by Carol O. Starin
There is no study without something new. (Hagigah 3a)
A new school year. It’s exciting. It’s daunting. And it’s challenging. As we learn from the Rabbis, it’s important to bring the “new” to our learning. Here are five ways to bring the “new” to your classroom.
1. Create new systems for taking attendance, collecting tzedakah or doing classroom chores. Put students in charge whenever possible.
Take digital pictures of students. Print and mount them on tongue depressors or 3″x5″ cards. Keep the photos in a manila pocket, and when students enter the room, they move their photo to the “Here” pocket.
Choose a tzedakah project and involve students in the process. Encourage students to give and help them know that their dollars are making a difference. Check out www.modestneeds.org.
2. Design a welcoming and attractive classroom environment. Make sure there is a balance between creating things FOR your students and inviting them to make the place their own.
Use the classroom door as a bulletin board that welcomes parents and students. On the inside of the door place hanging pockets for notes and flyers to take home.
Put up a Velcro word wall so that students can begin sticking up new words on the very first day of class.
Arrange the furniture in groupings and plan interactive, hands-on lessons to encourage students to work together.
Design a first-day project that students can complete and hang up.
Write a message of welcome each session. Include two or three things students can expect to learn and do. With older students you may want to include a journaling question.
Set up a kiosk to hang assignments, articles of interest or artwork.
3. Select a theme for the year that can be integrated into many areas of learning, including art, music, stories, bulletin boards, calendars and newsletters. Consider: Circles and Cycles; A Good Name (see February, page 16); Jewish Days and Jewish Months (see Rosh Hodesh on page 24), for example.
4. Choose a mitzvah project that integrates your major area of concentration, is ongoing, and is one in which students can actively participate. Go to http://www.ZIV.org for mitzvah project ideas.
5. Plan a year-long project that begins on the first day, builds and grows throughout the year, and becomes part of the culminating project in June. Examples: Parashah-stained-glass windows (see December, page 12), Alef-Bet dictionaries, a Torah museum, a genealogy project.
Remember, the “new” must be “new”. Check with last year’s teachers to make sure you are not repeating something students did last year.
Here are ten websites to inspire new ideas and new strategies as you plan your new school year. Use ideas that fit your needs and make them Jewish.
1. Teachers Helping Teachers at www.pacificnet.net/~mandel/. This site has lesson plans, resources, and a great section on classroom management.
2. Find everything from attendance to ways to motivate students at www.atozteacherstuff.com/Tips/index.shtml.
3. The Responsive Classroom offers techniques for creating a learning community at www.newhorizons.org/strategies/democratic/gimbert.htm.
4. For excellent resources on Multiple Intelligences go to www.newhorizons.org/strategies/mi/front_mi.htm.
6. Harry Wong wrote The First Days of School. This website includes a summary of his major concepts. Go to www.glavac.com/harrywong.htm.
7. Understanding By Design (UbD) focuses on understanding as the core of learning. Check it out at www.authenticeducation.org/ubd.html.
8. A Kagan Structure is a content-free classroom structure that stresses active learning and equality of participation. Check it out at www.kaganonline.com/KaganClub/FreeArticles/ASK10.html.
9. Jacob Richman’s hotsites have dozens of Jewish sites at www.jr.co.il/hotsites/j-hdayil.htm.
10. www.CAJE.org. CAJE is a great organization to join. Check out their website. You will find curricular resources for crisis and response curricula and networking weblinks for a wonderful list of Jewish sites.