Jewish Community Visit

Once we had all gathered, our guide, David, took us into the schule, the Hebrew word for synagogue. He explained the features of the room, with men’s and women’s seating, the bimah and the ner tamid. He talked a little about what might happen in a Shabbat service.

David explained the concept of Pikuach Nefesh, which means that the sanctity of life takes precedence over any other rule or commandment. There are 613 commandment, and the opportunity to fulfil a commandment is seen as a very positive aspect of the Jewish way of life.David explained that Maimonides’ 13 principles of faith, developed in the 11th Century, are central to a Jewish way of life for ordinary people. Being the chosen people does not imply that Jews are better than others, but they have been chosen by G-d for a particular task. The focus of Judaism moved from the Temple (destroyed in 70CE) to the home.

David showed us a copy of a Torah scroll, and explained some of the differences and similarities with the Christian Old Testament. Looking at the first few verses of Beresheit, we noted that day’s start in the evening, which led on to a discussion of Shabbat, the day of rest. Through looking at the Shema, we investigated the tzitzit, tallit and tefillin, the ritual clothing worm by Jewish men.

After a brief consideration of the importance of Jerusalem, we turned our attention to food, and the rules around kosher.

Then it was time to eat! We went to a local kosher restaurant, which was a ‘meaty’ restaurant so no milk products. Many of us had the traditional chicken soup, although the garlic mushrooms were a popular starter too, with fish and chips, burgers and pastas being the popular choices for mains.

After a filling lunch, we returned to the Schule and considered inter faith issues, majoring on the work of Jules Isaac.

Lat in the Woodlands

To finish the year we were pleased to welcome Lat Blaylock of NATRE/RE Today to Edge Hill’s Woodlands Conference Centre for our Annual NATRE North West Conference for final year undergraduate and PGCE Secondary RE students. As well as Edge Hill students we were joined by MMU and Cumbria School Direct trainees.

The day began with a look at some of the best Spirited Art entries and an encouragement to run the competition in placement schools. Lat then turned our attention to how we might reach about modern socio-political RE. We thought about the Charlie Hebdo Murders of 2014 and who might be blamed by using the idea of a ‘responsibility pie’. We saw that this activity raised questions about Fundamental British Values and Lat showed how this study could lead to an extended written task. Finally we wondered about other contexts that a responsibility pie could be used and discussed how RE can objectively challenge prejudices

“My gospel text for today is hard concept,  simple activity” – Lat.

Before a coffee break we considered teaching the enquiry question ‘what does it mean for a building to reflect the glory of God?’ by looking at the Cathedral in Christchurch, New Zealand, King’s College Cambridge and the Milton Keynes Tree Cathedral. Lat had demonstrated in this first session that RE can be creative, engaged with current socio-political issues and having a solid, conceptual base.

PIn the second session we considered RE as global. We considered some religious growth and decline statistics, including learning that worship of Ganesh is growing in popularity with Hindu devotees. We then were able to play a game about Evil and saw how this could help young people produce writing that shows ethical reasoning. Once we evaluated the resource we looked at Islam, and how the rituals of the Hajj have transformed as the numbers engaging in the pilgrimage have increased. We considered ways that the ritual of moral ambition can help pupils learn about the concept of forgiveness. Our final example of global RE was about global Christianity, starting with Keith Haring’s art, and the questions that his life story raises.

After lunch we thought about wholistic RE, using one of the BBC ‘A Question of Faith’ clips about revelation in a charismatic Christian Healing service which was compared with Derren Brown. By looking at these two stimuli, pupils are able to analyse the competing truth claims. We then thought about the statistics involved in Global religion, which we didn’t have time for in the morning!  Lat then talked briefly about different pedagogies of RE before adopting a Human Spiritual Development approach to consider whether the inner voice is real. To finish we had a brief look at how you might teach religious texts, with an example from Revelation.


