Expressions of faith;Religious Education;Books

15th May 1998 at 01:00
AT THE HEART. A Practical Guide to Teaching RE. By Graham Langtree Stanley Thornes. pound;18.99

RELIGIOUS EDUCATION IN KEY STAGE 2. A Practical Guide. By Terence and Gill Copley and John Pering. Southgate. pound;8.95

DELIVERING AND MANAGING EFFECTIVE RE IN THE SECONDARY SCHOOL. By Chris Wright and Isobel Vale. Courseware Publications. pound;14.95

100 IDEAS FOR RE. By Sandra Palmer and Elizabeth Breuilly. Collins. pound;19.99

Graham Handscomb reviews a selection of texts that show RE is alive and kicking.

The publication of high-quality books on religious education shows that RE is a vibrant, living subject. The best of these titles not only provide seminal exploration of professional issues, but also a treasure-trove of practical strategies and classroom resources.

Seldom is a text just what it says of itself, but Graham Langtree's book will prove an essential practical guide, particularly for subject leaders. Two complementary sections explore policy and practice and give examples of extensive work schemes. Splendid use is made of illustrations, and the language is straightforward.

Langtree quickly tracks RE's development - biblical studies, thematic versus phenomenological approaches, and the prevailing view of RE as a major contributor to spiritual and moral development. The book's tone is sensible and level-headed, stating, for instance, that even faith adherents have widely disparate views on social issues.

The chapter on assessment is excellent, and offers one of the few genuine attempts to get to grips with "formative assessment". So often pupil self-assessment is reduced to a meaningless form-filling chore, but Langtree's "Reflective Journey" sheets take pupils on an in-depth evaluation.

Less satisfactory is the chapter on inspection, which is surprisingly dismissive of teachers' recognition that the focus of inspection is on them.

Classroom strategies range from surveys and role-play to "buzz groups" and "snowballing", and six entire photocopiable schemes of work use a variety of approaches. Langtree may do too much of the teacher's work, but it is refreshing to see an author translate professional debate into practical application.

Religious Education in Key Stage 2 is of similar high quality. Its strength lies in its salient messages about why we should teach RE, and what sort of enterprise it involves. "Legal compulsion" is not sufficient a reason, but rather the fact that "religion exists as a potent force . . . and any understanding of humankind must sooner or later deal with the claims that religion makes".

Lots of practical ideas are given for key stage 2, using sharp simple drawings, detailed background information and a variety of approaches. Limited photocopiable material is provided and Judaic-Christian topics are more widely covered than other world religions.

The authors have a profound understanding of their subject and show its worth through a fundamental exploration of its purposes and principles.

In contrast, the other books are disappointing. In Delivering and Managing Effective RE in the Secondary School, Chris Wright and Isobel Vale begin with an overlong account of RE's changing statutory history from 1870. They make some commonsense points about curriculum planning and provide useful pro formas. But further guidance is patronising. Do teachers really need to be told to "meet together with colleagues to discuss the format of the examination"?

The sections on monitoring RE and managing the department are useful, but the staff development activities are woefully simplistic.

100 Ideas for RE is a pot pourri of lesson ideas. Attractive photocopiable support material is provided, but the tasks offer no progression and pose little challenge. As a resource it may be occasionally useful for dipping into, but effective teaching is unlikely to be found in this collection.

As the authors of Religious Education in Key Stage 2 ably demonstrate, the secret of excellence lies in an imaginative synthesis between the needs and qualities of the child, the wisdom and experience of the great world faiths and, above all, the experience and outlook of the teacher.

* Graham Handscomb is principal adviser for professional development, Essex Learning Services Directorate

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