Islam in RE; follow-up

This post is specifically of interest to participants of the two pilots of “Islam in RE; Religious literacy and Controversy through Enquiry” in the University of East Anglia and the Institute of Education. Please find a list of the CLIPs available for download here (a password has been provided to you by mail). In the public eCL newsletter library, you will also find a  detailed  description of Catch-1-Partner and the many variations on this CLIP. Being a bit of a visual learner myself, I’ve conjured up a mindmap that shows the variations graphically. All as PDF. For more on the method, search for the key words “NHSG” and all posts filed under “workshop.” Team 1 IoE During the IoE course, I focused a great deal on using Cooperative Learning as a tool to provide a safe environment for enquiry. Mostly in relation to the students, but as teachers, we potentially put our jobs on the line by approaching poisinous topics; it only takes one pupil’s comment out of context to his parents and the school head gets a call about bigotry or liberal indoctrination, as the case may be. Therefore, the afternoon module included a section on using Cooperative Learning as shield  between the teacher and controversial content being discussed. You will find a great deal of reflections on this in posts mentioned below. Also, the concept is discussed, albeit in the context of ESL, in the newletter eCL#2: The Teacher is a Ghost.

“There are many CLIPs I intend to incorporate into my teaching … a fully engaging approach.”

Hannah Hunter, RE teacher, Queensmead School, London

“Islam in RE,” IoE, 22 July 2014

That brings me to our  plenum discussion on our own fears of being manipulators rather than guides; the concern of one participant that we may not in fact be facilitating independent thinking and personal integrity, but rather using a staged free thinking process to arrive at specific goals, as outlined by government. The dangers of top-down identity management has been thoroughly discussed in several posts, notablyDeradicalisation; it’s not about what you do, it’s about who you are and Deradicalisation#2; “Salvation in this life” based on Mohammad Elshimi’s brilliant presentation at Edinburgh University.  Also see Christian-centred, atheism-centred… or just Student-Centred? Making RE relevant at allas well as a host of other topics. But also, I think any teacher sees sheer treason inherent in  giving the children a false impression of what free thinking is – aside from the dishonesty, the uncertain high-speed future needs real critical thinking, not a tick-box mock-up. I pointed out some of this at the recent IEC conference seminar – more on this later, as I find time.

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Great event; lousy afterparty

Some reflections on Cooperative Learning in the UK

Thanks to the engagement of a very heterogenous group of participants, we had a successful event at the IoE and very positive feedback from RE teachers who were out to make a difference.

However, my joy at the awareness that “Islam in RE” is now ready for national roll-out in September was somewhat dampened in a certain large and well-renowned bookstore just down the road from the IoE main entrance.

Confident that I could saunter into this literary (and stylish) equivalent of a Virgin Megastore and browse a wealth of books on the top floor devoted exclusively  to education, I asked to be pointed to the shelf dedicated to the didactic method called Cooperative Learning. “What? What did you call it Didactic…?” After a bit of waffling about, we got the spelling right. “No, we don’t have anything on that topic.”

I gazed hopefully  down the series of linked rooms with 100.000+ books on education and proposed looking up “collaborative” learning. More typing. “Ah – here it is!” I got ready to follow the lady to the relevant section of shelves and prepare to sit down in one of those comfy leather chairs scattered about flanked by a large handpicked stack , skimming and scanning as if picking out so much candy. Maybe even an original copy of Slavins 1990 classic “Cooperative Learning: Theory, Research, and Practice“…?

No such luck – “Here it is” was literally “Here it is” - It being this book,  whipped out from a pile stashed under the counter:


Whether this 366 page tome of statistical evidence and reflections on various schools of thought is a good book is not the issue here.*

My point is that if I can’t find a single book on Cooperative Learning as a distinct didactic method  a stone’s throw from an institution whose main entrance flies banners boasting its new status as the world’s leading university for education… well, it was a bit of a rude awakening, actually.

But, looking at the bright side: This is a splendidly isolated virgin island; with some really excellent teachers looking for tools to reboot the system. Maybe things are not so bad.

More on the course later, lesson plans to participants en route later in the week. is the business end of

Collaborative Learning in Mathematics: A Challenge to Our Beliefs and Practices is definitely on my reading list; worth commenting more on this in a later post.  Stay updated on twitter.