Thanks to Lat, for an engaging and inspiring day, and to St Luke’s Trust and the Jerusalem Trust for their generous support of these regional RE conferences.

Kamma in the Lakes

The kamma appeared to be working against us as we battled against the gods of the M6. A few of the hardy year 2 undergraduates made it on the coach to the Coniston Priory and Manjushri meditation centre where we met our guide, Geoff.

We walked around the old house, a fantastic piece of 19th Century architecture, before rounding the corner to see the temple itself, a very simple, modern building. We removed our shoes and felt the warmth of the underfloor heating.

There are two foci of the temple, Buddha shakyamuni, and Geshe Kelsang Gyatso. Shakyamuni is pictured at the moment in India, when he achieved enlightenment. He is sitting in meditation pose, with the touching the ground mudra, Either side of him are two Rupas of his disciples, but they too are Buddhas.

Geoff explained how the movement started in the 1960s as people encountered Buddhism in the East and brought it back over to the West. We heard the story of how Geshe-la became the teacher and leader of the movement. He is now 83 and still completing his 22 volumes of Buddhist teaching. Over time the group, the New Kadampa Tradition became less Tibetan and Modern Buddhism developed. There are 1200 centres worldwide and Ulverston is the worldwide centre. At the summer festival around 3,000 believers speaking 52 languages gathered here, but there are larger gatherings in other centres.

 

Geoff spoke about his own practice, his life of meditation and study. And then we were able to join in with the 15 minute meditation class that takes place everyday at 12.30.

Geoff then spoke about the Lam-rim which are stages on the path to becoming a Buddha and how to overcome negative minds. They are part of the Mahayana tradition and so like to help others. After a few more questions, we looked at more detail at the statues, and Geoff talked about offerings, the seven traditional offerings which are represented by the bowls in front of the rupas.

To finish the trip, we headed off to the cafe for a little late lunch!

Back in the Sixth Form

Final year students spent a day at Carmel College, a large Sixth Form College that Edge Hill works with, to find  out more about teaching A level RS, and what life is like in a Sixth Form College, including the compulsory Ethics and Values lessons for all students.

The day began with us being privileged to join in the staff briefing. This was quite unlike briefings in Schools, and much more like a school assembly. It was held in the college theatre and led by the College Principal. Sarah gave a ‘Thought for the day’ and there were a number of other announcements about events going on, special services and some encouraging words about ensuring that teaching staff are not working too much, with the mantra #50isplently suggesting that a working week of 50 hours (including time at college and working time at home) is a maximum.

We then observed Sarah teaching an A level Buddhism class and were surprised that it began with a period of silent reading after which the students were invited to talk briefly about what they had read and what they had learnt.
There was then a key word test on 12 Buddhist terms. These were then peer marked and scores recorded. Students were to work on the terms that they did not know.
Students were then reminded about an upcoming file check and guided as to what was expected.
Next was a kahoot quiz testing how well the students had engaged with their prescribed reading from last lesson which had been posted on the students’ VLE. Sarah was able to use the answers to set relevant homework questions in the future.
There followed a discussion about hagiography in the texts of the Buddha’s enlightenment, and then groupwork on the hagiography of the four watches of the Buddha. At the end students were given a practice question to do at home. The students have a WhatsApp group chat which they shared the question.

After a break in the staffroom we had a tour of the college, meeting the pastoral tutor team and Foundation provision, where post 16 students with learning difficulties are educated in a practical way, with some vocational courses. We also got to see the canteen, the chaplaincy and the whole college.

Sarah then talked about some of the differences between a school sixth form and a sixth form college. She highlighted the way hat the college is trying to develop in their students a ‘Carmel Mindset’, trying to develop independent learners who make progress towards high achievement at A level, based on the VESPA model.

Nathan, a former graduate of our course, then talked about how to survive the NQT year. Some students were pleasantly surprised that it was possible to do the NQT year in a Sixth Form College. He also had some wise advice about not taking the ‘reputation’ of a school too seriously, as sometimes a school with a bad reputation can be a great school to teach, or do a placement in.

