Investigating Teaching and Assessment Practices in Religious Education: Perceptions of Teachers and Leaders in Catholic schools in Western Australia.

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Abstract

This paper presents preliminary findings from research designed to investigate and describe the perceptions that Catholic school-based teachers and leaders have about teaching and assessment practices in Religious Education. The General Research Question is: How do Catholic school-based teachers and leaders perceive teaching and assessment practices in Religious Education? This question addresses a research problem that identifies a need to explore the extent to which alignment exists between policy expectations and school-based practices in Religious Education in Catholic schools in Western Australia.

Literature and research about Religious Education identifies the influence that ecclesial, educational and societal factors have had on Religious Education curricula over time (Moran, 2016; National Catholic Education Commission [NCEC], 2018; Scott, 2015). In Australia, such factors have led to the adoption of different approaches to Religious Education (NCEC, 2018; Ryan, 2013). In Western Australia, the four diocesan bishops are unified in their approach (Catholic Education Commission of Western Australia [CECWA], 2009; Holohan, 1999). The bishops expect Religious Education to be treated as a priority learning area in Catholic schools and the mandated content to be taught with the same rigour as other learning areas (CECWA, 2009; 2013). Despite this unified approach, the extent to which an alignment exists between policy expectations and school-based practices is not well understood (Poncini, 2018) but are further clarified through the findings in this paper.

An exploratory mixed methods design, specifically a “concurrent embedded design” (Creswell & Plano Clark, 2010, p. 91) was used to address the research problem that led to the findings. This particular mixed methods design draws on the interpretivist worldview whereby the primary source of data was qualitative (Creswell & Plano Clark, 2010). The secondary quantitative data source is nested or embedded within this primary method (Creswell, 2009). The dominant nature of the qualitative method (Merriam, 2009) helped the researchers to investigate how the participants’ interpreted, constructed and made meaning from their experiences (Bogdan & Biklen, 2003; Cowling & Lawson, 2016; Creswell, 2009) as teachers and leaders of Catholic schools in Western Australia. The quantitative method of data collection and analysis used in the research support the internal generalisability of the qualitative methods of data collection and analysis by helping to readily identify patterns in the quantitative findings that may not have been evident in the qualitative findings (Creswell & Plano Clark, 2010; Maxwell, 2010). The quantitative and qualitative data was collected from teachers and leaders enrolled in postgraduate studies in early 2020 using an online questionnaire.

The research findings in this paper support the G.R.A.C.E. initiative. Firstly, the findings build on the premise that the teaching of Religious Education in Catholic education is grounded within the evangelising mission of the Catholic Church (Mark 16:15; Matthew 28:20; Vatican Council II, 1965, para. 2). As an educational activity and form of evangelisation, Religious Education focuses on teaching the knowledge of the Catholic Faith Tradition (Congregation for Catholic Education, 1988, paras. 69, 70). Religious Education is one way a Catholic school works towards achieving the mission of evangelisation (CECWA, 2009) by preparing students to encounter God and God’s grace. That is, Religious Education “is already a work of grace” (Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1997, para. 2001). Secondly, the findings build on scholarly work from Western Australian (Hackett, 2018; Poncini, 2018), Australia (Rymarz and Hyde, 2013; Ryan, 2013) and internationally (Freathy, Parker, Schweitzer & Simojoki, 2016; Gellel & Buchanan, 2015; McKinney & Sullivan, 2013) about Religious Education. This endorses further exploration and evaluation of the educational dimension of Religious Education. Such scholarly work is critical to personal and professional dialogue and reflection that promote learning that eventually always leads to grace.

 

Investigating Teaching and Assessment Practices in Religious Education: Perceptions of Teachers and Leaders in Catholic schools in Western Australia.

This paper presents preliminary findings from research designed to investigate and describe the perceptions that Catholic school-based teachers and leaders have about teaching and assessment practices in Religious Education. The General Research Question is: How do Catholic school-based teachers and leaders perceive teaching and assessment practices in Religious Education? This question addresses a research problem that identifies a need to explore the extent to which alignment exists between policy expectations and school-based practices in Religious Education in Catholic schools in Western Australia.

Literature and research about Religious Education identifies the influence that ecclesial, educational and societal factors have had on Religious Education curricula over time (Moran, 2016; National Catholic Education Commission [NCEC], 2018; Scott, 2015). In Australia, such factors have led to the adoption of different approaches to Religious Education (NCEC, 2018; Ryan, 2013). In Western Australia, the four diocesan bishops are unified in their approach (Catholic Education Commission of Western Australia [CECWA], 2009; Holohan, 1999). The bishops expect Religious Education to be treated as a priority learning area in Catholic schools and the mandated content to be taught with the same rigour as other learning areas (CECWA, 2009; 2013). Despite this unified approach, the extent to which an alignment exists between policy expectations and school-based practices is not well understood (Poncini, 2018) but are further clarified through the findings in this paper.

An exploratory mixed methods design, specifically a “concurrent embedded design” (Creswell & Plano Clark, 2010, p. 91) was used to address the research problem that led to the findings. This particular mixed methods design draws on the interpretivist worldview whereby the primary source of data was qualitative (Creswell & Plano Clark, 2010). The secondary quantitative data source is nested or embedded within this primary method (Creswell, 2009). The dominant nature of the qualitative method (Merriam, 2009) helped the researchers to investigate how the participants’ interpreted, constructed and made meaning from their experiences (Bogdan & Biklen, 2003; Cowling & Lawson, 2016; Creswell, 2009) as teachers and leaders of Catholic schools in Western Australia. The quantitative method of data collection and analysis used in the research support the internal generalisability of the qualitative methods of data collection and analysis by helping to readily identify patterns in the quantitative findings that may not have been evident in the qualitative findings (Creswell & Plano Clark, 2010; Maxwell, 2010). The quantitative and qualitative data was collected from teachers and leaders enrolled in postgraduate studies in early 2020 using an online questionnaire.

The research findings in this paper support the G.R.A.C.E. initiative. Firstly, the findings build on the premise that the teaching of Religious Education in Catholic education is grounded within the evangelising mission of the Catholic Church (Mark 16:15; Matthew 28:20; Vatican Council II, 1965, para. 2). As an educational activity and form of evangelisation, Religious Education focuses on teaching the knowledge of the Catholic Faith Tradition (Congregation for Catholic Education, 1988, paras. 69, 70). Religious Education is one way a Catholic school works towards achieving the mission of evangelisation (CECWA, 2009) by preparing students to encounter God and God’s grace. That is, Religious Education “is already a work of grace” (Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1997, para. 2001). Secondly, the findings build on scholarly work from Western Australian (Hackett, 2018; Poncini, 2018), Australia (Rymarz and Hyde, 2013; Ryan, 2013) and internationally (Freathy, Parker, Schweitzer & Simojoki, 2016; Gellel & Buchanan, 2015; McKinney & Sullivan, 2013) about Religious Education. This endorses further exploration and evaluation of the educational dimension of Religious Education. Such scholarly work is critical to personal and professional dialogue and reflection that promote learning that eventually always leads to grace.