Holocaust Education Trust – joint session with History PGCE 18.1.19

Cat from the Holocaust Education Trust delivered a fantastic session for the RE and History PGCE groups. In addition to covering the events of the Holocaust, trainees explored the significance of the term, the non-Jewish victims and Jewish resistance. She was also able to provide trainees with some fantastic resources to use in their teaching and generate some insightful discussions regarding appropriate ways to teach the holocaust at secondary level.  A fantastic cross-curricula session!

Dharma in Manchester

We were welcomed at the Jain Samaj Manchester by Suresh Mehta, the Chair of Trustees at the temple. They are just building a large new annexe which has cost £1M. The centre was opened 18 years ago by Gerald Kaufman MP

Suresh showed us a picture of the huge temple complex at Palitana.  Jains have 24 tirthinkaras in each time cycle, who have each reached nirvana. The first reached nirvana there 

We moved into the temple room and rang the bell, as saw the statues of the three tirthinkaras that they have there: Mahavir , the 24th tirthanka 599 BC – 527 BC, Parshvanat  the 23rd, born 877BC and Shantinath the 16th Tirthinkara.

Suresh spoke to us about the temple, the life of Mahavir and Jainism. He pointed out that he was talking about Mahavir’s version of Jainism as that is written down. Both Mahavir and Buddha came from Bihar and lived at more or less the same time, teaching very similar things.  They walked everywhere, and many Jain priests and devotees will do the same today.  140 people took tiksha in 2016. They give up everything and live without possessions in the Ashram. 

He explained that Jainism is built on three pillars:

  • Ahimsa – non violence but taken to the extreme meaning not even thinking bad thoughts and including being able to forgive.
  • Aparigrah – trying to live at a level of comfort, but not of excess. This leads to Jains being very generous.
  • Anekantvad – there is no absolute truth, everyone is (potentially) right 

Jainism follows a lunar calendar but add an extra month every fourth year.   We are in the fifth of six segments of the current time cycle. During this period things will get worse. Suresh talked to us about how Jain beliefs and practices influenced the Hindu Mohatma Gandhi.  Mahavir gave 5 rules for lay people to live by: ahimsa, truthfulness, not stealing, none aquisitionness, control over sexual desires.  

Suresh talked a little bit about the Jain Community- they try to help the local community, and are open and pluralistic in their outlook. They started holding meetings in a hired school hall.  Now they have 125 families. During the recent Paryushan celebrations ( a period of personal reflection), four people fasted for 8 days, no food and drinking only water during daylight. Suresh came from Kenya, where he lived next to the temple until he was 12. 

On a Sunday evening, before a shared dinner, Gujarati hymns are sung. In July he flag on top of the shrine is changed in a special ceremony.  Diwali is celebrated , as well as a Christmas party!  The temple is like one you would have in a house, so this doesn’t need a priest to wash the idols each day and carry out other duties.  On Tuesdays and Thursdays the temple is open and people can come and pray in a personal way.

We then moved on to the Sri Guru Gobind Singh Gurdwara where we were met by Sukhbir Singh.

Having removed our shoes, covered our heads and washed our hands we went into the Diwan Hall. Sukhbir demonstrated how he would enter the prayer hall. 

He gave us a quick overview of the history of Guru Nani Dev Ji and the founding of Sikhism, leading on to key beliefs and practices, including the five virtues, the Gurus and the Harminder Sahib. He talked about what happens at the gurdwara, both religious and cultural/community practices.

He explained that there are three pillars of Sikhism: 

  • Nama Jappo, praying to God.
  • Vand Chako, share everything you have
  • Kirat Karo, get what you can honestly through hard work.

A family who had just had a baby arrived straight from the hospital and we were able to listen as the granthi read a prayer from the Guru Granth Sahib. The first letter of the reading gave the family the start of the name, and they chose the name Ishtar. The granthi then prayed, for the baby and the family, including the blessing “bole so nihal”, “sat sari Amal” and we were blessed as the father offered us chocolates to show their thanks.

We finished off in the Langar Hall where we were served some delicious vegetarian pilau.

Back to the Sixth Form

Final Year Undergraduate QTS students visited Carmel  College to discover how it is different to teach in a Sixth form college.  We were met by Sarah Daley, who is in charge of 10:10 RE, the general RE provision for all students, and a Glenn Skelhorn, who is in charge of the A Level Philosophy and Religious Studies.  

After introductions, we thought about the Art of the A level RS lesson. Sarah and Glenn reminded us that sixth form students are not that different from Key Stage 4. They explained how hey have worked on the principles of The Flopped Classroom for their A Level lessons. They try to remove the element of ‘rote learning’ from lessons in college. This learning from text books, for example, is done at home prior to the lesson. As they do Buddhism at A Level, and there was no textbook for this, the department have produced their own flipped learning booklets, which have been very successful. This means that the role of the teacher is different- they do not deliver content in class, they are challenging misconceptions and developing students’ ideas, which in some ways is a much greater challenge.