After lunch we got to observe and take part in more lessons.  In the A2 class there were over 20 students who were working on the philosophy paper. The lesson began by students selecting a lollipop stick that had a philosophical question on it to discuss. Glen then took in the essays that students had completed over the weekend and then introduced students to the Westphal essay. As part of this we were able to contribute brief sections on scholasticism and deism. In Lexy’s AS Philosophy class we helped the students reconnect with the learning they had been doing focussing on Hulme’s criticisms of the teleological argument. Whilst in Glen’s AS RE lesson we gave brief overviews of the three central Buddhist concepts of dukkha, anicca, and anatta. It was interesting to see how he used the material of the subject content about the social setting of the Buddha to teach the academic skill of note taking in a cohesive way.

We were also able to observe and take part in the Ethics &Values lessons, which are compulsory core RE lessons which all students at the College take part in. Nathan was teaching issues involved in IVF, whilst Heather was asking pupils to think about the ethics of France’s burka ban.

“Really Useful in terms of seeing how sixth formers are taught”

You can see more photos from the day on Flickr.

“It made the idea of teaching in a college not as daunting”

Deanery Day 2016

Third year Undergraduate QTS students have been regular visitors to Deanery High school for a number of years.  The main purpose of the visit is to fins out about teaching A level in a school sixth form, but over the years we have added more features to get the best out of the day.

This year’s trip began with a tour of the school, including the sixth form centre and the portable buildings that the school is temporarily housed in whist a new building is constructed on the same site.  Taco – who did his PGCE with Edge Hill a number of years ago and is now Head of department, then spoke to us about the joys of teaching a level.  He explained that it was very similar to teaching Key Stage 4, but that teachers tried to encourage the development of independent learning skills as part of their preparation for University.

We could see all this in action as we observed Taco teach his year 13 students – and we got to have a try ourselves! We were very impresed with the quality of the student’s presentations – they were a clever bunch!

The RE department at Deanery is almost totally staffed by former Edge Hill people and we got to observe four simultaneous Year 11 revision lessons taking place at the same time.  It was brilliant to see the same thing taught so differently, but in all cases taught very well!

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Finally the day was rounded off by Leanne giving us some helpful advice about applications and how to avoid some common pitfalls when applying for jobs.

“I thought the interview advice was very useful”

Questioning RE

Our final year Secondary RE undergraduates are are a fantastic group of students and their three year degree has prepared them to teach high school pupils of all ages and abilities.  Recently they had chance to show off their skills when a group of pupils from Savio High School’s Bosco Unit visited Edge Hill for a morning of questioning RE.

The Edge Hill students had worked in groups to plan and prepare for three sessions each focussing on enquiring into a a big question.

The first topic was ‘Does God Exist?’ which included  a Philosophy for Children (P4C) styled activity examining an image on the board of the Auschwitz ‘Arbeit Macht Frei’ sign and an Auschwitz inmates’ photo. Each pupil had to then choose a question they would ask in response to images presented, and finally (as a group) choose one of their questions to lead the enquiry. By allowing the pupils to take responsibility for this task ensured that they were engaged and made the task feel more relevant to them. By planning a task which focused on pupil led learning with an emphasis on discussing/debating ensured that behaviour was managed effectively as they had something to do at all times. This task produced excellent prior knowledge and discussions regarding the images on the board which contributed to the pupil’s opinions on the lesson focus of whether God really exists.

The second session was helping pupils to think about how people make the ‘right’ decisions, including a real dilemma for the pupils to grapple with as they began to get an understanding of Situation ethics. Pupils were able to articulate their answers and acknowledge other points of view.

Finally we looked at what it means to be religious in the 21st century, thinking about everything from Scientology to Roman Catholicism.

