Written by Leandra Elion, Delet faculty, “Special Education: Teaching for Inclusion”

We know that if we let our students roam aimlessly and endlessly on the internet we are diluting and even damaging their learning. However, by directing them to the right web sites and tools, the internet, with its connectivity and resources, can be a boost for their learning.

Here is one tool that makes digital learning so powerful and effective. It is also a tool that has been designed to make learning accessible to all.

Read&Write for Google Docs is a FREE extension to google chrome that offers a range of multi-sensory learning supports that can be used by all students in a classroom, but are particularly helpful for specific learning situations. For instance, students who have print disabilities will benefit from the text-to-speech features, students who are English Language Learners will benefit from the translation, dictionary and picture dictionary tools, and students who have executive functioning issues will benefit from the collection of highlights.

Read&Write was developed by the company Texthelp to produce software to help people overcome physical and communication barriers, especially barriers to reading and writing. Through partnerships with publishers and other software companies, they have made Read&Write for Google Docs as a free downloadable chrome web extension that can be used on any document in Google Docs.

Here are some features that make Read&Write a powerful and useful teaching tool:

1. TEXT TO SPEECH tool – all the text can be read aloud using the easy play, pause and stop icons and You can change the voice and the speed of the reading.
1speech-accessibility2. FACT FINDER tool allows you to explore a topic by running a google search. Just place your cursor next to the word you want to find out more about and then click the fact finder icon in the toolbar. A new window will open up with the google search links.

3. TEXT DEFINITION tool allows you to read and hear a definition of a word. Just place your cursor next to the word whose meaning you wish to know and then click the text finder icon in the toolbar. A pop-up window appears on the screen with a concise definition.

3textdefinition-accessibility4. PICTURE DICTIONARY tool allows you to see a visual image of the word (if applicable) by showing widget symbols. Just place your cursor next to the word whose meaning you want enhanced with a visual representation and click the picture dictionary icon in the toolbar. A pop up window appears with some widget symbols.


5. TRANSLATOR tool allows you to see what the selected word is in a several common languages. Just place the cursor next to the word you need translated and click the translator icon in the toolbar. A pop up window appears with the word in several languages.

6. COLLECT HIGHLIGHTS tool allows you to collect, in a separate window, words and sections you have highlighted throughout the document.  You can highlight in different colors (for instance you could highlight nouns in yellow and verbs in green, or main points in blue and details in pink) and when you click the collect highlights icon in the toolbar a new window will open with all the highlights arranged by color or position (you have the choice).  You can save these highlights to a new google doc.

6collect-accessibility7. VOCABULARY BUILDER tool let you highlight words to be learned  and then it organized the highlighted words into a table with text and visual definitions.  When you click the vocabulary builder icon in the toolbar a new window will open with all the vocabulary words in a chart.  You can save these vocabulary words as a new google doc and you have a study/review sheet.

For video tutorial on Read&Write for Google Docs, use this link to youtube

If you find Read&Write useful to you and your students, let me know.  Send Leandra a tweet @2read4life.

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Written by Laurie Rappeport, JETS Instructor

According to recent studies online education is becoming increasingly popular among learners worldwide. College-level studies went online almost as soon as the Internet began to be widely used and, over the course of the last decade, high school, middle school and elementary school studies have become more readily available on the web as well.

Jewish education has been slower to integrate online learning into their educational models but today, almost all non-Haredi Jewish Day Schools are including some kind of online Jewish learning in their curriculum. In addition, many Jewish homeschooling families, afternoon Hebrew schools and Jewish families living in remote communities where there are no formal Jewish schools are employing online Jewish learning as a tool which introduces Hebrew studies and Jewish education to their students.

JETS Jerusalem EdTech Solutions has been offering a variety of online Jewish learning opportunities since 2009. The program was begun as a vehicle by which Israel-based teachers could share Jewish and Hebrew studies with students from around the world.

JETS web-based learning can be employed in multiple situations including as enrichment for Day School or afternoon Hebrew School classes, as a bridge between Jewish classrooms outside of Israel and Israeli classes and as a core Jewish learning program for pre-teens and teens who either don’t have access to any community Jewish school or who don’t fit into the existing Hebrew/Jewish schools of their areas.

JETS courses include Hip Hop Hebraics in which students learn modern, conversational Hebrew in a vibrant and meaningful format of dynamic fun. Older day school students can delve into core curriculum studies, such as Talmud and other Jewish textual studies with an Israel-based teacher who brings the material alive as the class examines the significance of the ancient texts in today’s world.

Other popular courses include Contemporary Jewish Issues, a five-part series on the Arab-Israeli conflict, Ancient Israel (a series of videos and related activities to enrich students’ background on lifestyles in ancient times), Jewish holidays and more.

JETS is a non-denominational program. Classes are taught in a pluralistic format that is inclusive of all Jewish streams of thought. JETS presents Israel from a Zionistic perspective which encourages students to relate to Israel as an integral part of their own lives.