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“Islam in RE…”; UKIP in RE? Dealing with non-PC views

From “Islam in RE: Religious Literacy and Controversy through Enquiry”

Discussing terrorism, jihad and Islamist “supremacy doctrines” in RE, you confidently explain:

“… it is just a small fringe minority of extremist…”

However, Bobby, one of your more astute students, comes back with:

“The Muslim Brotherhood is the largest Islamic organization of any kind in the world. That makes it mainstream. Not fringe. The Brotherhood’s goal is to make the whole world submit to Islamic law. (…) They have a long-range plan and they’ve been putting it into effect for over twenty years. This is not guesswork. Their documents have been seized in FBI raids. One such raid recently led to the prosecution of members of the Holy Land Foundation…”*

Bobby even directs you and all his classmates to an exiting website from which he has taken this text and a host of other information which don’t sit well with REs role of contributing to well-being and community cohesion by “promoting mutual respect and tolerance in a diverse society” (Religious education in English schools: Non‑statutory guidance 2010, p. 7).

Soon, every pupil with a mobile (i.e. every pupil in the school) has had a look at the website, and the two Muslims students in your class are getting pressured for answers. You are getting calls from your local UKIP representative congratulating you on your courage. Head’s not too happy though. Etc.

face to face UKIP

Oi! Where’s UKIP in RE??

In the upcoming London course “Islam in RE: Religious Literacy & Enquiry through Controversy” we are going to work with critical statements from Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Ibn Warraq (Author od Why I am not a Muslim) on Islam and misogynism, as well as some valid criticism from the ultra-right in relation to immigration.

We are going to discover how Cooperative Learning allows working with these “non-PC” viewpoints and how these can in fact contribute to developing pupils’ “reflection on and response to their own and others’ experiences in the light of their learning about religion and develops pupils’ skills of application, interpretation and evaluation of what they learn about religion.”

Especially we are going to look at how the social contructivism inherent in Cooperative Learning helps pupils develop and communicate their own ideas, particularly in relation to questions of identity and belonging, meaning, purpose and truth, and values and commitments, as outlined in Religious education – The non-statutory national framework (p.11).


“Cooperative Learning has been a valuable learning experience, which I will use in working with teachers. …encourages participants to actively listen to each other … provided a way to engage in controversy within a safe social environment.”

Kevin Blogg, Norfolk County Council, Norfolk SACRE,
“Islam in RE: Religious Litteracy and Controversy through Enquiry” 
University of East Anglia, June 26, 2014.

“Islam in RE: Religious Literacy and Controversy through Enquiry” takes place at the Institute of Education, London, 22 July, 2014, full day CPD course. Read more. Book at

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* Bobby got this from

Image from cover of “Face to Face and Side by Side – A framework for partnership in our
multi faith society”

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Institute of Education, London: “Islam in RE: Religious Literacy and Controversy through Enquiry”

Missed the Norwich Pilot? Our new course is now available at the Institute of Education, London: full day, 22 July, 2014, Institute of Education, London.

Book now on



“Islam in RE: Religious Litteracy and Controversy through Enquiry” is a teaching program for all educators and researchers interested in Islam and in the future role of Religious Education in relation to SMSC (Social, Moral, Spiritual and Cultural Education) at Primary and Secondary level as well as tertiary practitioners in RE and related Humanities subject areas.


Open the PDF invitation in your browser

lille pdf

As always, the Cooperative Learning techniques demonstrated can be utilised immediately with no change to materials or lesson plans and are transferable to other religions and topics.

“…thanks for next year’s lesson plan.”

- D. Clark, Wayland Academy, Norfolk,  
“Islam in RE: Religious Litteracy and Controversy through Enquiry” 
University of East Anglia, June 26, 2014.

Islam in RE: Religious Literacy & Controversy through Enquiry facilitates the best practice outlined in Ofsted’s RE report Realising the Potential and gives each teacher the confidence to teach the Islamic component of the Religious Education in English schools: Non‑statutory Guidance 2010 in depth.

Due to the nature of the content this course is open to the tertiary sector for networking, research and collaborative purposes; members of Ofsted, SACREs, exam boards and Department of Education shall also be represented. Anyone from the above group must secure their place immediately by mailing me directly at

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Islam in RE#3 & Norwich High School for Girls#5

A combined description of last weeks event at University of East Anglia and Norwich High School for Girls Stage 4: Create cross-class teams – continued from previous post. See overview of NHSG lesson plan here.

