Reinventing Jewish Formal and Informal Learning through Jewish Integrated Experiential Education
Richard D Solomon, PhD
Recently there has been a spate of articles written about reinventing Jewish education.
Toward this end Jonathan Woocher writes:
“It's time to reinvent Jewish education. That isn't because Jewish education today is bad; it's because it can be much, much better than it is.”
In his article Dr. Woocher offers four paradigm shifts.
One: The need to incorporate the strengths of formal and informal experiential Jewish education across Jewish institutions and denominations. Dr. Woocher writes:
If we think about Jewish education as an unfolding set of experiences that can, will, and should take place in multiple settings - synagogues, schools, camps, Israel, service programs, the home, art studios, on line, etc., etc. - then it becomes clear that all of these settings need to work in concert with one another to create the richest possible array of experiences, diverse (affording multiple entry points and pathways), but inter-connected (allowing for reinforcement and graceful handoffs), in order to attract and affect the largest possible number of learners.
Two: The need to create models of Jewish education that sharply focus on the needs of the learner.
Three: The willingness to bring innovations and innovators from the margins of the Jewish educational system to its center.
Four: The need to create Jewish education programs that are proactive, not reactive.
The purpose of Jewish education should be to provide learners with the resources from both Jewish tradition and the contemporary Jewish community to help them live meaningful, purposeful, and fulfilling Torah-based lives.
Heretofore, the reigning paradigm for Jewish education has been reactive. We feared, he writes, ‘the loss of Jewish identity’ through assimilation , and thus ‘Jewish education ‘ was charged ‘with preventing this loss by making us "more Jewish."
Accepting Dr. Woocher’s four paradigm shifts, let’s explore how we might create a new model for Jewish education that (a) incorporates the strengths of both formal and informal experiential education (b) is learner-centered, (c) is open to innovation and (d) is pro-active.
What are some of the perceived strengths of Jewish formal education?
In comparison to informal experiential education (i.e. the learning that occurs through participating in camp and youth activities, mitzvah projects, trips to Israel, etc.) one can make the following generalizations about the strengths of Jewish formal education.
Jewish formal education
• provides Judaic text-based learning and instruction
• emphasizes teacher-centered pedagogical methods
• has planned and often written lesson plans with learning objectives that are aligned with enduring Jewish understanding
• offers instruction that takes place in a traditional classroom
• is similar to what students expect in secular education
What are some of the perceived strengths of Jewish informal education?
In comparison to Jewish formal education, one can make the following generalizations about the strengths of Jewish informal education.
Jewish informal education
• provides Judaic experiential learning and instruction
• emphasizes learner-centered instruction
• is perceived by students as affording a unique, spontaneous and individualized learning experience
• offers instruction that takes place outside of the traditional classroom. Indeed, it is the milieu, context, the location of the learning environment (e.g. museum, nursing home, Masada) which enhances the learning experience
• is quite different to what students experience in secular education
Accordingly if we were to reinvent Jewish education, it would incorporate the advantages of both Jewish formal and informal learning, and be learner-centered.
But how would this new model for Jewish education be open to innovation?
The Innovative Role of Instructional Technology in Jewish Education
With the advent of recent instructional technology hardware (i.e. flip video cameras, smartphones, lap tops, tablets and smartboards, etc) and web-based software (i.e. Skype, Google Docs, Flickr, Twitter, Facebook and new apps for mobile phones) the divide between instruction and learning inside and outside of the classroom is narrowing. Accordingly, with this new technology the real and virtual worlds outside of the classroom can now enter the four walls of the school room, and the strengths of Jewish formal education can be integrated within Jewish informal experiential education.
What is Jewish Integrated Experiential Education?
Jewish Integrated Experiential Education is the general term that describes the incorporation of the assets of formal and informal Jewish experiential education in any Jewish instructional venue (i.e. day school, complementary school, higher educational institution, camp, youth center, museum excursion, trip to Israel, etc.). For this construct to be implemented it requires three additional components, (1) the curriculum specialist or designer , (2) the staff developer or teacher trainer, and (3) the application of computer hardware (e.g. smartboards, lap tops, tablets and smartphones) and web-based software (i.e. email, Google Docs, Skype, audio files, video applications, mobile apps, etc.)
The Application of Jewish Integrated Experiential Education
Given the conceptual framework, Jewish Integrated Experiential Education, learning can be ignited through text study, a teacher’s lesson plan, a student question, or the milieu, context or setting (i.e. the traditional classroom or a visit to a Jewish museum, etc.) for learning.
For simplicity , let’s assume the spark for inquiry comes from text study in a traditional classroom setting.
