When the genuine opportunity to integrate curriculum and collaborate with a colleague presents itself to teachers, it can be a positive, organic experience for them and their students. Dorit Zmiri, director of Jewish studies and Hebrew language, and I recently discovered this as eighth grade Tanakh and English teachers working together to bring our individual strengths to our students to enhance their learning experience of composing a Tanakh essay. Dorit was in charge of teaching them content, and I, of teaching thesis development and expository essay-writing skills.
To have the students illustrate higher thinking and greater understanding of the nuances within the Bible story of Yosef, discussions were simply not enough; Dorit wanted them to write about the material studied; to articulate their reasoning using specific examples, quotations and evidence from the text in a formal essay. Knowing this ilk of writing is integral to eighth graders being well prepared for high school, we became enthralled by the idea that as she continued delving into the multi-nuanced story with them, I would take on the teaching and assessment of the writing piece. This would ensure that the students would be accountable for applying those grammar and writing skills previously taught in English class to this paper. (We also suspected that the students’ essays would be more carefully and thoughtfully written, knowing that two of us would be reading and grading them!)
This “teaching teamwork” was a triumph for all. Eighth graders got the benefit of two instructors who they know care deeply about them and the quality of their studies. They worked diligently on their papers, recognizing the importance of learning to write exposition. But maybe the most significant lesson they came away with is that at JCDS, teachers practice what we preach to our students: that working together to problem solve, collaborating and having others’ feedback and input are invaluable to bettering any collective experience.
The School Sparks blog appears periodically by various writers among the JCDS educational team. Learn more about JCDS, Boston’s Jewish Community Day School.
Joanne Baker is a seventh and eighth grade English teacher and head of eighth grade.

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