RMPS, RME, RE…whatever you want to call it, religious education can have an undeserved reputation as perhaps the most ‘boring’ subject in the curriculum. This prejudice isn’t only shared by pupils, but by staff and parents alike. I know this, because as an RMPS teacher I am too often expected to justify my subject, my career choice and the place of religious, moral and philosophical education in school. When out socially, I often wonder what people think my response ought to be when I explain what I do for a living and they reply “I HATED RE!”. Usually, I chuckle and wonder what on earth could have happened in their RE classroom to incite such hatred for the subject.
I don’t mean to start my post negatively; let me be clear, I relish challenging the perceptions of RMPS. In fact, one of the main things I enjoy about being an RMPS teacher is challenging perceptions and welcoming discussion and debate about religion in the curriculum. There is nothing I love more than watching a pupil, who has for many years been entirely disengaged with the RMPS curriculum, suddenly pick up a pencil and for the first time…perhaps ever…meaningfully engage in their core religious education. Why? Because their perceptions have been challenged with a ‘fun’ activity.
Currently I am teaching my S3’s a core unit on Christianity. It can be difficult to convince pupils that this is going to be interesting, never mind fun! Quite often, pupils react to the news of a Christianity unit with a unified ‘uuggghhh’ and many other grunts and groans that suggest they are going to do their very best not to enjoy any of this.
Working through the unit of work, during term 1, I managed to get almost everyone on board. We’ve had role-plays, presentations, treasure hunts to find evidence for Jesus’ existence…continuously I have strived to do all that I could do to enhance enjoyment and engagement in the subject. However, there is always a pupil who, in their determination not to enjoy RMPS, cannot fully engage in the subject and as a consequence misses out.
This particular challenge came to me in the shape of a 3rd year boy who after being, as he described, “dragged” to a Christian Sunday School every week as a young child, was absolutely determined that he was not going to enjoy RMPS and refused to fully participate in ANYTHING. Upon speaking with him about what he enjoyed out with the RMPS department, it became clear that he very much enjoyed watching and drawing cartoons. Given that we were about to study some Biblical stories, it was obvious to me I would need to harness this existing interest in cartoons whilst studying The Good Samaritan.
A quick search on YouTube led me to Bibletoons; simple, but effective Biblical cartoons, less than 5 minutes long, that subtly use humour without deviating from the story. The Good Samaritan cartoon provided an engaging introduction to the parable. Pupils were engrossed in the cartoon and participated fully in class discussion. I was able to assess understanding whilst the pupils discussed their own interpretation of the story. Remember my disengaged S3 pupil? During group discussion, he was sharing his own interpretation of the story with his peers, explaining that he knew this story quite well…from Sunday School!
I wanted every pupil to produce a cartoon comic strip of their own to explain the story. I have used cartoons in class before and already had a comic strip worksheet. These are easy to come by with a simple Google search or, of course, you or the pupils could draw your own template to allow for flexibility of space. I always have a class set of these cartoon strip worksheets handy since it’s a very effective visual teaching aid that some pupils respond extremely well to. I have found myself giving these out when I see pupils struggling to engage with what they are being asked to do in class. Some pupils like to use these as templates to plan ideas or to plan a presentation. However, for this task, pupils were required to submit a cartoon strip like that you would find in any newspaper or magazine.
So, now I have a collection of Biblical cartoons. Looking at them, it’s interesting to note that every pupil varies in their approach; some are contemporary, some are traditional, some are beautifully illustrated, others are simplistic…but all tell the story of The Good Samaritan in their own unique way. To my delight, as illustrated below, thanks to a very simple idea, I have a beautifully illustrated, detailed cartoon produced by a pupil that only a few weeks ago I could not have engaged in any aspect of their core RMPS education.
And my favourite part of this whole teaching and learning experience? Seeing a disengaged S3 boy visibly change his attitude and engagement when suddenly he realised RMPS doesn’t necessitate boring; it can be fun and relevant to him. Engaging this pupil has been the biggest challenge for me this year; however, upon reflection it has also been a highlight. It shows that if I can be creative and play to the strengths of a pupil then any topic can be made relevant and engaging. It’s about putting the learner at the center.