Welcome to the coloured glass classroom! We hope to provide you with lots of creative ideas and resource links to help you engage the young people in your religious and Christian education classes. This blog is sponsored by the Anglican Schools Commission of the Anglican Church Southern Queensland.

29 September 2014

The Stapleford Centre

Lots of interesting resources! @ www.stapleford-centre.org

"The Stapleford Centre (UK) is an independent Christian education charity, working across the UK, that supports, nurtures and shapes Christian engagement in education. Since its inception, the Stapleford Centre’s aim has always been to promote knowledge and understanding of the Christian faith, its place in our heritage and today’s society and to create a generation of teachers who are well-informed, well-equipped and have a passion for their job."

I haven't looked behind the paywall yet but have seen some good resources. It is in from the British context but much can be adapted for the Australian setting. The life-long subscription packages seem pretty reasonable as well. 

18 September 2014

Death by Religion?

"A Guide to the Wrath of God" is an infographic recently created by the people at Visually. The tagline on their infographics page is: Telling stories with data. 

[If you want to skip my rant you can see how this infographic might be used in religious education at the bottom..just scroll down past the rage...well maybe mild irritation]

So the question is: What story does this infographic tell? Why even create this infographic? What message might our students get, many of whom have little real knowledge of these religions?

It seems Visually created this graphic to illustrate their work of creating infographics and probably chose this topic because it is controversial and knew it would draw people to their site (and here I am helping that!). On their blog page they say:
"Religion and capital punishment are two of the most controversial topics you could pick, so when we had the idea to build an infographic focused on both of them, we knew we were in for a challenge in impartiality."
I am sure they probably felt they were being impartial but presenting a particular set of information in a particular way tells a particular story (I am sure they know this, it's what they do).  And what is the story they want to tell? Well maybe this, in their own words:
"The holy texts of most major religions are quite violent in nature. And, while it may seem barbaric today, the death penalty was a common means of dealing with what could be perceived as even a minor offence. It’s important to remember that these texts, written in antiquity, are, by their nature, open to interpretation. Your interpretation may not be the same as ours."

I can really only comment on Christianity since it is the faith I am immersed in, but I suspect what I will say may be true in some way for the other religions listed here. And what I want to say is:
"You completely misrepresent Christianity."

At the bottom of their infographic they say:
"While Christians may not have lived under the laws of the Old Testament, they are still cited in Christian rhetoric"

Unfortunately they have four problems here:
  1. The use of the word 'rhetoric' is not impartial. It is used pejoratively. It expresses contempt and disapproval.
  2. Controversial issues probably can't be reduced to infographics...just saying.
  3. While they acknowledge in their blog that there may be different interpretations within Christianity, they have chosen the one that suits their version of things. They have put up a strawman that only the ignorant and uniformed would fall for.
  4. They completely misunderstand the place of the Old Testament in most Christian thought and the centrality of Jesus.
Christianity is best represented by the New Testament and the words of Jesus. Did Jesus ever suggest someone be put to death? Was he an advocate for state or religious violence?

To me the answer is obvious. Christianity does not advocate the death penalty for anything. Jesus wasn't an advocate of the death penalty...he was a victim of it.

But what do other people think? Other Christians?  Do some Christians advocate the death penalty? Why? Based on what? Do non Christians think Christianity advocates the death penalty?

Using this infographic in religious education

There are a whole lot of questions that this infographic raises which could be explored in a religious education lesson:
  • Do some Christians advocate the death penalty? Why? Based on what?
  • Do you think Christianity advocates the death penalty? What do you base this on?
  • Is there a difference between the views of Christianity and Christians?
  • What would Jesus think of the death penalty?
  • What is the relationship  between the Old and New Testaments for Christians?
These questions could form the core of a whole unit. It might begin by exploring student opinions on the death penalty, if it should be given or not, and if so for what crimes?

These questions would no doubt have the potential to split the class and some good debate and discussion could be had.

From there an exploration of the death penalty in the Old Testament and Judaism could begin. It would need to be considerably more rigorous than the infographic and would need to draw on reliable information. The BBC religious education site might be a good starting point and they do have a brief page on capital punishment in Judaism. It must be realised that Christians treat the Old Testament very differently than Jewish people do.

Next, Christian views on capital punishment might be explored. Here it might be valuable to discuss the difference between the teaching of Jesus, the teaching of particular Christian churches, the ideas of individual Christians and the laws of so-called Christian nations. Again the BBC site has some information but I feel it lacks the voice of Jesus.

An exploration of capital punishment in other religions could also be carried out. Again this would need reliable information from people within those religions. The BBC site has starting information on capital punishment in many religions. But it is only a start. After clicking on a particular religion go to the ethics section and you will find information on that religion's perspective.