In Parshat Shelach-Lecha (Exodus, 3:8) there is a description of the Land of Israel as a "land flowing with milk and honey."
The role of the teacher:
The teacher can share this text and invite students to generate their own questions such as:
• Is Israel still the land of milk and honey?
• What does Israel produce?
• What doesn't Israel produce?
• How does Israel feed and nurture its people?
• What phrase would you use to describe Israel today? Why?
The teacher with the participation of his or her students can generate ways of finding answers to their questions. These resources may include:
• Finding print material
• Locating pictures
• Researching the internet
• Emailing Israelis and Israeli institutions (e.g. Ministry of Tourism)
• Speaking to Israelis about these questions through Skype, Oovoo
• Texting Israelis
• Asking students in a class in Israel to investigate these questions and report their findings
• Inviting students who will be taking a trip to Israel to answer these questions by transmitting pictures, music, video and audio recordings, power point presentations via email, Skype and apps on their mobile phones
Now let’s imagine that students in either a formal classroom in Israel or and Israeli youth group are planning a trip to the United States and they also have a set of questions that they wish to pose to American Jewish students. Would it not be possible for students in the United States and Israel to exchange information using the new web-based instructional technology?
As a culminating project students in any learning environment (i.e. traditional classroom, virtual online classroom, non-school room venue) will individually or in learning teams investigate text-based student-generated questions, analyze the resources discovered, and prepare a report (e.g. paper, poster, song, role-play, video, audio, mime, multi-media presentation, picture album, etc.) and share their findings with their on site or virtual classmates. For more details refer to the Jewish Integrated Experiential Activities Learning Chart by clicking on this link, https://docs.google.com/document/d/1mtHLXpMqNZROxCLY_3z50Rg5sJg34WK...
These collective learning experiences provide a snapshot of what Jewish Integrated Experiential Education might look, sound and feel like. You will note that these experiences cannot be reduced to either Jewish formal or informal experiential learning, nor simply be defined as a text-study, teacher-directed or learner-centered unit. It is, in fact, an example of Jewish Integrated Experiential Education.
How is Jewish Integrated Experiential Education Pro-active?
According to Dr. Woocher’s thesis, a new model for Jewish education should not be derived out of fear of assimilation into the larger culture; it must become a vehicle to empower our students to live meaningful and fulfilling lives. Toward that end, Jewish Integrated Experiential Education affords our students the opportunity to study Judaic texts, participate in Jewish experiential learning activities, and create Judaic knowledge products (e.g. movies, audio files, power points, multi-media presentations, etc.) which both measure student learning, and transmit our sacred heritage to the world.
Is Jewish Integrated Experiential Education Already Here?
There is no question that Jewish Integrated Experiential Education is presently being implemented in many different Jewish formal and informal programs around the globe. However, the name of the construct, Jewish Integrated Experiential Education, is not commonly used at this time. Let’s explore this further.
In formal Jewish educational settings Jewish experiential education is referred to as active learning, cooperative learning, inquiry-based learning, problem-based learning, project-based learning and student-centered learning.
Formal Jewish educational settings teachers are increasing using smartboards, and in some day and complementary schools students are using tablets, and smart phones inside and outside of the classroom to facilitate instruction and enhance learning.
Jewish informal education programs (i.e. day and sleep-away camps, youth activities, congregational trips, museum visits, etc.) have always been sterling examples of the efficacy of Jewish experiential learning.
On the chart below you will find institutions that have already begun to implement Jewish Integrated Experiential Education.
Temple Beth Sholom
Rabbi James Greene email@example.com
Rabbi Adam Grossman RabbiAdam@timemphis.org
Auerbach Central Agency for Jewish Education
Dr. Gloria Becker Gbecker@acaje-jop.org
Jewish Foundation School of Staten Island http://www.jewishfoundationschool.org/
Rabbi Tzvi Daum firstname.lastname@example.org
United Synagogue Youth
Ms. Amy Dorsch email@example.com
Beth El Congregation
Ms. Janette Silverman firstname.lastname@example.org
Bi-Cultural Day School
Mrs. Yocheved Singer email@example.com
Now is the time for our Jewish formal and informal educational programs to work together so that what happens outside of the four walls of the classroom is intentionally and seamlessly integrated within the curriculum of our day and complementary schools. With the advent of new technological hardware (i.e. smartboards, laps top, tablets and smartphones) and new software for communication and collaboration, and the creation of Judaic web-based products, we can fulfill the promise of teaching our children what it means to live a meaningful Torah-based life.
Woocher, J. (August, 2011). Reinventing Jewish education. RJ.org. http://blogs.rj.org/reform/2011/08/reinventing-jewish-education.html
(Retrieved September 4, 2011).