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The pupils were superb and engaged with the questions in a mature way, and left us looking forward to a lunch in the hub!  One of the students reflected on the morning, noting the well mannered behaviour and attitudes of all pupils present. He wondered if this was mainly down to the change of learning environment that the pupils were able to experience, which shows how this could be an effective tool in managing/helping pupils.

Doing Diwali

Our Year 1 Undergraduates visited a Primary school recently to deliver a day on Diwali as part of their Hindu Dharma Unit.  Here is what one of them, Amy, wrote about the experience:

The day started with meeting in the staff room to make sure that we had everything ready and organized for the day and from there led into the school hall with a stage. IMG_4778

We then rehearsed the play of Diwali that we had been practicing in class for about half an hour. Soon after the pupils came in we preformed our play which taught the pupils about where the festival Diwali came from and why Hindu’s celebrate it. The play went smoothly and the pupils had engaged in the play by saying things such as ‘boo’ and ‘aww’, they laughed along as well, showing that they were happy and engaged in the play and clearly took things away with them. This was a great experience that I and the pupils really enjoyed.

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Later on after wet play, which is when the weather is to bad to go out for play time, I helped them to clean up the classroom before we started the lesson. The lesson which had been planned by me and Hailey was about Brahman the one Hindu God and the festivals in which Hindu people celebrate their God. The lesson started by giving the students a piece of A5 paper and told them to write the most important thing in the world to them, then they screwed it up like a snowball and threw it to the front to us.

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We then read it out loud and discussed what they had written, and said our most important thing to us. We then went through the Trimurti of Brahman; Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. We then gave the pupils a body template on which they had to create their own Hindu God, what they would be like as a Hindu God. Most of the things that the pupils drew, included things such as a clown as they wanted to make many people laugh and happy all over the world, some of them were the peace keepers which they told me they had based on Vishnu and other people were God’s that made it so that there was a disco everyday. The pupils had a good laugh and we were able to properly interact with the pupils, find out more about them. They then presented their own to the class if they wanted to, which most of them did. We then went through the festivals which celebrate the God’s and then related them to their own Gods that they have previously created. we then did a fill the gaps plenary where the children answered the questions that related to the whole lesson that helped us to understand what they struggled with and what they were good at. When we showed the children a video that was a nursery rhyme for Diwali that had been translated into English. The pupils really enjoyed the short video as a treat at the end of their lesson.

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The lesson seemed to go much smoothly than expected with Primary school children, the only hard bit was getting the video to work after a bit. I really enjoyed the experience, however I definitely realized that secondary school is for me and not primary, however I enjoyed teaching Hinduism so much and can’t wait to teach it more in the future.

You can read more from Amy’s blog here: https://amshepherdblog.wordpress.com/ 

RE PGCE Subject Knowledge Enhancement course 2016

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Life  in places of learning tends to follow a  seasonal pattern and each year in late summer just prior to the new academic year commencing the RE team at Edge Hill along with eminent visiting tutors delivers a subject knowledge enhancement course . The course is designed to give our new PGCE students a refresher in the basic beliefs and practises of the main world religions and an opportunity to visit local faith communities.

For me,  this aspect of the enhancement course really brings what we try to do as RE teachers to life. It puts flesh on the bones of our classroom teaching and allows for honest  inquiry and genuine human interaction with living, breathing  people of faith communities.

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The Theatre of Learning

Hollie wrote this about the recent visit of Sue Phillips to Edge Hill, where she worked with Undergraduate and Postgraduate students:

My biggest fear in the classroom is having a class full of pupils and they do not listen to me. I fear they will not be engaged in the lesson I am teaching them, that it will not be interesting enough for them.

When I think back on my Religious Education lessons at school, my teacher made the lessons interesting- but it was only ever using videos or conversations in the classroom. Her personality was amazing and she was meant to be a teacher- she was my inspiration. However, from what I can remember about my lessons, we never did anything crazy, fun, whacky or out of the ordinary.

