Develop great learning habits and expand learners’ knowledge of today’s spiritual landscape, with this intriguing lesson from Craig Wright…
Why teach this?
This lesson aims to breathe new life into religious education by harnessing the power of mystery and developing independence and metacognition in learners. Moving away from the traditional six world faiths, the session explores the foundations of a modern day religion through one central big question ‘how can two girls change the world?’
As a secondary school RE teacher, I often find that whilst the country’s biggest religions are largely well understood by teachers, those outside of this are all too often disregarded, despite their relevance to hundreds of thousands of pupils across the country. The 2011 census, for example, saw a 79% increase in the number of Spiritualists in the UK over the last decade; surely it’s crucial that we equip our learners to understand ‘new’ or ‘modern’ religions just as much as the traditional big six world faiths? Modern Spiritualism was founded in 1848 when the two Fox sisters claimed to be facilitating communication with spirits of people who had died in Hydesville, New York. It attracted notable followers such as Arthur Conan Doyle and even sparked interest from Queen Victoria and Charles Dickens – and is now said to be the eighth largest religion in Britain.
The lesson is based on Guy Claxton’s Building Learning Power theory, which is all about creating a culture in classrooms that helps young people become better learners, both in school and out. Centred around one question – ‘how can two girls change the world?’ – the learning habits developed in the lesson include ‘collaboration’ to solve the mystery of the Fox sisters, and ‘use questioning’ to consider the lesson’s big questions and discover the story of Hydesville. As an introduction, when your students enter the classroom, a picture of the Hydesville cottage, the family home of the Fox sisters, should be clearly displayed on the board and on print-outs on desks. Leaners are asked to imagine what has happened in the house and generate theories as to why it may be the subject of study. After a few minutes of working together, you should begin to collate ideas. It is a good idea to record these somewhere – on the board or on sticky notes that can be referred to throughout the lesson. Learners are not expected to know anything at all at this stage; it is about generating interest and intrigue, engaging them properly and measuring the starting points.
Once students have begun to consider the goings on in the Hydesville cottage, you should introduce the big question and learning objectives for the day and explain to the pupils that they will be solving the mystery of the Hydesville cottage. To do this there will be three rounds of card activities, which will build up knowledge and understanding. The first set of cards will contain picture clues: the Fox sisters, a map of the New York area, the cottage, some passers-by etc. Learners are asked to start ordering the cards to discover the story. The second round of cards contain paragraphs of texts detailing parts of a ‘rapping’ evening; learners are encouraged to make links between what they are reading and the pictures from the previous round. The third and final round presents an array of ‘witness statements’, which can give a broad opinion of the Fox sisters and the Hydesville story – again learners are asked to fit these alongside the cards from the previous rounds, to support their evaluation skills.
Together, learners clarify through discussion what happened at Hydesville and begin to consider why it is important for Spiritualists. Consider using prompts or images to structure the discussion. For example, can students make links between different images to fully explain the story of Hydesville?
Learners are then shown an image of the Fox sisters in 1848. Introduce the big question again and discuss with the class: can two girls change the world? Explore the lives of other remarkable individuals who brought about change in their teenage years and collate the ideas on the main board. To further develop the discussion, use maps of the world showing the spread of Spiritualism today and the UK census data that shows the number of Spiritualists compared to other ‘minority religious groups’. As well as the global spread of Spiritualism, learners could reflect on their own local community or area and discover whether they have a local Spiritualist church or Lyceum.
Encourage students to consider learning habits that they have used throughout the lesson.
As the religion became more widely established, a set of principles, now known as the Seven Principles of Spiritualism, were developed. Using the Seven Principles fact sheet (snu.org.uk), encourage pupils to sort them and sit them alongside their meaning. Consider which principle they feel matters the most and why. Which principle would be most difficult to live by and why? Finally, ask pupils to work in groups to create a colourful and striking poster that shows one or more of the principles in action in the world today.
One of my favourite plenaries involves using exit cards that ask pupils to reflect on their progress throughout the lesson. You could ask students to use a ‘PEE’ paragraph (point-evidence-explain) in their evaluation to boost literacy skills.
Encourage them to identify which ‘learning habits’ they have boosted during the session. For example, ‘Today I have used questioning. I did this by asking my classmates what they thought happened at Hydesville. I think I used questioning well because it helped me to uncover the story of how Spiritualism began.’
The Spiritualist’s National Union (SNU) holds charitable status in the uk and has been legally recognised by the home office since 1939 as an appointing body for spiritualist ministers. The SNU has developed a comprehensive pack for secondary school teachers containing a full range of leaflets, lesson ideas and a book on spiritualist philosophy. The pack is free and suitable for primary and secondary teachers. it is available from snu.org.uk
About our expert
Craig Wright is a teacher of RE & sociology at Park View School in Chester-Le-Street, County Durham. Follow him on twitter @cwright2209