All departments have some form of development plan, the challenge as a head of department is to enable your team to firstly remember the key elements of that plan and then actually be guided by it in their daily practice. In addition your development plan should be a living document that is returned to throughout the year and adapted as necessary.. Any plan that sits in a dusty folder is a pointless waste of time. Our English department has produced a sheet to use during learning walks that acts as a visual reminder of their department development plan.
I have adapted their sheet to suit the current priorities of our department, a copy is attached to this post as a word document so that you can change it to suit your context. Our priorities won’t necessarily be yours even if you are also an RE department and so this is not a prescriptive list. We may find that as the year progresses we make changes and certainly next year this sheet may look different. It is also not supposed to be a checklist for every lesson. Within our department we do have shared resources but we do all teach in our own way and I would not want to undermine that sense of autonomy .
The above sheet will form the focus of our learning walks, this will help us ensure that we are sticking to our development plan and also give a sense of purpose to learning walks. I hope that observing each other will become a regular feature of our department in the sense that we will pop into each other’s lessons and build a culture of giving and receiving feedback that is useful rather than general platitudes. Each time we have a department meeting we can spend time sharing and highlighting good practice and talking about our progress against our development plan .
In addition if somebody from outside of our department wants to drop into a lesson they have a very clear observation focus. As a new head of faculty I do find observing other subjects difficult and this kind of tool would help me give useful feedback rather than desperately trying to find something useful to say. In addition a number of us teach in departments with non specialist teachers, this enables you to give the bigger picture for your department’s development. I teach 3 subjects outside of my RE specialism and would appreciate this kind of guidance.
Finally I don’t believe in doing things for OFSTED but this sheet would enable the department to talk to an OFSTED inspector about our department ethos and development. If asked by an inspector about what they would see in a typical lesson I could refer to this list and my colleagues would do the same.
As a department we are very much driven by the principles of taking students beyond their own experiences and exposing them to the best that has been said, thought or written. In RE this often means looking at original texts and enabling students to take time to unpack their meaning, decode the language and draw their own conclusions about their form and authority. We introduced the Understanding Christianity materials to our Key Stage 3 curriculum and they have helped us see that our students can engage with texts and we now need to aim for this standard when teaching other faiths. I would hope when dropping into most lessons or looking in any exercise book that I would see evidence of careful textual analysis, perhaps as shown below.
For me this is the holy grail and perhaps the area that needs the most work. I would like to see us completing that cycle of teaching a topic, getting feedback from students and then adjusting what comes next in light of that feedback. We have worked hard on our schemes of work and this has created a reluctance to deviate from those schemes. But carrying on teaching when the students have been lost since lesson 2 is pointless. We are trying to embrace whole class feedback and at the moment it sometimes feels like we are using this feedback to just keep a track of who has or has not done their homework when it should really be driving what happens next in the classroom. I would hope that when observing a teacher or looking in an exercise book I would see evidence of this feedback loop. We are currently trialling the WCF form from the Assessment in RE book as shown below.
As a department we also use multi choice tests to spot gaps in the students’ knowledge or understanding, this includes a baseline when our new Year 7s arrive. We know for example in our current cohort of about 270 students that although they started the year with a rough idea of the story of creation and the Fall only about 2 students in the year group were familiar with the key term stewardship. This meant that we focused on this concept in our teaching and when we retested the year group recently we could see that only a few students in the year group do not know and use the term now.
Most of our lessons start with a retrieval activity of some kind which is often planned in advance to help students make the links within our narrative style curriculum. By planning the tests in advance we also achieve some standardisation of the knowledge that becomes a priority. At Key Stage 3 this retrieval works across the whole key stage because the students are building a cohesive body of knowledge , not learning individual topics with no connections. We hope that this interweaved approach will aid memory retrieval as well as understanding. To fit with the idea of responsive teaching it is often appropriate to plan a quiz addressing the gaps you have identified. I often email my sixth formers a quiz at the end of the lesson which is supposed to help them embed new material. I take note of the questions they get wrong when they reply with their answers and they will appear in the starter quiz of the following lesson so we can “fill the gaps”. You could also use google forms quizzes to check for gaps to fill before moving on to new content.
Making links between topics and faiths
Particularly at Key Stage 3 we have created a narrative style curriculum that spirals back to important concepts but also encourages students to make links between topics and faiths. When we look at the story of the birth of Siddhartha for example we will make comparisons with the birth of Jesus and the early life of Guru Nanak and Muhammad. In Year 8 the students will study the Old Testament prophets and make links with the message of Muhammad. This happens not just through our starter quizzes but also in classroom activities and discussions. I have written previously about our Key Stage 3 curriculum here on a previous blog post.
We have also interweaved our key stage 4 curriculum so that it follows the concepts and the narrative of the Bible rather than sticking to the order of the textbook or the specification. I have written about our GCSE 4 curriculum previously here.
In line with the balanced RE approach we are trying to improve our students’ understanding of religious texts and beliefs by looking at their historical setting. Setting them up for their A Levels this means looking at when the story was set but also the community that produced the story.
ABCD and thesis statements
ABCD is the structure that we use at GCSE that is gradually being phased into Key Stage 3. I have blogged about it previously here.
We have embraced Charlotte Vardy’s thesis statement approach to writing A Level essays as outlined here.
In addition I have written previously about how we use thesis statements with a focus on hinge words here.
I would hope that when looking in exercise books or folders that I would see students using these structures and also receiving feedback on how well they are being used. Within a lesson I may see them being modelled or students using peer assessment using ABCD as a framework for that task. In addition these frameworks might guide how we teach a topic, for example making sure that a student has five pieces of relevant information to use in a Part A answer. In A Level lessons I might see students drafting and improving thesis statements or identifying hinge words in a batch of questions at the end of a unit.