A Message from Stephanie Bloom, Head of Middle School: September 23
  • Academics
Stephanie Bloom, Head of Middle School
Dear Middle School Families,
During the month of Elul, in the lead up to the high holidays and throughout preparations for the start of school, I found myself reflecting on a question I circle back to each year: What is the learning that students will take with them upon completion of a grade level, and eventually, upon completion of their entire Bernard Zell journey?  
Our Bernard Zell Portrait of a Graduate, calls on all of us—teachers and administrators—to consider the journey of our students and how curriculum builds year upon year, resulting in:
  • Creative and critical thinkers 
  • Compassionate and kind human beings guided by Jewish values and knowledge
  • Resilient and resourceful individuals who act as upstanders
  • Active leaders who make significant contributions to our world
  • Extraordinarily well-prepared alumni who embrace the future
While students learn skills each day across content areas, I often believe it’s for us as practitioners to consider how we make learning stick to fulfill the portrait of all our graduates. The answer connects to our Jewish roots. In Pirkei Avot, a follower of Rabbi Hillel said the following: 
“Turn it, and turn it, for everything is in it. Reflect on it and grow old and gray with it. Don’t turn from it, for nothing is better than it.” 
—Mishna Pirkei Avot 5:22 
Our Jewish tradition leads us to return each year to the same texts each week. Without even realizing, we activate prior knowledge and connect it to a familiar text seeking a greater understanding.
Our Jewish tradition mirrors best “sticky teaching practices.” Already this school year, I’ve seen the launch of “turn it, turn it, everything is in it” teaching to result in learning that sticks. In Ms. Segil’s seventh-grade writing class students listened to a reading of the poem "Mail Call," by Adrienne Jaeger. Told from the perspective of a young person at overnight camp who admits to missing their parents, the poem activated students' prior and personal knowledge. Students' connection to the voice of the poem resulted in an understanding of the difference between a topic of a poem being narrow versus personal. Students noticed how the poem moved from an “I” to a “You” piece of writing and how the author left them feeling and not saying “so what?” As Ms. Segil moved from reading the poem to students sharing their ideas for writing a poem, their topics displayed an understanding of the craft and voice. Students shared ideas of bidding farewell to an older sibling heading to university, causing a flood in their house. The activation of a student's prior knowledge and emotional connection allowed for the new learning of writing skills.  
Just upstairs in eighth grade, Dr. Ellison launched the World Issues class learning journey around Israel by activating students’ prior knowledge. “If I asked you what are 10 things you know about Israel, what would you say?” he asked. Hands jumped as connections among prior knowledge. Students responded with:
  • Bomb shelters in buildings
  • Jews 
  • Muslims and Arabs live there too
  • Most technologically advanced in the world
  • Smaller than Rhode Island
  • Located in the Middle East
  • Gained independence in 1948
  • It borders the Dead Sea, the lowest place on earth
  • Israel is an ally with America
  • Israel has a Democracy
Dr. Ellison listened to a web of ideas forming, and at times built upon a statement that further strengthened the web of prior knowledge being pieced together. His introduction to Noa Tishby’s Israel, A Simple Guide to the Most Misunderstood Country on Earth helped students understand why we return to studying Israel or why it’s important to “Turn it, and turn it, everything is in it.” He shared with students that together they would deconstruct false information that exists about Israel, providing students with knowledge for when they move on to high school and beyond the walls of Bernard Zell.
As students return home in this new year of learning, consider asking them how their knowledge grows or how they dig deeper as they revisit topics or connect their prior knowledge from the past to better understand new topics. Together, in 5782, may we all consider “turning it, and turning it, for everything is in it.”
Wishing you all a Happy New Year,
Stephanie Bloom
Head of Middle School



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