4. Teaching for Learning in RE
- 4.1 Religious Education – A discipline-based learning area
- 4.2 Curriculum – the what of Religious Education
- 4.3 Pedagogy – the how of Religious Education
- 4.4 Assessment and Reporting – the how well and where of learning in Religious Education
4.1 Religious Education – A discipline-based learning area
‘The school curriculum is a statement of the purpose of schooling.’ This principle, clearly articulated in the Victorian Curriculum F – 10 (VCAA, 2015), applies to all learning areas of the curriculum. It expresses well the role of the Religious Education Learning Area in the curriculum of Catholic schools. As noted in Chapter 2, Religious Education expresses, deepens, and extends the Catholic school’s mission of integral human development for all students, through rich encounters of genuine dialogue at the level of personal meaning-making, including religious or nonreligious worldview.
Religious Education in the Catholic tradition is a discipline-based learning area, arising from the community of enquiry that the Catholic Church constitutes in its rich and diverse history. Like other disciplines, Religious Education invites and guides learners to ‘a unique way of seeing, understanding and engaging with the world,’ that is both enduring, in terms of its underlying methodologies and ways of understanding, and dynamic, in the way learners engage with new content in changing contexts (VCAA, 2015, p. 10).
Religious Education is the discipline-based learning area that promotes and facilitates student learning in the knowledge, practices and self-understandings of Catholic Christianity in particular, and of other Christian denominations and other religious traditions in general. The content of this learning area focuses on the sources, history, worship, beliefs, structures and roles of the faith community, and on the ways the Church interacts with other groups and with the state in Australia and in other societies.
Religious Education is deeply interconnected with other curriculum areas, since the Catholic Christian Tradition has been a constitutive element of the history and culture of Western societies and institutions, and because, like other disciplines, Religious Education addresses the fundamental human questions of meaning, identity and purpose that arise for individuals and societies. Therefore, learning in Religious Education is both practical and transformational for all involved. It challenges and equips students to respond intelligently, creatively and responsibly to their own and others’ religious identities and commitments or nonreligious worldviews, as religiously literate members of Australian society.
As an indispensable learning area of Catholic schooling, the content of Religious Education is informed by the official and authoritative statements of Catholic teaching, it reflects high-quality research in biblical, historical and systematic theology, it engages the cognitive, affective, aesthetic, and spiritual dimensions of the person, and it is directed toward transformative praxis in the personal and social spheres.
The content of Religious Education constitutes a continuum of learning in which foundational understandings and dispositions are deepened and broadened in ever-richer ways as new knowledge is identified and interconnections are explored with other learning areas and capabilities. In Religious Education, as in other learning areas, ‘a high-quality curriculum is not a collection of disconnected items of knowledge but rather a set of progressions that define increasingly complex knowledge, skills and concepts’ (VCAA, 2015, p. 3).
The Victorian Curriculum F – 10 represents the elements to be aligned in effective student learning in this way:
The Victorian Curriculum describes these elements of learning design thus: ‘Each of these components plays a separate and distinct role in the process of student learning and each is interconnected with all of the others.
- The first is the curriculum that defines what it is that students should learn, and the associated progression or continuum of learning.
- The second is pedagogy that describes how students will be taught and supported to learn.
- The third is assessment that identifies how well a student has (or has not) learnt specified content.
- The fourth is reporting that explains to the student and the teacher where a student is on a learning continuum at the end of a specified period of schooling, and where this places them in relation to their own learning goals and/or the learning of their peers.’ (p. 3).
These four components of effective student learning in Religious Education – curriculum, pedagogy, assessment and reporting – will be explored in section 4.2 (curriculum), 4.3 (pedagogy) and 4.4 (assessment and reporting).
In Religious Education, the what and the how of the discipline are integrally related, since in the domains religious learning and personal identity formation what is known and how it comes to be known are mutually constitutive. This is characteristic of the hermeneutical space of learning for human persons. In a similar way, the UNESCO Report, Learning: The Treasure Within (Delors, 1996), identified four interrelated pillars of education: learning to know, learning to do, learning to live together, and learning to be. Therefore, while distinct in educational objectives, learning about religion and learning to be religious in a particular
tradition cannot be separated.
Post-Critical Belief Scale
The what and how of religious learning are brought together in the Post-Critical Belief Scale,
one of the Enhancing Catholic School Identity instruments (Pollefeyt & Bouwens, 2014). This
typological scale correlates a what-axis (from disaffirmation of transcendence to affirmation
of transcendence/belief in a personal God) and a how-axis (from direct, unmediated
understanding of religious objects to direct, symbolically-mediated understanding through
religious knowledge). The correlation of these two axes gives rise to four types or belief styles,
indicating ways in which a person tends to relate cognitively and aesthetically to religious
experiences, texts and traditions: literal belief, literal disbelief, relativism, and post-critical
belief, as indicated in the diagram.
POST-CRITICAL BELIEF SCALE
Since a learners’ cognitive and affective stances move along these axes as they mature and grow in experience, these four types do not represent static positions; they are interpenetrating and contextual. However, they can become stable habits of thinking, influenced by personal dispositions, prevailing cultural worldviews and informal and formal learning environments.
In line with the Catholic theological, anthropological and pedagogical principles, the Awakenings Religious Education Curriculum intentionally promotes and supports a post-critical, symbolically-mediated believing style. It is expected that learners in Religious Education will transition in stage-appropriate ways from a pre-critical, first naïveté in relation to religious texts and traditions towards a reflective and critical second naivete. This post-critical belief style holds together a receptivity to the God of Jesus Christ who communicates through Scripture and Tradition (the what-axis) and a critical and evaluative awareness of the historical and contingent character of those texts (the how-axis).
This preference for a personal and enduring post-critical, symbolically-mediated believing style in Religious Education, is grounded in the nature of religious knowledge in the Catholic Tradition. The interpersonal, dialogical and mediated character of human knowledge of the mystery of the Triune God is explored in the next section.
4.2 Curriculum – the what of Religious Education
The discipline content of Religious Education is derived from the response of the community of believers (in ancient Israel and in the history of Christianity) to God’s self-communicating revelation. Revelation can be understood as
- natural (or general or universal) – referring to an awareness of God’s activity in the existence and evolutionary unfolding of the cosmos; in the human quest for truth, beauty, goodness and unity; in the phenomenon of religion and the sincere search for God’s will; and
- historical (or specific or particular) – referring to the knowledge, practices and social forms that emerge from the particular encounter with God witnessed to in the historical traditions of Judaism and Christianity.
While these understandings of revelation are interdependent, it is the biblical content of historical revelation that structures the Christian worldview and the ways of knowing and acting which are characteristic of the Catholic Tradition.
Revelation and Faith: God in dialogue with humanity
The Genesis narratives of origin describe the universe as a free and loving work of a Creator God, who brings all things into existence by speaking their names, ‘Let there be…’ (Gen 1:3). Human persons too receive their existence from God and, alone among creatures, are further empowered to know and to speak to God and to one another. This reciprocal communication, in the figurative language of biblical narrative, is a fundamental characteristic of the divine-human relationship.
This divine-human dialogue is continued in the Creator God’s election of biblical Israel in a faithful covenant of shared life and love; it is expressed in the communal identity, law codes, worship practices and prophetic oracles of Israel’s history. This dialogue is further recognised by Christians in the person and ministry of Jesus Christ, within the Second Temple Judaism of the first century; and it continues in Christianity through the community’s dynamic relationship with the risen Jesus and his Spirit, encountered through Scripture and Tradition. This dialogue will continue in time until God has drawn all humanity and all of creation into the intimate communion of the divine life.
