Posted on March 17th, 2016

Seventh Grade Book Club

Our seventh grade program has long focused on the Holocaust, but the course wasn’t right for every student. We were already in the process of making changes for next year when it proved that this year’s seventh graders needed change now.

We ended up changing streams mid-year, and are now offering on-going electives based on kids’ interests and social groupings: conversational Hebrew, chesed projects, classroom-based Holocaust learning, and a Jewish history book group. This last has been my pet project over the last few months. I have two groups, each comprised of friends who chose to be together. We meet every three weeks, with reading assignments in between. Everyone started with The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, and from there, I have given them chlaurenyanofskyoice about what book comes next. Currently, one group is reading Lauren Yanofsky Hates the Holocaust; the other is working their way through Maus.

I set things up as a book club, with coffee cake and hot chocolate, sitting on comfy chairs. I use the books as jumping-off points for content learning, often offering material from our traditional curriculum in response to organic questions that arise from the reading. When questions about propaganda came up, I pulled up images on my laptop. When they asked about Jewish identity, we watched and discussed The Tribe. In this model, I get to bring in some content goals but also get to follow the kids’ interests and readiness. For future years, I’m hoping to curricularize the class, with a choose-your-own-adventure array of topics and books for various groups.

Rabbi Jordi Schuster Battis is the director of K-12 curriculum at Temple Beth Shalom of Needham, Massachusetts.