Strategies for Reshaping Practice – working document

'Reshaping practice' puts the focus on what teachers do, in order to reflect their new way of seeing by their teaching. It is changing the habits and practice of teaching to work with a new perspective.

1. Change the layout of the room

Teachers can change the layout of the room to support their new way of seeing a subject, for example, arranging the chairs in an arc around a painting which is displayed high to communicate the importance of coming with humility to learn. It could involve changing the seating arrangements so that students/pupils work together when learning about communities.

2. Make tangible changes to the environment

Teachers can make tangible changes to the environment to support new perspectives. This may include creating spaces for different uses such as reflection or suspending question bubbles from the ceiling to stimulate curiosity. A tangible change can signal a deeper change. For example, the temporary removal of books at the beginning of Book Week can be the beginning of a change in attitude towards them. In many parts of the world, books are a luxury for which people are grateful.

3. Change or create displays

Displays are a use of the physical space that is often taken for granted, but displays have huge potential for teachers when making changes. Displays can include unexpected elements such as art, images and poetry in a science display, breaking down subject barriers so that God’s world is seen as a whole. Displays can be places where learners respond to big questions and curiosity is stimulated.

4. Embody the class ethos and outlook in concrete forms

Developing a class ethos is about embodying values in concrete forms. This may take the form of expectations of behaviour that are on display, or the teaching of some basic sign language so that learners can say a silent ‘thank you’ to each other without disturbing others. It could include the arrangement of desks and the expectation of certain expressions of respect such as raising hands rather than interrupting each other.

5. Use body language

Teachers’ body language can communicate values and a perspective on a subject. Excitement is contagious and can be communicated both verbally and through the body, for example excitement over the wonders of magnetism. Similarly, talking to pupils while still marking work and not looking at them can communicate disrespect.

6. Create the appropriate atmosphere

Creating an atmosphere is about creating the ‘feel’ that matches what is learned. A lesson on delight would be ruined by a dull ambience; a lesson on peace needs a calm mood. Anxiety over tests can be reduced by shifting to a celebration of what the pupils do know. Create a celebratory atmosphere by use of language such as ‘Wow, look at what you know!’ Establishing atmosphere could include using music, noise, silence, lighting, colour, images, body language and posture.

7. Give opportunities for practice

Teaching can lead to practice, rather than being kept as something that learners need to pay attention to in order to pass tests or gain information. Teachers can provide opportunities for learners to serve each other and the local community. Teaching can turn a class’s vision outwards towards the wider world, and teachers can introduce issues of justice and how we bring about change, providing opportunities to engage, for example, with fair trade and how shopping can make a difference.

8. Change the context/framework

All teaching takes place within a framework of ideas and values and we can adjust the framework or context within which we teach. Maths does not have to be taught within a consumer framework of shopping and spending; it can be about giving. French does not have to be taught in a tourist framework dominated by satisfying personal needs and securing goods and services on holiday; it can be about humbly encountering another culture. A change of image or metaphor can give teaching an alternative framework. For example, seeing the world as God’s playground or garden can promote different thinking about the world and our relationship to it and each other.

9. Change examples and illustrations to match your framework

For a change in framework to be plausible and effective, examples, stories and illustrations need to come into line. For example, maths examples need to move from getting to giving. Stories can move from focusing on individuals to communities if, for example, the framework is changed from studying individual reformers in history to campaigning communities. If an environment topic is changed from ‘our world’ to ‘God’s world’ then images of the world from a ‘God’s eye’ perspective might be appropriate.

10. Put skills in a context of values

Sometimes choosing the right framework and context for learning could mean giving skills a new purpose. That purpose can be defined in terms of values. Design can be taught with a service purpose so that students think about the question: ‘How will the design serve the customer and society?’ rather than ‘How can I showcase what I can do?’ Maths can be taught with the purpose of combating injustice.

11. Focus, identify, highlight, be intentional

As teachers, we can focus on the key emphasis by highlighting key words visually and verbally. We can also use objects to focus attention, for example, using chocolate in a history lesson about reformers such as the Cadburys, Frys and Rowntrees. Focusing can involve identifying what is important, for example, a character's choices in a text and their degree of responsibility. It could include being intentional about teaching self-control in sport.

12. Change the emphasis

Sometimes we need to move the spotlight in our teaching to put the emphasis in a different place. For example, we may have used different map projections before but the emphasis could be changed to looking at the issue of fairness in map projections. Sometimes we may need to introduce a new emphasis, for example moving from usefulness to delight or from rules to grace.

13. Change key words and metaphors

Highlighting a key focus or a change in emphasis can be followed through by a consistent use of language, emphasising key concepts and phrases and bringing what is important to learners’ attention. For example, teachers can consistently use the phrase ‘God’s world’ rather than ‘Our world’ in a topic on the environment. They can consistently emphasise a key concept such as sin or joy or peace.

14. Change resources, tasks or activities

Tasks, resources or activities can be changed to suit a new perspective. Once teachers see a lesson in a new way, old worksheets, activities and tasks may need to be reviewed. This could be choosing activities that stress the wholeness of people: body, soul and spirit; it could be worksheets that have questions of meaning and purpose as well as information recall questions.

15. Change your choice of content

Increasingly teachers have their choices restricted by curriculum documents, but where choice is possible different content can be used. If a particular novelist is prescribed there may be a choice of works and teachers could select a work that reflects a focus such as trust. If a particular subject is suggested, such as self esteem, there could be a range of materials that approach it in a different way, for example, seeing it in terms of finding significance and worth through love. If a syllabus stipulates a key figure in history, you could choose a person of faith such as William Tyndale in the Tudor period.