Sarah talked us through how she would plan a lesson on the three marks of existence in Buddhism. It was clear that the focus was on engaging with the material, rather than being on transmitting knowledge.  She also introduced us to the idea of the Carmel Mindset, based on the Vespa material, developed from the growth mindset of Carol Dweck and others.  She then explained the general RE that the college delivers as part of their 10:10 programme, which is a common feature of RC colleges.

Next up was a tour of the college.

We then went to observe some 10:10RE lessons, one with Sarah and one win NATHAN a graduate of our course.  The lesson was an introduction to Human Rights, and began with a picture starter. This was followed by writing nine rights on post it notes and ordering these with a diamond 9 activity.  Students then questioned what is meant be Human Rights, It was great to see Nathan and Sarah really work hard to draw out answers from even the reluctant students.

In Glenn’s Year 13 RS lesson the students were continuing with Sexual Ethics, but began with some riddles, and a starter involving incest. Students were given two minutes thinking time, were they were asked to write a justification for their moral opinion.  They then shared and scrutinised their reasoning in small groups, before a whole class discussion. This discussion was ten widened to a broader discussion of sexual ethics. There was then a teaching episode ensuring students were aware of Mill’s Liberty Principle.

Sarah’s Year 12 lesson was on situation ethics, but was focussed on students developing their essay writing skills to improve their examination performance.

We then had some time to prepare a short part of a lesson, and we all got the chance to deliver to the lovely students of Carmel College.

GCSE Expertise

Year 3 undergraduates visited Lowton CE High school to spend a day looking at teaching GCSE. Having battled through the traffic, we were met by Heather Clare, a very experienced RE teacher and Senior Teacher at the school.

Our first task was to look at the Specification (From AQA) and decide what religions and themes we would teach it we were the Head of RE. We then planned in what order we would deliver that, leading to a discussion of our different answers.

Heather helped us to understand the importance of key words, and of teaching the content in an efficient way, using the exam boards definitions. Heather’s delivery modelled good classroom practice throughout. We tested our knowledge of Jewish key words in a fun interactive way.

We turned to look at evaluation questions, and Heather challenged us to get our pupils to write like a river, or even an ocean, and not like a puddle (lacking depth, breadth and with nothing much there), or a pool (structured, contained, with arguments going one way then the next. With this in mind we had a go at assessing some evaluation questions, using the marking criteria, before looking at a task to help pupils ‘develop reasoned consideration’.

A year 10 class joined us then, for a lesson on Animal Rights. This began with a picture starter and a quick survey of opinions on food. Whiteboards were again used for definitions of key words.  The lesson ended with some evaluation work, which would lead on in a future 12 mark question.

After Lunch, we looked at some examples from least years exam paper, looking at marking. Finally we looked at revision techniques, including Heather’s incredible audio revision recordings.

Fieldwork in Religion: Going Out and Finding Out

This last week has been very busy for our undergraduate students, who have benefitted from meeting and engaging with local faith communities.

Year 2 Ethnography students are currently engaged in their own fieldwork projects, exploring a range of topics including witchcraft, perspectives on the after life in a care home, life in a convent, challenges and controversies in contemporary religion, digital ethnography, as well as engaging with Paganism, Christianity, Sikhism and Islam. The principle of the module is to allow students to go out and find out more about how living religion is experienced as part of every day life.

Year 2 Judaism students and their module tutor, Dr Chris Greenough, visited Southport and District Reform Synagogue on Wednesday 7th November. They received a very warm welcome from the team there, especially Selwyn and Anne who gave an informative talk about the Jewish way of life and particularly the differences between the Orthodox and Reform movements. On Tuesday 13th November, the same group of students visited Southport Orthodox synagogue, where they were able to consolidate their subject knowledge about Jewish worship practices and the design of a synagogue.

Year 3 students, with Maggie Webster, were welcomed by Swaminarayan Hindu temple in Preston to mark the celebration of Diwali and new year.


A Level Experience

Year 3 undergraduate RE with QTS students spent a day at Haslingden High school, looking at how to teach A Level RS in a school with a sixth form.  Ben Wood the Head of RE and the Chair of NATRE welcomed us and offered us pastries and coffee!

We then were able to observe a Year 13 RS lesson, focussing on sexual ethics, and specifically an introduction to Christianity and homosexuality. We saw how Karen, the teacher, skilfully introduced students to the massive changes to social attitudes which have occurred over recent years. Using the school produced literature, she guided students through traditional interpretations of key biblical texts relating to homosexuality. Drawing on prior Learning they applied Catholic teaching (such as natural law) to the issue, discussing how the church is responding to the complexities of the issue. Previously taught ideas, such as Jesus the Liberator, were used to show a more liberal Christian view.  The lesson was mostly discussion and reading of the materials, with students making a few notes on their handouts.

Ben’s year 12 class started with him collecting in homework. He then gave them the questions for a timed assessment that they would do next week, with a recommendation to work on a plan over the weekend. The lesson was the beginning of the Developments of Christian Thought module and was looking at Augustine. The students were given homework on the background of Augustine. Genesis 2 and 3 was analysed, and will be used over the next few lessons. Ben led the class through Augustinian interpretations of this text. The final part of this double lesson focussed on Augustine’s teaching on human relationships.

