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 a multiplicity of understandings. Yet when asked what understandings they themselves prioritized in their teaching, almost everyone emphasized inculcating in students 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
Today we hear from Jane Kanarek (Hebrew College) who, with Marjorie Lehman (JTS), led the Mandel Center’s Learning to Read Talmud project. In June, they convened ten scholars of rabbinic literature to reflect on how students learn to read Talmud. Here, Jane considers how learning to read Talmud can cultivate certain dispositions in students.
In its simplest and most straightforward sense, learning to read means learning to decode. It involves learning to assemble letters into words, words into sentences, and sentences into paragraphs. Of course, this understanding of reading is far too narrow. First, it ignores the importance of sense-making, of forming some kind of coherent understanding of these different words, sentences, and paragraphs. Second, it elides the fact that learning to read is not a linear process.
Today we hear from Marjorie Lehman (JTS) who, with Jane Kanarek (Hebrew College), led the Mandel Center’s Learning to Read Talmud project. In June, they convened ten scholars of rabbinic literature to reflect on how students learn to read Talmud. Here, she shares some of the questions about teaching and learning that surfaced.
Scholars in the field of Talmud and Rabbinics who also teach rarely have an opportunity to reflect, analyze, and discuss their successes and challenges in the classroom. While we attend academic conferences to discuss our work, and publish research in books and articles, we spend little time learning from one another about what we do in our courses or reflecting together on how the pedagogical decisions we make affect the learning outcomes of our students.
All of us spend a great deal of time preparing to teach our students how to read rabbinic texts. We articulate goals based on the teaching contexts in which we find ourselves, think about appropriate assignments, and examine what we can learn about our students’ abilities from them, but we tend not to gather to discuss our pedagogy–as important as it is. Furthermore, few of us ever take on the task of writing about how we translate our scholarship into teaching, or of reflecting on the extent to which teaching well and researching well do—or do not—inform one another. Continue reading
This post is based on Mandel Center Director Jon A. Levisohn’s introduction to the recent Conference on Transformative Jewish Education, held at Brandeis in March. The conference web page has more blog posts and other resources.
When people describe Jewish educational programs as “transformative,” what do they mean?
Some argue that “transformative education” is an empty bit of hyperbole that does not mean anything in particular. There’s no reason to believe that there’s any well-reasoned conception of transformation that grounds the use of the terms. And there’s certainly no reason to believe that those who are using this language have any evidence that their programs are actually transformative for their participants.
The skeptics have a point. We often make claims about our programs that we cannot really justify. And there’s no reason to think that, each time someone uses the term “transformative” to describe a program, those usages can all be subsumed under one coherent conception.
Nevertheless, when we talk about “transformation” in Jewish education or use the adjective “transformative” to describe a program, there’s something else going on. The term, I believe, points to a desired outcome: an aspiration for the program to have a certain kind of impact on the participants. Continue reading