In a reconceptualist approach, the classroom religion program becomes a primary arena for dealing with the critical religious issues and concerns of life. There are three key considerations for teachers using this approach: the Avoidance of Presumptive Language, Teaching 'about' the Tradition and Powerful Pedagogies.
In a reconceptualist approach, teachers avoid using presumptive language and do not start with assumptions about students' faith development based upon their particular religious affiliation. It is preferable that teachers use language that is invitational and educational to better engage students in the religion classroom. Students who can readily identify themselves as Catholics are affirmed by this approach. Further, when using non-presumptive language, teachers provide students with the freedom to respond in ways that do not assume a programmed response (Brennan and Ryan, 1996).
A reconceptualist approach to teaching religion entails “exploring the meaning of one's own religious life in relation to both those who share that life and those who do not" (Scott, 1984, p.334). This educational focus requires a critical appreciation of one's own religious tradition and an empathetic understanding of the religious beliefs and practices of others. A reconceptualist classroom is not simply a place for transferring facts and knowledge. Nor is it merely a phenomenology or a values driven philosophy of religion.
In teaching about the Catholic Christian tradition, teachers of religion give witness to the value they place on their personal religious beliefs as much by the authenticity of the teaching processes they employ, as by who they are as people of faith.
A reconceptualist approach requires powerful pedagogies (the practice of teaching) that engage students with the richest resources of the tradition. The pedagogical practices embedded in the Brisbane Catholic Education Model of Pedagogy (2012) are consistent with a reconceptualist approach to the teaching of religion. Five practices provide a common language for planning and reflecting on learning and teaching in the religion classroom: focusing on learners and their learning; establishing clear learning intentions and success criteria; activating multiple ways of knowing, interacting and opportunities to construct knowledge; responding with feedback to move learning forward; and evaluating learning with students as activators of their own learning and resources for others.
The study of scripture in a classroom context takes the reader into the world of Jewish and Christian believers. Teachers need to develop reading and interpretation skills to appreciate the understandings of God and religious experience that are presented in Biblical texts. The Catholic approach to interpreting scripture is summed up in the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
In Sacred Scripture, God speaks to the person in a human way. To interpret Scripture correctly, the reader must be attentive to what the human authors truly wanted to affirm and to what God wanted to reveal to us by their words (n.109)
In order to discover the sacred author's intention, the reader must take into account the conditions of their time and culture, the literary genres in use at that time, and the modes of feeling, speaking and narrating then current.
The Bible is firmly grounded in history; in the history of the Jewish people, the historical events surrounding Jesus of Nazareth and the history of the early Christian communities. However, at no time do Biblical authors claim to present objective history. Each book in the Old and New Testaments has been written from the bias of faith. The aim was never to write history but rather “to proclaim the wonders that God has worked in the midst of people and to interpret those events so that others might have faith" (Stead, 1996). Ordinary, everyday language is inadequate for such a task, so the Biblical authors made extensive use of symbol, metaphor and imagery. Therefore, for the teacher and student of scripture the question is not, 'Did this (event) really happen?' but rather, 'What does this text mean?' All teaching of scripture proceeds from a clear understanding that the Bible is theological interpretation of, and reflection on, historical realities and faith experiences. Catholics do not read scripture from a fundamentalist understanding. Such an approach begins with the view that the Bible, being the inspired Word of God, is error free, historically accurate and therefore should be read and interpreted literally in all its details. This is not the approach taken in the Catholic Church or in the religion classroom. Rather, the Catholic Church's understanding of scripture accepts the Bible as the inspired Word of God and as the work of human authors who were conditioned by their time, place, culture and worldview. Teachers avoid teaching something that has to be untaught at a later time.