by Elijah Barkan, Germantown Jewish Centre

Participating in the TAP program has taught me a lot about how to better engage with students in my religious school classroom. One of the things I focused on was making a space that can work for everyone. I used what I learned about Sensory Processing Disorder and how everybody senses and interacts with the world in their own way. Whenever students have seemed to be struggling in the environment we are in, I have thought about the ways in which I can help them to thrive in the classroom. This can range from letting them step out for a moment to get away from noise to allowing them to lay down away from everyone and take a moment to clear their head. I often see one particular student sitting away with his hands covering his ears. I usually try to get the classroom quieter so he can feel more safe. I also allow him as much time as he needs to gather himself and become ready to come back.

I have also tried to employ the use of differentiated learning in the classroom to allow everyone to learn in whatever way they need to. I try to differ the way we learn things in the classroom, we use a variety of different methods to learn about the same topic. During a typical class we will have one or two topics and will use different teaching activities throughout the day to give opportunities for everyone to learn in their own way. We will also sometimes split into different groups based on how each student wants to learn. When we were working on translating a prayer, I went through word by word with most of the class while a fellow Madricha worked closer with one or two students who needed to learn it differently. Another example is when we were learning about a song. One Madrich helped some musical students prepare to play the song on their instruments. Another Madricha helped some students that liked dancing to create a dance to go with it. Meanwhile I worked with some other students to write poems relating to the song. The TAP program has both allowed me to learn about people with disabilities and also taught me how to be a better and more inclusive teacher.