Authentically engaging with the word of God
By Julia Guthrie
One of the most exciting movements currently gaining traction in education is the renewed focus on creating authentic readers through repeated exposure to pleasurable independent reading experiences. Proponents of independent reading, such as literacy experts Nancy Atwell and Donalyn Miller, argue that if we expect a child to read, we need to give them time to do it in class, choice of material, and instructional support.
My classroom was full of students who only read when pressed, but once I adopted this model, my poor library could scarcely keep up with my readers’ thirst for books! Reflecting on this success, I did what any teacher would do: I found myself wondering where else this method might work. The answer that I ultimately arrived at was in our religion class.
If your school is anything like mine, you have a religion textbook you are expected to follow faithfully. I understand the logic behind this. Standardization ensures that each year builds upon the last. But while my students were excelling in their religion tests, I found that they possessed very little knowledge of Scripture itself. And as a teacher with a poster in her classroom proudly proclaiming that my first goal is to get my students into heaven, I viewed this lack of intimacy with God’s word as a disaster.
To that end, my students and I began a project entitled #Scripture180. Similar to the #ClassroomBookaDayMovement which seeks to ensure that children are given the opportunity to have a new book read to them daily, this project’s goal is to make sure that we are reading Scripture in our own Bibles every day of the school year. We supplement this reading with a modified lectio divina, reflecting on and illustrating our favorite quotes. I support their progress by modeling my own faith life and sharing passages I have marked up in my Bible. And as I do in our reading classes, I coach them with strategies to help deepen their understanding of the text.
The results have been astonishing. We are now reading Scripture instead of reading about Scripture. My students interact more personally with the Bible in a way that models what their spiritual life might look like as adults. By putting in this time with God on a daily basis, my students now understand that they can do more than just listen to the word of God in church. They can (and should!) think deeply about it on days other than Sunday.
There is a popular saying in the independent reading community that no one ever learned to play an instrument by being lectured about it. In addition to having a proficient teacher, musicians need time to practice with their violin, their piano, their flute. Direct instruction about our faith will always have a very important place in the classroom. But let’s open our students up to the joy of Scripture by actually letting them read it.
Julia Guthrie teaches fourth grade at Notre Dame Academy in Palisades Park, New Jersey. She is currently serving as New Jersey’s 2018 Non-Public Teacher of the Year.
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