Michelle Boyle, 2015 Twersky Award Finalist
Michelle Boyle was born and raised in Michigan. She attended the University of Michigan for both undergraduate and graduate school with Honors in Women's Studies, Sociology, and English. She is the sixth-grade Humanities teacher and Middle School Advisor at Boston's pluralistic Jewish Community Day School (JCDS) in Watertown, MA, and is the proud parent of a second grader at JCDS. Before coming to JCDS, Michelle taught English and writing in urban high-school settings for ten years. She believes deeply in the transformative power of writing and published a book with her students entitled Small Trees Grow Tall: Words from the Underestimated with an introduction written by award-winning Sherman Alexie. At JCDS, Michelle developed a Tefillah elective course entitled “What Does It Mean To Be a Jewish Feminist?” in order to explore the role of gender in Judaism through a pluralistic lens. Michelle is currently working on a graduate certificate in Teacher Leadership at Brandeis University where she is conducting action-based research on the benefits of student-led conferences. Someday she hopes to publish a book on the intersections between teaching and parenting with her husband Michael Boyle, who is a writer and educator.
Lesson Plan: What What Does It Mean To Be A Jewish Feminist?
At the Jewish Community Day School, students choose their own Tefillah electives each semester. This elective was described in the following way: “Negotiating Complexity: What Does It Mean to Be (Identify as) a Jewish Feminist?”
In this course, students explore ways in which Jewish women and men define feminism in their own religious identity and practice by examining images; viewing videos/films; reading biblical, historical, and modern texts; and engaging with each other and various guest speakers. As the culminating activity for this course, students conduct independent research and present their findings to the class. The course is designed for Jewish students in grades 5-8.
- Students will develop a critical eye in looking at issues related to girls and women in American society and around the world.
- Students will consider the intersection between Judaism and feminism in their own lives and in the lives of those with whom they engage on a daily basis in school, religious institutions, sports teams, etc.
- Students will explore the definition of feminism using a pluralistic lens.
- Students will brainstorm potential solutions to issues the students identify and present their findings to the class.
- Students will be given an opportunity to discuss their reactions to each other’s presentations.
- Jewish Women’s Archive—Rising Voices, Jewish Women, Amplified Blogposts
- Jewish Women’s Archive—Women of Valor
- Moving Traditions “Rosh Hodesh: It’s a Girl Thing” Curriculum
- National Public Radio
- Barbie: I Can Be A Computer Engineer by Susan Marenco
- Barbie Wants To Get To Know Your Child by James Vlahos
- American reality TV show Shark Tank (one episode)
- Lilith magazine
- Covering by Meital Friedman (documentary film)
- JTA: The Global Jewish News Source
- Guest speakers:
- Teachers, administrators at local Jewish schools
- Professionals in the Jewish community
- List of sources and resources that we used throughout the semester (see above)
- Computers, internet access, PowerPoint or Google presentation
- Legal size paper/chart paper (depending on number of students in your class)
- Writing utensils
Part One: Critical Source Analysis
Begin class by projecting a blog entry from either Rising Voices or Jewesses with Attitude (on jwa.org) for the entire class to read together. This is the hook to engage students on a particular topic.
Example: Facebook Feminism and Beyond
Potential discussion questions for this blog post:
- Why do you think Ilana Goldberg found more feminist discussion on Facebook than she did in her everyday interactions with her friends, peers, teachers, parents, etc.?
- What does Goldberg mean when she says she now thinks of herself as a capital F-feminist?
- Do you think Goldberg’s AP Literature teacher is being sexist because he/she assigned only two books written by female authors? Explain.
- What is the purpose of Goldberg’s blog? Does it inspire you to become a feminist? To learn more about feminism? Why or why not? Explain.
- What is interesting about the picture Goldberg chose to accompany her piece? In what ways does this photo challenge stereotypes of feminists?
- What does this piece have to do with being a Jewish feminist? Does Goldberg mention Judaism once? Does this make the piece any less “Jewish”?
Alternative activity: “Big paper, silent conversation.” Students discuss their reactions to the blog on paper without saying a word to each other. This is a helpful strategy that allows students to engage with different opinions and ideas in a safe, non-confrontational way. Post the following quotes around the room (with another blank space around the quote for students to write and respond to each other):
- “Until high school, I truly thought that the only disparity that American women faced was that we could not participate in Major League Baseball.”
- “This social medium was the first platform that exposed me to the ideas of other women, other young women, about what it meant to want equality, to stand in solidarity with other women, to be aware of patriarchy.”
- “Throughout my years of combing social media, upgrading to feminist blogs and newspaper articles, tailoring my internet footprint to fit my growing feminist desires, I developed an identity as a capital-F Feminist.”
- “This year in my AP literature class, only two of the eight works of literature we read were written by women, an improvement from the previous year's zero.”
- “I have heard the words “slut,” “whore,” and “bitch” thrown around with reckless abandon.”
- “Or, at the very least, that each of us has a responsibility to understand the inequalities and hegemonic power structures in the world around us and to do what we can to demand our rights while understanding where we hold privilege.”
Instruct students to spread out and write a response and/or question to each quote, and then move on to the next quote and do the same. Students rotate among the quotes and then go back around and begin responding to each other on the paper. They can answer someone’s question, develop a point further, disagree with a position, ask another question, etc. Students continue this process while the teacher circulates around the room reading the silent dialogue. The teacher will set a time limit for this activity (approximately 10 minutes), and then ask volunteers to summarize the conversations on each paper. The teacher can either decide to hold a whole-class discussion after each silent conversation is shared or after all of them have been shared.
After all of these mini-lessons, students have a much more complex and nuanced understanding of these various issues. They also have a sense of which topics they are interested in exploring more deeply.
Part Two: Topic Presentations
Part two of this course takes four class periods. During Class I, students revisit topics they discussed during the course so far, choose a partner, pick a topic, and begin researching that topic. In Class II, students continue their research and formulate a plan for their presentation. During Classes III/IV, students finish their presentations, present their findings, and discuss with the class.
- Students will explore a topic or issue they are interested in researching further.
- Through their research, students will deepen and even complicate the way they/we (as a class) think about this issue.
- Students are asked to address the following points:
- What is the issue or problem?
- Why is it an issue?
- What is at stake if this issue is not addressed?
- What are potential solutions to this issue or problem?
- Brainstorm with students all of the topics that have been covered over the course of the semester
- Create list on the board together as a class
- Discuss intersections and connections between the various topics and create a mind map (see example below) [jwa_media:21242:class=float-none:options='caption_mode'=>'no_display']
- Choose partners based on a topic on which they’re interested in doing further research
- Visit Jewish Women’s Archive again to read various blog posts to see how they might tackle a particular topic. For example, on the Rising Voices and Jewesses with Attitude blogs, you will see how you can connect almost any issue or current event to feminism--Facebook, Hurricane Katrina, Malala, writing, comedy, etc.
- Begin conducting research on a topic of their choice (use list of resources from above as well as others)
- Present findings to the class in the form of a PowerPoint presentation
- Discuss multiple perspectives on issue/topic
- Address potential solutions
Based on what students have heard and learned from these presentations, we explore what choices or decisions might they make differently in their lives. For example, assumptions they make about women who wear or don’t wear sheitels or other head coverings, stores they’d like to support based on their marketing practices, willingness to “buy into” media/advertising, decisions about what to study in high school/college and future career choices, how they will talk to a younger sibling/relative about sex and gender, etc.
How to cite this page
Jewish Women's Archive. "Michelle Boyle, 2015 Twersky Award Finalist." (Viewed on August 21, 2018) <https://jwa.org/twersky/michelle-boyle>.