16. Choose an approach to suit the new emphasis

Adopting appropriate approaches means that we examine the approach we use and make sure it is right for the new emphasis of the lesson and will help learners engage with it appropriately. Approaches can be very specific to subjects; for example, there are a range of approaches in religious education such as a conceptual approach and an approach that looks at religion as a phenomenon. There are more general approaches such as a storytelling which might be appropriate if we are emphasising grace in a person’s life (unmerited love and favour). It is important to select an approach with two criteria in mind: appropriateness to the emphasis of the lesson and to the learners.

17. Adjust your style

Style is a very personal subject but most teachers are flexible and can incorporate a variety of styles within their repertoire. When thinking about style we need to consider whether it is right for a particular lesson with its new emphasis, and whether it will serve the learners in engaging with this new perspective. Style can be formal or informal and have many kinds of practices within either. For example, if we are exploring sensitive or controversial aspects of sin and brokenness then a formal approach is sometimes appropriate to give students/pupils structure and distance. If the lesson is about serving the community by cooking for the elderly and you are joining in, then a more informal style is appropriate. If the emphasis is on fostering focused attentiveness then our general style, whatever it is, might have to slow down to incorporate e.g. a slow reading of a text.

18. Change your planning: timing, sequence and lesson structure

Thinking about lesson or unit planning may mean changing how we introduce or end a lesson. It could include incorporating silence if we want students to have time to reflect and wonder. It can be decisions about what to include or exclude; for example, including a faith connection or excluding detail in order to highlight a new emphasis. It could include the pace we set and allowing time for slow contemplation or group discussion.

19. Check what you give significance to, test and reward

What we reward sends strong messages about what we value. If we stress meaning and significance a in lesson but then only test for recall of information, we send a message about what is important. Teachers can give significance by what they notice and give time to in class, the questions they respond to, the behaviour they reinforce. For example, do we reward those who win at any cost in sport? Forms of assessment can be adapted to suit a new perspective. Evaluations in history can reflect people holistically and include their spiritual legacy as well as the political, social and economic.

20. Plan time and space for reflection

Time for reflection and wonder at God’s world can easily get squeezed out with the amount of content teachers have to cover. Reflection needs planning in. It does not have to come at the end of a session; it can be way of starting a lesson, for example, by listening to the sounds in the environment in silence.

21. Change the student interaction

Teachers can plan student interaction to match the new emphasis. They can work in pairs or groups, individually or as a class. They can collaborate or work on their own. The interaction should reflect the intended perspective and be appropriate for the pupils. If the teaching stresses community and interdependence then collaborative learning may be appropriate, for example when looking at history and the dependence of reformers on a grass roots community. In science, pupils could make food chains as groups, each group making a chain with different children adding a link.

22. Ask big questions/change your questioning

Teachers can incorporate big questions in their teaching in order to stimulate curiosity. They can ask big questions themselves or encourage students/pupils to ask them. Big questions are questions of significance and meaning and each subject has its own questions and issues that teachers can focus attention on. For example they can ask if we can measure everything in maths, or are there some things we can’t measure? Do we value these things more or less? Teachers can structure questions to direct learners to important issues such as interdependence in science. Questions can raise awareness and uncover things we take for granted, such as the idea that the world is ‘ours’. Teachers can pose questions about faith and values in subjects other than RE to break down the divide between sacred and secular.

23. Provide contrasts and set up dissonance (clashes)

Teachers can provoke thinking by creating contrasts and dissonance. Dissonance is about creating difference or conflict. For example, it might be teaching about caring for the environment in a littered room, or using body language that does not match what you are saying, or playing commercial Christmas music over paintings of the nativity. Including contrasts and dissonance in our teaching can raise awareness of certain issues, and challenge learners to rethink, for example, considering the spiritual and relational riches of some past cultures in contrast to modern cultures.

24. Make connections with faith and life

As teachers we can model making connections and show the relevance of faith by drawing on faith sources in subjects such as history and using faith examples, insights and images. For example, we can use the biblical theme of ‘justice, mercy and humility’ as a way of assessing reformers in history. Teachers could use images such as ‘gardener’ from the Bible to explore our relationship with the environment. We can enable discussions of faith and values where appropriate and connect faith to life rather than keeping it abstract.

25. Make connections with the wider world

Teaching can have an outward focus, engaging with the local community and the world, bringing the wider world into the classroom or taking the learner out. Teachers can invite visitors in to be interviewed or invite church musicians into a music class. Teachers can relate learning to wider issues of faith and values relating to what is going on society. For example, teaching about integrity in science and writing up experiments truthfully can relate to integrity or lack of integrity shown in current events. Insights learned in the classroom can be applied to society, for example, thinking of people as whole, not just bodies or minds or spirits.

26. Model a new emphasis

Teachers can model what they teach, the ultimate example of personalising teaching. They can model excitement and wonder in science, for example, over the wonders of magnetism. They can model respect and ways of treating students and other staff. They can model puzzlement and confusion before a text so learners feel free to express their own confusion. Teachers can model being challenged by what they teach.

27. Add the personal touch

Teachers can use personal stories, images and examples where that is appropriate. This could involve organising visitors in religious education or using real life case studies of people in modern foreign languages or geography. Such stories can challenge learners and evoke an affective or moral response. Teaching in this way can focus attention on others and on service. For example, just a small change in a lesson about sound can make a big difference; instead of talking about the intricacies of the design of ‘the ear', talk about ‘your ears’ and relate it to the students.