After having each read the materials and given an oral presentations summarizing their knowledge to their teammates, we now want to distribute all this knowledge across the class.

Notice the vital point that you may choose whether to give each team materials grouped in themes, as was the case in Norwich City High School for Girls, or whether you want to just hand out random materials, so all teams get access to a variety of information. The second means less preparation of materials, as you may feed anything to anybody.

If materials are very difficult, it is even possible to give each team the exact same material (i.e. every team of four gets four identical texts), so that when students holding similar texts convene, there is a greater chance that key points will register, as each student presents his unique take and negotiates the importance. Here is how it works:

Speed reversed Jigsaw Puzzle

Readers familiar with the this classic Cooperative Learning technique, the Jigsaw Puzzle, will recognize this as a reversed up-tempo version.  It is often attributed to social psychologist Elliot Aronson, who designed it to help weaken racial cliques in forcibly integrated schools in the US in the early 70s.

In the classic Jigsaw Puzzle, each student’s “piece” is essential for the completion and full understanding. If each student’s part is essential, then each student is essential; and that is precisely what makes this strategy so effective.



As in normal Jigsaw, students in this stage of Islam in RE and the NHSG workshop are members of two different  teams: home team and expert team (In NHSG called Theme Teams). But rather than being assigned different topics in the home team and then fanning out to form the expert teams only to return home at the end, I had them start out in the expert team, and then fanned them out to form teams in which to share their knowledge.

This  reversed version saves a step by  instantly forming expert teams. Nevertheless, the individual responsibility  is not compromised; each student is still accountable for presenting her Theme Team’s findings  once she is in the mixed team. This is a useful time saver.

Who goes where

The class management is the key to Cooperative Learning; one might say that’s all there is to it. You want your classroom to run like a well-oiled engine, so interaction facilitates learning instead of blocking it.

The simplest way, and a classic in Jigsaw strategy, is colour coding or numbering the materials. All reds or ones, go here, all blues or twos go here, etc. However, what if materials are not categorised, or you start out in the expert team, so everyone in the team has the same information from the outset. In Norwich High school, the six Theme Teams had a host of random texts to choose from, so colour coding here would not work.

The simplest way is this:

Puzzle redistribution


Regardless of materials or number of students, this creates new teams. Note that this way of distributing students is an informal way to share knowledge, in the sense that if you have more than four teams of four student, as was the case in NHSG and most classes across the country, every bit of information will not reach every student. This is a decision that must be made in advance when choosing the distribution method.

Participants of  Islam in RE at the UEA, saw both methods; in the afternoon,  each team was handed four colour coded texts with key-terms on the four elements of SMSC, Social, Moral, Spiritual and Cultural education. Here, there was exact information that needed to be distributed across class, to make sure all participants were on the same page for Module B on Controversy through Enquiry regardless of professional background.

By simply assigning a specific table to each “colour” redistribution of pupils took about 60 seconds. A hint in expert teams is that they should not be more than four, so if you have more than four home teams, its better to make several expert teams of 3 dealing with the same text, than few of 5 or 6 or 7.

Information sharing

Once out in the new teams, student repeat the CLIP Word-Round, exactly as in the original team. But now, each presents ALL information picked up in previous team rather than his own.  In NHSG International Players and Politics met Traditional Islamic Education met Modern Education in the Middle East met Syria – history, education, sects and politics.

In the morning session in Islam in RE, students were not coming from theme-based team, all were tasked with looking for the same information in various texts.


It’s always a good idea to make sure there is extra material available, so if one student gets completely bogged down or if one is particularly fast, there is always an alternative to keep her occupied. Also, making students aware of the importance of skimming and scanning, rather than attempting to engage in extensive reading.

Extensive reading and Cooperative Learning is another ball-game altogether. A simply way is to employ one of the above forms of Jigsaw a couple of times, so they know the level of responsibility they face, and then let them prepare the material at home. Arriving in class, they form expert teams and simply present findings as exemplified in stage 5.

Next up is finally the promise post on using the Communal Spider Diagram, which was employed in both types of teams at NHSG.

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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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