Describing divine revelation, the Second Vatican Council’s Constitution on Divine Revelation, Dei Verbum (DV) stated:
‘By thus revealing himself God, who is invisible, in his great love speaks to humankind as friends and converses with them, so as to invite and receive them into relationship with himself.’ (n. 2)
Since the encounter with the mystery of God transcends empirical experience and cognitive apprehension, religious texts employ the richer language orders of symbol, metaphor and analogy (Dulles, 1992; Schneiders, 1999). Thus Dei Verbum uses biblical language to describe the revelation of God in the Judeo-Christian Tradition through the analogy of a ‘conversation between friends’ (Lenehan, 2016). The covenant initiated by God with humanity witnessed to in the scriptures is like an unfolding, ever-deepening relationship between friends. So too the knowledge of self and other that emerges in this graced relationship is like the knowledge that develops in and sustains a committed friendship.
The Genesis narratives also reflect that human persons are free to respond, or not to respond, to this invitation by God to a life of friendly dialogue. A gift given with existence, this freedom allows a truly loving and humanly authentic relationship to develop between God and humans. In Catholic theology, this free response to God’s initiative and assent to the knowledge of God and God’s will for creation is called faith. Faith is awakened by God’s self-communicating revelation, and faith makes revelation concrete and fruitful in the life of the believing person and community. Faith, too, has the character of friendly dialogue, and includes experiences of enquiry and wonder, doubt and uneasiness, interpretation and testing, receptivity and surrender.
Thus, the dialogue of divine revelation and human faith gives rise to the following characteristics, which inform the what and the how of Religious Education:
- an encounter mediated by dialogue: God, who is beyond human categories, enters into the symbolic order of language to engage humans in their historical and material existence, giving rise to the ongoing task of discernment and interpretation of God’s Word
- a relationship that gives rise to knowledge: our knowledge of God and God’s will for creation is contextual, like all human knowledge; it arises from the communal experience of, and reflection on, a real interpersonal encounter with God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit in particular contexts
- initiated by God, motivated by love: moved by loving concern, God enters into historical relationship with Israel through the Passover from slavery to freedom, and with all humanity through the Passover of Jesus Christ from death to new life, and the gift of his Spirit to the Church
- experienced through a symbolic realism: the Catholic intellectual tradition is grounded on the sacramentality of all creation; since all things are created by God, God can really meet and communicate with humanity in and through created things
- inviting humanity into communion in the Triune God: this graced relationship transforms the human search for meaning into a salvific sharing of life and love with each other and in the mystery of God’s love.
For Christians, this ‘conversation between friends’ is incarnated in the life, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and made available to all humanity through the outpouring of God’s Spirit brought about through the Christ-event. Christians recognise that in his person and his mission, Jesus Christ is the fullness and goal of God’s self-communicating revelation-in-dialogue with humanity. Already completed in Jesus Christ, God’s self-communicating invitation continues to unfold in history through the work of the Spirit and the mission of the Church, welcoming and embracing all people and the whole creation into the communion of this gracious friendship.
Scripture and Tradition: The two-fold source of Revelation
Dei Verbum teaches that this saving and transforming dialogue between God and humanity, in the dynamic interplay of revelation and faith, continues as an ‘uninterrupted conversation’ mediated by Scripture and Tradition in the life of the Church (n. 8). Scripture and Tradition both arise from this one source, God’s loving self-gift in relationship with humanity, and flow towards the same goal, the gathering of all humanity into friendship and communion with God. Scripture is the written record of the faith community’s experience of encounter with the self-revealing God. Tradition is the dynamic history of the faith community living out that encounter in the worship, teaching, witness and service of the Church in all its contexts.
Flowing from God’s self-communication with humanity, both Scripture and Tradition have a dialogical character. Catholics recognise that the Triune God is truly present in and through Scripture and Tradition; believers encounter that presence by engaging with the texts of Scripture and the rituals, practices and teachings of Tradition. Through prayerful reflection, enquiry and interpretation, discernment and action, believers enter into a living encounter with the God who speaks in and through Scripture and Tradition.
The books of Scripture are acknowledged by believers to be the Word of God recorded in human words under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit (DV, nn. 11-12). They emerged in different places and times in response to a community’s experience of God in and through historical events and circumstances. Composed by various authors and editors using many literary styles, the Scriptures communicate both God’s invitation to friendship and humanity’s varied responses. Officially recognised texts are collected in what Christians call the Bible.
Though written in particular contexts, the Scriptures continually engage people of different cultures and worldviews. They call hearers to respond reflectively and prayerfully, personally and communally, ‘with an obedience by which the human person entrusts their whole selves freely to God’, in faith. Inspired by the Holy Spirit, they remain God’s living Word to every generation (DV, n. 5).
The Scriptures share the literary characteristics of all texts. That particular people wrote the books of Scripture for specific audiences and settings means we are removed from the original languages, cultures, contexts and purposes of the texts. This provides us with the continual challenge of interpretation, in order to receive the Scriptures intelligently and meaningfully, and to be invited by them to respond to our own experience of God’s transforming presence. In this way we will reach the fullness of knowledge and understanding when we live by the realities to which the Scriptures witness.
Responding in faith, Christians read, reflect upon, teach and learn from Scripture, and the church is thereby guided in its worship, its doctrines, its interior life of prayer, and its mission of self-giving love and service in the world.
The Church is the community of those people who profess faith in the crucified and risen Jesus as the incarnate Son of God and are baptised in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, Christians have passed on this Good News and sought to live their lives according to the mission they have received from Jesus and his Gospel. Christians believe that the Spirit is constantly enlivening and guiding the Church and its members, giving new insight, discernment, and gifts to empower a response to the Gospel in every context. This experience of the constant presence of the Spirit in the life and history of the Church has led to the Catholic understanding of Tradition. Tradition is the ongoing work of the Spirit of Christ, and a gift entrusted to the Church for the sake of all humanity.
Tradition refers to the living faith expression of the Christian community, a faith believed, lived, celebrated, and communicated to others. Tradition is expressed in various ways: in the witness of the apostolic generation of the early Church; in the worship forms, preaching and sacramental rites of Christians in various cultures and societies; in the practices of reading and studying Scripture; in the formal definitions of Christian faith in creeds, doctrines, theological studies, and the teaching of the Magisterium; in the music, art and architecture of Christian cultures, in spiritual practices and traditions; in the lives and teachings of the saints; in the forms and traditions of religious life and married love. Tradition complements Scripture, and guards against interpretations that contradict the Church’s understanding of the Gospel.
As the Church community seeks to express its faith in every generation, to clarify its understanding of the meaning and implications of living the Gospel in a particular time and place, the Tradition is renewed and progresses in time. Tradition is a dynamic and interactive reality which brings forth the depth and meaning of all that the Church has received and hopes for in Christ and moves towards the fullness of truth in God’s kingdom (DV, n. 8). This great Tradition of the history of salvation (often represented with the upper-case ‘T’) can be distinguished from particular ecclesiastical traditions (with lower-case ‘t’) that arise in specific contexts for particular communities within the church (CCC, n. 83).
Scripture and Tradition, understood as ongoing and dynamic mediations of God’s dialogue with humanity, form and inform the Christian worldview and the Catholic intellectual tradition (O’Collins, 2016). It is from these that the discipline content of Religious Education arises.
Human Experience and the Gift of Creation
The response of human persons to the initiative of God’s loving self-communication is a constitutive element of the dynamic dialogue of revelation and faith. This response involves all the dimensions of human existence: intellectual, spiritual, emotional, bodily, relational, environmental and cultural. If the dialogue between God and humans is to be authentic, the response must be free, personal, and fully human. Humans’ awareness of themselves, and of the universe in which they exist, are fundamental experiences of the ‘hermeneutical space’ in which the divine Other can be encountered. Human persons experience both themselves and the cosmos of created reality not just as ‘things’, but as questions and, ultimately, gifts of meaning, purpose and love.
