Learning about Learning

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

Author: Susanne Shavelson (page 1 of 12)

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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What Happens in Text Discussion

By Ziva R. Hassenfeld

In her recent piece on Mechon Hadar’s new Standards for Fluency in Jewish Text and Practice, Lisa Exler advocates for an approach that emphasizes student collaboration when studying Jewish texts in havruta. She suggests that the standards, alongside appropriate teaching techniques, “can transform classrooms and schools, empowering students to own their relationships to Jewish texts and to one another.” This is a powerful and compelling vision of successful Jewish text education, but even as Exler emphasizes the importance of collaboration, she ultimately treats the process of textual interpretation as an individual project. In her view, havruta is a sounding board one uses to clarify one’s own ideas.

But discussing texts with peers is not simply an opportunity to exchange interpretations, rather it is an opportunity to construct interpretations. Ideas about text come into being through talk, contingent on the dialogue that unfolds, and collectively constructed and reconstructed in the course of discussion (Aukerman, 2015).

I saw this in action in a second grade classroom I observed recently. Continue reading

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