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From the Deputy Principal – Teaching & Learning, Ms Elizabeth Watson

Deputy Principal - Teaching & Learning, Ms Elizabeth Watson

Deputy Principal - Teaching & Learning, Ms Elizabeth Watson

Critical Thinking in Studies of Religion

Congratulations to Ms Martina Cooper and Ms Cath Stewart, who presented to their NSW peers at the 2023 Studies of Religion (SoR) Conference last week. Their focus area was developing critical thinking skills to achieve SoR outcomes in Buddhism. 

Ms Martina Cooper and Ms Catherine Stewart

Congratulations, Ms Martina Cooper and Ms Catherine Stewart

Ms Cooper and Ms Stewart are held in high esteem across the SoR and Education community. They are regularly invited to participate at inter-faith forums, present at conferences, contribute to papers and currently Ms Cooper is on the CSSA Trial HSC examination writing committee. Their knowledge, skill and leadership in the field of SoR is highly regarded, and is reflected in the outstanding HSC results that the RE faculty and their students consistently achieve each year. 

At this year’s conference, Ms Cooper and Ms Stewart highlighted the importance of students critically evaluating information and arguments; identifying patterns and making connections; constructing meaningful knowledge and applying it in real-world situations. They gave examples of how they enable their students to be co-creators of learning experiences and equip them with the skills to ethically leverage technology to generate significant lines of inquiry. (Pedagogies for Deep Learning, 2020).


As well as providing deep insight into the importance of the global competency of critical thinking, they shared two exemplary Stage 6 Assessment tasks to demonstrate how students can write higher-order responses to HSC questions. They highlighted successful strategies for students such as, engaging with the stimulus, using relevant terminology, using contemporary examples, ensuring the living religious tradition of Buddhism is evident and producing analytic responses rather than narrative responses. 


They closed their presentation by highlighting the importance of encouraging students to write by hand. There is a large volume of research that supports the benefits of writing by hand. For example, Psychology Today’s (2021) paper on “Why Handwriting Encourages Better and Faster Learning” asserts that “the use of pen and paper gives the brain more ‘hooks’ to hang your memories on. Writing by hand creates much more activity in the sensorimotor parts of the brain,” senior author Audrey van der Meer said in an October 2020 news release. “A lot of senses are activated by pressing the pen on paper, seeing the letters you write, and hearing the sound you make while writing. These sensory experiences create contact between different parts of the brain and open the brain up for learning. We both learn better and remember better.”

Waverley students sitting exams

I recently spoke to our Year 12 students on this very topic. We know that Trial and HSC examinations require candidates to write quickly and legibly. An average student ought to be able to write in the vicinity of 2,500 words in a two-hour examination. It is essential that they build their handwriting capacity and stamina if they are to produce work under examination conditions that truly reflects their ability and knowledge.

I read an article by a physiotherapist who said that attaching weights or batteries to the end of a pen in the weeks leading up to an examination is unlikely to be efficacious, but that regularly writing using pen and paper for the next six months is the only way to develop this critical motor skill.

Congratulations once again to Ms Cooper and Ms Stewart for their outstanding contributions to the SoR, Education and Waverley community.