12 September 2014

Students bored by religious education? You aren't being affective!

If students are bored in class, no learning is taking place!

The affective learning domain was described as part of Bloom’s Taxonomy, a system for identifying, understanding and addressing how students learn. The affective domain is particularly focussed on student motivations, attitudes, perceptions and values. Teacher attention or lack of it to the affective domain can enhance or inhibit student learning. This is particularly true when it comes to religious education. This post won't come close to doing justice to this topic, but its a start.

When entering the religious education classroom students may come with strong pre-existing feelings about the topic of study, and may have been influenced by negative cultural and peer values about it.  It is important we make sure that we address student attitudes and motivations, and structure learning in a way that will not turn students off.

The affective domain should be central to the teaching of religious education because of the nature of the subject. We should not be solely focused on providing students with information but with providing them with the resources and space to grow and learn spiritually, emotionally and morally. Affective learning enables them to reflect on what is important to them and what may be of value to their life. We don’t want students just to receive information but to respond to it, to find value in their learning and to integrate it into their own thinking, feeling and being. This means finding approaches that will draw students in.

There are five levels in the affective domain moving through the lowest order processes to the highest.  To some degree each of these can be addressed by using creative, engaging and appropriately selected learning strategies, however, the teachers must also be aware of broader issues.

At this level the student is just paying attention.  If we can’t make it to here then no learning will take place at all. When structuring lessons, it is important we do so in way that will grab the attention of students. We can do this by connecting it to things they care about. This could include the use of popular culture or issues of concern.  Expecting students to listen to the teacher talk for too long without interaction may interfere with student’s ability to give their attention.

It is possible to turn students off very quickly if language is used in an unthinking way. It is important that the educator doesn't make statements about beliefs that assume students agree with them, for instance “we all know that Jesus rose from the dead”. The teacher may believe it, but if the students don’t then they may stop receiving. Rephrasing the statement to “I believe...” (Owning – saying you believe it) or “Christians believe…” (Grounding – saying who believes it) goes a long way to wards overcoming this issue.

At this level students are responding to stimulus and reacting to it in some way. This could include providing their own opinion, answering or asking questions or sharing their experiences.  One way of achieving this is to provide an open and safe environment. The owning and grounding approach above provides students with the invitation to offer their own view. It is also important that teachers don’t engage in unstructured debates with students about their beliefs or criticise or belittle them but provide them with opportunities to express clearly what they believe and why. I think it is counter-productive for a teacher to overly defend their own beliefs as well.

Activities such as think, pair, share may provide students a safer way to reflect, to share with one other and then offer their ideas to the wider group. Approaches that provide students with creative and engaging ways to respond to stimulus are critical to this level.

At this level the student is reflecting on how the information is of value to them and their life. It relates to personal beliefs, attitudes or commitments to particular ideas.  It is at this level that students see the importance of what is being taught and decide to take positions and discuss why it important to them. In this process they will begin to identify their own values. Values clarification exercises may help students to do this, especially if they are given an opportunity to articulate why particular things are important to them. I suspect that students may approach this level if the issues discussed are of importance to their daily life and world view. It is important in religious education that when issues relating to the life of the student are discussed that they are given the space to think about how it impacts them and the people close to them.

At this level students are considering different values and ideas and accommodating, integrating or prioritizing them into their own values. The goal for teachers is to help students reflect on moving good values to a higher priority and poor values to a lower priority. One way of approaching this is to seek to make students annoyed or angry about something such as an injustice or wrong in the world. This may motivate students to re-evaluate which of the things they value are important and why.

At this level the student has a specific value that becomes characteristic of them by the way it influences their behaviour and way of living. I suspect that if we can make students care about a particular value enough then we can spur them on to action. Providing students with opportunities to act beyond the classroom, either in the school or at home or in the community may enable them to test out values through action. In doing so they may have the experience that helps them make the expression of the value part of their way of life.

4 September 2014

What If Learning

"What if learning about flowers led to wonder?" This is one of the opening questions on the "What If Learning" website and it is a site well worth exploring not just for religious educators but for all Christian teachers who hope to bring their faith into the classroom in an open and refreshing way.

Their approach uses three strategies - seeing anew, choosing engagement and reshaping practice. Each of their strategies is backed up by many many examples.

Some of my favourites included:

Example #76 Chemistry and Wonder (What if there were moments of wonder in chemistry?)

Example #4 Art and Hospitality (What if students could learn respect through art?)

Example # 9 Writing about others (What if students could learn love and self control through writing?)

The ideas and examples are very  gentle but at the same time have the potential to engage students deeply on an intellectual and spiritual level. This is a website I think I will be spending a lot of time exploring.