Human persons are characterised by the desire to know and understand. We seek to make meaning of things we see, hear, touch, taste and smell; of other people and our relations with them; of the universe in which we exist. We also desire to make meaning of things we cannot know through the senses: of love and hate, joy and sorrow, peace and turmoil. We enquire into experiences of wonder, love, life and death. Our quest for knowledge reaches beyond the natural order, extending to the limits of our capacity to understand.
Unique among creatures, as far as we are aware, human persons seek to know and to make meaning of the vast array of experiences arising from our own existence, experiences of sensation, affection, cognition, memory, imagination and creativity. We have a capability for self-reflective knowledge and learning to exercise this capability contributes to our sense of happiness and purpose in living.
Thus, human experience is recognised as a privileged locus of meaning, and of receiving and responding to God’s invitation to divine friendship in revelation. Guided by Scripture and Tradition, it is possible to reflect on all human experiences in a way that draws us into the larger reality of God’s creative action: the joy of friendship, the promptings of conscience, the search for truth, the bond of human solidarity, the wonder of childbirth, the cry of protest, the gift of intimacy, the freedom of decision. Some experiences question and challenge us: the pain of guilt and sin, the recognition of evil, the finality of death. Learning from the witness of other Christians, the believer reflects on all life’s experience in the light of the ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus and the action of the Holy Spirit (Gaudium et Spes, n. 22).
The Christian Tradition, among other religious and spiritual traditions, values the skills of self-reflection, and the context of solitude and silence, as prerequisites for the potential encounter with God in the depths of human personhood. The Tradition also witnesses to the awareness of God’s presence in interpersonal relationships and in acts of social engagement discerned in response to the Gospel. When this encounter with God takes place, humans experience a sense of fulfilment and satisfaction in regard to the meaningfulness of life. This encounter also gives rise to a sure hope for our ultimate destiny in the mystery of loving communion in God beyond death.
The Cosmos as Creation
Christians believe that the universe and everything that comes to exist within in it is created by God out of love, freely and willingly. ‘Creation’ is a theological term, pointing to the origins of existence in the free and loving act of God as Creator. All things, visible and invisible, stand in relation to God as their origin and source of life. The faith-claim that the cosmos is ‘created’ leaves open the scientific enquiry into the proximate causes of the emergence and history of the universe. Current Catholic teaching supports the evolutionary models of contemporary sciences, provided that these models are not closed to the question of transcendence (CCC, nn. 283-4). The Catholic position can be described as one of ‘theistic evolution.’ Christians profess their understanding of God as Creator when they recite the Creed in the liturgy: ‘I believe in God…maker of heaven and hearth, of all things seen and unseen.’ In the Judeo-Christian religions, humanity is understood to hold a particular role within creation, as the image, icon, or representative of the Creator, tasked with wise stewardship of the created world.
God is transcendent and beyond the order of existing realities but, with the eyes of faith, traces of the Creator’s presence and activity can be perceived in the cosmos and all it holds. The energy, creativity and beauty of the universe invite awareness of the mystery of life at the heart of all that exists (Ps 19:1). While facts of disease, death and decay, as well as natural events that are destructive of life, raise questions for believers about the goodness of God’s creative action, they nevertheless have a role in an emergent and contingent universe. Just as God is understood to be relational in the Trinity of divine Persons, so too is the universe relational. All inhabitants and life-forms of the universe are interconnected. The sum of this diversity witnesses to God’s continued presence and involvement in Creation.
Christians recognise that the cosmos comes to its highest expression in the person of Jesus Christ, God’s incarnate Word, through whom all things live and come into being (1 Cor 8:6). By the power of Jesus’ death and resurrection all Creation will be renewed, set free and brought to completion in him (Rom 8: 18-28). Enacted in his miracles, exemplified in his parables, and made known in his bodily resurrection, there is a dynamism within Creation that links the cosmos and God’s salvation closely together. With faith in the God who gives a new Creation, Christians look forward in hope to the new heavens and new earth, where sin, suffering and death will be no more (Rev 21: 1-7).
Understood as Creation, the cosmos leads humanity to God and to praise of God (Francis, 2015). God’s gift is immensely rich, and to love and respect its abundance and diversity is to worship God. To abuse or destroy the gift of created things is to frustrate the loving purposes of God in Creation. In the biblical narratives, the dominion over the created world given to humanity (Gen 1:28) is one of stewardship, of caring for the environment and making it fruitful in partnership with God. There can be no justice on earth without respect, love and care for the created world. Reverence for Creation is expressed in the Roman Liturgy when bread and wine, ‘fruit of the earth and work of human hands,’ are offered to God, are consecrated by God’s grace and the power of the Holy Spirit, and given to the assembly as communion in the Body and Blood of Christ, our food of everlasting life.
Primary Sources of Official Catholic Teaching
Discipline content in Religious Education in Catholic schools is informed and authorised by reference to relevant official documents of the teaching office (Magisterium) of the Church. Generally, these official documents are not intended for direct application to school-based curriculum, but provide a set of norms and criteria for the development of curriculum frameworks and key learning content in Religious Education.
❖ Documents of the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965)
The sixteen documents of Vatican II – 4 constitutions, 9 decrees, 3 declarations – represent the official teaching of the twenty-first and most recent Ecumenical Council of the Catholic Church, the most authoritative exercise of Church teaching by the world’s bishops in union with the Bishop of Rome, the Pope. These documents set out the Church’s official and authoritative understanding of matters including the nature of the Church itself, the Church’s liturgy, life and mission, the Catholic Church’s relations with other Christians, other religions, and with the contemporary culture (Hahnenberg, 2007).
❖ Catechism of the Catholic Church (1992)
At the request of the Synod of Bishops on the twentieth anniversary of the Second Vatican Council, a Catechism, or summary of official teaching, was developed to support the universal church’s ministry of teaching, catechesis and theological reflection. A revised edition of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) was published in 1997 and represents the official statement of Catholic doctrine on a wide range of topics concerning Catholic creed, worship, moral life and prayer. An edition of the Catechism in question-and-answer format oriented to young people, YouCat, was developed in 2010. The purpose of the CCC is not to replace local catechetical and educational materials, but ‘to encourage and assist in the writing of new local catechisms, which must take into account various situations and cultures, while carefully preserving the unity of faith and fidelity to Catholic doctrine’ (CCC, 1997, Intro.)
❖ General Directory for Catechesis (1997)
The Directory for Catechesis (GDC, 1997) outlines the ‘norms and criteria’ for the renewal of Religious Education and catechesis in the light of the Second Vatican Council that need to be undertaken at diocesan and regional level. The Directory sets out general principles for the structure, content and pedagogy of religious learning in Catholic parishes, schools and other ministries. It leaves to local authorities, the task of organising and sequencing the content of Catholic teaching in particular learning contexts, in keeping with two governing imperatives: the integrity of the Catholic teaching and the circumstances, prior knowledge, and development level of the learners.
❖ Directory for Catechesis (2020)
Published in 2020 by the Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelisation, the Directory for Catechesis builds on the 1997 General Directory to reflect the challenge of the ‘missionary option’ (Pope Francis) in the multicultural and multi-religious context of the global Church. The new Directory clearly locates the ministry of catechesis within the evangelising mission of the whole Church and of every baptised person. In each local context, believers are challenged to share with others their faith encounter with the living Lord in the midst of his body, the Church, through the most effective language and communication modes available, but also through close personal relationships of listening and sharing. The practical principles of witness, mercy and dialogue must inform all catechetical activity, including religious learning in Catholic schools.
