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New RE Handbook for Primary Education

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Challenge of change in the Netherlands

 

 Johan Valstar – School of Education Windesheim

 

Introduction

In contrast with other countries such as Germany and the United Kingdom, the Netherlands has no leading pedagogic institutes, where experts engage in systematic research on the theoretical aspects of religious education. It is mainly the textbook publishers who steer religious education in primary schools – a practice totally at odds with the principle that teachers should be responsible for the religious education of students entrusted to their care. A critical look at the approaches of teacher educators in The Netherlands usually reveals that most of them are based on subjective concepts. There are very few references to a consistent underlying theory. This is hardly surprising, given that didactic training concepts could not exactly be characterized as one of the strengths of religious education in the Netherlands. We do, however, find such concepts in the work of the Tübinger theorists, Karl Ernst Nipkow and Friedrich Schweitzer, the developers of the Elementarisation Model. It has its origins in the educational theories of Wolfgang Klafki and serves as a frame of reference in religious education in Germany. Richard - Cover V&O.jpgThe Tübinger approach is also discernible as an important reference in the works of the teacher educator Petra Freudenberger-Lötz (2003, 2007). She has specialized in fundamental concerns of upcoming primary school teachers, such as: pedagogical sensibility, didactic creativity and, not at least, elementary knowledge of and insight into theology. In her experimental workshops teachers learn to develop this complex set of competencies in an integral way. A central point of focus is the quintessential question: how to engage children in theological conversations.

 

Obviously, teacher trainers in the Netherlands might gain some conceptual inspiration from the expertise that has been developed by their German counterparts. This supposition has meanwhile been confirmed in the recently published Dutch RE Handbook Verwonderen & Ontdekken (‘Amazing & Discovery’).

 

 V&O Guiding themes

Every teacher training methodology has a characteristic profile. As an orientation, we present below in short seven aspects which collectively characterize the methodology of Verwonderen & Ontdekken.

 

- Personal development and identity formation

Teachers who have been well trained for their educational and didactic role can make an invaluable contribution to the personal development and identity formation of their pupils, especially if they create a varied, challenging and high-quality teaching and learning environment. Attention to the development of the pupils as well as the didactic development of their teachers is therefore one of the main themes of Verwonderen & Ontdekken.

 

 - Engagement and fascination

A second theme is the creation of learning environments that allow explorations by the learners. These environments need as such to be rich in incentives. Incentives are understood as the diverse concrete stimuli that engage and fascinate the pupils. They may consist, for example, of stories, images, objects and puzzles, designed to arouse the pupils’ interest and curiosity and to encourage them to ask questions. When pupils take an interest in and ask questions about what is happening in the learning environment, they can actually discover new perspectives and interpretations of reality.

 

- Developmental approach

Explicit development-oriented attention for the learning activities and individual learning processes of the pupils is the third theme of Verwonderen & Ontdekken. It is characterized by, amongst others, cooperative learning, investigative learning (e.g. theological discourses with children) and other meaningful learning activities. The teacher acts from three complementary professional roles in the various learning and teaching activities and brings structure and support to the learning process (see also below the educational role of the teacher).

 

- The Reciprocal Disclosure principle

Theme number four explores the domain-specific interaction between the direct experiences of the pupils and elementary experiences from religious tradition(s). The interaction between ‘the world then’ and ‘the world now’ is based on the dynamic principle of ‘reciprocal disclosure’. The reciprocal disclosure between ‘then’ and ‘now’ and the subsequent discovery of new approaches to perceived reality can help pupils to acquire a better understanding of their own motives and those of others. This theme presupposes that pupils have a right, on the one hand, to a perspective on their own ideological and religious tradition, and on the other hand, to an encounter with other ideological and religious traditions which are important in their own circle and also in the broader context of Dutch society.

 

- Elementarisation as a multi-pointed compass

The application of the Elementarisation Model is the fifth theme. This model serves as a multi-pointed compass with six key perspectives on the preparation, execution and evaluation of didactic learning processes. As mentioned, it is based on the ideas of Klafki, Nipkow, Schweitzer and Freudenberger-Lötz.

