Learning about Learning

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

Category: Research (page 3 of 5)

Great Teaching Takes More Than a Great Jewish Journey

By Ziva R. Hassenfeld

Many believe that being a great Jewish educator is, above all, about being a passionate and spiritual Jew. But decades of education research have shown that good teachers are made, not born.  Ultimately, an inspiring Jewish journey can only take an educator so far.  The best Jewish educators need to have deep knowledge of how to teach as well.

Aryeh Bendavid recently argued that without the “white fire” of a teacher’s spiritual journey, the “black fire” of Jewish learning lacks intensity. This notion of teaching and Jewish studies teachers is what Jewish education scholar Alex Pomson called “the teacher as Rebbe, the oldest and most powerful archetype of Jewish teaching.”[1] Bendavid concludes by arguing that professional development for Jewish educators should focus on cultivating their inner spiritual life.

But in research that I’ve conducted at the Mandel Center, I’ve found that Jewish studies teachers from across the Jewish educational landscape already place a high priority on their own spiritual life as a key factor for success as Jewish educators. One teacher told me, “Either you’re a teacher who’s living by this stuff, or, at the very least, you have some connection to this stuff. That’s why you’re teaching this.” He paused and concluded, “My passion for Judaism just innately comes through when I’m teaching.”

To be sure, powerful role models are a key ingredient for successful Jewish education. But being a good teacher requires much more. Continue reading

Learning to Read Talmud: What it Looks Like and How it Happens

This post is by Jane L. Kanarek and Marjorie Lehman, editors of Learning to Read Talmud: What it Looks Like and How it Happens, which emerged from the Learning to Read Talmud project. It is excerpted from Ancient Jew Review.

downloadWe are witnessing an intensification of interest in the study of Talmudic literature in North America, not only in the larger Jewish community but also within the academy. Yet, study of what it means to learn to read Talmud – how teachers teach and how students learn to read – lags far behind this growing interest. Recognizing this gap, we gathered together a group of devoted academics who teach Talmud in universities and seminaries and, under the sponsorship of the Jack, Joseph, and Morton Mandel Center for Studies in Jewish Education at Brandeis University, embarked on a collaborative effort to study what it means to teach our students to read Talmud. Our book, Learning to Read Talmud: What It Looks Like and How It Happens, presents a series of eight focused classroom studies written by professors of talmudic literature who were asked to respond to two questions:

1. What does it mean to read Talmud in your particular classroom?

2. What does this reading look like when it happens?

Grounded in the scholarship of both rabbinic literature and practitioner inquiry, Learning to Read Talmud is a rare undertaking that uniquely bridges the worlds of academic Talmud and the study of pedagogy. It contributes to the growing field of the scholarship of teaching and learning. While most academics spend an enormous amount of time teaching, our institutions do not always recognize that teaching should be—and often is—an academic endeavor that involves critical study and analysis. Much as we write about the Talmud itself, we pay far less attention to the significance and contribution of writing about our teaching. With our book, Learning to Read Talmud, we aim to expand the research agendas of Talmudists to include scholarship on the teaching of rabbinic literature. As academic Talmudists—“insiders”—with a broad and nuanced understanding of both what the Talmud is and the vast range of approaches useful for reading it, we believe that professors of Talmud are uniquely reflective researchers of their teaching and the learning processes of their students. We are well-positioned to contribute both to the field of rabbinics and to the field of pedagogy. As articulated by K. Patricia Cross and Mimi Harris Steadman, “Teachers who know their discipline and the problems of teaching it to others are in the best position to make systematic observations and to conduct ongoing investigations into the nature of learning and the impact of teaching upon it.”[1] Learning to Read Talmud is thus rooted in the many research traditions that define us as Talmudists. The eight case studies included in this book describe the types of teaching and learning that emerge from the very nature of the Talmudic text itself. They not only present examples of an array of teaching techniques but also offer insight into how one teaches for different reading results as dependent on the different contexts in which professors find themselves.

Dr. Jane Kanarek is Associate Professor of Rabbinics at Hebrew College.
Dr. Marjorie Lehman is Associate Professor of Talmud and Rabbinics at the Jewish Theological Seminary.

Read the full post: http://www.ancientjewreview.com/articles/2017/1/3/learning-to-read-talmud-bridging-scholarship-and-pedagogy

[1] K. Patricia Cross and Mimi Harris Steadman, Classroom Research: Implementing the Scholarship of Teaching (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1996), xviii.

A Collaboration of the Field and the Academy

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

New Survey Finds that Hebrew at Camp is about Connection, Not Proficiency

By Sharon Avni, Sarah Bunin Benor, and Jonathan Krasner

ad51b3ad-195d-4a74-b0c2-6ade23f37fc1Chanichim, follow your madrichim to the teatron for peulat erev.” For those not conversant in the language of many American Jewish overnight summer camps, that means “campers, follow your counselors to the theater for the evening activity.” Why do some camps feature sentences like this, or decorative Hebrew signs, or spirited Hebrew song sessions? How does Hebrew usage differ among the wide variety of Jewish overnight camps? These are some of the questions we set out to address in our study of Hebrew use at camp. While we are working on a book presenting the full study, we want to share some of the results with you: findings from a survey of 103 camp directors of diverse Jewish residential camps across North America, about their camps’ use of Hebrew.

Our findings show that, for the most part, in the minds of camp administrators, Hebrew usage at camp is not about developing proficiency in spoken Hebrew. Rather, it is a vehicle for nurturing feelings of belonging to the camp community and the broader Jewish community, as well as connection to Jewish sacred texts, Israel, and the Jewish people. Continue reading

Hebrew Infusion at American Jewish Summer Camps

Praise for the kitchen staff/Tzevet Mitbach at Camp Galil (Habonim Dror Camp in Pennsylvania)


By Sarah Bunin Benor

Editor’s Note: Over the last three years, Sarah Bunin Benor, Jonathan Krasner, and Sharon Avni have visited and surveyed Jewish summer camps across North America to learn how Hebrew is incorporated at camp. This research is a project of the Mandel Center, with funding from the Consortium for Applied Studies in Jewish Education (CASJE). Next week at Foundation for Jewish Camp’s Leaders Assembly, the researchers will share some of their findings and offer an interactive space for camps to share experiences and best practices. This spring, they will release findings from the survey portion of the study of Hebrew at camps; a book about the project will be published next year.  

Achshav kulam na lavo la’aruchat erev” (Now, everyone, please come to dinner), said one young man to the other madrichim (counselors) and chanichim (campers) at Habonim Dror Camp Galil, a small progressive Zionist summer camp in Pennsylvania. From the kikar (square), not far from the gan (garden), they entered the chadar ochel (dining hall). Several Hebrew words were featured on plaques above the mitbach (kitchen). Soon after dinner, they sang and danced to Hebrew songs like Lo Yisa Goy and recited the blessings for Havdalah in Hebrew.

With all this Hebrew, it may seem that Camp Galil is geared toward Israelis and other Hebrew speakers. However, this is not the case.

Continue reading

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