Learning about Learning

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

Author: Jon Levisohn (page 3 of 5)

Understanding the Day School Student: What do THEY think about Torah?

Should we focus our efforts to improve the field of Jewish education on teaching, or on learning?

From its founding in 2002, the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Center for Studies in Jewish Education at Brandeis has focused on teaching-and-learning. The hyphens in the phrase signal that we (and the field of teaching-and-learning in general) think about the two terms in relationship to each other. We have always cared about both. At the same time, most of our research over the past decade has looked more closely at the teaching end of the teaching-and-learning spectrum.

More recently, we have become increasingly aware that the field of Jewish education needs to be paying more attention to learners and learning, to hard questions about our desired outcomes and how we might assess those outcomes, and especially, to understanding learners’ experiences. In response to this need new Mandel Center projects now being developed and launched will focus less on the former term and more on the latter. Indeed, we have already begun to do so—and the new name of this blog, “Learning about Learning,” is one way of signaling that shift.

How delightful, therefore, to discover that others are thinking in similar ways. In the following guest post, originally published by the Jim Joseph Foundation, Stanford doctoral student Ziva Reimer Hassenfeld articulates why she believes that field of the teaching and learning of classical Jewish texts needs to adopt precisely the shift that I describe above, and how she intends to make that happen in her own work. Continue reading

The Dispositions of Jewish Service-Learning

Volunteers on a Jewish service-learning programEarlier this year, after publishing an article in the Journal of Jewish Communal Service on the topic of the goals of Jewish service-learning, I posted some of the ideas from my article on this blog. I wrote that, while the goal of service is to benefit the person or community served, the goal of service-learning entails the growth or development of the person doing the service as well. And that growth, I argued, ought to be understood in terms of dispositions.

Which dispositions?  I proposed that we ought to consider three:

  • service-humility, a stance in the face of deep and abiding social problems that is not oriented toward the generation of solutions primarily but rather, more simply, toward doing God’s will in the world;
  • service-discipline, avoiding the ideal of moral heroism in favor of non-heroic, small-scale work in the world, characterized by showing up every day;
  • service-wisdom, exercising our critical and independent judgment in order to discern what God wants us to do in the world.

I’m delighted that these ideas have resonated with some readers.  Most recently, I was honored that Rabbi Jan Katzew and Wendy Grinberg asked for permission to publish a revised and abbreviated version of my article on their new online journal, Avodat ha-Kodesh:  A Journal of Sacred Service Learning.  That revised article is now online.

Image courtesy American Jewish World Service.

The sugyot that every Jew should know

Today we begin a new series of occasional posts featuring essential resources from current or past Mandel Center projects.

oldbooksWhat are the Talmudic sugyot (topics or discussions) that every educated Jew ought to know, the most famous or significant Talmudic discussions?  This document, compiled as part of the Bridging Scholarship and Pedagogy in Jewish Studies project, presents a list of 60+ sugyot nominated by a diverse group of instructors of rabbinic literature in various settings. The criteria clearly range widely, with the result that the nominees include both aggadic and halakhic sugyot, and sugyot chosen for their theological and ideological significance, their contemporary practical significance, or their centrality in discussions among commentators.

The resulting list is quite obviously the product of a committee, via a process of addition without subtraction or prioritization. It is hard to imagine that anyone would actually believe that these 67 sugyot are “what a Jew should know.” Nevertheless, with all of those caveats, the
list represents an interesting set – and there has been abundant interest in the results.

Download: What sugyot should an educated Jew know? [PDF]

Building a Field

The Mandel Foundation, in partnership with Brandeis, established the Mandel Center in 2002 as an expression of the Foundation’s commitment to the importance of research in Jewish education.  Research is not valuable for its own sake.  Rather, research helps to build a knowledge base for teaching and learning in diverse Jewish educational settings.  Rarely does research tell us “what works.”  Rarely does research tell us, definitively, where to invest and where not to invest.  But good research – disciplined inquiry based on systematic analysis of evidence and rigorous construction of arguments – helps us to understand practice better, provides us with powerful ideas to guide practice, and generates images and language and tools that can strengthen the work of practitioners.

How do we build the field of research in Jewish education? Continue reading

Story, Language, Love: Three Modes for a Pedagogy of Peoplehood

“Peoplehood” has been a hot topic in the Jewish communal world for the last few years. Some of the discussion has been insightful and provocative. Other instances amount to little more than cheerleading for a vague idea.  But what’s been missing, it seems to me, is a substantive exploration of how individuals actually become connected to something larger than themselves.

Earlier this year, I offered some ideas on this question in Volume 8 [pdf] of The Peoplehood Papers, published by the Center for Jewish Peoplehood Education.

I made it simple to remember: story, language, love.  These three, I propose, are the three modes through which individuals become connected to something larger than themselves.  If we’re looking for a pedagogy of peoplehood, they are not a bad place to start.

I then presented these ideas at the World Conference of Jewish Communal Service (WCJCS) in July.  Here’s the video.

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