A Multidisciplinary Approach for KS3
19 September, 2023, Shell Sullivan
Like many in RE, I was inspired by the Commission on RE’s report (CoRE, 2018) and the Ofsted research review (Ofsted, 2021) to introduce more challenge or ‘ambition for all’ into my curriculum, to use Ofsted’s phrase. I applauded the encouragement for RE teachers to teach substantive knowledge in more depth – which I understood as ‘less is more’ – as well as highlighting the need to represent diversity within faiths accurately. I was also excited by the ‘how to know’ element of the Ofsted review, referring to the difference between substantive and disciplinary knowledge, and the development of personal knowledge. However, the team and I weren’t sure what this would look like in the classroom with our younger students. We felt confident that for our GCSE students a more detailed exploration of texts, data and philosophical ideas would really bring their learning to life, but were unsure as to how to do this well with KS3.
Thankfully, many like Dawn Cox, Nikki Mcgee and Joseph Kinnaird, were actively tackling the practical implications of a multi-disciplinary approach at KS3, so we had lots to explore. Encouraged by their success, my team and I began to trial the explicit use of multi-disciplinary language and analysis of sacred texts in the KS3 classroom. Initially we were anxious that students would find the more detailed textual analysis too hard, and instead of feeling challenged, would be overwhelmed. We were proved wrong.
In preparation for a new unit on Genesis 1, I read the inspirational The Bible With and Without Jesus (Brettler and Levine, 2020). We realised we had always considered Genesis 1 and 2 from a Christian viewpoint, and this book showed us that also analysing from a Jewish perspective would add richness and depth. This opened up a fantastic example of diverse worldviews, difficulties with translation and varied interpretations of sacred text for students to dive into. A helpful tip from Lat Blaylock regarding exploring Genesis from a Jewish perspective gave me additional confidence (Marsten, 2000).
I used an approach for making sense of text from a theological perspective called LAaSMo, which is recommended by Canterbury Christchurch in a toolkit for teachers (Bowie, 2020). This approach showed me how to support students in studying the literary form, author, audience, setting, meaning and order of the text, before they evaluated the impact that diverse beliefs have had, and may still have on the lived experience of believers. Again, this was rich and stimulating and opened up a world of understanding that our students managed well.
By the end of the unit students could see how textual and hermeneutical analyses had allowed them to interpret a text from Christian and Jewish perspectives. We found that as well as the new learning, students had also come to understand that there is never one way to make sense of a sacred text, and in fact, there can be quite a range of diverse viewpoints within religious traditions.
Students’ theological understanding, substantiative knowledge and evaluation skills were assessed. We found that they were able to interpret the theological themes and present their own conclusions. We were very interested to see how many made links to beliefs about the environment and subsequent behaviour.
Despite our initial anxiety we were delighted with the results and felt the work was well worth it. Our curriculum has been hugely enriched because of this, as we are excited for the next challenge.
Brettler, Marc Zvi and Levine, Amy- Jill (2020) The Bible With and Without Jesus, Harper Collins Australia
Bowie, Robert, E. (editor) (2020) The Practice Guide, Classroom Tools for Sacred Text Scholarship, Canterbury Christ Church University, 2020
Commission on Religious Education (CoRE) (September 2018) ‘Religion and Worldviews: the Way Forward: a National Plan for RE’
Marsten, Justin (2000) ‘Jewish understandings of Genesis 1 to 3’, in Science & Christian Belief, Vol 12, 2000
Ofsted, Research Review for Religious Education (May 2021)