This was followed by another Year 12 class, They had the follow on lesson about Augustine, and began where the previous class had finished, recapping what we had just seen. Whereas the earlier lessons had been very teacher led, in this one there was much opportunity for students to work independently, but Ben was constantly helping individuals with their work, explaining the concepts repeatedly. When Ben looked at students’ work, his praise was very specific: “the language you have used here is spot on!”, for example.

After a fantastic lunch supplied by the school we stayed with the same Year 12 class, but this time being taught by Karen. We joined in with the first activity, which revised key terms and the basics of  Situation Ethics in an Active way. This was followed by a quick 15 minute test, as Karen wanted to see how well the students had got the basics, before moving on. Karen explained that the purpose of the test was not summative – about collecting marks, but about helping the students self identify what they need to revisit. In order to point out these areas, they were peer marked with missing information highlighted.Students were then set targets to work on in their independent study time.

At the End of the day we had a Q and A session with Ben and considered pedagogy, teaching styles, the intrinsic fascinating subject that Religion is, and Behaviour. Ben gave us a sample of NATRE materials and told us about the New2RE scheme.

RE ITT Conference @ Stretford High

For another year the RE PGCE trainees were able to attend the ITT conference at one of our outstanding partnership schools, Stretford High  in Manchester. Trainees were involved in a range of sessions such as developing their teaching persona (led by Faisal Ahmed, Professional Mentor and Head of Humanities/Social Sciences Faculty),  interview hints and tips (led by Headteacher Nicola Doward) and listen to the experiences of NQT and recent EHU RE ITT graduate, Emily Jones. They had opportunity to meet with some insightful and articulate Year 11 students who shared their thoughts on what make an effective teacher and a good RE lesson, before asking some tough questions to a range of staff who varied in experience. Despite some of the trainees being concerned that they didn’t have enough paper for all the notes they wanted to take (!) it was a great opportunity for them to not only develop their current practice, but also to think about taking their first steps in applying for their first teaching post. Many thanks to all at Stretford.

“Speaker’s Corner” in Jerusalem during the Second Temple Era

Today, as part of the new “Abrahamic Traditions” module, the first year students from both Secondary Religious Education + QTS and Education and Religion programmes participated in a roleplaying game reenacting different major religious groups that were current during the Second Temple period (roughly around 0 C.E.).

The students were stunningly dressed in makeshift costumes and props from the RE storage cabinets while delivering short fiery speeches summarising the teachings of Pharisees, Zealots, Gnostics and Messianic Jews, against the Powerpoint backdrop of the old Western wall of the temple. The speakers did splendidly in spite of the presence of a strange heckler.

“Roman authorities and Jewish city elders are said to have been interested in the outcome of these discussions, and rumours have it that there might be arrest warrants for some of the speakers!”

A Pharisee calling for adherence to the Torah and criticising the hypocrisy of the Temple priesthood.

“Zealots” calling for militant rebellion against the Romans.

Mysterious Gnostics propounding radically unusual interpretations of the Torah and the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth.
Messianic Jews cheerfully bringing good news of an “Apocalypse” and the coming of a Messiah
A bemused heckler. Has one of the speaker groups convinced him to join their cause?

Visit to Tübingen

This summer I spent around ten days as a visiting lecturer at Centre for Islamic Theology the University of Tübingen, located on the edge of the beautiful and mysterious Black Forest in the German state of Baden-Württemberg. The University of Tübingen, now also known as Eberhard Karls University, was founded in 1477, and has a long-standing history in the fields of theology and philosophy.

I delivered a series of lectures on classical Islamic philosophy, beginning with the definition of “wisdom” (sophia in Greek, hikma in Arabic), then exploring different key foundational philosophers up to the Grand Master of Islamic Philosopher Ibn Sina, known in the Latin West as Avicenna.

As part of the visit, I met local scholars and visited a number of historical locations around the city, including the Stiftskirche (the university church and one of the earliest to convert to Protestantism) and the Bebenhausen monastery on the outskirts of the city.It was exciting to walk around the streets that were once frequented by likes of Lessing, Holderlin, Hegel, Karl Barth, and Rudolf Bultmann! On the final day, I was able to attend a stunning performance by the university’s Philharmonic orchestra of Tchaikovsky’s Liturgy of St. John Crysostom and Mozart’s Coronation Mass. Still, it was chilling to learn from the signs outside that the concert hall used to be a gathering place for Nazi officers during the Second World War, and the city’s once thriving Jewish community no longer exist.

I would like to thank the assistant director of the centre, Professor Lejla Demiri, for inviting me, as well as all of those who made me feel very welcome as well intellectually/spiritually energised from the visit.

– Harith Ramli, Senior Lecturer in Theology and World Religions

View of the Stiftskirche or St. George’s Collegiate Church, one of the first in the region to convert to Protestantism during the Reformation. Important rulers of the city are buried within.
At the entrance to the Bebenhausen monastery outside the city
The northern corner of the Bebenhausen monastery cloister where the monks would gather to read.
The pulpit in the monastery chapel, built after the Reformation.
View of the Neckar river that runs through the medieval city centre.
The entrance to a 16th century townhouse.