Thursday, October 8, 2009

An Advantage Jewish Educators Have

Constructivist teaching is an exciting, engaging way of supporting student learning. You may be interested in reading about a teacher's experience with constructivism in her classroom here.

Teachers in general education are often challenged by the necessity of adhering to curriculum that is designed to improve outcomes on high-stakes tests. Because of this they may find it difficult to honor the principle of allowing the learner to set the agenda for learning.

In Jewish education, I would suggest, the situation is different. While there are set curricula that schools adopt and/or create, there is a great deal more flexibility in desired Jewish learning outcomes than is generally the case in the general educational world. There are - at least in the congregational or complementary schools I am familiar with - no universal desired outcomes for students learning (one might argue about the requirements for performance at Bar/Bat Mitzvah, but that is a whole other story, one I hope to address at length some other time)

The outcomes we hope for are broad, deep, and often difficult to articulate.

Certainly we want to encourage subject knowledge. One would be hard-pressed to argue against a shared body of Judaic content knowledge. What should be included in this body is of course open to discussion.

We want the products of our education to participate in Jewish life. In what ways? Again, open to discussion.

We want our learners to go further - to believe that their Jewish learning is not complete when they finish the learning programs we provide for them - that they can and should be learning Jewishly during the rest of their lives.

That last outcome is one that I believe constructivist teaching can support in a powerful way. If our learners are given the autonomy to learn what interests them, and surely there are enough options within the body of Jewish content to support many different learning streams, then I believe they will see Jewish learning as something that has the potential to meet their actual needs.

Learners flourish when they have control of their learning. In Jewish education we are in a unique position to encourage and support this kind of learning - and to hope it will lead to a lifetime of self-motivated Jewish learning.

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