How I… use doubt to increase knowledge in RE – Luke Ventura

‘Are you sure about that?’

 

Five of the most powerful words in any teacher’s vocabulary. In my modest career teaching RE across a variety of settings and ages, nothing in my teaching toolbox has been more effective than casting doubt on a student’s knowledge. By ‘doubt’ what I really mean is finding creative and subtle ways to make students question their knowledge, but it starts by making them doubt themselves first.

One of my favourite ways to do this is in something like a card sort activity. I remember one I had set up providing the students with a range of quotes that were said by either Martin Luther King Jr. or Malcolm X. Their task was to match the quotes to the person using their knowledge of both. What I discovered was a very low level of learning and students not really engaging with their knowledge. I could hear lines such as ‘Malcolm X couldn’t possibly have said this, so it must be the other one’. On the face of it this is good stuff, that student knows enough about Malcolm X to know that he wouldn’t have said that. But that’s not what learning in RE is about. We want the students to go just that little bit deeper with their thinking. That’s what I wanted to achieve.

Next day, same activity, different class but this time (having reflected on my practice of course) I changed things up a bit. To make the students begin to really question their knowledge, I put a quote in there from a small green character from a well-known science fiction film. Except I didn’t tell the students. This changes the game completely, because now when students looked at that card they said ‘Well it can’t be Malcolm X but hang on, I can’t imagine Martin Luther King Jr. said that either. What is going on? Did we get this card by mistake? Could it possibly be one of them?’ Now we have it, the proverbial cogs are turning and the deep learning is happening. Plus, it’s always a delight to reveal at the end which one was the ‘outsider’.

Call this what you want, ‘the red herring’, ‘the odd one out’, ‘the elephant in the room’ but the principle is still the same. Include in their learning something outside the paradigm of what you’re asking them to learn in order to question their knowledge and get them really thinking about what you’re teaching them. The applications for it are endless – adding a quote from the Qur’an in with Bible quotes for example, or even replacing one of the 8 Fold Path with one of the Decalogue. If you’re really creative you can cast doubt on the student’s current knowledge by building in elements of their previous knowledge.

Don’t do this too frequently though. Recently a student of mine took one look at something and within 30 seconds said ‘That’s not right. Sir has put that in just to try and mess with us.’ He was right, I did. I was so proud of him.

 

 

Luke Ventura

Secondary teacher of RE and Humanities in Worcestershire

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