JETS also offers the wide-ranging JConnecT program of Online Sunday School. The JConnect program presents Hebrew/Jewish studies for students who want to learn about Judaism and Israel as they access the “classroom” from their own home. This program, recently profiled by the Jewish Military organization Jews in Green, enables students to join the back-to-back classes of Hip Hop Hebraics and Contemporary Jewish Issues (choose both classes or just one class) which meet, virtually, every Sunday morning during the school year. The classes are appropriate Jewish learning opportunities for Bar/Bat Mitzvah students, both before and after the actual Bar/Bat Mitzvah date, as a Jewish Identity component of their Bar Mitzvahs and Bat Mitzvahs. Upcoming free Open Houses enable students, their families and other community members to participate in a class and experience the power of online Jewish learning.

The next scheduled free JConnecT Open House will take place on May 19th.

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written by Eliza Weiss, Delet ’11

Eliza Weiss, looks over a lesson plan at JCDS. /Source:Jamie Faith Woods

When I was hired to teach fourth grade social studies at the MetroWest Jewish Day School, I inherited an overflowing binder with the words “Colonial America” written in black permanent marker along the binder’s spine. It was filled with primary source texts, worksheets, and readings on Colonial American life. I’d taught the unit the previous year during my internship at JCDSRI and I’d kept a copy of my teaching materials. Equipped with both curricula, I felt prepared to teach the unit. But not so fast, my students seemed to say.

On the first day of class, I had students close their eyes and imagine they were living in Colonial America while I read them an account of what life was like then. Students squirmed in their chairs and blurted out jokes about the text. They were bored.

On day two, I gave my students the reins. Perhaps they wouldn’t be bored if they were reading, themselves. But this wasn’t the answer either. Students weren’t engaged. They were reading to get it done. I was baffled because my students the year prior had eaten up the very same texts. What was I doing wrong?

I thought about the specific students I was teaching. How did they like to learn? What were their interests and strengths? I determined they learned best by doing. They were interested in many things – among them, building with Legos and fashion. Many of the students were artistic. Armed with this information, I set out to design a new custom curriculum.

My students, I decided, would work together to build their own colonial southern plantation. This would give them an opportunity to create an art project, build, and consider design and fashion, but it would be much more than that. Students would need to construct a historically accurate model. This meant researching colonial architecture, building materials, layouts, crops and regional topography. The people in their communities would need to wear clothing reminiscent of colonial days. Students would need to think about things like slave living quarters and climate. Homes would need verandas and detached kitchens.

Within minutes of introducing the assignment, students’ attitude about social studies transformed. Reading about the buildings typically found on a southern plantation, for example, was no longer boring because it had a tangible purpose. It was research necessary to conduct. One month later, as students put the finishing touches on their colonial southern plantation, I can’t help but wonder if I’ll do the project again next year.

They say, learn the rules before you break them. As a new teacher, I create written lesson plans two to three weeks ahead of time. But my experience with the colonial southern plantation project has opened my eyes to the fact that, in addition to planning! planning! planning!, a good teacher must be ready to throw out her plans when – not if – they’re not working. Because at the end of the day, what is my goal? My goal is to reach children. Each child is unique, and so the route I take to teach him or her most effectively must be unique too.

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written by Sarah Burns, Senior Director of the DeLeT Alumni Network

Delet alumni share their learning at 2013 NAJDS conference

Delet alumni share their learning at 2013 NAJDS conference

Teacher networks, like the Delet Alumni Network (DAN), bring teachers together in powerful ways. DAN believes it’s important to provide multiple entry points to our network, making resources and events accessible and inclusive, without sacrificing substance. This way, members of the network can find their involvement worthwhile at all stages of their career. Sharon Feiman-Nemser, director of Brandeis’s Mandel Center for Studies in Jewish Education and Delet faculty member, conceptualized a continuum of teacher learning across three career stages: initial preparation, new teacher induction, and continuing professional development. Networks can guide their members through that continuum by creating learning opportunities designed for different career stages.

Depending on where they are in the continuum of professional development, network members might take advantage of the network’s resources on a variety of levels, and some might take on leadership roles and contribute to those resources. For example, in 2013, DAN will launch the DAN Curriculum Bank, where members of our network can digitally share teaching materials. This initiative will include a social networking component where members can comment on each other’s work and share successes and pitfalls in teaching the posted lessons. Alumni will contribute lessons and projects shaped by Delet practices. Newer teachers will access the Curriculum Bank to build up their repertoire, whereas more experienced teachers will use it to add something new to materials they already use. First year teachers and veterans alike can post materials and pose questions to the group, and peers can become informal mentors as they offer constructive criticism. This ebb and flow of offering and receiving support of different types as people move through their careers is what keeps teacher networks vibrant and relevant to a cadre of professionals in an ever-evolving field.

written by Noreen Leibson, Delet Faculty Leader

Creating makom kadosh (sacred space) in our schools is part of Jewish day school culture. But what exactly do we mean by makom kadosh? Makom in Hebrew means place and kadosh traditionally refers to holiness. We see this referenced in the Bible when the Israelites are instructed to build a place for God to dwell, a place for God’s holiness to settle among the people. How can we create classroom spaces that leave room for God? Spaces where students feel comfortable to explore their own spirituality and learning? 