❖ Documents of the Congregation for Catholic Education
The Vatican dicastery with responsibility for Catholic universities, schools and other educational institutes, publishes documents that provide international perspectives on the vision, mission and practices of Catholic education. Some documents that have had significant impact on the Australian Catholic schools are The Catholic School (1977), The Religious Dimension of Education in a Catholic School (1988), The Catholic School on the Threshold of the Third Millennium (1997), Educating Together in Catholic Schools: A Shared Mission between Consecrated Persons and the Lay Faithful (2007), Educating to Intercultural Dialogue in Catholic Schools: Living in Harmony for a Civilization of Love (2013), and Educating to Fraternal Humanism - Building a Civilization of Love (2017).
❖ National and Local Statements on Catholic Education
Through its Bishops Commission for Catholic Education, the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference oversees and supports the work of Catholic schools in the mission of the Catholic Church in Victoria. The National Catholic Education Commission is established by the ACBC to provide peak-body leadership and support to state and diocesan Catholic Education agencies. It has developed statements on the mission and character of Catholic schools, including recently A Framework for Formation for Mission in Catholic Education (NCEC, 2017a) and Framing Paper: Religious Education in Australian Catholic Schools (NCEC, 2017b). Bishops and Canonical Leaders approve Vision Statements, Strategic Plans and Religious Education Policies and Curriculum.
Interpreting and implementing documents of the Magisterium of the Church in the context of Catholic schooling and Religious Education, is the task of national and diocesan educational authorities working in collaboration with the Australian bishops and leaders of religious institutes.
Curriculum Content – Structure (Religious Education)
Classroom Religious Education aims to engage all participants in learning experiences that enable students to develop the knowledge, skills and attitudes needed to live meaningfully and act responsibly in relation to the religious traditions with which they and/or others identify. The content of Religious Education in Catholic Schools is structured by the narratives, symbols, lived witness and public expressions that constitute the Catholic Tradition, as the ‘host tradition’ from within which all learners are invited and challenged to enter into meaningful dialogue that promotes richer understanding and more conscious identification regarding each one’s faith-stance or worldview.
The Awakenings Religious Education Curriculum intends to engage learners in a ‘designated educative journey’ (GDC, n. 147) shaped by the content of the Catholic Christian Tradition. It makes use of educational research and the wisdom derived from good practice to present curriculum content in a sequenced, stage-appropriate continuum, so that the learner may be ‘an active subject, conscious and co-responsible, and not merely a silent and passive recipient’ (GDC, n. 167).
The content of the Awakenings Religious Education Curriculum is structured by the following content strands which reflect the major topics of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the General Directory for Catechesis, and the National Framing Paper on Religious Education (NCEC, 2017).
- Scripture, Israel and Jesus
- Church and Tradition
- Prayer, Liturgy and Sacraments
- Christian Ethics: Personal and Social
- God, Religion and Society
These strands are overlapping and interwoven in describing the key knowledge, understandings and practices of the Catholic Tradition and history. They outline the breadth of the Christian Tradition in all its dimensions, and of its vision of the human person integrally related to all reality, material and spiritual. They connect with other learning areas of the curriculum at the level of conceptual, historical, ethical, or cultural learning. Various generic skills, capabilities and dispositions are embedded in learning generated through the content strands.
Within each strand there are enduring understandings. An Enduring Understanding is the learning of the content in a way that has a lasting efficacy beyond the years of schooling. They are central to the Christian Tradition yet are transferable to life situations. The students come to understand the concept rather than the fact.
A brief description of the key knowledge content associated with each strand follows:
❖ Scripture, Israel and Jesus
The Scriptures are writings recognised by the Church as inspired by God and containing the truth necessary for our salvation. Consisting of the Hebrew Bible, intertestamental literature, the four gospels, and early Christian writings, they have been collected in two great libraries known commonly as the Old and New Testaments. They witness to the foundational events of God’s creating and redeeming relationship with the world, through the election and history of Israel and through the mission of Jesus Christ and the Church. The biblical writings tell that story in various literary forms: poetry, prose, law, history, epic narrative, letter and gospel. Through prayer and study, Christians engage with the Scriptural text as a means of encounter with the Triune God and as an authentic guide for faith and life.
Written by different human authors and in various circumstances, the Bible points to God who chose the Israelite nation for the sake of all nations, setting them free from slavery in Egypt and bringing them into the promised land. In covenantal love, God does not forsake the chosen people despite their infidelity. Even in exile God does not abandon them, but promises a new covenant. The New Testament witnesses to the fulfilment of this story in the person and ministry of Jesus Christ, his life, death and resurrection, in the Tradition and context of Second Temple Judaism. It reflects the faith of the early Church in its different communities as Christians experienced and proclaimed Jesus as Lord, alive and active among them in the power of the Holy Spirit. Over time, Christians came to profess and worship Jesus Christ as the Word of God incarnate, fully human and fully divine.
❖ Church and Tradition
The Church arises from the mission of Jesus Christ entrusted to the apostles in his death and resurrection. Through the gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost the early Christian community was empowered to continue that mission. The Church exists as a communion of those, living and dead, who have come to Christ in faith and been adopted in baptism as members of his Body, empowered by the Holy Spirit. In its various Christian denominations, the Church proclaims Jesus Christ, crucified and risen from the dead, as Lord of history and universal Saviour. Animated by the Spirit of the Risen Christ, the Church flows from the inner life of the Triune God, and exists as a sign of the loving communion of all peoples in God. It turns to Mary, the Mother of God, and the saints as examples of faith and self-giving love, and seeks their intercession that it may remain true to Christ’s call.
As the community of disciples, the Church is continually called to conversion and renewal, learning to hear and respond to the voice of its Lord in the concrete circumstances of its time. Though spread throughout the world, the Catholic Church is gathered in local communities around the bishops and united in a common faith around the successor of the apostle Peter, the bishop of Rome. In a ministry of service in faith, the Pope and bishops as pastors and servants of the Word, teach and interpret the Gospel message with authority. As the Church hands on its creed and teaching, liturgy and sacraments, ministries and service, a living Tradition continually recontextualises itself to make present God’s self-communication in every generation.
❖ Prayer, Liturgy and Sacraments
The Church recognises the presence of Christ and the Spirit at work in all creation. The Church itself a kind of sign of both human and divine realities, and the community of faith expresses and builds up the Christian life of its members by sacramental signs, through which believers participate in the gracious gift of God communicated by each Sacrament. Expressed in symbols drawn from the created world and human experience, the Sacraments conform Christians to the mystery of Christ’s life, death and resurrection when they participate in the sacramental rites. This participation is richer and more effective when the individual and assembly are conscious of the meaning conveyed by the liturgical rite, assisted by a period of spiritual preparation. Thus, the Christian life is realized as the believer is consecrated, nourished, sustained, forgiven, healed and called to loving service in committed relationships.
Liturgy is a structured pattern of ritual activity, including readings of Scripture, silence, music and song, processions and gestures, and other symbolic actions, which expresses and deepens the loving communication between the Triune God and the community of faith. Through liturgy, the Church expresses its nature and mission in the public sphere and invites all people to hear and respond to the Gospel. Other forms of personal and communal prayer reflect the varied circumstances and dimensions of a relationship with God. Prayer has been described as a conversation with God, in which there are moments of praise, wonder, thanksgiving, petition, intercession, sorrow, and searching. Jesus taught his disciples to pray and gave us the Lord’s Prayer as a model for our own prayer.
