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The Value of All Voices

I think we often discount what our students can bring to the table. I try to espouse at the beginning of the school year that my students’ voices are just as important as scholars who exegete biblical texts for a living. And I try to embody that by having them analyze texts in class and commenting on those texts.

Last Friday, my 12th graders and I were examining Luke 24 in light of the religious dimension of biblical texts using a thinking routine called “Sentence, Phrase, Word.” After all my students completed the routine in their groups, I had them share with the larger group those sentences, phrases, and words that made an impact on them as individuals before they shared what themes they determined they saw within the narrative.

One student identified Luke 24:51 as a sentence/phrase that impacted her: “…[Jesus]…was carried up into heaven.” The reason it impacted her so was that it reminded her of what a minister said at a funeral service she had recently attended. He talked about a father carrying his child in his arms and laying the child in his bed, comparing that with God carrying the loved one who had just passed away into heaven, just as Jesus was carried into heaven. When she talked about it, I became a bit emotional because my father passed away last year, and I immediately thought of him. What she shared wasn’t necessarily “scholarly” or “academic,” but it had real life application – to me.

We as teachers often talk about how we want students to be apply what we teach to their lives. And while my student was able to make a real-life connection, I was able to enter that space, unintentionally, and make a very emotional connection as well. And it was one which was special and tender. I’ll never forget that. I shared what I was feeling with my class, so that they would know that what they share is important and valuable, that I wasn’t paying them lip service by saying, “every person’s voice means something.”

What if I had not assigned the “Sentence, Phrase, Word”? I think my students would’ve missed out on some great analysis. I would’ve missed out too.

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