What I learnt at #NATREnorth

I was able to go to #NATREnorth conference last weekend, still being in the UK – and unlike many of the dedicated teachers at the conference, didn’t come straight from work on Friday, spend the weekend learning, and straight back to work on Monday! Most importantly, before I talk about anything I learnt at the conference, I just want to enthuse about the people I met there. They were a bunch of heart-warming committed teachers, with a desire to improve their teaching. They are the epitome of life-long learning. It was also great that it wasn’t just secondary school RE teachers I got to meet, but also primary teachers, university lecturers and the odd RE adviser. A particular highlight for me was meeting some of my twitter connections in person: it was great to hang out with people whose ideas I have listened to online. And I got to reconnect with people I’d met in previous lives – during my PGCE and at interviews. It’s a small world of RE teachers in the UK, and in some ways this conference made me feel sad to be leaving it! What a great bunch.

So on to what I took away from the conference:

  1. It reminded me that I am rubbish at listening to lectures. Thankfully I have twitter, keeping me engaged by tweeting key issues. We spend all our lives learning how to teach in engaging ways, and then we teach teachers in the opposite way. No, I’m not really moaning, I’m an adult therefore I should learn to deal with it!
  1. Flipped Learning by @Ben_Wood_RE – I know the term ‘flipped learning’ pops up on twitter quite often, but I didn’t really have a good understanding of what it actually entailed and how it would work in practice until I went to Ben’s session. He has made his own videos for the students to watch at home, and has differentiation built into the lesson by guiding students to start at a particular level of task depending upon an assessment at the start of the lesson. He uses Bloom’s taxonomy for the tasks, and different colour paper so students get used to which colour represents which level. I thought this idea would be fantastic for my new department in which I have many teachers with other specialisms (something else I learnt, not to call those teachers ‘non-specialist’ whose subject is not RE). This would be dependent upon the curriculum not changing too frequently, though, as there would be no point making videos that would be obsolete in a couple of years.
  1. Digital Learning by @nmckain – a whistle-stop tour of a load of useful educational apps. Best of all I think was socrative – a quiz app that is used in real time in lessons. It gives teachers real-time feedback about the students’ learning. He also showed us morfo which could be used for presenting debates, or for autobiographical lessons. This session highlighted the limitations of the technological infrastructure of the school: with so many people trying to get on the quiz at the same time, the wifi was exceptionally slow. That combined with the fact that my phone’s memory is at capacity meant that I didn’t even make it on to the quiz before he had to analyse the results!
  1. Something about religious literacy – I can’t remember the name of the session, but it was by Ben again. We talked a lot about religious literacy – and I bought the book by Stephen Prothero on the subject (in America) when I got home – I’m yet to get stuck into it. He used socrative but also mentioned another quiz app that lets students revise at home by quiz. A short task he did at the start made me realise that background knowledge really is key to our understanding. He gave me a paragraph of text that I couldn’t make any sense of until he gave me the title later in the session – it was about doing the washing! It made me realise that if we don’t have a simple grasp of the concept, then we really can’t get a handle on the lesson that follows. So when we use concepts in our lesson titles that the students don’t understand, we waste time. Background knowledge (or religious literacy) is key to interpreting the lesson’s content.
  1. There was a session about teaching Christianity theologically – someone stepped in to present at the last minute and I can’t remember her name! Another important task in my new job is writing academic rigour into the schemes of work. This made me realise that I am often not explicit enough about the concepts I am teaching: we were given a biblical passage and had to consider the concepts that were behind it. We came up with a variety of answers, which would have been confusing to a room full of students if we haven’t been explicit. It also made me think about what a concept is (I know, I’ve just written a 20,000 word chapter of my PhD on concepts, without stopping to consider what a concept is). I can’t remember whose idea it was, but *someone* has proposed three types of concept for RE: generic concepts that also apply outside of religion – e.g. love; religious concepts that apply across religions – e.g. God; and religious concepts that are specific to one religion – e.g. the Incarnation. This helps us to realise where there are comparisons and contrasts between religions and the secular world.
  1. Lat Blaylock gave us the motivation to use stimulus material that inspires us to inspire the students. As usual with Lat, he gave us some examples of quality RE work that was based on the stimulus of a poem. The quality of writing from primary school students when given the support and structure of a quality stimulus was amazing.

It is evident, then, that the things I am taking away from the conference are mostly from the small sessions, which were full of amazing ideas that will make a massive impact on my teaching and on the schemes of work I will be writing. As well as the learning, there was a lot of fun to be had. A comedian who had been an RE teacher in a former life made us laugh after dinner, and there was a lot of quality social time. I can’t stress enough the professionalism of the teachers at the conference, and the passion and drive to improving RE for the benefit of the students. Well worth the weekend away!


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