This year of University has taught me how to be a better teacher, using different ways of teaching the students to keep them engaged and interested in the lesson.

Sue Phillips came to University last week and told us ways on how to make an RE lesson more interactive, keeping the students involved in the lesson, making them feel apart of it.

Most of the things she taught was about using stories, keeping them involved. You make a story, tell it to the class, keeping them engaged and guessing as to what is going to happen next- and I have to say I love this idea! You can use it in so many different ways, and you adapt it to RE topics.

For example, you could a story about a young girl making decisions that people around do not necessarily agree with, linking to the idea of morals and morals in religion, with another connection to rules in religion and why religions have rules they follow. This links to their central beliefs in the religion.

Sue really helped me with ways to help the older students in the school by giving ideas on how to keep essay writing creative and fun too! It was more to do with the layout of the structure creating more discussion rather than a template on a piece of paper.

She not only gave me a lot of ideas that I can use for teaching when I start my placement in April, but I have recently created a Scheme of Work in a group for Judaism to teach a class of Year 8 pupils next week. With these different ways of teaching, making the classroom more interactive, I have incoroporated some of these ideas into one of the lessons to make it more fun and interesting for the students.

Every week, with books I read and visits to places or people to university, it makes me more confident about becoming a teacher. I cannot wait to start my placement next month!

A day at Schul

Today was an insightful opportunity to experience first hand an Orthodox Jewish Synagogue and find out more about what is involved within Jewish worship. Those of the Jewish faith refer to the Synagogue as ‘Schul’ which translated from Hebrew means ‘assembly’ as those of the Jewish faith assemble together within to worship G-d.

 Above: In the centre of the photo is what is known in Hebrew as a ‘Bimah’. This is a raised platform in which the Torah Scroll is read from during prayer by a member of the congregation. Below in the photo can be identified as Jewish prayer books in which members of the congregation can take at any time to perform prayer during each day.
 Above: Within this photo behind the stand (where a Rabbi will stand to read sermons at the end of a prayer service) is the ark, also known as ‘Aron Kodesh’ where the Torah scroll is stored and only taken out during a congregational service. Above the ark beneath the Star of David reads in Hebrew, “I always have the almighty before my eyes”. This therefore suggests how those of the Jewish faith have G-d with them in their mind during every aspect of the day. Also above the Star of David (which can’t be seen in the photo) is a lamp known as a ‘Ner Tamid’ which is representative of the constant light which was within the Temple  of Jeruslem.

 Above (both): At both sides of the Ark in every Schul you will also find two marble plaques. One will always contain a prayer for the Jewish faith and the other will always contain a prayer for the country. This is representative of every Schul in every country. This is due to the fact the obligation of Judaism is twofold, as you must follow Jewish law (Torah/Talmud) and also follow the laws of the land you live within.

You will also find a storage box beneath every seat within the Schul which contains a Tallat and a prayer book so that it will be there ready for when a memeber of the congregation attends on Shabbat (day of rest). Each memeber of the congregation pays rent for their seat which goes towards the running of the Schul and payment of the Rabbi (payment amount is decided by the congregation).

 Above: Jewish prayer books for members of the congregation to use when visiting to pray. Just above this shelf is the women’s section of the Schul as men and women worship separately in an Orthodox Schul.
During prayer a Jewish individual will wrap a Tefillin around their head (contains small parchments of scripture from the Torah) and also a Tefillin around the arm seven times which is placed next to the heart. This is to symbolise the fact G-d should be next to your heart and mind at all times during prayer. Then the Tallit (prayer shawl) is worn which has the Tzitzit hanging at the bottom to represent the 613 laws of the Torah. A Kippah is also worn on the head to represent the fact G-d is always above you.

We also had the chance to visit a Kosher restaurant near the Schul and had a lovely  meal that adheres to Kashrut dietary laws.

Overall a very educational day to experience first hand a Jewish place of worship and learn more about the Jewish faith.