By Rafi Cashman
We in the Jewish education community are really beginning to dive into general education research when it comes to teaching (and learning) sacred text. The Mandel Center’s recent two-day conference on developing independent readers of Tanach was a wonderful experience of how productive such a gathering can be—especially when conducted with a group of talented, thoughtful and committed educators. I entered the conference having spent the last three years with the Tanach PLC at my school trying to use the research on early literacy and reading complex texts to inform our teaching practices in the middle school. But our group felt as though we were doing this work alone, and encountering a larger body of research that we weren’t always sure how to apply. I left the conference with deeper knowledge, a series of new questions, a new community of practice, and new ways for thinking about the relationship between literacy research and the teaching of Tanach. Continue reading
By Arielle Levites
As part of a larger study of student understandings of rabbinics—what it is, how it is learned, and what it’s for—it was clear to the research team that it would be important to include the voices of day school educators who teach rabbinics. We interviewed ten educators, including those who teach rabbinics and those who supervise its teaching. We sought diversity by denomination (of the school and its students), geography, perceived sophistication of the school’s curricular approach by the standards and benchmarks team, and the educator’s pre-service preparation (rabbinic ordination, graduate level study of education, academic study of rabbinic text). We asked them how they conceptualized rabbinics and what understandings they wanted to develop in their students.
The educators we spoke with respected the complexity of rabbinic texts and the possibility that one could teach for multiple understandings. Yet when asked what understandings they prioritized in their teaching, almost everyone emphasized promoting an understanding of rabbinics as a model for reasoning and ethical decision making. Continue reading
By Ziva R. Hassenfeld
This year marked the beginning of an exciting new chapter in Jewish education. A few weeks ago, Prizmah, a new organization comprising the five major day school networks, held its first conference. Thousands of educators from across the country gathered to compare notes, share best practices, and chart the future of Jewish education in North America.
This moment represents an opportunity to take a fresh look at what day schools, regardless of their particular ideology, share: the study of Jewish texts, however defined. For the last 15 years, the Jewish Day School Standards and Benchmarks, developed by the William Davidson School of Education at JTS, have offered a clear picture of what it looks like to read Tanakh successfully. The first standard, for example, states that students will be “independent readers of the biblical text.” They should notice textual details and ambiguities, and will be able to “cite a text to prove a point opinion or claim.”
But how do we get students to that point? Continue reading
By Elliot Goldberg
Virtually all of my colleagues who teach in Early Childhood (EC) or Early Elementary (EE) settings tell me that rabbinics is not a part of the curriculum that they teach.
This is not a surprise. It is a common assumption in Jewish schools that rabbinics is a discipline for the upper grades. In reflecting about the place of rabbinics in their curriculum, educators are likely to identify the starting point as the time in which a book from the rabbinic canon is placed in front of students and/or when students take a course that is named after a rabbinic text.
There is a certain logic to this assumption. Because we encounter the rabbis – and their stories, thoughts, ideas, and values – through texts, we equate the discipline of rabbinics with the study of rabbinic literature. Because rabbinic literature is often complex and, due to its language and logical structure, can be challenging to learn, we wait until students have acquired the appropriate skills and intellectual maturity before we engage them in the study of rabbinic texts.
But the notion that educational experiences must have a text at their center in order for students to be learning rabbinics is not accurate, and it is one that the field of Jewish education should work to change. Continue reading
By Charlotte Abramson and Rabbi Sheryl Katzman
Building on 13 years of experience designing standards-based curriculum in TaNaKH, the Jewish Day School Standards and Benchmarks Project (now the Legacy Heritage Instructional Leadership Institute) of the William Davidson School of Jewish Education at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, launched the Rabbinics Initiative to develop a compendium of standards and benchmarks for the teaching and learning of rabbinics. We began the process at our February 2014 advisory board meeting entitled A Collaboration of the Academy and the Field.
We brought together teachers, scholars and the leadership of the day school associations. Practitioners shared experience from the classroom and their knowledge of children. They represented schools from grades K-12 and a broad spectrum of religious affiliations. By design, they pushed the group to see the faces of diverse learners. Scholars from the fields of Jewish education and rabbinic literature supported the work and ensured that we remained authentic to the disciplines of rabbinics and education.
Inviting Jewish education scholars created a bridge between the field and the academy that had immediate impact on the work of developing standards and benchmarks for Jewish Day Schools. Inspired by their participation in the Rabbinics Initiative, the Davidson School and the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Center for Studies in Jewish Education at Brandeis University launched a partnership to develop a research project, Students’ Understanding of Rabbinics. The project brought the experiences of students to the forefront of our deliberation in new and invaluable ways during the writing and initial implementation phases of our work. During the initial writing phase, the voices of the students represented in the study helped us develop criteria to select which standards to develop. Those voices reminded the pilot schools to place student at the center when selecting standards to guide the development of their curriculum.
We had some trepidation about sharing this research with our schools. Continue reading