The Wall of Wisdom
by Anne Krisman
Head of RE, Little Heath School*, Redbridge
(Source: RE Today magazine, Summer 1999 edition)
The quietest voices can be the most powerful, and the strongest ideas can be the simplest ones. The Wall of Wisdom began as a way of celebrating the deep thoughts expressed by my special needs pupils in RE lessons. I was concerned that their astonishing statements and questions would just float away in the intensity of a lesson, or that they would stay as jottings in my records.
Whenever I heard a fascinating comment or question, I wrote it down on a speech bubble made out of card, and dated it. The bubble went on a wall – the Wall of Wisdom. The Wall soon became a colourful focus for the classroom.
As a result of this activity, my pupils began to evaluate their own comments in discussion, 'Was that good enough for the Wall?' several have asked. Others, after hearing a fascinating remark from their classmate, demand that it goes up on the Wall. They all find reading difficult, but they are drawn to the speech bubbles and enjoy reading them through.
The meaning of the Wall goes beyond a recording exercise. It says clearly to pupils that they can participate in the world of religion and human experience and that they are experts in the story of their own lives. My pupils have trodden the path through difficulty and struggle, as many religious figures have done before them. We can listen and learn from them.
Many RE teachers I speak to are enchanted with the idea. A growing number are using this technique in their rooms as a way of recognising the depth and quality of pupils' comments about religion and human experience. I suspect that one day all RE rooms will have their Wall of Wisdom – and I feel rather proud that it all started with my special school pupils.
The Wall of Wisdom has its focus on oracy – but how do we record events that are beyond words? I remember the time when Jagjot, seeing the Chanukah candles, drew the light over his head, in a Hindu prayer gesture. When Lopa pressed a picture of Ganesha, cut out from a magazine, into my hand. When Faisal came back from Mecca clutching a prayer mat, which he had remembered to bring back for us, even though his father had died there. These, for me, are Sparks of Life. I am sure that, very soon, you will see these memorable moments recorded on flame shapes in our classroom, to warm our heart and our spirit.
*Little Heath School is a secondary school for pupils with moderate learning difficulties. It won a special Farmington Award for 'excellence in the teaching of RE to special needs pupils' in 1997. Anne was based at the University of Warwick studying RE and special needs during her Farmington Fellowship term in Autumn 1997.
With thanks to CEM for permission to reprint this article on the Redbridge RE Network website.