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Designing for Learning


The following draft material is provided for your use as we renew the Religious Education Curriculum Framework.


Learning in a Catholic school takes place in a learning community where parents, leaders, teachers and students come together with a common vision for learning that is dynamic, transformative and hope-filled. This vision for learning is brought to life by a disposition for openness to encounter. Encounter is the space where the other reveals the presence of Christ (Horizon of Hope: Pedagogy, p.5). This space of encounter is intentionally prepared in designing for learning.

Pedagogy of Encounter

As teachers and leaders, as you come to awareness of Christ in your own and your students’ lives, a new pedagogy emerges – a pedagogy of encounter. A pedagogy of encounter acknowledges the grace of God at work in the teachings of the Church, in learning relationships, and particularly in dialogue. It asks you, as teachers, to create opportunities for dialogue that use the Catholic Tradition as a point of concrete reference with what matters most in the minds and hearts of the students and the big questions of life and culture. (Congregation for the Clergy 1997. p. 167 General Directory).  A pedagogy of encounter invites a humble, listening attitude that allows students’ stories to enrich the Catholic Tradition itself. A pedagogy of encounter is an optimistic pedagogy, one that opens up horizons of hope for the future for the individual learner, the school community and the Church.


Pedagogy of encounter is relational. It requires learning relationships and classroom environments that promote student ownership of their learning, and time for respectful and substantive conversations with and between learners. In this space, learners bring an openness to being transformed by encounter with Christ and the Church through the other. As teachers and leaders, you enhance your awareness of respectful learning relationships and your intentional engagement as witness through regular personal prayer and self-reflection. A prayerful, ethical stance nurtures deeper connectedness and heightened awareness of encounter.


For all learners, a disposition of openness to encounter is vital to engagement in Religious Education:

  • encounter with creation that inspires awe and wonder
  • encounter with the word of God, whose Spirit moves and transforms
  • encounter with a faith community that celebrates and lives out the ongoing presence of Christ in the world
  • encounter with diverse views and cultures that shake and shift perspective
  • encounter with the other, who calls for a response of compassion and love.


The person of the teacher is integral to the project of learning through encounter. As teachers, you ask the big questions of God and life, you listen deeply to your learners and their issues, you offer guidance and explore possibilities, you acknowledge and assent to the Spirit at work in this space and you look with hope to a future not your own. Pope Francis speaks to educators about their pivotal role in challenging and guiding learners: 


My question to you, as educators, is this: Do you watch over your students, helping them to develop a critical sense, an open mind capable of caring for today’s world? A spirit capable of seeking new answers to the varied challenges that society sets before us? Are you able to encourage them not to disregard the world around them? Does our life, with its uncertainties, mysteries and questions, find a place in the university curriculum or different academic activities? Do we enable and support a constructive debate which fosters dialogue in the pursuit of a more humane world? (Pope Francis’ address to educators, students 2015) 


Discussion questions

What does this quote from Pope Francis ask of you as a member of a Catholic learning community? What might this mean in your context? 


Planning in Religious Education

A whole-school approach to planning for rich student learning is encouraged in Catholic schools. This collegial approach attends to teacher professional learning through dialogue and provides opportunity for deep engagement with the religious dimension of learning, encouraging teacher faith formation as an ongoing focus. Two resources have been developed to support teachers to collaboratively plan for a challenging, dialogic approach to learning and teaching in Religious Education. They are the Teacher Dialogue Tool and the Pedagogy of Encounter Diagram.


The Teacher Dialogue Tool (see Appendix 2) has been designed to support you to plan collaboratively for a relational approach in Religious Education. It features a range of questions to prompt you to think deeply about the religious issues and concepts underpinning a unit of learning before planning a learning pathway for students. It focuses on teacher dialogue as an opportunity for faith formation in a safe environment which allows you to consider your own stance and understanding and reflect on ways to initiate dialogue with students. In dialogue with your colleagues and listening to the voices of students on the issues of our times, you are supported to prepare incisive questions and design provocations to challenge thinking and deepen learning.


