One of the most common mistakes made by well-meaning educators is “reinventing the wheel.” Teachers often write lessons and recreate materials that have already been successfully developed and utilized. Sharing resources and adapting existing lessons to fit the needs of your students can free you up to devote more time to student’s individual needs and issues. However, it can be hard to know where to look for quality lessons and even harder to know where to look for quality lessons for teaching disability awareness, accessibility and inclusion in a Jewish setting.
Here are some suggestions of resources to consider for students of various ages:
This curriculum, supported by PJ Library, was a collaborative effort by educators from four excellent organizations focused on the inclusion of children with varied abilities in Jewish day and supplemental schools.
Produced by Behrman House and written by colleague Diane Zimmerman (Associate Director of Religious Education at Temple Sinai) this is an appropriate lesson for a wide variety of ages. It is designed to enable students to address the driving question: “How can we help guide our synagogue in creating a space that is accessible to all and emulates the Jewish value of lifnei iver lo titen michshol (do not put a stumbling block before the blind)?” What I like about this lesson is that it is well grounded in Jewish text and empowers students to drive the direction of the final product.
Gateways: access to Jewish education, based in the Boston area, this organization offers downloadable holiday materials including social stories. If you happen to be in their area, they also offer an Understanding Our Differences program in local synagogues and day schools. Contact them to learn more.
Gabriel’s Ark by Torah Aura Productions is a four-page instant lesson designed for students in PreK-K. It is a story lesson about a family that helps a fearful boy with special needs through his bar mitzvah experience. It opens up the question of inclusion and dealing with disabilities. I have NOT used this lesson and can not formally endorse it. In addition, I do not care for their description “dealing with disabilities” and would prefer, “It opens up a dialogue about inclusion and potential challenges those with disabilities may face.”
A second instant lesson from Torah Aura is Bible Play written by Rabbi Daniel Grossman and intended for students in grade 6 and up. Bible Play is a midrashic play that tells the story of three biblical figures—Isaac, Jacob and Moses—each of whom had a significant disability. I do own this instant lesson and have used pieces successfully. Additionally, I believe that many of the Torah Aura instant lessons are easily adaptable for students with varying learning needs. As an aside, Rabbi Grossman is a highly respected advocate of disability inclusion and is a regular contributor to the NY Jewish Week.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t say that curriculum design is one of my own areas of expertise. I have particular strengths in the areas of teen engagement, informal education and creating opportunities for peer leadership.
One more resource worth mentioning is Matan. They offer programs and tools to reach students of varying abilities including the Matan Institute, which provides educators with the tools they need to create inclusive Jewish communities for students with special learning needs. In addition, they have recently launched the Matan Store, offering products such as Edible Alef Bet.
Finally, one important note: Inclusion and disability awareness are NOT the same thing. Teaching a lesson or leading a conversation about disabilities does not mean you are inclusive. It means you have taught about disabilities. It is important in is its own right, and a valuable component of inclusivity, but quality awareness-raising is only one aspect of inclusive practice.