All posts by Paul Smalley

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.

Merseyside Buddhism

Year 2 QTS undergraduates spent a day looking at two forms of Buddhism in Merseyside. Our first visit was to the Triratna Buddhist Centre in Liverpool. Sumnadipa and Janet welcomed us and  offered us a drink. Sumnadipa explained her name meant graciousness and lamp, and she was given it when she was ordained. She reminded us that the five precepts have both negative and positive sides, for example the second precept, not taking the not given can also mean living with open handed generosity. She suggested that mindfulness meant taking notice of he things around us.  Normally we cannot do this adequately as our ‘monkey minds’ are full of noise and chatter. Meditating, just stopping and being is one was to still the mind and become mindful.  Sumnadipa explained some of the fundamental teaching of the Buddha, including the three jewels.

Sumnadipa gave us some of the historical background to the Triratna movement, starting with the life story of Sangharakshita. She explained that Sangharakshita realised that different schools of Buddhism may look quite different and teach different things, because they had taken on the culture of where they are.  Underlying his, he suggested there was a core Buddhism, of taking refuge in the three jewels. He set up the Western Buddhist Order to translate the Buddha’s teaching into a form that would appeal to the Modern Western mind. Since the 1960s it has spread worldwide and became the Triratna Community in 2010. Sangharakshita died a few weeks ago aged 93.

She explained some of the differences between the Triratna and other Buddhist schools. Right livelihood appears to be very important in many of their activities and involves both helping others and freeing themselves.  We heard how Sumnadipa became a Buddhist, through an initial desire to meditate.  She suggested that Sangharakshita might have been a bodhisatva, but people such as the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu may be enlightened beings.

We finished our time with a meditation session which Sumnadipa led.

A short minibus ride took us to the Wat Phra Singh UK Buddhist Centre in Runcorn. Tony welcomed us and explained that they are from the Thai Therevada tradition. He began by explaining how the two branches of Buddhism developed. Their parent temple is he Wat Phra Singh Chang Mai in Thailand.  Tony told us the story of his ordination and how he became Samart, meaning one who achieves. He was ordained in 2008 in Thailand – the first foreigner to be Ordained at Wat Phra Singh Chang Mai, and the last person to be ordained by Lonpornu. The Head monk arrived from Thailand in June 2012, staying with Tony who had a vision for a Temple in the North West of England. The temple opened in June 2014. They now have ambitious plans to build an ubersot – a consecrated Hall.

Every morning and evening the monks, who reside on the third floor of the temple, chant and meditate for 45 minutes. One of the rules of the monastic life is that they can only eat before midday. They do duties and learning during the day. There is a free weekly meditation class.

Tony says that he has always been a Buddhist, although he was raised as a Christian, and only became aware as he encountered Buddhist teachings.  Other religions say this is right and this is wrong; the dhamma says this is what the Buddha realised. Tony helpfully explained some of the Buddha’s teachings on diverse subjects including kamma, right living, intention and meditation.

A Hopeful school experience

Year 1 Undergraduates QTS students gained their first experience of school with a day at Hope Academy.  We were met in the foyer by Rachael Critchley (Head of RE), Catha Seddon (Assistant Head of RE) and Jayne Cantwell (A very experienced RE Curriculum Mentor) and given a tour of the school. We met the Head of Year 7 as we visited the Year 7 Inspire time. Each year group has their form-rooms grouped together.  We also had a quick look at the School Chapel, before we returned to our base in the conference room and briefly met the Academy Principal.

The next session was with Rachel Bradburn, the Professional Mentor, who looks after all trainees and NQTs as well as being an English and Media Studies teacher. Rachel helped us to think about what it means to be a professional.  She asked us how we would develop our own professional persona and we did a rank ordering exercise with elements of Part 2 of the Teachers’ Standards. We then looked at some scenarios, before Rachel gave us some tips on how she would expect a trainee to demonstrate professionalism.

We then had another hour with Rachael and Catha, focussing on RE. Hope Academy is Outstanding RE department and they explained some of the features of their department that enabled them to achieve this inspection outcome.  Hope Academy used the DTT approach to assessment, and so we were introduced to this.  Students do a multiple choice test every 5-6 lessons (3 weeks) which they use to track their own progress. This ensures that pupils have mastery of the required knowledge. GCSE assessment formats are used throughout the school.  Individual assessments are marked and then a class crib sheet is produced, which enables pupils to work on their own areas of weakness, something g which is being adopted across all subject areas now.  Thinking about the roles of the RE teacher, we worked in pairs to sort some cards, initially into five categories, before giving the categories headings and ranking them. We shared our ideas together before completing a take away consolidation sheet to give us good evidence for our standards folders.

At break we met the rest of the RE department and then Bradie Gallagher, an NQT who graduated last year from our course. She gave a number of tips on how to take best advantage of the course.  She helped us understand what would happen at the end of the course during our NQT year.  She explained that observing people teach might seem like a chore, but is really useful.