❖ Christian Ethics: Personal and Social
Religious communities which are founded on the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures find in them both the imperative and the guidance to discern ways of being and acting in the world which faithfully respond to the covenantal love of God. Catholic communities also find guidance for living and acting in the traditions of social and moral teaching that have arisen over centuries of Gospel-inspired practice. At the heart of the quest for authentic human flourishing is the Christian understanding of the dignity of human persons. Created in the image of God, persons experience themselves as free agents of thought and action, in relation with other persons and with the non-human environment. This quest involves the experience of human sinfulness and moral evil, and thus calls for the ongoing conversion of persons and cultural structures to the norms of the Gospel.
Christians collaborate with people of other religious and nonreligious worldviews to work for peace, justice and the common good of persons in society, as well as the promotion of stewardship for the environment. At the same time they witness before all people to the vision of God’s kingdom as Jesus lived it, and to practices of moral discernment motivated by God’s love for all, and guided by solidarity with others, especially those who are marginalized and most vulnerable in society. Christians wait in hope for God’s redeeming love to gather all Creation into the resurrection of Jesus, to participate in his glory beyond sickness, sin and death. This waiting is expressed in both prayer and action, in collaboration with the Spirit of God, leading to acts of healing, forgiveness, reconciliation and restoration.
❖ God, Religion and Society
Religion is a social and communal way of life, which emerges from the human search for meaning and is a response to a perceived ultimate or transcendent reality. It draws on authoritative teachings, stories, rituals, ethical norms, laws and spiritual experience to create a community, which in turn confers identity and purpose on its members. Australia is a country with its own Indigenous peoples who live in age-old spiritual closeness to the land and its dreaming. Australia is an increasingly diverse and pluralized society. Many ethnic communities have their own spirituality, customs and ways of life, often set within a particular religious tradition; some immigrants come from officially atheistic states. While Christianity in various denominations is the most represented religious tradition in Australia, other faiths are increasing as a percentage of the population.
In recent decades, a steadily increasing number of Australians indicate they have no religion. Many others live day to day without reference to a religious worldview. Various worldviews provide resources for purposeful and ethical living and motivate and guide personal and public life. In a pluralising and secular culture where people of many religious and nonreligious worldviews are in contact with each other, Christians, with a particular understanding of the God as the triune mystery of love, are challenged to find ways of respectful engagement with others that promote the common good of society as well as authentic human encounters that enhance and deepen each other’s personal self-awareness and dignity.
Level descriptors reflect the Strand specific enduring understandings by describing key knowledge and understandings aligned to levels of learning achievement. They explain the content to be taught and promote engagement in analysis, synthesis and evaluation.
Learning Processes indicate the rigour of learning necessary to ensure full expression of the content. It describes how students will engage with the key content within the level descriptor explored in the unit.
Achievement standards indicate the quality of learning (the extent of knowledge, the depth of understanding and the sophistication of skills) students should typically demonstrate by a particular point in their Religious Education.
General Curriculum Content – Stages
The Religious Education curriculum reflects of the Victorian Curriculum although differing in some respects such as stages of learning. Awakenings is organised across six bands plus post compulsory. Desired learning results, or achievement standards, are derived from the Religious Education content strands through level descriptors for each stage of schooling, which inform the curriculum design, planning and assessment strategies to be used at each level.
- Foundational Stage (Prep – Year 2)
- substantial attention to Religious Education in the learning and teaching program, drawing on content strands especially suited to the early years of learning
- Breadth Stage (Years 3 – 4; 5 – 6; 7 – 8)
- a Religious Education program that includes topics related to each strand over each two-year level of schooling
- opportunities may be found to develop learning goals that integrate knowledge, skills and dispositions in Religious Education with those of other curriculum areas, eg. History, Civics and Citizenship, the Arts, Health, Technology, as well as the capabilities
- Pathways Stage (Years 9 – 10)
- a Religious Education program that includes topics related to each strand over these years of schooling
- opportunities may be found to develop learning goals that integrate knowledge, skills and dispositions in Religious Education with those of other curriculum areas, eg. History, Civics and Citizenship, the Arts, Health, Technology, as well as the capabilities
- desired learning results that coordinate learning in Religious Education with activities outside the classroom, eg. community service programs, retreats and spiritual enrichment programs, participation in parish/congregational activities, may be explored
- where the Victorian Certificate of Applied Learning (VCAL) is offered as an alternative curriculum in Year 10, relevant content from the Religious Education strands should be introduced in the Work Related Skills and Personal Development Skills strands
- Years 11 – 12
- a planned program of Religious Education for all senior secondary students, adapted to the VCE, VCAL and VET pathways offered by the school, comprising both discipline content derived from the Religious Education strands or other approved curriculum, and personal and interpersonal human formation
- graduate attributes that identify a differentiated set of valued learning experiences that engage the individual faith stance and worldview of each student
Curriculum Content – Capabilities
In the Victorian Curriculum F – 10, a number of capabilities are identified that, while not disciplines in themselves, are essential to the achievement of life-long learning goals. ‘The capabilities are a set of discrete knowledge and skills, not a statement of pedagogies, and students benefit from explicit instruction in these areas’ (VCAA, 2015, p. 12). Therefore, they are presented as discreet learning areas in the curriculum for planning, assessment and reporting purposes.
- Critical and Creative Thinking
- questions and possibilities
- Personal and Social Capability
- Self-awareness and management
- Social awareness and management
- Ethical Understanding
- Understanding concepts
- Decision making and action
- Intercultural Understanding
- Cultural practices
- Cultural diversity
The Victorian Curriculum calls for ‘Learning about worldviews and religions’ which aims at helping students to ‘recognise and appreciate both areas of commonality and difference between diverse faith groups and secular perspectives’ (VCAA, 2015). Opportunities for learning about worldviews and religions are present in a range of learning areas and capabilities. The Victorian Curriculum recommends students have the opportunity to study at least one non-religious worldview and a range of religions.
The Awakenings Religious Education Curriculum recognises that there will be many points of intersection between the content and pedagogies of Religious Education, on the one hand, and that of the capabilities of Critical and Creative Thinking, Personal and Social Capability, Ethical and Intercultural Understanding on the other. It is in the interest of deep learning in both Religious Education and these general capabilities, that points of contact between them are identified and made visible in the learning process, and the capabilities are embedded and activated within the content and activities of the Religious Education curriculum.
Paying attention to these dispositional capabilities embedded in the curriculum content of Religious Education also allows the particular Catholic understanding and practice of the capabilities to be explored. The Catholic Tradition witnesses to a range of culturally diverse and skilled practices using the dispositions and capabilities of the spiritual life. The Awakenings Religious Education Curriculum identifies eighteen capabilities, with the knowledge that one’s spiritual life is not defined by, or limited to, a list of capacities (Catholic Education Ballarat, 2020).
❖ Approach with Openness
❖ Being Present
❖ Connecting with the Heart
❖ Deep Listening
❖ Deep Questioning
❖ Discern Hope
❖ Embracing Silence
❖ Engage with Mystery
❖ Explore Layers of Meaning
❖ Respond beyond Words
❖ Sitting with Ambiguity
❖ Wonder and Awe
These Spiritual Capabilities (although not assessed) contribute to the cognitive, practical and aesthetic learning in Religious Education. Recognising this spiritual depth of human development guards against a focus on generic human values removed from the fuller worldview of the Catholic Tradition. Therefore, the Religious Education Curriculum will be aware of the spiritual and transcendent dimensions of Critical and Creative Thinking, Personal and Social Capability, Ethical and Intercultural Understanding.
4.3 Pedagogy – the how of Religious Education
The General Directory for Catechesis states that classroom-based Religious Education should ‘appear as a scholastic discipline with the same systematic demands and the same rigour as other disciplines’ (n. 73). Therefore, the two guiding principles informing the pedagogical approach of the Awakenings Religious Education curriculum are:
- the theological and pedagogical principles of the Enhancing Catholic School Identity framework, and
- quality teaching and learning approaches based on contemporary educational research.
