The truth is out there

20th June 2003 at 01:00
Terence Copley looks at the growing number of religious studies resources available for GCSE.

GCSE Religious Studies full and short courses go from strength to strength, both in increased student uptake and in grade improvement in the final results. Increasing numbers of higher-grade achievers in RS don't mean lower standards, but better teaching, with a clearer focus and greater awareness of what is required in order to do well.

One factor in this success story is the new range of supporting texts coming on to the market which, more often than not, are targeted to a specific exam board and syllabus. These books are frequently written by practising examiners and are focused on the exam. They often contain practice questions, revision tips, examiners' comments, sample marking and even common mistakes and how to avoid them. This clarity will also help parents who want to lend a hand. It is to the credit of the publishers that, despite this heavy exam focus, these books are not dull, even though a few of them use a small sized font that could prove difficult to read.

Some of the books contain photos that not only brighten the text or underline its message, but also make good teaching aids in themselves.

I invited my PGCE RE group of about 20 student teachers to evaluate these texts. For more than a term they have been working in secondary, comprehensive, grammar and independent schools teaching GCSE RS to the enthusiastic and the indifferent, with the help or hindrance of support materials such as these.

In general, the student teachers' comments on these textbooks converged, but in a couple of cases one trainee teacher's "best buy" is another's "no, no, no!", which goes to show that it's not just the textbook that counts, but the teacher who's using it. However, I have chosen not to name the book which they say: "invites child destruction".

TITLE:

COLLINS educational Thinking About God: Pupil Book pound;10.99; Teacher's Notes pound;14.99; Access Pack pound;36.99 Examining Four Religions pound;15.99 Tel: 0870 787 1612 www.collinseducation.com

EXAM BOARD:

NEAB short course: Thinking About God. Generic: Examining Four Religions.

CONTENT:

These are both established texts - Examining Four Religions being better visually than Thinking About God. The four religions are Hinduism, Judaism, Christianity and Islam and the treatment is by theme, ie, worship, holy books. God is dealt with by looking at "proofs", creation stories, suffering, revelation and when key ethical themes are addressed.

LEARNING STRATEGIES:

Examining Four Religions has tasks for focusing, discussing and recording key issues, while Thinking About God has group work and individual tasks.

SUPPORT:

Both books are self-contained.

VERDICT:

These books are useful rather than innovative in their content and approach. Student teachers say: Examining Four Religions is a useful introduction which lacks depth.

TITLE:

FOLENS Religion in Life amp; Society pound;9.99 Truth amp; Spirituality pound;9.99 Tel: 0870 609 1237 www.folens.co.uk

EXAM BOARD:

EdExcel A: Religion in Life amp; Society.

AQA B:Truth amp; Spirituality.

CONTENT:

Content for both follows the exam syllabus.

LEARNING STRATEGIES:

Both books are well illustrated and use a smallish font. The content is divided into sections which include important words, "It's a fact", summaries, and exam-related tasks.

SUPPORT:

Both texts are self-contained.

VERDICT:

These texts are packed with relevant information for the exams. Student teachers say: good for higher-ability pupils. The books are visually pleasing and well-detailed.

TITLE:

HEINEMANN Beliefs, Values amp; Traditions: Resource and Activity File pound;45.99; Student Book pound;12.99 Beliefs, Values amp; Traditions: Hinduism: Student Book pound;6.99 Contemporary Moral Issues pound;12.99 GCSE Religious Studies for AQA (series): Revision Materials pound;5.50 each; Christian Belief amp; Practice: the Roman Catholic Tradition pound;12.25 GCSE Religious Studies for AQA A (series): Christianity pound;12.25; The Roman Catholic Tradition: Christian Lifestyle amp; Behaviour pound;12.25; Christianity: Behaviour, Attitudes amp; Lifestyles pound;12.25; St Mark's Gospel pound;12.25 GCSE Religious Studies for AQA B: Truth, Spirituality amp; Contemporary Issues pound;12.25 Tel: 01865 888080 www.heinemann.co.uk

EXAM BOARD:

GCSE short course (generic): Beliefs, Values amp; Traditions.

