Learning about Learning

Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Center for Studies in Jewish Education, Brandeis University

Helping Early Childhood Educators Become Teachers of Rabbinics

By Elliot Goldberg

Are we doing all that we can to support the development of early childhood educators as teachers of the Jewish tradition? Previously, I’ve argued that the learning of rabbinics begins in Jewish early childhood education settings. Awareness of the place of rabbinics in the curriculum gives us an important new perspective about the education of our youngest learners. Strengthening our schools’ ability to use the rabbinic canon to deliver a strong Jewish experience requires additional steps.

I recently spent two days with the faculty of an early childhood center (ECC) embedded in a Jewish day school, as a part of the Legacy Heritage Instructional Leadership Institute of the Davidson Graduate School of Jewish Education at the Jewish Theological Seminary. The visit was part of a two-year initiative to strengthen the teaching and learning of rabbinics in the school.  A portion of the visit focused on developing an approach for incorporating the learning of Mishnah Bava Kamma, chapter 3, which deals with an individual’s responsibility for damages caused by personal property in the public domain, into the students’ school experience.

As we studied together, the ECC faculty made connections between the Mishnah and themes that are a part of school life at the start of the school year, especially teaching values and routines about cleaning up at the end of an activity and putting away personal property. It was striking how many examples of case law from the Mishnah resonated with situations that arise in a school’s hallways and classrooms. Our conversation about the various pathways we could use to bring the rabbinic material that we had studied into the classroom (a topic about which I hope to share more in the future) generated excitement and enthusiasm.

As we worked, a teacher raised her hand and asked a wonderful and challenging question, “How will we find texts as we explore other topics later, when there is no one here to provide them for us?” Continue reading

In Defense of Day Schools and, More Importantly, Their Teachers

By Ziva R. Hassenfeld

Teacher bending to help student in classroomAn anonymous op-ed that appeared recently on the Times of Israel’s website has picked up a lot of traction in social media. Friends of mine are posting it, commenting on it, and reposting it. The author explains how he left Jewish institutional life behind, withdrawing his children from day school and leaving his synagogue to attend Chabad instead. He is now able to raise his four children Jewishly for 40k a year. He calls for others to join his “revolution.”

There are a lot of questions to ask about this op-ed: Do we really want to start chipping away at separation of church and state for tuition relief? Does the Chabad model really provide the free Jewish life the author claims? Are the financial markets really doing great “thanks to this new president? But one claim in particular upset me deeply. Continue reading

Day Schools Produce Jewish Leaders when Teachers Thrive

By Ziva R. Hassenfeld

This post was originally published by The Wexner Foundation

Two educators talking“Teachers cannot create and sustain the conditions for the productive development of children if those conditions do not exist for teachers,” wrote Seymour B. Sarason, Yale professor and psychologist.  Sarason points out a truth that is self-evident to most teachers, and, upon reflection, applicable to all of us:  We cannot teach what we are not actively engaged in.  If we wish to develop our students with a curiosity, inquiry, and proclivity towards the critical thinking that propels learning, then we must provide teachers with the opportunity to be curious, inquire, and think critically.

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The Blessing of Relationship

By Ziva R. Hassenfeld

My toddler and I were outside of our house, drawing on the sidewalk with chalk, as we often do while my husband puts our baby to sleep. Out of nowhere, after weeks of drawing tic-tac-toe boards and hopscotch courts, my daughter drew two circles, connected them with a line, and said, “Look, Mama! It’s a car!”Child's drawing of a car

In that moment, I experienced a new kind of parental joy.  My child, unprompted, had reproduced a key illustration of my most beloved scholar’s work, an idea which sits at the center of my research.

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Pedagogy of Partnership and the Power of Relationships

By Orit Kent and Allison Cook

What do we mean by teaching and learning? What do (we want) people (to) learn? And how do they learn both subject matter and values, ways of being in the world?  Orit Kent and Allison Cook, co-founders of Pedagogy of Partnership, look at how teaching and learning happens in relationships — particularly in the context of student relationships and Torah learning. They aim to expand our understanding of what education is through the process of relationship-centered learning.

Two boys studying textImagine the following day school scene:

Morah Rebecca: “OK guys, time to wrap up your discussions!”

Fourth-graders shouting: “No! We are having SUCH a good Torah discussion. Can we have a few more minutes? Pleeeeaaase?”

Morah Rebecca: “This is the third time I’ve tried to wrap up. It is wonderful the discussions you are having. I’m hearing some great theories on the possible meanings of the word ‘yifga’enu’ [He will strike us] and who exactly the ‘us’ can be referring to and also about Pharaoh’s possible motivations in these psukim [Torah verses]. I’m putting on a timer: two more minutes, and that is really it! We have to come together to do the wrap-up and then you have to go to gym.”

This scene happens often in this fourth-grade Jewish studies classroom. Amazingly, these fourth-graders do not want their Torah discussions to end — they will choose to miss parts of recess, lunch and gym so that they can have a few more minutes in class. They have been learning Torah through the Pedagogy of Partnership (PoP), a student-centered approach for developing specific attitudes and skills to learn in relationship with Torah and with peers.

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