Ariel Horn Levenson
Ariel Horn Levenson is a history teacher at Joseph Kushner Hebrew Academy in Livingston, New Jersey. She came upon JWA when developing a lesson for Women’s History Month, and was excited to engage her students in a conversation about “a marginalized group of people who shaped America in astounding ways that are often unrecognized in traditional textbooks.“ Her students came to know Ray Frank, Rachel Calof, and Rebecca Samuel through their own words – through letters, diary entries, and speeches she found at jwa.org.
Levenson says, “As a history teacher, my overarching goal is to develop in my students not only a sense of understanding when it comes to reflecting on the past, but more significantly, a sense of empathy while authentically engaging my students in the learning process. All too often, empathy and engagement can get lost in history classes in the name of teaching facts. Early in my career as a teacher, I felt haunted by poet John Ashbery's writing, in which he wrote, ‘It’s in school that all the thought gets combed out.’ My goal as a teacher is to metaphorically ‘comb the thought’ back in.”
Lesson Plan: Jewish Life in Colonial and Post-Colonial America
Throughout seventh grade American history, which covers the Colonial Era through Reconstruction, students examine primary sources in each unit as a means to enhance their understanding of the time periods covered. We use primary sources in class to provide a humanistic lens that enables students to learn about history with empathy and understanding. The selected sources are incorporated into class to help students hone their critical thinking skills, as the students have myriad opportunities to analyze these sources and contextualize them over the course of our historical study.
Students came to this lesson within the context of Women’s History Month in March before embarking upon a self-selected research project on Westward Expansion. For this research project, students examine primary and secondary sources as they craft their own historical journal entries, modeled on primary sources examined in class. In light of this, and in an effort to help students develop a comfort level with reading and mimicking the style of primary sources, the goals of the lesson appear below.
- Students draw conclusions based on analysis of primary sources;
- Students sharpen their skills as readers and analysts of primary sources by reading primary sources, analyzing and reacting to them, and then sharing what they learned with their classmates;
- Students understand and examine the experience of being a Jew in colonial and post-colonial American history;
- Students use the primary sources presented as models for the creation of their own letters. These letters serve as a soundboard for students' own questions about the documents they’ve read and help them explore their own experiences as Jews in the year 2013.
- Primary source documents, as enumerated below
- Document Analysis Worksheet for group work/individual presentation
- Teacher costumes/props for teacher-in-role
- Time Capsule/Letter assignment
- Letter written by Rebecca Samuel in Yiddish in 1790s; sent from Petersburg, Virginia from JWA's Go & Learn lesson Writing Home: A Letter from an Early American Jew.
- Ray Frank's Yom Kippur Sermon, 1890 from JWA's Go & Learn Activity Guide on the same topic.
- Rachel Calof's Story: Jewish Homesteader on the Northern Plains by Rachel Calof, edited by J. Sanford Rikoon.
- Letter from George Nagel to Berhard Gratz, March 2, 1772. Found in American Jewry: Documents 18th Century edited by Jacob Rader Marcus.
Teacher in Role
For the first part of the lesson, I use the teaching strategy of “teacher in role” to acquaint the students with the primary sources presented during this class period. I post short bios of the authors of the primary sources behind me on the SmartBoard, and present excerpts from these colonial figures. I present AS these people in role, in costume, reading these figures' own words as if they were my own. Students read along and familiarize themselves with the texts before they jump into textual analysis.
Jigsaw Part One
Students are divided into groups of four or five people. Each of the four groups receives one of the four sources I read in class. Each group works together to respond to the questions posed (see Document Analysis Worksheet), and each individual prepares to become "the teacher" who teaches other classmates who were not assigned the same document.
Jigsaw: Part Two
Students are rearranged into new groups, with one member from each document "team" representing his or her group in their second group, which has one representative from Document 1, Document 2, Document 3, and Document 4, respectively. Within their new groups, students discuss the document they read, teaching one another what they learned using the questions they were provided as their guides (Document Analysis Worksheet).
Time Capsule/Letter Assignment
As the class regroups, I explain the students’ assignment, which is to write a letter to the person whose document they read. In their letter, which must be two paragraphs, students must write:
- One paragraph that is a response to what they read in the document they were assigned; and
- One paragraph describing life as a Jew now in the year 2013. Students must address their own experiences living in their communities.
Letters will be collected the following day and then placed in a time capsule, which we will "bury" somewhere on school property.
- Document Analysis Worksheet
- Group work participation
- Individual presentation of document and analysis to second jigsaw group