At Delet, we have been exploring the notion that there are many ways to create makom kadosh. One student said that he intentionally sets up a sacred (holy) place for himself before going to bed through mediation and a song about the angels surrounding him. Middot, Jewish values, as well as tefilah, are also vehicles for creating sacred space. We explore such questions as: What impact do these practices have on the students and the school community? How do other rituals and values enhance the educational experience? What role does makom kadosh play in our lives and in the lives of our students, and why is it important?

As part of our exploration, Delet visited Mayyim Hayyim, the pluralstic mikveh and education center in Newton, MA. We learned about the vision and intention behind the mikveh’s creation and design, every detail of which contributes to a sense of makom kadosh. The vision of Mayyim Hayyim’s leaders of a safe, nurturing and sacred environment is integrated into every aspect of the building and its programs, from small details like the wave-shaped door handles to the many educational programs, carefully-trained personal mikveh attendants and the ample time given to each immersion. No one is rushed through the experience.

Our students had many responses to what they experienced and learned.

“The thing that most caught my attention at Mayyim Hayyim was the inclusiveness of the space. It was evident that the staff of the mikveh is genuinely interested in seeing to the comfort of anyone who wants to use it. I could also tell, from both the presentation and the layout of the space, that serious planning went into creating a Makom Kadosh there, a sacred and safe space not just theoretically but tangibly.”

“My visit to Mayyim Hayyim helped shine a light for me on how the mikveh can play such a pivotal part for both a community and an individual. Access for all denominations allows a community to be unified. The act of going to a mikveh and submerging into its waters can give individuals a place to search for spirituality and wholeness.”

Through vision and planning, Mayyim Hayyim has created a space that is welcoming and open to all who walk through its doors. As teachers, we want to create the same experience. We want our students to feel safe and comfortable so they can feel free to go into areas unknown and know that they can play with and explore new ideas and experience new insights and learning. A makom kadosh, a sacred space within the classroom and school, lends itself to being a place where we can all feel safe enough to jump off the cliff into the unknown.

written by Nili Pearlmutter, Delet Field Studies Coordinator

One distinctive feature of Delet is the tight integration of our internship and our coursework. This is evident from the beginning of the school year, as interns investigate how their mentor teachers work with groups of children to create communities of learners. Most new teachers have the same big question on their minds: How will I manage this group of children? We approach that question from another perspective, showing interns that rather than trying to “manage children,” an expert teacher works to create a culture of learning in the classroom. This includes the rules and routines that establish behavior expectations as well as other aspects of the classroom culture that teach students what it means to be a learner. To an outsider entering a classroom this can look a bit like magic!

We design interns’ assignments to help them get inside the thinking and decision making of their mentor teachers. The culture of the class will be fundamentally affected by the beliefs and vision of the teacher, so our interns interview their mentors before the school year starts. Interns observe carefully on the first day to see what their mentors’ stated beliefs look like in action. They learn how mentors communicate explicit and implicit messages about what it means to be a member of the classroom community in a Jewish day school. Interns observe and assist as mentors construct and teach rules and set expectations for behavior though teaching rules and routines. After approximately six weeks, interns reflect on what they’ve learned about beginning the year with a group of children. Here are some of the things they say:

I never understood how classrooms operated so smoothly, and after watching my mentor carefully establish rules and norms, it made me realize how profound this process is and how much repetition is involved to keep the expectations ingrained in the students minds.

Coming into Delet, my considerations about the role of a teacher focused solely on the teacher’s role in encouraging student learning, and not on the importance of establishing clear rules about non-academic parts of the day, such as lunch. I now see the importance of these routines, both in maintaining order in a classroom, and in furthering learning.

This investigation of classroom culture, which pairs focused observation with opportunities to get inside a mentor’s thinking, is a cornerstone of Delet.

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Welcome to Powerful Teaching, Powerful Learning, Delet’s new blog. In the coming weeks and months, through intelligent, relevant and witty (maybe) posts, Delet will reveal itself: dedicated people, committed to an effective model, who have had and continue to have a profound impact on Jewish day schools.

We will be tapping the incredible talents of Delet’s staff in this endeavor. From scholarship to research to philanthropy, many voices will speak about one message: that Jewish day schools populated by exceptional teacher-leaders are the cornerstone of a dynamic Jewish education.

Powerful Teaching, Powerful Learning will become a venue for conversation – if you participate and share your insights and experiences. So, tell us what you are thinking, what we ought to be discussing, and how we can stimulate and energize the field. Happy reading!

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