Since the dialogue of revelation and faith continues ‘uninterruptedly’ in the Church (DV, n. 8), and since the Tradition is a living and dynamic engagement with each context in which believers live, deepen and share their faith, the Catholic Tradition is called to an ongoing recontextualisation of its identity and mission. Recontextualisation is a fundamental characteristic of:
- the Tradition as a whole, in which local or temporary practices, devotions, rites, catechetical approaches, ecclesial movements emerge and recede as Christians respond in faith to the Gospel in their particular contexts
- Christian believers, who relate to Scripture and Tradition from within particular contexts in enquiring and reflective ways that give rise to personal meaning and motivation for particular responses
- the methodologies and pedagogies of religious learning, through which learners interact personally and meaningfully with the content of the Tradition, aware of the plurality of faith stances and worldviews practised in their contexts.
A recontextualising approach in Religious Education recognises and responds to the pluralising and detraditionalising social dynamics at work in the Australian context. It is no longer the case that Christian faith and self-identification will be institutionally and corporately transmitted to the next generation of Australians simply by virtue of family, ethnic, or denominational belonging. In this context, Christian faith formation requires intentional practices of engagement with a faith community and with the beliefs, rituals, and codes of behaviour that are particular to the Christian worldview. This is most effective in a dialogical encounter with Scripture and Tradition, in the awareness of other religious and nonreligious worldviews.
Recontextualising Christian faith and identity in a pluralising and secularising context, calls for a shift in Religious Education and faith formation from a pedagogy of transmission to a pedagogy of appropriation (Lombaerts, 2000). A hermeneutics of appropriation brings together a commitment to student agency in learning and a post-critical, hermeneutical approach in religious learning in the contemporary context.
A recontextualising approach in Religious Education flows from and fosters a post-critical belief style in learners, and in the Christian Tradition itself. The three other ‘types’ of the Post-Critical Belief Scale – literal belief, literal unbelief, and relativism – leave little or no role for recontextualisation. Literal faith seems to directly transmit pre-determined religious knowledge from one context to another; literal nonbelief regards religious knowledge as suspect or delusional; relativistic worldviews do not look beyond particular contexts to enquire about lived faith experience. By engaging in structured experiences of enquiring and respectful dialogue with one’s own worldview and those of others, a renewed and more fully-articulated commitment to one’s personal faith stance is fostered, as well as a generous receptivity to those whose views differ. A recontextualising approach in Religious Education responds to both the particularity of the Catholic Tradition and the plurality of religious and nonreligious worldviews lived out in the Australian context.
A key methodological feature of recontextualising pedagogies is the shift from a mono-correlational strategy of relating human experience and Christian tradition (faith and life) towards multi-correlational strategies that recognise and hold together both particularity and plurality. A multi-correlational approach draws on the increasingly diverse range of beliefs and worldviews that learners encounter in physical and digital environments. It engages these voices and draws them into dialogue around an essential question or rich understanding (McTighe & Wiggins, 2014) arising from the Catholic ‘host tradition’. It identifies a plurality of responses both with Christianity, and among religious and nonreligious worldviews. Becoming aware of the particularity of each faith stance, and its resonance and dissonance with other stances, the learner is challenged and extended in personal engagement and in acquiring new knowledge and skills in the religious domain. ‘The hermeneutical approach gives attention to the gap as well as the bridge between experience and tradition and it focusses on the multidimensional ways in which both experience and tradition may be interpreted’ (Dillen, 2008)T
Pollefeyt (2016) identifies five key criteria of effective recontextualisation, which can be summarised thus:
- identify a text of the Catholic Tradition (Scripture, creeds, liturgy, devotion, moral teaching, cultural artefacts, roles and ministries) and enquire about its place in the contemporary context
- identify the faith experience and witness expressed in the original text
- reflect on key features, values, implications of the plurality of worldviews in the new context
- engage in dialogue, bringing together the learners’ perspectives, the Catholic text, and the various other worldviews of the context, in critical and creative enquiry and understanding
- invite learners’ personal response to the new insights and understanding that are gained, applying them to real world contexts.
Religious Education calls learners into a task of recontextualising the foundational sources of faith traditions within the cultural and cosmological worldviews that operate in their current context. Only in this way can these foundational sources ‘speak’ in the contemporary context and continue to witness to the revelatory events they describe. In Catholic hermeneutics, the texts of Scripture and Tradition are at the same time historical records of lived faith experience and the means of religious encounter with the transcendent mystery of the Triune God (Schneiders, 1999).
So, both critical literary skills and religious awareness skills are needed in a recontextualising method of learning. This allows learners to explore and integrate both their difference/distance from religious texts, which arise from ancient cultures and others’ experience, and their presence/belonging to the texts, as learners respond to the faith witness of those sources in today’s context. This tension between belonging and distance characterises a hermeneutical approach to religious learning (Ricoeur, 1967).
A recontextualising approach is enacted through a variety of pedagogical methods and strategies used in designing learning tasks in Religious Education. These pedagogies are employed to promote learning outcomes that enable students to progress, in stage-appropriate ways, from a pre-critical, literalist way of engaging with religious knowledge to a post-critical, multi-dimensional interaction with the content of religious traditions. This progress is aligned with growth in critical thinking and interpreting skills in other curriculum areas, as well as students’ maturing reflective skills and spiritual awareness.
Recontextualising pedagogies promote critical thinking and reasoning skills together with openness to the transcendent and meaning-making experience conveyed by religious texts and Traditions. Naturally, this will lead to personalised learning journeys for each student as their religious or nonreligious worldview and experience becomes more reflective and articulated. It is in respectfully engaging divergent religious and nonreligious interpretations and experience that the dialogue approach to learning is most vital. In making use of a variety of pedagogical methods and approaches, teachers work together and with students, to ensure that the learning experiences they design genuinely enable a recontextualisation of Christian sources in the lived context of the students’ world.
In Catholic Religious Education, a recontextualising approach to pedagogy will:
- be founded on tested principles of effective student learning
- critically engage the content of the Catholic faith as the ‘host tradition’
- involve teachers and students in collaborative design of learning experiences and goals
- develop stage-appropriate open inquiry, critical thinking and creative reasoning skills
- promote capacities of reflective attention, spiritual awareness and personal meaning-making
- draw on teacher roles of witness, specialist and facilitator to ensure rich dialogue between learners, the Catholic Tradition and other religious and nonreligious worldviews
- be attentive to the experiences of self-reflection, personal identity and worldview formation that accompany religious learning
- equip and accompany the maturing of belief style of learners from a pre-critical naïveté to a reflective and textually-aware ‘second naïveté’ (Ricoeur, 1967).
Some key characteristics of recontextualising pedagogies are:
- Animated: subjects are active agents of their own learning: meaning makers, truth seekers, inquirers into their living story
- Dialogical: the communicative nature of the Catholic faith seeks to draw people into dialogue
- Contextual: drawing on the authentic context of the learner and what it offers to the dialogue as the locus of learning
- Multi-correlational: evoking, encouraging, confronting various world views, attending to otherness and difference
- Transformational: a life-long project of identity formation nurtured through encounter with the others, human and divine, and with the ‘otherness’ of the Catholic Tradition
- Intentional: teachers are key to creating an open, trusting and relational environment that nurtures dialogue through roles of witness, moderator, specialist, co-inquirer and designer.
