Contextualizing Community in Teacher Bible Talk

Mar. 26, 2013

Source: Journal of Jewish Education, 79:1, 4-23


In this article, Sharon Avni argues that educators need to understand the construct of belongingness and how it is enacted in the practice of Jewish education. She then presents an extended analysis of a 7th grade Bible lesson to show how linguistic features “enact the social construct of communal identification.” She views the teaching of Bible as a social activity, and analyzes how a teacher's discourse in the classroom creates a sense of belongingness among her students.


The author concludes:

This article has examined how a teacher at a non-Orthodox day school endows a biblical text with local and immediate significance and employs it as a resource for imagining and creating a sense of belongingness for students whose primary or even exclusive encounter with sacred texts is through her interpretive lens. Through the use of contextualization cues, the teacher conflates the narrated events with the immediate classroom context, and by doing so articulates a notion of community that stretches across historical time to the present and meshes the experiences of present day Jewish day school students with the biblical events of antiquity.


One of the central points of this article was to explore how teacher talk surrounding the teaching of biblical text constructs ideologies of community. In order to introduce the book of Leviticus, which the teacher perceived as a pedagogical challenge due to its lack of narrative, she chose to infuse her introduction with narratives highlighting the importance of this particular text to the historical development of a collective Jewish consciousness. Using reported speech, deictic expressions, along with particular types of genre with recognizable rhetorical and lexical features, she positions her students within a contextual framework that opens up the discursive space for them to understand how the book of Leviticus relates to their own participation in this trajectory of communal consciousness. It is in this detail linguistic analysis that we can see how a local sense of community is both encoded and enacted through talk.


The analysis of linguistic cues in context directs attention to not only what is said, but what is accomplished interactionally through talk. While much important attention in the study of Bible education is focused on teachers' tacit knowledge, personal beliefs, and pedagogical practices, this type of analysis can offer a productive avenue for exploring Bible teaching as a social activity—that is, a practice that shapes and is shaped by social reality. Given that talk has been identified as the “primordial locus for sociality” (Schegloff, 1987), this type of work has the potential to demonstrate how social identification—and particularly ideas of community—are interactionally accomplished in the intricate and dynamic nature of everyday classroom talk.

Updated: Apr. 29, 2013