For a while I’ve wanted to write something about implementing direct or explicit instruction methods in the RE classroom and I’ve found it difficult to find the time to sit down and type out a cerebral post on the reasoning and challenges of DI in RE. Rather than wait for that to escape from my drafts I thought I’d put together something practical on how I have personally adopted the DI pedagogy in my classroom and provide templates so you can use these ideas if you don’t already. I hope that even if you’ve never heard of direct instruction or have no interest in it you can see the value in these four techniques for really bolstering knowledge and working toward mastery in RE.
“The most effective teachers ensured that students effectively acquired, rehearsed and connected knowledge”
Principles of Instruction, Barak Rosenshine
Whereas in my PGCE year I was encouraged to come up with starters with hooks and intrigue that would dazzle my students I now start my lessons in a much more calm and considered way. When students have written the title and date they read through these re-cap questions testing knowledge from last term, last week and last lesson. Whilst I do the register I encourage them to look up the answer in their notes if they do not know it. At first I made the mistake of then asking for hands which meant that most students switched off and it was the same people answering each time. Now I pick students at random which has made all students more likely to check they know before I ask.
One of the most valuable parts of this exercise, beyond the simple recall drill, is the ability to ask elaboration questions, clear up any widely held misconceptions and make links between previous material and today’s learning. Taking the slide below I can ask what links the Catholic opposition to artificial contraception and gay marriage, I could clear up a misconception that only Baptists practice believer’s baptism and I could link in today’s topic of the Eucharist with a discussion of sacraments and baptism.
Re-cap Slide Template – download
Low Stakes Quizzing
“In-class quizzes do not need to match the format of critical tests in order for pupils to benefit from the testing effect (McDermott et al, 2014). Rather than being filled with multi-mark exam exercises, assessments can contain a selection of multiple-choice or short-answer questions – which are far easier to mark!
TES Maths: Pedagogy Place, Low Stakes Testing
The combination of low stakes and a high success rate makes low stakes quizzing (perhaps surprisingly) one of my students’ favourite ways to start a lesson. I will either put together a 20 question whole-year re-cap (as the quiz below is) or an A5 10 question single-topic quiz and have them complete it in silence whilst I do the register. We speedily go through the correct answers and they mark their own work knowing that the low stakes makes any cheating pointless. I then offer them to either keep it to show off to their parents or bin it really reiterating the fact that this is low stakes to quash their anxiety when they hear “test” at the beginning of a lesson.
Even in the “low-ability” sets I teach students will routinely get 16-20 out of 20. This has the effect of not only re-capping key words and providing the opportunity for interleaving (especially when it is a whole year quiz) but also of boosting their confidence and reminding them that they can do RE and that they can remember things from term-to-term. Furthermore it gives you the chance to assess if you are obtaining a high success rate which, as Rosenshine argues, is essential to high quality instruction: “practice, we are told, makes perfect, but practice can be a disaster if students are practicing errors”. If you find students are getting less than 80% of the questions correct it’s time to slow down and re-cover material.
Low Stakes Quiz Template – download
Read and Reduce
“Extended reading is often regarded as the responsibility of English teachers. We feel, however, that more subjects should make this a priority”
Making Every Lesson Count, Shaun Allison and Andy Tharby
One of the things I have felt strongly since day one of my PGCE is that students do not come into contact with enough real-world texts in RE. Rather than directly accessing liturgy, scripture, news articles, museum labels, books or press releases students tend to have everything parsed through a textbook. When I started to really consider how to make my teaching more knowledge-focused I knew I wanted to get my students reading and interacting with these texts and this simple format has been really successful at doing that across all levels of ability.
Selecting the texts is, of course, hugely important. In this example I have taken an article from the Church of England website about Youth Evangelism but, knowing it is for students in “lower” sets, I have been through, removed needlessly complex language and added a glossary for terms like ‘clergy’ and ‘General Synod’ which need to be left in the text. I then get students to decide on a sub-title and icon for each paragraph (dual coding coming in there) and get them to summarise it in 2-3 bullet points. You can see on the example here I have modelled this expectation which is something I try and do on all my worksheets. Finally I ask students to condense down the text into 3 main points which they formulate at the bottom.
It is important to note that this is not a stand-alone task. It will have been preceded by an explanation of evangelism and the current state of the Church of England, I do not find that sending students in “blind” to these reading tasks is useful. It will also be followed-up by either discussion or questioning or further writing in which the knowledge gained is used and developed. Here I might ask students to then complete a question along the lines of “are churches doing enough to encourage young people to become Christian?”.
Read and Reduce Template – download
“Provide models: providing students with models and worked examples can help them learn and solve problems faster”
Principles of Instruction, Barak Rosenshine
On my training year I went from one school that didn’t see modelling as key to its pedagogy to another which modelled every task which students were required to do. I was shocked to find that students with experience of extensive modelling were actually much more able to work on independent extended writing than those who were encouraged to be ‘independent’ from the outset. I learned quickly that deliberate, guided practice is a much more effective method of instruction than waiting to give (oft-ignored) feedback once a piece of work has been written and marked.
This use of modelling is not so much constructive, where I guide students through a process step-by-step, but deconstructive where I provide students with a finished product which they judge and deconstruct. Students read through the exemplar answer and then use the checklist to identify which criteria the answer meets. They then work in pairs or individually to identify two EBI and two WWW and, finally, they use a highlighter to address SpaG. AQA has recently provided sets of exemplar answers with their marking rationale so I have not even had to write the models myself.
I have found that looking at exemplar answers to exam questions is a much more effective trigger of the “clicking” moment for students than feedback on questions they have written. I often feel as though I can feed-back that answers need to be “developed” or “extended” or “concluded” but students don’t actually realise what a developed, extended and concluded answer looks like until they see someone else’s example. This activity is at its most effective just before students tackle the question (or a different question in the same format) themselves allowing them to develop independence and practice the writing skills they deconstructed on the exemplar.
Exam Model Template – download