Monday, November 30, 2009

Social Networking before the Age of Twitter

What Facebook Can't Give You, a fascinating article that appeared in the November 25th issue of Wall Street Journal, describes a group of approximately 20 men, of whom 75% happen to be Jewish, who have been meeting together since 1957.

I recommend the article as a good read, but also for the following paragraph, which appears somewhere near the end.
'Daddy's Ideas'
'The men had hoped their sons would create an adjunct group that would one day assume the Wednesday 10 mantle but none took the initiative. "Daddy's ideas are not the ones children tend to take on," says Mr. Menschel.'
 Does that mean those ideas were not good?  Of course not.  I think it means that the founding generation cannot expect those that follow to necessarily value what they value.  Or, at the least, cannot expect the next generation to express even the values that are shared in the same ways.

As this is true for those 'movers and shakers' in the Wednesday 10, it is often true of our institutions.  It is the reason that to be successful going forward institutions have to be willing to re-invent themselves, to welcome the new ideas of those who come after the founders.

And this is particularly challenging in the context of a religious institution.  Because most religion is by its nature conservative, and Judaism is no exception, there is a need to preserve the values, practices and wisdom of  the past.

How we do that in a popular culture that often seems to look ahead, with little regard for the past, is one of the most difficult tasks we face.

Meaningful Assessment

How do we know if our learners have learned?  Sometimes we ask them outright:

Baby Blues Nov 29

And sometimes we get meaningless answers!!
There are better ways to assess learning.
A good article - Why Every Student Needs Critical Friends, by Amy Reynolds, describes one way of involving the learner in assessment.
Understanding formative and summative assessment is the subject of this clearly written article in the December 2007 issue of Educational Leadership.  It urges the teacher to help the learner answer these three questions:
  1. Where am I going?
  2. Where am I now?
  3. How can I close the gap?
A list of possible assessment tools is part of this extensive learning module from edutopia, a reliable source of good information for educators.
Developing valuable and meaningful assessment is one of the most challenging aspects of teaching and learning.  I urge you to find out more.  I also urge you to try different types of assessment in your classroom, knowing ahead of time that some will work better than others in helping your students answer the 3 important questions above.  And remember, if they can't answer question #1, they can't begin to answer the other 2 questions.
It won't be perfect when you start, but if you are serious about evaluating learning and helping your students do the same I am sure you will get better at it as you go along.


As I typed the title to this post I thought about the column in yesterday's NY Times Magazine about Camel Case, a term I had never heard before but which describes the practice of capitalizing letters within a word (as in the hump of a camel!).  Just a note - when I do this, it is to emphasize the use in Hebrew of attached prefixes and suffixes.  Not really important, except I hope it helps the reader differentiate the prefix or suffix from the word.

And now to the parasha:
There are several stories in this week's parasha.  Yaakov is told by God to return to Canaan.  Knowing his brother is there, and more than a little nervous about meeting him after all these years, he devises a plan to send messengers ahead.  The rest of the summary is here at My Jewish Learning, with some questions you can think about .  As we have seen each week, there are some aspects of this story that are troubling to the 21st century reader.

[By the way, I recently read in a sixth grade textbook that all this took place in "Palestine", with no mention of the land of Canaan.  Strange, since the country was not named "Palestine" until the Roman conquest.  One wonders who is writing (or editing) social studies textbooks.] is a site that offers a short (usually about 4 minutes long) cartoon video about each parasha of the Torah.
In its video of Vayishlach the creator of this week's commentary suggests that the "man" with whom Yaakov wrestled was neither an angel nor himself.  Watch the episode by clicking on the link and consider whether or not you agree with the conclusion.

The rape of Yaakov's daughter Dinah is another of the incidents described in detail in this parasha.  Many of you have read The Red Tent, by Anita Diamant.  This novel based on the incident described here has been widely discussed, particularly in women's groups - the audience to whom the book seems to be addressed.

  • Do you think it is appropriate to rewrite stories from the Torah today?
  • Why might one want to do this?
  • Why do women today often react negatively to stories in the Torah?
  • In what way might this story sound different to girls [and women] than to boys [and men]?  How might your teaching acknowledge this?
I look forward to your thoughts and comments.