Turner (pound;3.99 from Lion Publishing, tel: 01865 747550. Web: www.lion-publishing.co.uk) is a wonderful children's poetry book, full of amusing, thought-provoking verse, some of which has religious themes. One of these is a "Kenning" or slogan poem. This was the stimulus for some super "Jesus Raps", used to assess the children's understanding of Christians' beliefs about Jesus: see below.
From one edition of the monthly magazine Cracking RE, published through the Stapleford Centre in Nottingham, (subscription pound;28 a year, tel: 0115 939 6270 ) I cribbed the idea of visiting our local church with the task of being "church detectives". We set out to discover from evidence found there, first, what might go on in the building on a Sunday, and second, hat this might tell us about what Christians believe. We also made time for the children, while in the building, to sit quietly and reflect. At the end of this time one of my class whispered to me, "Churches are a bit like stained glass, aren't they? They only come alive when you're inside them!" I have also found A-Z Active Learning Strategies to Support Spiritual and Moral Development by Joyce Mackley and Pamela Draycott, (pound;7.50, Christian Education Movement (CEM) tel: 01332 296655), a treasure trove of ideas. It has many immediately useable suggestions including drama, debate, games and reflective journals.
I still use many of the excellent ideas developed by Helen Thacker, the RE advisory teacher in Suffolk - where I taught for 10 years. One powerful method for introducing different world faiths, has been to use pictures and stories about imaginary children. For example, Reuben and Hannah are a pair of fictitious Jewish children and introducing Judaism through the things they and their family do every week has been invaluable with primary pupils. Helen's Themes and Schemes, available from Suffolk County Council, (tel: 01473 583000) are brimful of lively, inspiring ideas that are adaptable to any county's RE agreed syllabus.
I am beginning to explore ICT and the internet. One day, for example, we visited a panoramic camera focused on the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem and zoomed in, out and around the concourse. A useful site for discovering the addresses of other ICT resources for RE is http:refit.ucsm.ac.uk.
RE Today is a termly journal for primary teachers published by CEM (pound;21.25 a year, pound;8 single copy) that regularly has articles on the importance of pupils not only learning about religion, but also learning from religion (this is also emphasised in most agreed syllabuses).
Pupils need to be encouraged to connect personally with and respond to any subject that is offered so that they can draw creatively on their own resources and experiences and feel that their contribution is valuable, before they will be engaged by other's reflections, beliefs and values.
Liz Mills teaches at Bishop Loveday School, Banbury and is a member of the executive committee for the Professional Council for Religious Education
A LEAF'S LIFE by Harry (9)
Spring I am warm but squashed I am dying to burst This is my home I think I am ready, ready to come out.
Summer I am now dazzling with colour I feel alive I am attached to a twig all nice and warm This could be the end... I am now loosening...
Autumn I am twisting and turning away from my home I am now fallen onto the ground all cold and not wanted I am ready to die.
I wonder if I'll grow, grow back again?
SUFFERING AND WAR by Helena (9)
Sadness shows in everyone's faces Unsafe to go out of your door Frightened children pack their cases Fun time stop for war Everybody feels the same Rubble lines the streets I think it is a real shame
Not many sleep between the sheets Gunfire reminds us all of war And sometimes it makes us cry No one can think that it's not sore Dads and people die When the war has ended And we've all got over the shock Remember those whose lives have ended Some by just a little knock
THE JESUS RAP! By William, Clem, Harrietand Rachel
Poor feeder Kind leader Fish catcher Food dispatcher LESS THAN Desert survivor Bread provider Parable teller Nice fella!
Leper healer Emotion feeler Miracle maker Dead man waker Satan banisher Evil vanisher Peace liver Life giver!