Hermeneutical Pedagogy – Shared Christian Praxis adapted to Australian school students
In the Awakenings Religious Education Curriculum, the key pedagogical approach employed to facilitate a recontextualisation of the Christian Tradition in the learning experiences of Religious Education is Shared Christian Praxis (Groome, 1991), adapted for use in the Australian compulsory classroom. Shared Christian Praxis (SCP) is a ‘pedagogy of appropriation’ that envisages the learner as an ‘agent-subject’ of their own existence and learning. The learner enters more consciously and capably into their own subjectivity by reflecting on their current praxis of life, by interacting with meaningful worldviews and ways of life. Christian Scripture and Tradition is the key stimulus in this dialogue. The learner is invited to respond in new or deepened practices of knowing, acting and relating in the world. The focus of SCP is the whole learner, the one who thinks, feels, decides, relates, acts, and is always involved in making meaning of his or her life and its context.
- The term praxis refers to learners’ self-consciousness as agents, with the internal and external influences that motivate their way of being and acting in the world. It brings together active, reflective and creative aspects of learning. People engage in praxis when they name and reflect on what they think and do, and on what is happening around them, and make decisions of response for future action
- Praxis is shared when learners articulate and reflect together on their current experience, draw on the understandings, skills, and dispositions available from their worldview or religious tradition, and discern responses for future engagement. Praxis-based learning is a mutual partnership of active participation in dialogical encounters of meaning
- Praxis is Christian when the structured experiences of praxis-based learning arise from and engage with the understandings, practices and dispositions of the Christian Scripture and Tradition. In the classroom, it is presumed that there will be a range of stances toward the Catholic faith, yet all worldviews and faith commitments can be enhanced by shared learning through the curriculum of Religious Education.
In Awakenings, the pedagogy of SCP is critically adapted to the context of Australian classrooms, with their wide array of prior religious knowledge, faith stances within the Catholic Tradition, and other worldviews. SCP is based on the dynamic interrelationship of five pedagogical movements, introduced by a focussing activity:
- Focussing activity
- Critically Reflecting
- Accessing the Christian Story and Vision
- Understanding and Integrating
Although described in a logical sequence as outlined here, these movements of SCP should not be treated as a series of separate and independent steps. They have the character of the movements of a symphony or piece of choreography, ‘a free-flowing process to be orchestrated’ in which the movements ‘often overlap, recur, and recombine in other sequences’ (Groome, 1991, p. 146). While a particular learning strategy will highlight a particular movement, the other movements will also play a part, overlapping and blending in a dynamic process that enhances all learners’ journey of deeper learning.
While SCP is intended to be an approach to Religious Education that is suitable for all age levels, in all settings, and for all dimensions of Christian life, classroom Religious Education in a secularising and pluralising context such as Australia, requires a particular sensitivity to the diversity of worldviews and faith stances represented by students, their families, teachers and friends. Within the same classroom there may be students who are actively participating members of Catholic and other religious communities, and students who are causally indifferent, or angrily resistant, to religion or faith stances. In a pluralising context, pedagogies of presumed faith transmission and of uncritical literalism are ineffective and may even be damaging to the conscience and integrity of learners.
The Awakenings Religious Education Curriculum aligns the SCP pedagogy with the priorities of recontextualisation in the Australian cultural context. It presumes that learners in classroom Religious Education range widely along the two axes identified in the Post-Critical Belief Scale:
Therefore, in each of the movements of SCP, teachers will pay attention to articulating and leading learners into respectful dialogue about both:
- the plurality of worldviews, faith stances and believing styles with which students identify or are familiar from their world of meaning; this includes awareness of the diverse understandings and practices within the Christian Tradition itself
- the particularity of the Catholic worldview, its creeds, worship, ethical and spiritual practices, as lived by believers and communities within specific contexts; in a pluralising context, this faith commitment includes awareness of the contingent and personally-decisive character of a Christian faith stance.
Multi-correlational learning strategies at each stage of the SCP process will promote awareness of plurality and particularity and enhance deep learning and personal appropriation in each student’s own particular worldview through genuine dialogue with diverse religious and nonreligious faith stances.
|Shared Christian Praxis Movement||Recontextualisation Awareness|
|Focussing activity||A generative theme, symbol, provocation, or action is described that introduces, orients and motivates engagement with the topic of study; facilitates learners’ entry into the Naming movement.||Learners are challenged to contribute to identifying and investigating the generative theme, from the particular perspective of their own religious or nonreligious understanding and experience.|
|Naming||Through strategies of inquiry, learners identify and name knowledge, experiences, or personal and communal practices that relate to the topic/concept.||
Learners will vary significantly in knowledge and experience of Christian symbols and beliefs, rites, images, feasts and seasons;
learners will recognise various Christian, other religious, and secular ways of naming reality and life-experience.
|Reflecting Critically||Learners deepen their understanding of the topic through critical inquiry (reason), reflective analysis (memory), and creative application (imagination).||
By engaging critically with the topic, learners become aware of and articulate their own praxis and worldview;
through cooperative learning and dialogue with other worldviews, learners recognise differences in beliefs and commitments.
|Accessing Christian Story & Vision||Learners engage with beliefs, practices and behaviours of the Christian Tradition and worldview related to the topic/concept.||
Quality teaching resources and strategies are used to introduce learners to explicit content discipline of the Christian Tradition related to the topic/concept;
the teacher role of content specialist is a key aspect of the learning experience.
|Understanding & Integrating||Through critical and creative thinking, evaluation, and personal reflection learners express their enhanced understanding of the topic in the light of their understanding of the Christian Tradition and worldview.||
Learners will relate to the Christian Tradition from different standpoints: believing, seeking, indifferent, disbelieving;
dialogue with other worldviews highlights the particularity of Christian faith and practice;
learners are invited and challenged to a richer personal understanding of one’s own and others’ worldview;
the teacher roles of witness and moderator are key aspects of the learning experience
|Responding||Learners are invited to identify appropriate responses that apply their deeper understanding of the topic as part of their own worldview and life-purpose.||
Learners are challenged to make personal and collective responses that express free and authentic appropriation of personal meaning related to the topic/concept;
the particularity of personal responses is recognised and affirmed.
The movements of SCP may occur within one lesson or over an extended period, during the study of one unit of work or by the integration of several units. The overall praxis style informs teachers’ initiative in planning, designing and initiating the learning experience. In a sense, the teacher acts as a conductor drawing the different movements into a harmonious and unified field of sound.
The choice of learning and teaching strategies used to design effective and rich learning opportunities in each movement of SCP is not predetermined or fixed. Teachers are encouraged to explore a comprehensive range of strategies, to consider the evidence of research on quality teaching and learning, to build on knowledge of their students’ current level of achievement in Religious Education, and to work collaboratively with students and colleagues, to design learning experiences that promote deep understanding and increased post-critical religious literacy (Madden, 2017). Throughout this design process the placement of Spiritual Capabilities may be nuanced.
Quality Learning and Teaching
In Characteristics of a Highly Effective Catholic School (2018), Catholic Education Ballarat outlines a number of indicators of a quality learning and teaching program that are essential for effective learning in Religious Education:
- a guaranteed and viable curriculum
- an agreed curriculum that is current, relevant, needs based and rigorous
- the curriculum is vertically aligned so that there is continuity and progression across all years of school
- there is clear alignment between curriculum planning, teaching practices, and assessment of student learning
- curriculum is differentiated according to the learning needs of all students and allows for alternative educational pathways.
- effective teaching
- teachers set clear and rigorous expectations for all learners
- teachers know their students and what they know, how they learn, what they need to learn next, and what teaching will support that learning
- students are provided with a range of learning experiences that are purposeful and interrelated
- teachers effectively use explicit instruction to maximise student learning.
- engaging students in their own learning
- students are able to identify the value and purpose of learning
- students regularly identify their prior learning and set learning goals
- students receive timely and targeted feedback from teachers
- students have opportunities to share their learning with peers, teachers, and parents/carers.
