Charlie Hebdo revisited in Walsall

A warm thank you to participants of yesterday’s event Charlie Hebdo & Islam; effectively handling controversy and FBV in Walsall.

I especially wish to thank the Association of Muslim Schools for their initiative and Abu Bakr Boys School for providing a venue for this very necessary event, leading up to the Charlie Hebdo year date next month.

This 2 hour twilight demonstrated a scalable, instantly applicable RE lesson plan related to the murders last year, using Cooperative Learning to foster tightly controlled discussions of controversial materials in a safe environment, and included strategies for assessment, evidence of learning and SMSC/Citizenhip integration in compliance with DfE requirements.


“Very inspiring – it was immediately obvious why cooperative learning approach would have multiple benefits, especially when learning about controversial topics.”

– Mr R.T. Bradley, Head of Religious Studies, Queen Mary’s Grammar School, Walsall, 16 December 2015


The lesson was staged using two antagonistic texts, culled from online media:

Charlie Hebdo: This Attack Was Nothing To Do With Free Speech — It Was About War by Mr  Asghar Bukhari at

Charlie Hebdo and the freedom to offend by David Suissa at the Jewish Journal.

At the end of this lesson, students should be able to describe, correlate, criticise, synthesise some of the viewpoints and arguments about freedom of expression, religious tolerance, the role of media, Islamic  vs. secular (British) values, and consequences of terrorism, specifically related to the attacks on Charlie Hebdo, which too place almost exactly a year ago.

It is implicitly understood that Cooperative Learning facilitate a wide variety of areas of learning, i.e. reading skills, note-taking, discussion, as well as social skills. Please investigate this the other site and this blog for more information.

Quick lesson outline

The full plan Charlie’s Angels or Sympathy for the Devils? A full RE lesson plan on the Paris attacks is available as a PDF download in the original post,  where you will also find a repository of alternative materials and reflections:

The PDF lesson plan comprises 6 stages, each including stage timing, aims, teacher’s instructions and step-by-step execution of the three Cooperative Learning Interaction Patterns (CLIPs) used, see below.

1. Lead-in & set context
2. Individually investigate materials & uncover issues
3. Collaboratively check understanding & prepare arguments
4. Debating with a live opponent
5. Debriefing
6. Follow-up: next steps/homework


The activities are tried and tested, are simple to apply in the classroom, and will be familiar to many teachers; as the Subject Leader for Religious Education at the IoE noted after observing a CPD course to PGCEs‘‘…a reinforcement of known strategies and a recognition that they work.’’
The strategies outlined are extracted from Module B in Islam in RE; Religious Literacy and Controversy through Enquiry which has been designed to facilitate the best practice outlined in Ofsted’s RE report Realising the Potential.

“I would recommend this as it involves social interaction skills and the activities involve a huge amount of learning taking place.”

– Mr H. Rashid, Deputy Head, responsible for Teaching & Learning, Abu Bakr Boys School, Walsall, December 2015

Alternative uses of the lesson

I’ve noted before that any materials used in CPD are placeholders, and that Cooperative LEarning is there to drive your specific objectives, given that you understand you needs best.

The inexhaustibly of Cooperative Learning  means I always get new ideas from delegates that I never considered for a moment. Yesterday, one proposed using this lesson to deal with parent-school conflict, i.e. when views and values of the home might not reflect those promoted in the school, with students caught in the middle.

A possibility we discussed was using two extracts from novels, short stories, diary entries or SMSC/Citizenship material, describing a student who holds parental views above those of the school (e.g. “EDLs got good points, innit?!”),  and another who uses school values to trump parental advice (Muslim girl questioning Islamic dress code, perhaps?)

Both examples are complex, emotional issues of loyalty and identity, and failing to deal, or approaching them in the wrong way, might have a lot of negative consequences for all involved.

Here, the automatic learning differentiation inherent in Cooperative Learning would naturally facilitate the student’s own experiences and reflections, as we saw happen in the lesson. In every case, unobtrusive monitoring and securing written evidence of learning is key, as it was very clear that a lot of prior knowledge and previous reflections were pulled in to win the arguments in stage 4 Debating with a live opponent. 

In this respect, another delegate asked for more details on competition in collaborative classrooms, as he believed an all-boys environment would benefit. The EEF Toolkit does mention this: Please examine their comments and research here.

I do hope to write a proper post on this at a later time. Get notifications of related posts on twitter.

Successful staging and other reminders

The most important thing is to stage the Cooperative Learning so the interaction itself drives, rather than hinders your lesson objectives.

Instructions must be crystal clear, and modeled in front of the students. A recorded example of staging Catch1Partner is found on Potential realised? Celebrating Ofsted Report’s 1st Birthday…  (Please be aware that no links to videos are working at the time of publication. My video host,, is working to resolve the issue).

It is also helpful to have the interaction steps made available to pupils. Simply print copies of the lesson plan and blow up to A3 or simply provide as handouts.

Also remember to make sure they respect the question formats, such as using “why, who, when…” to drive the activation of factual knowledge in Stage 1: Lead-in & set context. You saw  yourselves how easy it is to stray off and just mouth of opinions. Students in secondary certainly need to distinguish the categories fact, opinion and argument. Do not be afraid to let students into the boiler room and have a meta-discussion on questioning techniques, categories, etc. This is about the future of democracy, and without this awareness, youngsters are prone to fall for the most banal propaganda.

Most white people don’t like to admit it, but those cartoons upheld their prejudice, their racism, their political supremacy, and cut it how you will — images like that upheld a political order built on discrimination.

From yesterday’s Text C – Charlie Hebdo: This Attack Was Nothing To Do With Free Speech...

However, remember to allow for some scope of off-task behavior – as long as they are not discussing football or cussing, there may be benefit in letting some teams or pairs explore a tangent for a while. Remember interactions are timed, so they will soon enough be back in the fold.

Thought strokes on biblical quotes

It’s fair to say that yesterday’s delegates represented good or outstanding schools in  Walsall.

While such schools benefit no less from Cooperative Learning, and have as much need to deal with toxic subjects (perhaps more, given the challenge such pupils would expect), it does strike me as odd that not a single struggling, ethnically mixed school with high pupil premium attended.

As I did outline in the presentation and in a recent post on the Sutton Trust/EEF Toolkit, Cooperative Learning does represent the best use of Pupil Premium money, and will help disadvantaged pupils quickly close achievement gaps. (Please a my client discuss some actual figures in New head, fresh eyes; a critical outsider’s look at Cooperative Learning).

This low attendance of struggling schools just goes to prove the biblical statement “Whoever has will be given more…” and it is an incredible shame given a quarter of Walsall’s schools rated inadequate this year.

The more schools I work with, the more firmly convinced I am the structural approach to Cooperative Learning is that sought-after bridge will allow safe, instant crossing back and forth between the traditional, teacher-centredness and the Ofsted-obligatory student-centred environment demanded by businesses and governments, yet meeting the real and immediate needs of children, parents and teachers.

Surely, if something is not done, the rest of Matthew’s word may prove true to many a desperate school: “Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them.”

Shame, given this:

Toolkit CL classification



Get notifications of related posts on twitter.

One thought on “Charlie Hebdo revisited in Walsall

Add yours

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: