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!

Visiting the Swaminarayan Mandir

As part of their Hindu Dharma Module Year 1 Undergraduates visited the Swaminarayan Mandir in Preston.  Here is what Hailey thought of the day:

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Out of all the places of worship we have visited over the past 2 weeks I was probably the most excited to go and visit this one. For the past 8/9 weeks we have been studying someone and now it was time to see it practised in real life. Taking our shoes off I was so thankful for the under floor heating. When we met out guide I was surprised at how young she was but yet how much she knew and had to tell us. We spent around half an hour all sat together in the main hall while our guide told us all of the main beliefs of her faith and also told us a personal story of how a couple of weeks ago she burnt all of her neck and face. What was impeccable about this story was that she just put it down to karma, she never once doubted her faith instead she accepted it as something she had to deal with in order to achieve liberation. She must have a strong belief system in order to never say a bad word about the God that let this happen. When it came down to asking questions about Hinduism our guide never tried to avoid any questions and was completely open with her responses even down to telling us about honour killings, something I thought that she might feel uncomfortable talking about with us.

Rach David Hindu

Moving onto the prayer room we were asked to stay silent within the room. As we all sat down on the floor our guide stood at the door explaining what this room is used for. This room is used for meditation, for reflection and also to asking the gods questions. We were told that only the soul really enters this room. When talking about the soul she told us that this is the main part of the body, when a person dies their body is let behind and that is why they cremate bodies. She used the analogy of a car, you can have the most beautiful car, but if it hasn’t got a full working engine that is clean and is perfect that the car is now use. I thought that this analogy would be useful to use when it comes to teaching a class about the soul in Hinduism.

Moving into the room where they keep all the statues of the gods and the guru’s I was in complete awe. Before entering the room we were given a bracelet that we placed on our right hands, this symbolises the relationship with God and then also we were given a bindi, we were told that they have these in the middle of the head to protect their third eye but it is also the main symbol of Hinduism. When in this room the priest came in and he gave us all a blessing asking that we became good teachers that told nothing but the truth. The priest actually stays at the Mandir 24/7. All of the statues were so grand and were all painted in such might and beautiful colours with lots of gold. You could really tell that this is big deal to them. Just after we left the priest was going to offer food to the Gods and is something that he does 3 times a day.

Today was everything that I thought it was going to be and I cannot wait to visit another Mandir again soon.

You can read more of Hailey’s blogposts here

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”