How I… embed religious literacy in the classroom and beyond – Naila Missous

It can be a daunting space: this symbol is associated with what religion, this mantra belongs to whom and ‘celebrating’ in school without being disingenuous. Welcome to Primary Religious Education.

The love for diversity and communication between people is what has driven me for a long time. From personal experiences to the places we hold in society, I find it hard to shelve the subject of RE as a standalone concept. From children to adults, the notion of identity and religion is a fluid concept. It not only swims from one side of the spectrum to another, but also deviates from the stereotypes society may have. I suppose that is why it may overawe primary practitioners in their delivery of the subject.

Let us take our best assets: our pupils, our want to teach and share knowledge, and most importantly, the want for relationships. Religions seek for relationships: be it between creators and their servers, festivals and even places of worship are there to bring people together. The classroom has brought us together, and literacy leads to self-reliance and curiosity. So why can’t that be the footing of your RE lessons?

Religious literacy should aid in the delivery of your lessons, no matter the topic or question at hand. It stems from the importance of oracy. For a child to be able to vocalise their thought process, whether with visual prompts, or key words, in order to better communicate. Religious literacy strives for better communication between peers in a classroom, and also between teachers.

One of the principles of religious teaching is that religions are internally diverse. That’s a biggie: navigate slightly away from singing praises of us all being the same with different names. Yes, it can be a topic of discussion (my religion says this, that’s similar to that), however, while these ‘major religion’ labels have their uses, it is important to understand that identification as a Hindu or Muslim (or any other religion) conceals an incredible diversity of beliefs and behaviours. This is where the literacy takes place.

More so, your classroom is its own culture of (little) human behaviour, with a set of rules, beliefs and disagreements. From early theological thought in year 3, to deeper questioning by year 6. Religious literacy encompasses all aspects of human culture and behaviour in one. What it will also bring to the forefront, and it’s peeked its head into many a lesson of mine, are that religions are dynamic and changing. Concrete they are not. Why? Human practice and behaviour.
For example, by emphasising principles, you can start to engage in the rudimentary recall of facts of a religion or world view, in the hope to lead a more innovative way of communicating with people for whom religion is an integral aspect of their lives, and others where it is not. Knowing that someone has religious beliefs or practices can then be the start of an open-ended conversation, rather than an invitation to make assumptions – either positive or negative. Allowing the asking of questions, and creating an environment where judgment is suspended is key. Challenging unfounded claims others make about a ‘cultural other’ that sound unfair is also a good way to redirect the conversation and help others evaluate their own worldview to prevent the problem from perpetuating.

It sounds fiddly, with curious minds who pose another question in response to the question, but perspective broadening starts with the teachers, the assistants and the children in a whole school setting.

Religious literacy doesn’t and shouldn’t stop at the school gates.


Naila Missous

Primary teacher and middle leader in Religion and History

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Read the other blogs in the series. See them all here