Unspecified - generic: Contemporary Moral Issues.

AQA: All others.

CONTENT:

Christianity targets AQA 1A.

The Roman Catholic: Tradition addresses AQA A Option 2B.

St Mark's Gospel targets AQA A Option 1C.

Christianity, Behaviour, Attitudes and Lifestyles targets AQA 2A.

Christian Belief amp; Practice: The RC Tradition addresses AQA A 1B.

The AQA A Revision Guide has "hints and tips", and "beware" points along with usual exam practice questions and examiners' comments. More AQA B revision guides will follow in November. Hinduism is strong on content, but has fewer tasks and less exam focus.

LEARNING STRATEGIES:

There is a house style in the AQA texts that relates to exam questions or part-questions and to opportunities for discussion and further research.

They highlight key terms, key points, activities and common mistakes, and provide exam tips and practice questions.

SUPPORT:

The Belief, Values amp; Traditions Resource and Activity File supports the student books with photocopiable worksheets at three levels. There are also information sheets and exam-related tasks.

VERDICT:

Beliefs, Values amp; Traditions has a good mix of pictures, text and tasks.

Contemporary Moral Issues addresses moral topics and relates them to citizenship. Truth, Spirituality amp; Contemporary Issues has a higher ratio of text to pictures but it's still attractively divided. Student teachers say Christianity: Behaviour, Attitudes amp; Lifestyles is a "great book", but consider St Mark "museum Christianity".

TITLE:

HODDER amp; STOUGHTON Christianity: A New Approach pound;11.99 Buddhism: A New Approach pound;9.99 Hinduism: A New Approach pound;10.99 Sikhism: A New Approach pound;10.99 Judaism: An Approach for GCSE pound;9.99 Christian Perspectives: OCR GCSE Religious Studies pound;8.99 Thinking About God and Morality pound;9.99 Truth, Spirituality amp; Contemporary Issues pound;9.99 Issues and Beliefs in the Catholic Faith pound;11.99 Believing and Living: pound;9.99 Religion and Life (series): Third Edition pound;9.99; Foundation Edition pound;9.99; Revision guide pound;4.99; Teacher Pack pound;26.99 Religion and Society pound;9.99; Teacher Pack pound;25.99 Tel: 020 7873 6000 www.madaboutbooks.com

EXAM BOARD:

Generic: Christianity; Buddhism; Hinduism; Judaism.

Full and short courses: Islam and Christian Perspectives OCR AQA short course: Thinking About God and Morality.

AQA short course: Truth, Spirituality amp; Contemporary Issues.

Unstated, but RC options: Issues and Beliefs in the Catholic Church.

WJEC short course: Believing and Living.

EdExcel short course: Religion and Life.

EdExcel short course and key stage 4 citizenship: Religion and Society.

CONTENT:

These are all well-illustrated books where, in general the percentage of text per page is not intimidating. There are even blank areas on some pages. The content of Issues and Beliefs in the Catholic Faith is thorough.

Religion and Society addresses moral issues across four religions and also claims to embrace 75 per cent of citizenship requirements for KS4.

Christian Perspectives addresses seven major ethical areas and includes helpful photographs, but has garish line drawings.

LEARNING STRATEGIES:

Discussion, research, and exam practice all feature in these texts. The Foundation Edition of Religion and Life has a larger font and less text.

The New Approach series has become a matured approach, with a strong emphasis on subject content and less focus on the actual exam than more recent texts. Believing and Living has less depth but is a more interactive resource.

SUPPORT:

Brief lesson plans are provided in the teacher packs, along with photocopiable worksheets, hand-outs and assessment tasks.

VERDICT:

In most of these texts the photographs are not merely decorative but can be used to enhance discussion and learning. Truth, Spirituality and Contemporary Issues and Thinking About God amp; Morality combine an attractive text, sensitive factual content and focused exam tips. Student teachers say: Believing amp; Living has an excellent cover and well-laid out text. The teachers' packs are "very approachable".

