How I… ensure KS3 SOWs are ambitious – Charlotte Newman

‘How I..’ feels misleading for the title of this blog post. When it comes to developing schemes of work in my department it is very much ‘how we…’. Taking a collaborative approach to developing our KS3 curriculum is important to ensure that all of us are invested in it and share the same vision.

The first thing we discuss when wishing to introduce a new scheme of work is ‘what knowledge do we want students to know by the end of their time in school?’ The National Curriculum states that we should ‘introduce pupils to the best that has been thought and said’. In RE, this could encompass a huge amount: allowing students to encounter the ideas of the Greek philosophers, engage with religious texts, debate ultimate questions about meaning and purpose, discover contributions that have shaped our response to ethical issues in society today. The list goes on. This appears wildly ambitious. The first question you might ask is ‘How can I fit it all in?’ Unfortunately, we can’t. Being selective is difficult but consider what concepts it is that you wish your students to learn that will enable them to succeed later on at GCSE and A Level. A couple of years ago I shockingly discovered, on introducing A Level at my school, that although students had achieved 9’s at GCSE, they did not know how to look up a Bible verse because I had always provided the texts for them. I knew this was something I had to rectify immediately and embed earlier on in the curriculum.

The second question may be ‘Well surely I can’t possibly teach Descartes’ philosophy to Year 7 or explore how the Great Schism changed the face of Christianity forever in Year 8?’ Actually, this is exactly what I am suggesting – all students deserve access to such groundbreaking and influential ideas, however complex they may be. We shouldn’t assume that our students would not be able to ‘do it’ and therefore, we won’t teach it. I actually find that students enjoy learning the most when they are challenged. The feeling of finally understanding something is much more rewarding when they have had to struggle to get there.

In our Year 7 Introduction to Philosophy unit we explore Descartes’ infamous cogito ergo sum (usually translated into English as “I think, therefore I am”). We begin by asking students ‘what they know for certain to be true? How do they know?’ which leads onto a class discussion about empiricism. We then use a clip from the film ‘Inception’ to reinforce the idea; the main character Cobb cannot know whether he was dreaming throughout (spoiler alert!) because dreams feel so real when we are in them. This gives students enough background knowledge to look at Part 1, Article 7 of Descartes’ Principles of Philosophy. We use the original text and students are asked to infer whatever they can from it. Support comes with the live questioning and unpacking of the text together that follows. In our Year 8 History of Christianity unit students summarise each event studied on their own timeline throughout the lessons so they can put them in context and analyze their impact. The ‘Knowing Religion – Christianity’ textbook and the Truetube ‘Church History in Ten Minutes’ video have been useful resources. Most students can relate to the arguments that led to the Great Schism when they think about the disagreements that they have with family or within school, despite shared values.

Finally, context is equally as important as content. Mary Myatt stresses the importance of ensuring that students understand the bigger picture. This is crucial for when students apply knowledge to new topics throughout the curriculum. Our Year 8 curriculum is centred around the theme of morality and rights. Students begin by studying ideas of right and wrong including different responses to ethical dilemmas e.g. the trolley problem (a thought experiment where a decision has to made to save the lives of 5 people by killing 1 or do nothing and allow the 5 to die). We then move on to looking at how religion has both been a force for equality and discrimination throughout history before enquiring how Jews can still believe in an all loving, all powerful God after the Holocaust? Finally, we examine why Muslims face prejudice today and how we need to learn from the mistakes of the past in how they are treated. Each of our lessons starts with a retrieval quiz where we ask students recall questions from ‘last lesson…’, ‘last term…’ and ‘last year…’. This allows us to make explicit links with knowledge from previous topics that we will be building on in that lesson.

Due to the new Ofsted framework the words ‘intent, implementation and impact’ may now strike fear into teachers, however, considering these has very much allowed our department to review what we want out of our curriculum and to engage afresh with the subject we love.

 

Charlotte Newman

Associate Principal and Head of Religion, Philosophy and Ethics at a secondary school in Cambridgeshire

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