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Engagement, Opinion

Honouring Student Voice and Experience

How one teacher invites students to reflect meaningfully on their lives

Alex and I are sitting in her nook, a softly lit corner of the school she has made her own with lamps, a colourful throw rug, coffee machine and a laptop. It is a creative space – a place to design learning of a most powerful sort: personalized. 

A few months ago she invited me into this space to talk about an idea that had been peculating.

“I want them to use poetry to explore their lives – all the stages of life,” she said, her hands moving in an arc to demonstrate the enormity of life’s ebb and flow.

I nodded, happy that other people get excited about poetry too, but not yet totally understanding her idea.

“We’ll start with toddlerhood – and then move through childhood, teenagedom, adulthood, and aging – the whole circle of life,” she said. 

Now we are sitting in her nook reflecting on her unit thus far. She has collaborated on it with our colleague  Greg Elliott and as a result of her idea and their creativity, students have written poems and studied poetry while studying themselves.

This unit reminds me of an English professor who I once asked a question that had been frustrating me throughout the reading of what I found to be confoundingly boring 17th century literature: “What is the point of studying literature?” I had demanded. “We aren’t doing anything important with this – we aren’t curing cancer or anything – we read books and analyze them.”

He turned to me, book in hand and, I kid you not, moved his black rimmed glasses so they perched at the end of his nose, raised his eyebrows just a titch, and said, “Brooke, we don’t analyze the good books – the good ones analyze us.”

Oh.

Now, here I sit with his words made real in Alex’s classroom. Alex is using poetry to ask her students about their lives. In her classroom, poetry humanizes each student to the other, the teacher to her students, the students to the teacher. 

“The texts have created a safe space for us to look at ourselves and each other,” Alex reflects. “You learn that you’re all learning how to get through life – with some literary devices thrown in.”

If you’d like to talk with Alex about her unit or have any questions, she’d be happy to hear from you at athureau@sd45.bc.ca.