Learning about Learning

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

Category: Center News (page 1 of 14)

Hebrew Ba’Bayit

by Sharon Avni

First in a series about the new book Hebrew Infusion: Language and Community at American Jewish Summer Camps, the product of the Mandel Center’s Hebrew at Camp project.

Kids at camp posing under a sign in Hebrew

Courtesy Ramah Day Camp in Nyack

For all of the six years that Sarah Benor, Jonathan Krasner, and I spent researching and writing about the use of written and spoken varieties of Hebrew at American Jewish overnight camps, we never imagined that as our book Hebrew Infusion: Language and Community at American Jewish Summer Camps was coming off the printing press we would be facing a situation in which most of these camps were making the painful decision to close for the summer of 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Though we had some inkling around Passover that camp leadership was grappling with the implications of the virus’s severity, there was still a glimmer of hope that if anyone could figure out a creative way to keep camps open and safe, it would be Jewish overnight camp directors, who seem to have superpowers that enable them to do what often seems like the impossible: keep hundreds of campers and staff members engaged, entertained, well fed, and happy, while dealing with the logistics of staffing, grounds keeping, and security issues. But the joy of finally receiving copies of the book was tempered by the reality that camping was not going to happen this summer. As a camp alumna and a parent of two children who have attended Young Judaea camps for years, I, along with my family, was devastated by the news we received in May. The annual ritual of pulling out the enormous duffle bags from the basement closet, beginning to label clothing and packing up their belongings was quickly replaced with feelings of sadness and disbelief.

One of the central findings of our book is that Jewish overnight camps have a “secret sauce”—and that Hebrew is one of the key ingredients in creating each camp’s distinctive Jewish flavor. Continue reading

Cultivating New Colleagues

By Robin Kahn

The 2019-2020 undergraduate fellows. A group of eleven college students. I need to hire another teacher.This is my August refrain. My colleagues around the country share it because there is a shortage of Jewish educators in the US. Year after year, I have lamented the dearth of qualified religious school teachers. So when I was asked late last August to  direct the Mandel Center’s Undergraduate Fellows program, I jumped at the opportunity to foster the professional growth of young adult Jewish educators.

A group of undergraduate fellows reviewing Passover materials.And so my journey with a group of Brandeis undergraduates began. Each fellow had committed to teaching in a local  supplementary school in 2020-2021, which was a commitment to waking early on Sunday mornings, preparing lessons in their free time, and arranging their course schedules to allow for mid-week teaching. 

The fellows and I met 12 times over the year, over dinner, to explore teaching and learning in a supplemental Jewish educational setting. We covered such topics as  the Hawkins Triangle, multiple intelligences, social, emotional, and spiritual learning, teaching Israel, talking about God, studying Jewish texts with young children, child development, and choosing materials.

From the very beginning I was inspired by the fellows’ passion for engaging their students in Jewish life. I was confident that over the year, they would become more thoughtful and better Jewish educators. I also knew this experience would be an opportunity for me to learn. Continue reading

Frequent Low-Stakes Assessments Enhance Learning in Hasidic Schools

by Moshe Krakowski

The benefits of frequent low-stakes assessments are well recognized in education research. Though high-stakes assessments have value, smaller, more frequent assessments have some important and unique benefits: they are formative, not just summative, and they provide real-time feedback to the teacher. Furthermore, they promote student learning by giving students many opportunities to retrieve information from memory.

In the course of my current Mandel Center-sponsored research project, Hasidic Learning,  I have observed an assessment technique that takes the benefits of frequent low-stakes assessment and adds to it the benefits of cognitive clinical interviews. The clinical interview is a technique used by researchers to investigate what students understand about a given topic. It is typically semi-structured; that is, it has some anchor questions that are used in all interviews, but no fixed formula throughout. Unlike a standard psychology intervention that follows a set script, the clinical interview allows the researcher flexibility to pursue questions or problems that may arise as the interview unfolds. This lack of rigid structure is a powerful tool in the researcher’s arsenal, allowing him or her to get into the nitty-gritty of student knowledge.

In Hasidic schools (and indeed in most Haredi schools), assessment often takes place using something called an oral farher. Continue reading

Where all the Singing Happens

By Joseph Reimer

As I look back at last month’s The Power of Jewish Camps, a research conference at Brandeis’s Mandel Center for Studies in Jewish Education that Jonathan Krasner and I planned, I am pleased with how many of the sessions went. The session that made the deepest impression, however, is “Jewish Music at Camp and Beyond.” Let me share its significance.

Virtually anyone who has spent a summer at a residential Jewish camp could tell you what a significant role Jewish music, and particularly, communal singing, plays in the life of the camp. Camp alumni report remembering fondly the way the whole camp came together to sing on Shabbat and how they still remember the songs they once learned for a camp play or song festival. The music lives on when other details fade.

So how can we more systematically understand the role that Jewish music plays at these camps?

Continue reading

For Camp Leaders, Some Questions and a Challenge

By Sandra Fox

Kiva Rabinsky, Seth Winberg, Sharon Feiman-Nemser and Joseph Reimer at the conference

At last month’s conference on Jewish summer camping, at Brandeis’s Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Center for Studies in Jewish Education, I hoped my participation would place a friendly parenthetical question mark at the end of the conference title. This hope grew out my research, which  questions the assumptions Jewish leaders and educators hold about camp’s power, and highlights the perspective of the youth they seek to mold.  However, I ultimately found it refreshing to talk about camp with fellow scholars and practitioners–people who, like the historical figures I write about, participate in and shape the lived experience of Jewish camping today. Continue reading

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