 Elementarisation-Model.jpg

In Verwonderen & Ontdekken earlier versions of the model are adapted to fit in with the teaching methods in primary schools and the practices at teacher training college. The Dutch version of the Elementarisation Model is geared essentially to engaging the pupils in discourses. The purpose of these discourses – also known as theological discourses, or simply: ‘Theologizing with Children’ – is to help pupils, under the pedagogic guidance of their teachers, to discover new perspectives and find possible answers to their own questions.

 

- Conceptual integration

Domain-specific knowledge needs to presented and learned in a realistic context of primary education, i.e. settings and applications that would normally involve that knowledge. The three basic concepts of Reciprocal Disclosure, Elementarisation and Theologizing with Children do justice in an integrated and coherent manner to the pedagogic interaction between teachers and pupils in matters of religious education. This is the sixth theme in Verwonderen & Ontdekken.

 

- Educational role of the teacher

The seventh theme is quickly summed up. Verwonderen & Ontdekken accords the teacher a crucial role in religious education. He or she faces essential questions such as: ‘Where can you as an (upcoming) teacher get inspiration?’ And: ‘How far do you as a teacher feel responsive to the needs of your pupils in the religious domain?’ The mere recognition of these needs implies, first of all, a basic ability to listen carefully to the own pupils. An integrated process involving observation, interpretation and the coaching of pupils in their development form part of the basic intentions of Verwonderen & Ontdekken.

 

V&O Website

The V&O Website (www.verwonderenenontdekken.nl ) offers an assignment and learning environment to complement the theory in the handbookl. The site can be accessed by (upcoming) teachers, teacher trainers and other interested parties. It will be developed in association with other teacher trainers and primary school teachers from September 2008 and should be ready for use by 1 January 2009.

 

 

References

Freudenberger-Lötz, P. (2003) Religiöse Bildung in der neuen Schuleingangsstufe. Religionspädagogische und grundschulpädagogische Perspektiven (Dissertatie). Stuttgart.

Freudenberger-Lötz, P. (2007) Theologische Gespräche mit Kindern. Untersuchungen zur Professionalisierung Studierender und Anstöße zu forschendem Lernen im Religionsunterricht. Stuttgart.

Klafki, W. (1964). Das pädagogische Problem des Elementaren und die Theorie der kategorialen Bildung. Weinheim, 1964.

Kuindersma, H. & Valstar, J. (2007). Religious Education in the Netherlands. A focus on the educational quality. In: Religious Education in Europe. Kay, A., Schreiner, P., Kraft, F. (Eds.) Münster .

Nipkow, K. E. (2005) Pädagogik und Religionspädagogik zum Neuen Jahrhundert, Bd. 1. Gütersloh.

Schweitzer, F. (2000). Elementarisierung als religionspädagogische Aufgabe. Erfahrungen und Perspektiven. In: Zeitschrift für Pädagogik und Theologie. (52). Themenheft Elementarisierung.

Schweitzer, F.(2005) Das Recht des Kindes auf Religion. Ermutigungen für Eltern und Erzieher, Gütersloh.

Oberthür, R. (2000). Kindern das Wort geben. In: In: Zeitschrift für Pädagogik und Theologie. (52). Themenheft Elementarisierung.

Valstar, J.G. & Kuindersma, H. (Eds.) (2008) Verwonderen & Ontdekken, Vakdidactiek godsdienst Primair onderwijs. Uitgeverij NZV Kwintessens Amersfoort.

 About the author:

Drs. Johan Valstar is senior teacher educator at the School of Education / Christelijke Hogeschool Windesheim. As a PhD-er at VU - Windesheim University he is exploring didactic innovations in religious education.

 

Info: J.G. Valstar, School of Education, Christelijke Hogeschool Windesheim, Campus 2 – 6, 8017 CA Zwolle, The Netherlands.

Telephone: +31 (0)38 4604939; E-mail: jgvalstar@gmail.com