St Chad's

Can experiential learning alter pre-conceived perceptions of Islam?

St Chads Catholic & Church of England High School, Runcorn

I began my research for REQM in April 2014.

St.Chad’s is a mixed school in Runcorn, a town close to Liverpool. The school is described as mainly White British with around 5% of pupils coming from an ethnic background (Ofsted 2011.) It is a joint Catholic and Church of England secondary school, with Christianity as the main religion of study in RE lessons, and a half term dedicated, each year to Judaism, Islam and Hinduism for years 7,8 and 9.

Following on from teaching a unit “Welcoming the stranger” to my year 8 classes, where the focus is on Christian teachings on loving your neighbour, with an emphasis on the teachings of the Good Samaritan, I found that many of the pupils did view themselves as “other” to people from different races, religions and cultures. I was left wondering if pupils were actually being given enough opportunity to immerse themselves into other cultures and religions, with mainly class room based learning about other religions. When I was presented with the opportunity to carry out research for the REQM, I decided to explore this issue further and investigate whether pupils could change their perceptions if they were allowed to experience other religions and cultures for themselves.

I decided to ask the question: Can experiential learning alter pre-conceived perceptions of Islam? working with a lower ability year 8 class, I set out to answer this question in three stages.

  1. The first stage of the research was classroom based, and consisted of diagnostic assessment of pupil perceptions of Islam. During this stage pupils learning consisted of learning about Islam, such as the origins of Islam, the mosque, and certain Islamic festivals. Pupils also began to complete a reflective diary on their experiences, and feelings about Muslims and Islamic culture. I then went on to combine the Face to Faith programme, which emphasises respectful dialogue, and effective questioning, with Sue Phillip’s “Theatre of Learning”, where the pupils were enabled to build a trusting, confidential learning environment, where no question was out of bounds.
  2. The second stage of the enquiry was to visit the Al Rahma Mosque in Liverpool, where we were welcomed by Faiza Asaly, who offered an insight into Islamic life and culture in Britain. Pupils were armed with questions that they had prepared, in line with Face to Faith respectful dialogue. Faiza also made it clear that no question was out of bounds. This proved a great success and pupils embraced the opportunity to ask questions that they may not have had the confidence to do at the beginning of our study of Islam. They were also enabled to witness some Islamic rituals and were encouraged to dress in traditional Islamic clothing. Following this visit, the pupil reflective diaries provided some interesting insights, into changing pupil perceptions of Islam.
  3. The third stage of enquiry was to have a live video conference with Muslims from a school in Pakistan - "The Pearl Institute".  This was through the Face to Faith programme and took place in mid-July at the beginning of Ramadan. It was an excellent opportunity, for our pupils to really enquire about the difficulties of fasting and getting through daily tasks during this time. Pupils demonstrated great confidence and took real ownership of their learning, when preparing for this.

The reflective diaries that pupils completed enabled me to see that experiential learning proved to be a really effective pedagogy especially when teaching pupils about other world faiths that they may not necessarily come in to contact with on a daily basis. For the year 8 pupils at St. Chad’s, their preconceived ideas about Islam did appear to change and the pupils learning became really enjoyable and insightful. There was also a marked increase in their results during an end of unit assessment. Pupils included a lot of what they had experienced,into their assessment. At St. Chad’s we plan to implement reflective diaries into the scheme of work, "Welcoming the stranger", and when studying other world faiths. The opportunity to engage with other cultures and become more reflective has greatly enhanced pupil understanding and will become an annual event for KS3 pupils.

Nicola McGrath