The Pedagogy of Encounter diagram (see overpage) illustrates one way in which you, as teachers, may design learning that invites dialogue, deep thinking and engagement with the Catholic story. The diagram offers key questions in five areas that engage the voice of the learner in deep dialogue with the Catholic Tradition: 

  • What do I think and sense?
  • What do others think and why?
  • What does the Church teach and why?
  • How am I called into deeper relationship with others and God?
  • What do I think now and why?


In this way, it assists you, as teachers, in:

Providing a systematic and sustained engagement with Catholic beliefs and teachings… engaging students with Catholic beliefs and values without imposing these beliefs on the students… creating spaces where the students feel free to share their own understandings and viewpoints, even as they engage with the Catholic story (Sharkey 2015, p. 29).


Discussion questions

What is important to pay attention to in the student and in myself as learners? What do I intend for my students? How do life, creativity and spirituality find a place in the curriculum?

How might I recognise encounter? How might I facilitate encounter?


Religious Education and the Victorian Curriculum

When you design learning for students, you are mindful that the process of Religious Education develops transferable skills, such as the ability to:


  • ask deep questions
  • critically analyse and interpret sources
  • consider context
  • respect and explain different perspectives
  • develop and substantiate interpretations
  • communicate effectively.


This creates opportunities for integrating Religious Education and the Victorian Curriculum, in particular through the four capabilities in the Victorian Curriculum F–10: Critical and Creative Thinking; Ethical; Intercultural; Personal and Social.


These capabilities are a set of discrete knowledge and skills that can and should be taught explicitly in and through the learning areas, but are not fully defined by any of the learning areas or disciplines (Victorian Curriculum F–10, 2016).


In Catholic schools, this means that the capabilities should be taught in and through Religious Education, as in other learning areas. The Religious Education Curriculum Framework may in fact enrich the content of the capabilities of the Victorian Curriculum with a Catholic perspective. As teachers, you will need to discern the best way to empower learners to make the connections between the knowledge and skills of the capabilities and their application in religious learning.

Concepts can be used to develop religious understandings and make connections with other learning areas in the Victorian Curriculum, creating authentic learning.  These connections serve to deepen learning in other learning areas through engagement with the rich religious understandings that are inherent in the concepts. Key concepts should be broad enough to connect with issues and big ideas that impact on students’ lives and engage them in relevant and deep questions. Such concepts include, but are not restricted to: Change, Systems, Identity and Diversity, Sustainability, Wellbeing, Relationships, Decision-making, Belonging, Right Relationship, Freedom, Responsibility, Integrity of Creation, Hope, Justice, Liberation.


Time Allocation

To ensure rigorous engagement with deep learning, time allocation for Religious Education as a discipline should be equivalent to the time given to other humanities disciplines at the school. (General Directory for Catechesis, Number 73).


While Religious Education is recognised as a cross-curricular area of learning, it is recommended that adequate attention to the Religious Education curriculum requires an allocation of no less than 2.5 hours per week in primary schools and in secondary schools from Levels 7–10. 


Guidelines for Levels 11 and 12

In Levels 11 and 12, it is recommended that school-based Religious Education classes be continued for all students, regardless of their enrolment in VCE Texts & Traditions or Religion & Society, or whether they are undertaking VCAL. The structures of such classes will vary between schools; however, the time allocation should be the equivalent of one hour per week (20 hours per semester), regardless of structures chosen. Some options may include: class time using To Know, Worship and Love texts: Catholic Studies and Ethical Thinking, seminar-style sessions, on-site or off-site retreats, guest speakers and reflection, dialogue sessions, excursions and immersion-learning opportunities.


The learning descriptors for Levels 11 and 12 may serve to provide a rigorous focus for any or all of these programs. The achievement standards will enable you to make accurate judgements about the progress of student learning within the school-based Religious Education programs, to provide clear and informative feedback to students and parents about the learning. 


Discussion questions

What structures are in place at your school to provide adequate time for rigorous engagement with Religious Education?