- analysis and use of data
- student achievement data is used at all levels to identify and monitor student achievement and to map individual student and whole school learning trends to inform whole school annual action plans
- the school identifies appropriate starting points for learning for each student and is able to differentiate learning and teaching activities in order to meet the learning needs of all students
- teachers use formative and summative assessments to monitor and assess student learning and growth.
- coordinated strategies for intervention
- schools have in place agreed measures that allow for early and ongoing identification of students who require special consideration and further support with academic or behavioural learning
- practices are in place where targeted assessment data provides teachers with additional information to further direct adjustments to leaning and teaching
- decisions regarding appropriate intervention/s are made and resources to support the implementation of the Individualised Learning Plan or targeted instruction strategies are identified, including which staff will work with students.
4.4 Assessment and Reporting – the how well and where of learning in Religious Education
Assessment in Religious Education
The goal of planning, teaching and assessment is student achievement in learning; reporting is the communication of that achievement. Assessment and reporting in Religious Education are ways that students and teachers recognise and account for the progress that has been made in learning over a period of time. ‘Wherever a student starts from on the first day of the year, he or she deserves to have made a year’s worth of progress by the end of it’ (Goss & Hunter, 2015). Assessment is the process of gathering and interpreting evidence about student progress across a period of learning activity. As indicated in the Characteristics of a Highly Effective Catholic School, this evidence is used to enhance student learning through effective and targeted teaching strategies. Evidence of student learning is used:
- to design more effective learning goals
- to foster learner’s reflection on their own learning
- to indicate the level of achievement attained on the continuum of learning
- to raise awareness of the needs and aspirations of individual students
- to enable teachers to target the use of teaching strategies to learners’ needs
- to enable whole school improvement in curriculum design and delivery based on student learning needs
- to provide evidence for reporting student achievement to themselves, to parents and teachers.
A key role of assessment, including in Religious Education, is to enable teachers to target their teaching to the learning readiness of each student:
Teachers and schools can lift all students’ performance if they are equipped to
collect and use evidence of individual student achievement and progress. Working together, teachers should assess what each student knows now, target their teaching to what they are ready to learn next, and track each student’s progress over time. Teachers should then analyse their own
impact, keep what works and change what does not
(Goss & Hunter, 2015, p. 1).
Ongoing assessment based on evidence of student learning over time, mapped onto a clear continuum of learning in Religious Education, enables teachers to recognise and track the impact of their teaching on student learning in the Religious Education curriculum area, and to adapt and align their teaching strategies to the explicit learning readiness of each student.
Gathering and interpreting evidence of student evidence allows for timely, accurate, and relevant feedback to be communicated to both learners and teachers. ‘Of all of the influences on student learning, feedback is among the top-ranked – and this is also the case for teacher learning’ (Hattie, 2012, p. 185). The first aim of assessment is to improve student progress in learning, yet teachers’ reflection on the effectiveness of their teaching is a key means by which student learning is progressed.
Therefore, a range of assessment practices and interpretations are employed to improve targeted teaching and to maximise student progress in learning:
- assessment for learning (formative) is to ascertain a student’s prior knowledge, perceptions and misconceptions, and to monitor student learning progress. The evidence gained through these assessment tasks is used to inform and target teaching practice and curriculum planning in order to promote the student’s future learning and understanding
- assessment as learning (ongoing) focuses on ongoing constructive feedback from the teacher and peers in order to develop the learner’s capacity of self-assessment and goal-setting in their learning
- assessment of learning (summative) makes judgements about what and how well the student has achieved in learning in relation to the expectations of learning at a particular level.
Self-assessment and peer-assessment make important contributions to student learning, especially in the pedagogies of appropriation and dialogue preferred in Religious Education. Self-assessment involves students in reflecting on and taking some responsibility for their achievement in relation to the continuum of learning in Religious Education. For this to be effective, they need to understand the learning aims, including the openness to encounter through dialogue with others and with Scripture and Tradition, and to take note of what and how well they have achieved in new knowledge and skills, personal insights and meaning, greater appreciation of one’s own and others’ religious or nonreligious worldview.
Peer-assessment flourishes in a climate of cooperation, respectful dialogue and shared reflection and evaluation. It occurs best in a trusting and safe learning environment in which the teachers facilitate a process of guided interaction and critical questioning wherein learners provide appropriate feedback on a peer’s learning.
In Religious Education, which is designed to promote learning by encounter through dialogue, enacted in the movements of Shared Christian Praxis, all the dimensions of the human person are engaged and challenged with transformative learning. All aspects of learners’ knowledge and understanding, values and attitudes, skills and capacities, motivations and goals, interactions with others, spiritual experience and personal meaning, openness to transcendent encounter, and religious or nonreligious outlook on life, will be awakened and called into the learning environment. Evidence of learners’ progress in each movement of SCP – naming, critically reflecting, accessing Christian Tradition, understanding and integrating, and responding personally – can be observed and interpreted by students and teachers.
Assessment for learning in Religious Education will gather and interpret evidence that touches on all these personal, relational, spiritual and religious aspects of students’ experience in Religious Education. It is appropriate that feedback is given to students on the basis of the evidence the student produces, including in the areas of spiritual awareness, religious understanding, and personal worldview and sense of meaning. It is also appropriate that teachers use feedback from this student work to inform and target their teaching to students’ learning readiness.
However, in keeping with the practice of assessment and reporting on Religious Education in Australian Catholic schools, a student’s personal faith commitment, their participation in a faith community, or their nonreligious worldview, is not evaluated or interpreted in assessment of learning.
Reporting in Religious Education
Reporting is the communication of student achievement in learning, and the progress they have made in learning over time. It can be written or verbal, formal or informal. It may have a range of audiences – students themselves, parents/carers, school leaders and teachers, state and national education authorities, the wider community – and a number of purposes including that of public accountability. The format of reporting should be relevant to the purpose. It may take various forms:
❖ a written statement
❖ teacher-parent interview
❖ online portfolios of student work with annotation
❖ newsletters, websites and school annuals
❖ displays of student work.
A school must ensure that there is ongoing assessment, monitoring and recording of each student’s performance and provide each student and parent with access to accurate information about the student’s performance. In Victoria, schools are required to formally report student achievement and progress to parents/carers at least twice per school year for each student enrolled at the school. The report must be a written report (print or digital), be in an accessible form and be easy for parents/carers to understand (Victorian Department of Education, 2019).
In keeping with the Victorian Curriculum, schools have some flexibility in deciding how they report student progress in learning, what format is used for each curriculum area, and the frequency and timing of reports.
‘Schools are responsible for reporting student achievement against the content of the curriculum’ (VCAA, 2015, p. 30). In Religious Education, this means reporting of student achievement is aligned to the achievement standards in knowledge, skills and capabilities for each level of learning derived from the content strands and enduring understandings of the Awakenings Religious Education Curriculum.
‘The reporting of student achievement will be consistent with the proposals for curriculum provision’ (VCAA, 2015, p. 30). Victorian Catholic schools are to report student achievement in Religious Education to parents/carers twice a year using a five-point scale, or equivalent. A judgement of a student’s level of achievement is made against the achievement standards covered for that semester. Student achievement must comprise accurate, objective and balanced judgements of assessment evidence gathered from each strand taught during the semester (CECV, 2019).
Catechism of the Catholic Church. 1997. 2nd ed.
Catholic Education Ballarat. 2018. Characteristics of a Highly Effective Catholic School. https://ceob.edu.au/wp-content/uploads/Characteristics-of-a-Highly-Effective-Catholic-School_07NOV18.pdf
Catholic Education Ballarat. 2020. Awakenings – Spiritual Capabilities. Accessed 1 July 2020. https://awakenings.ceob.edu.au/spiritual-capabilities
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