For the last part we divided into two groups, one to observe Nicola Lyon (another graduate of the course) teach a year 7 lesson, and the other group to watch Catha teach year 8 who were doing a ‘therapy’ session as part of the DTT process.  We were struck by how, in both classes, pupils were busily working independently with the guidance of the teacher. The year 7s were working on knowledge of the Ten Commandments which led up to a 5 mark Demonstrate Question. Pupils were given guidance on how to structure their answer.

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.

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.

Judaism and the Holocaust at Hindley

As part of their journey of learning how to be Secondary RE Teachers, Year 2 students planned a series of five lessons on Judaism and the Holocaust which they delivered to Year 8 pupils in one off-timetable day.

It was a great experience for the students and the pupils – the feedback from everyone was hugely positive and has set up the students for their teaching placement in high schools at the end of the academic year.

You can see photos from the day on flickr 

SEND at Harrop Fold

You may have seen the television series Educating Greater Manchester.  The Director of Inclusion at the school Miranda Rathmell is a former PGCE RE trainee from Edge Hill.

We were delighted that she was able to give up a day to help our Year 1 QTS Undergraduate RE students understand SEND and spend some time helping pupils at the school with additional needs.

We were also able to tour the school and meet a few od the stars (both staff and pupils) of the TV series, which is returning for a second series later in the year.

Post 16 in Haslingden

We were welcomed to Haslingden High School by Sally Finney who is the director of teacher training at the school. Then Ben Wood, the Head of RE and Vice Chair of NATRE met us and explained the day.

The first class we observed was a Year 12 class.

Welcomed the class as ladies and gentlemen,

Homework collected in.

Coats off.

Revision questions – as part of the routine. Worked in silence. Numbers are 1,7, 13, 25, 30

Targeted questions by name,  can you give me more? Still want a bit more. Did allow others to help fill out the answer….

Work is a continuation, looking at Augustine’s teaching. Last two this week, following on from Prior learning.

Students begin by reading through a source sheet (holes already punched for easy insertion into folders), making notes and drawing to a conclusion.

Students work informally in groups, to put the sources into for or against columns.  Ben circulates and is called on by some for help. He is able to ask challenging questions and is clearly expert. He observes what some students are writing, and challenges some to write in more depth or ensure their conclusions are firmly evidenced. He is trying to get them to think beyond the obvious answers. Having already taught the knowledge in previous lessons he is helping to prepare for exam essay questions by debating.

When students have completed their work, they move on to the second question independently. The atmosphere is relaxed with a buzz of on-task chatter.

Work is not completed, so this will be returned to next lesson. Homework is to do 17 revision questions on body, mind and soul.

 

Ben then explains to us that at A level he is not interested in opinions which are short term, and easily changed. He is interested in conclusions based on evidence.

He outlined our task which is to read about Wittgenstein and language games and think about how they would teach the Year 13 lesson later.  We did this, enjoying some breakfast pastries and struggled with both the subject content, and how we would present it to a Year 13 class.

Next we watched Ben actually teach it.  As with the Year 12 class, the lesson started with 5 revision questions from the selection the students had done for homework which they first handed in. They have a short amount of time to do this on their own in silence, and they are given a one minute warning. These answers are shared, Ben selects a students to say their answer and rewords the correct answers to emphasise correct terminology. He further questions incorrect or incomplete answers.

The last two questions about Heaven, hell and purgatory being symbols or metaphors directly relates to today’s lesson. Ben begins with a mindmap on the board asking students prior knowledge of Wittgenstein. He uses the two Ideas they remember to draw out the difference between logical positivist, and Wittgensteinl’s later view. He asks if Wiggenstein can be described as a cognitive st or a non-cognivist.

He turns to the prepared information sheet. He stresses that the meaning of a word depends on its use. Words have no fixed meaning. Using Wittgenstein’s chess analogy he shows that meanin depends upon context.Students add to the printed notes.

He compares chess and football are different games and therefore have different rules. In the same way religious language has different rules from other forms of language. This means that the criticisms of the verification principle are irrelevant for the language game of religion.

To illustrate the key term lebensform, the students discussed ‘offside’ in football, rugby and driving, and then the changing meaning of ‘literally’. The understanding of this concept is enhanced and developed by discussion; students are free to answer or ask questions as they wish.

The lesson then turns to reading and interpreting a quote form D. Z. Phillips, suggesting that ‘eternal life’ has a meaning other than an infinite extension of living after death. Pupils are asked to write a paragraph exemplifying this idea. Ben offered help and challenge to students who requested it, or who he noticed needed help.

At the end of the lesson, students were given another set of revision questions to work on at home.

We then had lunch and then spent an hour discussing the theory of how to teach A Level RS.