TITLE:

JOHN MURRAY Religion in Focus (series) Christianity in Today's World: Moral Issues, Ultimate Questions; Islam in Today's World; Judaism in Today's World: Student's Book 9.50; Teacher's Evaluation Pack pound;21 Tel: 01235 827720 www.johnmurray.co.uk

EXAM BOARD:

Generic CONTENT:

The small sized font in these texts helps to pack in the information. The religions are sliced into the familiar themes of making moral decisions, issues of life and death, relationships, global issues and arguments about God.

LEARNING STRATEGIES:

Active learning is claimed to be the base for all of the units. Pupils are expected to interrogate the text and pictures. The range of activities is wide.

SUPPORT:

The spiral-bound teacher's resource books suggest homework tasks, provide photocopiable worksheets, revision tips, end-of-unit quizzes and further opportunities for exam practice.

VERDICT:

These texts are good on depth and pupil involvement, but are daunting for poor readers. Student teachers say: Islam in Today's World is excellent.

TITLE:

NELSON THORNES St Mark's Gospel amp; the Christian Faith: Study Guide pound;4.95 Respect Citizenship Through RE and PSE pound;8; Teacher's File pound;40 One World, Many Issues pound;12.50 GCSE RE for You (series): Judaism with Jewish Moral Issues; Christianity; Christianity and Moral Issues pound;10 eachThinking About God and Morality: Study Guide pound;4.95 Discovery: Philosophy amp; Ethics for OCR GCSE Religious Studies pound;11.25; Foundation Edition Textbook pound;11.25; Study Guide pound;4.95 Tel: 01242 267100 www.nelsonthornes.com

EXAM BOARD:

AQA B: Thinking About God and Morality.

AQA A: St Mark's Gospel amp; the Christian Faith. Short course generic: One World, Many Issues.

Generic: GCSE RS for You.

OCR B: Discovery: Philosophy amp; Ethics for OCR GCSEReligious Studies.

Generic GCSE or non-exam: Respect Citizenship Through RE and PSE.

CONTENT:

GCSE RE for You are well-presented texts that focus on the exam, but not as narrowly as the linked study guides. Respect Citizenship Through RE and PSE has been developed to integrate KS4 citizenship into RE and PSE. It examines issues such as waste, human rights, sweated labour and the causes of crime. Discovery: Philosophy amp; Ethics for OCR is a small-font text with 10 units covering the full and short course topics for philosophy and ethics. One World, Many Issues briefly addresses a range of ethical issues via bullet points, boxed inserts and short text.

LEARNING STRATEGIES:

End-of-unit tests, key words, discussion and written tasks are integrated into the generic texts and Discovery: Philosophy amp; Ethics for GCSE, has practice questions and tips from examiners at the end of each unit. The study guides can be used alone or to support the bigger text, and are targeted to AQA. These are no-frills texts with revision advice, exam-oriented tasks, tips and review check lists. One World, Many Issues includes end-of-unit question banks and 10 key exam tips.

SUPPORT:

A range of support devices is adopted in these different series, including core and foundation texts, supplementary study guides, and teacher's books.

VERDICT:

The RE element in Respect Citizenship falls short of providing the depth for understanding a religious view of life. One World, Many Issues offers a different approach to ethical topics, while Discovery translates the successes in ASA2 RS in this field into GCSE. GCSE RE for You is sharply focused on the exam. This series would go well with lower ability pupils.

TITLE:

OXFORD UNIVERSITY PRESS Thinking Through Religion - Module 2: Beliefs, Questions and Issues pound;10.50; Teacher's Resource pound;31.50 Tel: 01536 741171 www.oup.co.uk

EXAM BOARD:

AQA B Module 2

CONTENTS.

The key beliefs of six religions are presented in this book, followed by a look at "Ultimate Questions", three ethical issues, the Earth's origins, treatment of animals, and care for the environment. The teacher's book includes lots of photocopiable work sheets.

LEARNING STRATEGIES:

The text contains questions, but in the left margin key exam questions set the focus. Illustrations are not just decorative, but relevant to the text.

SUPPORT:

Good back-up in the teacher's book.

VERDICT:

This meaty textbook could prove difficult for some, but it's full of information and a judicious use of bullet points breaks it up.

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