I’m doing a Farmington Fellowship this year researching the big questions and whether teaching RE through this enquiry based approach engages children in their RE, deepening their understanding and enjoyment of RE and ultimately their attainment. I’d really appreciate your thoughts on the big question and any feedback you have on your use of big questions in your class to support my research
Well, big questions is the real challenge of RE.The way I see it big questions are always open-ended questions and this is why they are more difficult to answer, or, simply prove that there are issues to which there is no singe answer or approach.They favor analytical thinking and the appreciation of different views. I think that an article of mine that will be published in the up-coming on line volume of Religion and Film, could be of some help to you, even though in this article I discuss the importance of open-ended questions in a particular context or storyline,i.e. a movie. And there is also this: what about students asking us big questions: last year a girl asked me … “Sir what is reality?”. This is also a possibility we should consider.
It is often surprising the depth of pupils’ questions which is why there is some useful material on this site. See: http://reonlineorg.wpengine.com/religious-education-in-the-new-curriculum/section-4-question-bank/
I think the big questions do provide opportunity for deeper learning however this needs to be planned and structured. Children also need to be taught the skills of enquiry rather than it ‘just happening.’ Enquiries should be part of a whole rather than a stand alone too. Reflection is an important element of this and can undoubtedly deepen understanding and learning but again this is a skill and sometime we just expect children to reflect without giving them the tools to enable them to do so.
Thank you for your replies. They are very useful. Keep them coming!
I agree that children need to be taught the skills of reflection and enquiry. I suspect that how the questions are introduced and scaffolded will determine, in some way, the outcome.
Hi Jim, I’m looking the site you recommend, Section 4: Question Bank, and I am utterly,utterly depressed.
Where are the Big Questions? “Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?”.
Where is the story of humanity; the story of the challenges that we have faced, physical, behavioural, individual, and social?.
An exciting story for all ages, a vitally important story for our future.
Understanding religions is important but it is not enough. If we are to live in goodwill, perhaps even continue to exist, we must understand ourselves as a whole interdependent human family and work together to create a better, compassionate, cooperative humanity.
I am just reading Alistair McGrath’s new book, Inventing the Universe: Why we can’t stop talking about, science faith and God.
Very readable, and an interesting account of the development of his personal views so far as I’ve got. I intend writing an article when I’ve finished it, but for the moment consider the following:
“Yet I gradually came to realise that we need a richer and deeper vision of reality if we are to do justice to the complexity of the world, and live out meaningful and fulfilling lives. So just what are we talking about? The quest for God.”
This is surely limiting the discourse from the start.
I agree Allan, understanding religions isn’t enough. We must learn, explore and question beliefs – this is what leads to real understanding. This must also be set within the vast variety of contexts we find around the world.
I agree that exploring and questioning beliefs will lead to deeper understanding. In the main, I agree that the Question Bank could be expanded to include the really big questions, such as Why are we here and such. There are some interesting questions in the ‘Enquiries about the nature of Religion and Belief’ section, such as ‘How far is suffering caused by human action?’. This could lead to various discussions, such as poverty and the distribution of wealth, leading young people to question fairness of societal structures. Also, the question, ‘How do we know what is true’ could lead to interesting discussions regarding our own perceptions of truth, or the nature of reality from a Buddhist or Hindu perspective. Asking the big questions and allowing time to think, discuss and reflect can lead to the formation of opinions, which is empowering for young people.I think it is important for young people to see, through this process, that often there is no right or wrong answer. This understanding hopefully leads to the development of respect for other’s opinions, which one may not agree with, and the idea that there is no one truth, but rather many truths.
I think there is a good deal of complementarity between the Big Questions and RE. To give a few of these complementary factors:
I think for someone on the outside of a religion, they give a sense of shared approach to the students with what may at first seem very foreign. So, for example, an atheist studying Christianity might be more likely to approach with empathy if they realise the Christian is giving answers (albeit different ones) to questions they themselves are interested in answering in their own lives (‘what’s the point of life?’) etc. The overlap which Big Questions point out allows for more sympathy and openness, I think. It also brings unity amongst the diversity of views in the classroom. ‘We all have different beliefs about it, but we all care about what happens when we die…’
Plus the whole ‘Inquiry’ model is motivating, making use of their curiosity to bring students in to what we want them to learn about. Questions are interesting, Big Questions perhaps even more so! This would apply to religious and non-religious students.
