Learning about Learning

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

Author: Orit Kent (page 1 of 2)

New Video of Middle Schoolers Learning Torah Through Partnership

How do learners become empowered to engage in meaningful Torah study with their peers? How can we turn seemingly incidental moments of discovery and connection into intentional design and instruction?

We explored these questions through an eight session course for seventh graders in a supplemental school, using a pedagogy of partnership. We documented the learning and teaching as part of a design research project sponsored by the Mandel Center’s Beit Midrash Research Project. This work builds on scholarship dealing with text learning, group learning and classroom discourse in order to understand how to induct learners into the dispositions and practices of meaningful text learning with others.

These videos provide two ways of learning about the seventh graders’ experiences.

The first (above) provides a brief overview of the pedagogy of partnership and students’ experiences studying Torah through havruta.

The second video (below) gives a fuller account of the seventh graders’ experiences learning Torah through partnership and will let you get further inside their challenges, discussions of text, and reflections on learning.

As you watch, consider:

  • What educational values and goals are reflected in the work that students are doing in these videos?
  • What beliefs about teaching and learning text undergird this pedagogy of partnership? Beliefs about students? about text? and the nature of learning?
  • What are students learning—intellectually, socially, ethically, and spiritually?
  • How can the pedagogy of partnership support 21st century learning goals such as cooperation, communication, creativity and critical thinking?

Full version:


Interpretive Experience: The Core of Meaningful Tanakh Education

Classroom Beit MidrashThis blog post, by Mandel Center researchers Allison Cook and Orit Kent, is based on an article recently published in HaYidion: The RAVSAK Journal. The full article is available here.

Through the Mandel Center’s Beit Midrash Research Project, we have been visiting early childhood to high school classes for years. We have seen that Tanakh learning tends to fall into two major types of student activity: language and/or translation exercises, and personalization. Language exercises range from picking out patterns of suffixes and roots in the original text to doing full written translations of Tanakh passages. In personalization exercises, students explore pre-determined themes in the text and apply them to their own lives, such as discussing their relationships with siblings when studying the Jacob and Esau narrative, or answering the question “what would I do in this situation?”

There are many good reasons why teachers use translation and personalization in Tanakh study, but when they are the main or only approaches they can limit the extent to which students can meaningfully engage with the text. Continue reading

A Pedagogy for the Encounter Between Artistic Expression and Jewish Life

By Orit Kent and Allison Cook

This summer, we made the trip out of our office and across the Brandeis campus into dance studios, fine art studios and music rooms to consult with the community educators of BIMA’s Summer Art Institute for Jewish teens. We shared our research and engaged the educators in specific aspects of our “havruta inspired pedagogy” [PDF] in order to help them design and implement the program’s artists’ beit midrash, a distinguishing feature of the BIMA program.

The artists’ beit midrash merges the activities of a “house of study” of Jewish texts with the activities of an artist’s studio. As such, it is meant to create the conditions for fulfilling BIMA’s mission “to guide high school students as they develop their imaginative and artistic faculties and to explore the relevance of Jewish tradition in their lives.” In small groups headed by BIMA community educators and artists, teens worked to explore both an artistic medium of their choice and Jewish texts and stories.

Our role was to help the community educators practice a pedagogy for cultivating the “serious and dynamic encounter between artistic expression and Jewish life” that is part of BIMA’s mission and plan for leading the teen groups. Continue reading

Creating the Conditions for Successful Partner Work in Classrooms

“Two are better than one …” (Ecclesiastes 4:9)

This is an old idea, but is it always true? In a classroom, how can we make sure that two students working together will really learn? The question for researchers and practitioners to consider is what kind of conditions do we need in order to leverage the power of two because simply putting two together does not guarantee a better outcome.

Infusion: Integrating JewishValues in the General Studies Classroom, a webcase created by Orit Kent and Jocelyn Segal, considers this very issue in the context of elementary school life.

Continue reading

Navigating the Live Action of the Classroom

In the teaching of Jewish studies, we have few shared understandings of how we get from point A to B, what those points even are, and what happens in between. We don’t really have a richly developed “grammar of practice”—that is, shared “language and structures for describing practice,” (Grossman, 2011) which can give us some basic common referents upon which we can reflect and build. In recent years, work on the teaching of Tanakh and rabbinics has begun to provide language for different orientations toward teaching these subjects, along with benchmarks for success. Nevertheless, we still lack a fully fleshed-out vocabulary for the pedagogy of Jewish studies that can help teachers and learners reflect on and navigate the live action of the classroom and improve and deepen their practice. Continue reading

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