The build up to GCSE exams has been creating huge demand for us to visit schools to take revision lessons. Typically these lessons have taken the form of a question and answer session, with students asking their own questions based loosely on the topics covered in their course (Belief in God, Life and death issues, Social harmony, Religion and the media etc). The idea is that our answers, and particularly the personal stories we share, will help students gain a better understanding about how the Christan faith works out in real people’s lives and so give them examples they can use in the exam.
However, fun though these sessions often are, and as useful as they may be, we’ve always felt there must be a better way to help young people engage with the subject, explore their own understanding and still gain from our personal examples.
So this year we’ve been getting them to do more of the work. And it seems to be working.
After getting students to recap the different issues they have covered we ask them to work in groups to come up with the main points they’d include in answer to a question we set them. So, for example, "How and why do Christians use the Bible to make moral decisions?" In plenary discussion we then pool everyone’s ideas and help them to reflect on them to ensure they can state their points well and back them up with examples from Christian teaching and, where possible, the Bible. If we have a personal story that’s relevant to the question we share it as an example.
Some questions require both sides of an argument to be presented, for example, "Present the arguments for and against abortion with reference to the teachings of the Christian faith." Here we divide the class in half and get them to speak for each side of the argument. We’ve found it’s worth emphasising that it’s not a battle and that it’s important to think through and listen to the other side of the argument as well as your own!
Clearly you can’t cover the five or six topics that form the whole of an RE syllabus, but staff have been very appreciative of this approach as it not only revises the content of the subject, but also the method of religious enquiry and of the exams to come. Students have responded very well because they can get more involved than with a simple "they ask, we answer" format. And we get to be facilitators more than experts, though still with the fantastic opportunity to share real life stories of how God has made a difference in our lives.