I think there are some interesting tensions between the Big Questions and RE though, too. Firstly, sometimes we are asking the Big Questions but limiting to some extent their possible answers because we present only religious responses in the classroom. This is not an explicit limiting of students’ answers to the questions necessarily, but I know that some of my students might be interested in these Big Questions, but solely in a secular way. The kind of conversation that might be had in a secular Philosophy A Level classroom, for example, which may or may not include religious ideas. Or, to put it another way, I can imagine setting up a debating or philosophy club where these Big Questions were central and yet religious ideas were just one amongst many answers. Such secular-minded students might start to find the Big Questions as slightly manipulative ways on insisting that religion/s have the answers to these questions. I know in my classroom I am sometimes using the Big Questions in this way – as ways of introducing religious ideas. Obviously, there are things that can be done to limit this perception by students. But, ultimately, my curriculum is one centred on religions. And of course, the positive side of this is that students’ imaginative spaces are opened up to new ideas that they may not yet have considered and which might yet become important parts of their spiritual lives.
Also, a focus on the Big Questions can lead away from explicit learning about religions. I know our KS3 is going to have to change with the change of GCSE focus onto religious beliefs and practices. We feel we need more systematic RE to help students get to grips with the religions they will be examined on at GCSE (and, to a lesser extent, in our choice of A Level).
The Big Questions seems to me to link with the old ‘learning from’ religion in many ways. And a greater focus on the ‘learning about’ (and a renewed insistence that true ‘learning from’ requires good ‘learning about’) seems to move RE away from the Big Questions, for me. Not completely, but the emphasis changes.
Interesting discussion, I certainly can’t claim to have the same experience as you all regarding teaching of RE and ‘big questions’. I just wanted to offer an observation that I have made since starting as a TA in September, working with SEND pupils in RE and other subjects. These pupils, in general, have a lower academic ability which often leads to them becoming frustrated in lesson time. However, they have really engaged with RE and especially lessons where big questions are considered. I think this is because they are given the space to think without the pressure of there being a correct answer and their own reflections are appreciated. Although I believe these types of question give plenty of opportunity for deep thinking and pupils aiming for higher level academic achievement, they also offer lots in terms of accessibility for the less academically able pupils to engage in RE in a positive way.
It’s really good to hear how all pupils can be engaged using the big questions rather than a way of stretching more able students. Today’s curriculum can be very intensive and stressful for young people who need extra time to process and reflect on information. Surely we can balance pupils’ quest to understand what life is about, with the necessary facts and information they need to systematically learn about religions and beliefs.
I agree Anne. I find the big questions engage children, open up discussion, allow exploration and inquiry as part of the learning journey and then building in time to reflect on their stance at the end of a unit of work is very valuable and interesting. I run a big questions lunch time group and children do like the experience of raising questions for themselves and respecting the opinions, thoughts and ideas of others.
A really interesting question and discussion thread now that we are in the Summer Vacation period. I use the word Vacation to respect that whilst schools are indeed vacated, much work still goes on! That said, without timetable pressure, perhaps this is a good time to take a breath and reflect on the extent to which the RE we are planning for next year gives students an opportunity to explore the big questions.
We debate over which faiths, NRWVs, to what level of breadth, depth and diversity, should make up our field of study. However in these post-confessional RE times, perhaps for our students, it is the big questions and comprehending how they have been handled by others, that give the subject its core integrity.
What place are you giving them in your planning?
Children always astound me by asking big questions because they are naturally curious about the world in which they live. I remember showing a powerpoint about the nature of God to my ks2 class, which showed beautiful images of the presence of God in our environment. The slides were intended to instill awe and wonder. After showing the slides, one girl responded by saying ‘your slides were only about the beauty of God but God isn’t good or beautiful just look at wars, disease and terrorism those images would be ugly- If God is good why do we have all these terrible things? We then spent time discussing her point of view and every one was engaged and motivated to put their view forward. Our discussion raised many difficult questions about faith and religion. The use of big questions does encourage children to engage and throws up surprises that may challenge the adults too!
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