Scriptures' place in the literacy hour

4th December 1998 at 00:00
The National Literacy Strategy is divided into two sections: fiction and non-fiction. Religious texts are hard to categorise, but don't be put off, says Margaret Cooling

The introduction of the literacy hour is likely to cause a slimming down of RE more than in most subjects, which is why teachers are now looking for creative ways of combining literacy and RE.

There are causes of concern in combining the subjects: literacy consultants may fear that literacy becomes the poor relation of RE, and RE teachers may fear that RE material will be used with no thought to its religious significance.

However, with careful planning, the literacy hour can benefit from the richness of religious material and can avoid the pitfall of telling religious stories without exploring their significance.

One of the major issues is that the National Literacy Strategy (NLS) is divided into two sections: fiction and non-fiction. Fiction is defined as "a text which is invented by a writer or speaker". Sacred texts, however, often contain stories, and in the NLS, stories come under fiction (except biography). Many people would be offended at their sacred texts being described as invented.

This problem could be solved by placing all religious stories in the non-fiction section, but this merely stops them being labelled as "invented". Unfortunately, the activities designated for use with non-fiction material in the NLS are limited. Most of the activities which RE teachers find useful, and which they already use, are in the fiction section.

So teachers are caught in a dilemma. Do they use religious stories when doing fiction activities and risk them being labelled "invented", or do they use them as part of the non-fiction work and endure limited activities?

One option would be for the NLS to change the headings of the sections and to use the words "narrative" and "non-narrative" rather than fiction and non-fiction. "Narrative" describes the style, not the status of the story. It can cover a wide range of stories, both historical and invented.

Another, less satisfactory, option would be to add a section to the introduction of the NLS to cover religious stories, explaining the problem and suggesting strategies teachers could use when handling religious mat-erial in the literacy hour.

Notwithstanding this, there is a lot of scope for RE and literacy being taught together. Religious education texts can be used purely for literacy purposes in the literacy hour, and pupil knowledge of the texts can be assumed. Dedicated RE time can then be used for following up the religious significance.

Alternatively, teachers can select from the text level of the NLS those activities which explore meaning and significance and therefore serve the purposes of both RE and literacy. For example, pupils can build character profiles of people in religious stories. They can evaluate a person's behaviour in the light of their situation and the moral dilemmas they face.

Pupils are also required to relate stories to personal experience. RE teachers do this all the time. Most religious themes and stories have corresponding themes in human experience which are reflected in our own life stories. A creation story may make pupils reflect not only on the world around them but on their own ability to create.

Margaret Cooling is part of the team at the Stapleford Centre, which is producing material for the literacy hour and RE to be published next summer. The Stapleford Centre, Stapleford, Nottingham NG9 8DP. E-mail:

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