Through our constant and evolving relationships with our Day School Educators’ Challenge grant recipients, I’ve had the opportunity to meet and work with many passionate educators where the question is asked, how do we improve Jewish education? This month, we have Rabbi Yehuda from Stars of Israel Academy in Kew Gardens, NY. He has been a leader in Jewish education for 15+ years and is gracious enough to share his thoughts on ways to improve Jewish education for maximum success in Jewish day schools.
There are many positives and benefits to a Jewish education, but this blog article is not to highlight our successes. Consider this an acknowledgment of a couple areas that need improvement and use this as a resource to help identify areas where we can progress.
Many teachers and Rebbeim, while expressing a desire to take a student based approach, find it too impractical to implement. Instructors face pressure (either self-imposed or from administrators) to cover the curriculum. Instructors find it difficult to break out of a routine of trying to impart as much information as possible during a limited class period.
One thing that can help instructors change their approach is to incorporate technology into the classroom. The first thing that this accomplishes is to redirect teaching from being information based to being skill based. The proper technology helps create a structured environment that enables every student to practice the skills according to individual levels. This is almost impossible for an individual instructor to accomplish in a traditional classroom. Another way technology can help is by offloading some of the imparting information to the technology itself. Many are familiar with the idea of a “flipped classroom” where the “lecture” part of the lesson is done by students at home with a video. The skills are then practiced during class time. The exception to this is for Torah studies, implementing a “flipped classroom” is more challenging.
Students, especially younger ones, find it difficult to truly comprehend a Torah lecture without adequate background information.
Students need to be able to ask questions about the lesson to make sure they understand the material. Without the ability to ask about the “what” that is being presented, it is likely that many students are not able to get a clear understanding.
Interaction with the students during the presentation of the lesson is a very crucial part of the learning process. The instructor needs to know how the students are relating to the lesson to be able to adjust the level of instruction. In addition, the interaction of the instructor with the students is a crucial part of the learning process itself. We must remember that the greatest interactive tool that we have in education is being a compassionate human being. I have to stress the benefits of technology in the classroom. There are white board/screen casting programs that will allow an instructor to record a guided lesson using demonstration techniques. This lesson can be provided to the students as a review rather than a pre-lesson. Besides answering questions about the lesson in the program, students can submit their questions about the lesson as well. This approach has the potential to completely change the way an instructor teaches a class. The easier parts of the information do not need to be “covered” in the classroom since the students will be able to access the information on their own. The instructor can then focus more on the “interactive” parts of the lesson without feeling pressure to teach every piece of information. The instructor can then adjust the focus of the lesson based on the needs and interests of the students. The questions that students submit will be answered the next day in class. This gives a greater opportunity for the instructor to address the needs of the students and be more of a focus of the lesson rather than the information.
Improving Jewish education, and education in general is a constant cycle of conversation, assessment, and implementation. Let’s continue the dialogue and our impact for generations to come.