Moments of inspiration

30th November 2007 at 00:00

The fine balance of detail and accessibility is difficult to strike in these RE textbooks, says Vicky Bunting. Religious Experience (Access to Religious Studies). Peter Cole. Hodder Murray, pound;8.99.

Following the pattern of the Access to Religious Studies series, each chapter starts with definitions of the key words used and ends with some generic advice on answering exam questions on that particular topic. The bulk of the chapter is divided into short sections, with frequent use of bullet points. Key issues and questions are highlighted in boxed sections.

The book is accessible and easy to read. Text has frequent subheadings used to break each chapter into short sections. The use of questions as subheadings encourages a more reflective approach to the material, and serves to motivate pupils.

Unlike some other books that cover religious experience, the author refers to them in a range of traditions. This will widen the appeal of the book to those studying specific religions at A-level, as well as those studying philosophy of religion options.

It covers the full range of religious experiences, including mysticism, conversion, visions and near death experiences. There is also a consideration of the way in which religious experiences can be used to argue that God exists, and their influence on "moral" behaviour.

Its weakness is the exam guidance. In trying to produce a book that is useful to all exam boards, the advice offered to pupils becomes too generic.

The possible questions explored are either very general, or would not be used by all boards. This may result in confusion about the exam style for weaker pupils.

With little specific advice to offer, the guidance often seems to be a summary of the key points from the chapter.

However, the font size is smaller than the main body of the chapter, and the resulting text is quite dense. Perhaps it would have been more useful to provide a clear summary of the chapter, rather than try to incorporate generic advice, which is bound to be of limited value.

Resources for A-level always struggle to balance the need for detailed information with accessibility. This is particularly true today, with the increasing range of ability seen within the A-level cohort. This book sacrifices detail for accessibility, so will perhaps be of most value to pupils at the lower end of the ability range. It might also serve as a revision aid to other pupils.

Assessed RE. Ed Pamela Draycott. Christian Education Publishing, pound;8.90

Delivering a booklet on assessment in RE is always going to be difficult. Despite the existence of a non-statutory framework in England, there is no consensus on methods or criteria for assessment across the country.

This booklet will be of most use in those local authorities that have followed the framework for teaching RE closely. They may find they can use some of the assessments "off the shelf". Others will need to make adjustments in order to ensure they meet the requirements of their locally agreed syllabus.

In addition, RE teachers often teach more children for a shorter time period than most other subjects. This creates its own pressures in trying to carry out meaningful assessment. This booklet provides several methods for trying to ease the assessment burden for RE teachers, while retaining the value and effectiveness of assessment.

One of these ideas is the "comment decoder". This is a strategy designed to reduce the time needed to mark books, by using codes to refer to commonly used comments.

Teachers can reduce the amount they need to write; however, pupils still benefit from quality feedback, including both targets and praise.

For those new to formative assessment, or perhaps searching for materials to persuade colleagues of the value of regular assessment, a clear analysis of its benefits is provided. Some examples of pupils' work showing different levels of achievement is also given, which may be useful for moderation purposes in departments in the early stages of developing the use of levelled assessments.

A number of learning from (AT2) assessment activities are provided. This may be of particular interest for some, since it is often considered that learning about (AT1) activities are easier to develop.

One concern might be that some of the assessment tasks involve following relatively complex instructions, set out in dense paragraphs.

For example, an assessment activity based around beliefs about God includes the following instructions for pupils:

"Look at the prompts in the boxes below, and highlight at least 12 of them, including at least one from each box, that you want to write about. You can cross the others out. Use the prompts to draft your essay, then swap it with a partner, and each mark the others person's work."

I suspect that in many comprehensive schools these will be too complex and the density of the text may be off-putting for pupils. At the very least, the instructions could be broken down into bullet points for each part of the task, to make the whole seem less daunting.

This booklet has previously been provided as part of the RE Today subscription package. Subscribers of RE Today can access Word and PDF versions of many of the materials in the booklet, to alter them for their own use. This is a very useful feature of the materials.

Despite the range of helpful materials, I would be reluctant to pay pound;8.90 for what is a rather thin booklet

Vicky Bunting is head of RE at a Wiltshire school.

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