What to teach in Religious Studies

Since the majority of hits on this blog come from people searching about challenges in teaching Religious Studies (or Religious Education if you prefer), I thought I would resurrect this strain of thought and discuss some of the issues that arise from time to time in that area. I’m just going to put some thoughts down from time to time on the area in the hope that it helps trigger some thoughts or reflections in any teacher who might stumble across them.

In our department meeting tonight, the final one for the school year, we were discussing what has gone well this year, and what could be improved for next year. Amongst many other things, what went well was delivering content that was relevant to students’ lives in engaging ways. One of the improvements we can make next year is in the development of content to ensure that there is not too much overlap between year levels, and that there is enough content throughout the term. Assessment (and criteria etc) was another area of improvement, but perhaps more of that another time. The Year 9 team also suggested a switch-around of units, such that the unit with the most difficult concepts (like the Trinity) is saved for the end of year, when students have had almost a year to develop their maturity and understanding. Makes sense.

This is also linked to a key question: should we prioritise content or skills in Religion?

In some ways, the Archdiocese of Brisbane’s Religious Education curriculum is fairly comprehensive in outlining expectations of what students should learn in each year level. At the same time, though, teachers (and departments) prioritise. There are also repeated themes, so working out how to keep the content under those themes fresh is also important. This curriculum is extremely content heavy – to the extent where even the ‘skills’ that are outlined can also be defined as ‘knowledge’ (in fact, I’m not at all convinced they actually are ‘skills’.

But what about senior years? There is a lot of freedom in the Study of Religion curriculum, and even more freedom in the Religion and Ethics curriculum to prioritise different religions, concepts, beliefs etc. Students are also given a significant amount of freedom in their research projects to choose which religion – and in the case of Year 11 this term, which ritual – they research. Students are marked on their knowledge and understanding, evaluative processes, and research and communication. So it seems they need to have the ability to find and communicate a depth of knowledge (content), and be able to interpret and analyse it.

With the movement of the new QCAA syllabus towards Marzano’s taxonomy of skills, this is going to guide our development of the junior curriculum. For what it’s worth, we already explicitly teach skills (Bloom’s taxonomy) in Religion in our department, so it’s not a big shift to Marzano. So, to some degree, that *what* of the learning is always framed against the *how*. As a Catholic school, following set curriculum documents, evidently there are some expectations as to the what, but in terms of what we get out our lessons, and in setting students up to be lifelong learners (and therefore be able to analyse religions on their own terms beyond the school doors – which I think is probably the most important thing we can do, teaching students to engage critically with any belief system), the skills are fundamental to any and every RE lesson.

Image result for religions
To what extent is it possible to do “World Religions” justice?

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