Islam in RE#2 & Norwich High School for Girls#4

A combined description of last weeks event at University of East Anglia and Norwich High School for Girls Stage 3: Present oral summary in teams – continued from previous post.

Due to the overlap between these two superficially very different events (one aimed at experienced teachers, the other at Year 10 students, one about the Syrian crisis, the other about teaching Islam  in UK schools), I decided to write about them in same post to demonstrate how vastly different outcomes may be achieved using the same Cooperative Learning Interaction Patterns (CLIPs).

Therefore this post is relevant not only to participants of “Islam in RE…”, but to readers following the lesson plan outline of the Norwich High School for Girls Connected Curriculum workshop. New readers will gain a lot from these three related posts.

“fun”, “never boring, different,” “unusual,” “imaginative”

– workshop participants, Norwich High School for Girls

In Module A of “Islam in RE: Religious Literacy & Controversy through Enquiry” we promised to demonstrate a series of fully transferable and scalable enquiry exercises into a world religion and according to the assessment done at the end – using a Cooperative Learning technique “Simultaneous Write-Round” – this was a success according to all participants.

After  introducing some of the pedagogical rationale behind Cooperative Learning, introducing the concept of CLIPs and the ideal setup of teams, we went in head first:

Literacy and working with texts in the Cooperative Learning classroom

In spite of the inroads made by visual media, written text remains the main medium of transmission of complex data. This copious amount of reading material often come across to students as boring and difficult and  demand a host of key ancillary skills; scanning, skimming, gist-reading, note-taking, differentiating the importance of points and their interrelation, as well as identifying indications of key content in images, captions, graphs, etc. All of which are key skills at universities and most careers to a greater and lesser extent.

“…Cooperative Learning is useful in any situations, even at the workplace” 

Mika Okamura, PGCE, School of Education and Lifelong Learning,
University of East Anglia, after “Islam in RE: Religious Literacy & Controversy through Enquiry”
After  introducing some of the pedagogical rationale behind Cooperative Learning, introducing the concept o

See the chapter Cooperative Learning and the sticky matter of differentiation on handling varied levels of literacy in the classroom.


Now where was I?

Achieving focus

Unlike the similar exercise at  Norwich High School for Girls, which allowed students to independently structure  a very personal mental framework, the aim of “Islam in RE…” was proper religious literacy, which means students must be made to focus on specific things and spot their interrelation as seen through the eyes of the adherents of the religion, rather than their own.

To achieve this for Islam in RE…, I first passed around the Hadith of Gabriel which breaks down Islam into the three distinct areas of action, belief and spiritual awareness of the Divine, and asked each team to discover and identify these areas in a Think-Pair-Share, summing up in open class at the end to check the correct understanding had been arrived at. Note the usefulness of the first stage of Think-Pair-Share in relation to promoting reading skills as well as higher level thinking.

A benefit of allowing students to discover things you could just “tell them for yourself”  is that it evokes curiosity, which means that they actually pay attention when you finally presents the correct solution on the board – so the apparently wasted time  is well-spent.

Thus forearmed with this triad of action (Islam), belief (Iman) and spiritual awareness (Ihsan), the aims of the reading exercise were presented:

  1. Discover the relationship between the three areas of Islam, Iman and Ihsan.
  2. Discover which of the traditional Islamic sciences were related to these three areas.
  3. Discover subtleties and historical divisions in Muslims’ understanding related to these three areas, and the impact of modern reform movements, especially Wahhabism.

As in Norwich High School for Girls, each team was responsible for a number of texts (see detailed post). Every student was tasked to take one text at a time from a communal pile. They had 20 minutes to read through as many texts as possible and decide how each text relates to Islam, Iman and/or Ihsan and  note key vocabulary on a separate paper, with a definition – if available – and, crucially, to prepare a concise oral summary of ALL texts.

Learning definitions and key terms

Note that, when using Cooperative Learning,  the lack of definitions of key vocabulary in some of the texts does not spell doom, but only  mean an added element of mutual interdependency, as students need to find and/or check definitions with peers across multiple teams, who have encountered them in vastly different contexts.

This “automated discovery” saves the teacher  a lot of work and worry when preparing materials, as well as endless questions in class.  One of the important things students in the Cooperative Learning classroom should be taught is the 3B4ME, i.e. don’t ask the teacher, ask the 3 in your team before me – your team may have the answer for you.

Oral summary in teams

For readers following the Norwich City High School  thread, this is stage 3.  It consists of the most ubiquitous  of all CLIPs, the Word-Round, which often forms a sub-element within other CLIPs.  Comprised of only two stages, its apparent simplicity belies its versatility and usefulness:

  1. The teacher presents a task with several possible answers, and gives a time/frame for answers.
  2. The four team members take turns presenting their answer/solution to the team.

The task should be presented visually so the students can refer to it throughout:

  • Team member 1 takes 4 minutes to present the content of his/her texts to team members.
  • All other team members, write notes. You may ask questions, but not look at text(s).
  • When prompted, team member 2 presents, continue…

Note that this same slide was presented unchanged at both NHSG workshop and the UEA course; though completely different in aims, materials, context and level. The benefit to teachers already repeating lessons from  SmartBoard or ActivInspire libraries is clear. I personally used to have an on demand library in the Cloud,  which meant that an instruction slide created in Year 5 could be called up ten minutes later in another classroom full of Year 10s, but differentiated by choice of materials. (I hope some day to write a proper article on how to simplify life in the CL classroom using digital resources – the eternal repetition of the same interactions in different contexts make this really simple).

NHSG spider diagram


The following post shall discuss another overlap between the events at UEA and Norwich High School for Girls, the Communal Spider Diagram – for want of a better word.

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