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In this Newsletter:

Developing Jewish peoplehood consciousness among teens

Online Hebrew Resource

Marshall Memo: Nine Possible Ways to Conduct a Classroom Discussion on a Book (including a Book of Tanach)

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Developing Jewish peoplehood consciousness among teens (Back to Top)

In the October 23, 2015 issue of eJewishphilanthropy, Dr. Ezra Kopelowitz, an Israeli sociologist specializing in Jewish education, explores what it means to help teens develop a sense of collective identity and take responsibility for a strong future for the Jewish people. Based on a study of Diller fellows, he found that the one quality that distinguishes the teen leader who possesses a strong sense of peoplehood versus those who don't is "an intellectual engagement with the challenges facing the Jewish people today and a commitment to translate his or her ideas into action. In other words, a Jewish leader has an opinion about what is good for the Jews and is willing to act on it, the combination of which we label as 'Peoplehood Consciousness.'”

The author writes:

Peoplehood Consciousness feeds and shapes a number of other key characteristics, at least some of which are present for any Diller alumni whom we categorize as showing Peoplehood Consciousness. These are:

1. A pro-active Jewish identity that is not dependent on an existing Jewish framework

These young people seek out Jewish meaning and engagement wherever they find themselves.

2. Jewish journey – continued Jewish learning and on-going experimentation

The Diller alumni with Peoplehood Consciousness imbue their lives with Jewish relevance, continually experimenting and adapting as they move from high school to college, to travel, to a career, and eventually to raising a family.

3. Awareness of the Jewish other and an embrace of Jewish pluralism

A common virtue of Diller alumni with Peoplehood Consciousness is a strong awareness of the Jewish other and an embrace of Jewish pluralism. While other Jewish organizations produce teen leaders with the other characteristics described here, Diller is among the few programs that focus on the encounter between Jews who are different from one another. For a year these Jewish teens interact intensively with Jews who are different than themselves, in terms of religious and cultural outlook and in terms of national origin. They also receive an intensive exposure to Israeli and Diaspora Jewish society. The result is a sense of mission to nurturing Peoplehood that goes beyond the good of any particular Jewish group. The following are representative excerpts from two alumni.

Question: Since Diller, have you given much thought to the challenges facing the Jewish people? What are the challenges that you have given thought to?

“The ways in which our community is oppressed and closed off to different groups of people; the ways in which the relationship between Israel and the Diaspora has not been fully figured out; the ways in which we need to integrate into non-Jewish societies and the ways we should hold back. North-American Jews don’t speak good Jewish language, and I find that scary for our community. Language has always been essential to the Jewish identity. I worry what will happen for the long term if we lose that.”

Question: Are there actions that you are currently taking or plan to take in the future to address the challenges you just described?

“The elections on my campus didn’t go well for the Jewish Groups. We lost representation on the student government board and became a true minority unable to stop more BDS resolutions against Israel from passing. … Rather than attending the student government meeting when I knew the Jews would lose the vote on another anti-Israel resolution, we organized an event at Chabad promoting Jewish bonding in the community. I felt that even though the Jews were losing politically they could at least find strength in connecting with each other and having pride in our faith.”

4. A strong sense of Jewish culture, history and civilization

A person with Peoplehood consciousness sees his or her world on a larger historical stage. For example one alum reflects on what is important to him, in terms of his Jewish identity: “For me it is important to pass on a culture that has lived for thousands of years and to continue to practice aspects of that culture. Living in Israel is a big part of that as well. Practicing the religion, continuing the culture, and working to make Israel the best place it can be. I see the rise in anti-Semitism in the world at the moment. A lot of it is a facade of anti-Semitism being hidden as anti-Zionism. If our State is going to be the center of some people’s bigotry, we need to fight to make the State as perfect as it can be in order to remove the facade of blaming Israel’s actions for their anti-Semitism.”

5. Attaching importance to particularly Jewish volunteering

Almost all Diller Teen Fellowship alumni are active volunteers. The alumni with Peoplehood Consciousness channel at least some of their volunteer energy towards the Jewish world or on behalf of the Jewish world. They view their volunteering as an expression of their commitment to further Jewish values and address challenges, which are central to the good of the Jewish People (broadly defined).

6. The centrality of Israel in their Jewish lives

Almost all the alumni express a very strong connection to Israel, most of whom credit that connection to their Diller experience. The difference between those with Peoplehood Consciousness and the others is in the intensity and depth of the connection. Israel is a central aspect of their Jewish identity. They engage others on issues relating to Israel and devote a lot of thought regarding the relationship between Jews living inside and outside of Israel.


Online Hebrew Resource (Back to Top)

A new website, IVRIKAL, makes the Proficiency approach (according to the ACTFL guidelines) available through digital pedagogy.

It offers Hebrew language teachers authentic resources in Hebrew and guidelines to help make Hebrew learning engaging and dynamic. It also provides teachers with progressive digital tools that open the doors to 21st century pedagogy.

The goal of this language program is to develop students’ language proficiency around modes of communicative competence reflecting real life communication. It is based on the Standards for Foreign Language Learning in the 21st Century which focus on five skills:

Students acquire the ability to convey and receive messages based on interpersonal interpretive and presentational skills.

Students learn to understand the culture of the people who speak the target language.

Students are able to access knowledge in other disciplines through the target language.

As students learn a new language and culture, they develop insight into their own language and culture.

Students see the application beyond the classroom, and language learning becomes even more purposeful.

Click below to learn more.


Marshall Memo: Nine Possible Ways to Conduct a Classroom Discussion on a Book (including a Book of Tanach) (Back to Top)

In this article in The Reading Teacher, Sarah Lightner and Ian Wilkinson (The Ohio State University) say that classroom conversations about texts are vital to building vocabulary, content knowledge, reading comprehension, and higher-order thinking. Lightner and Wilkinson believe there are nine approaches from which teachers can choose, depending on their overall goals, what they’re teaching, and their students’ needs. These approaches get students acquiring information, making emotional connections, and engaging in critical analysis.

• Literature circles – Each group of students chooses a book from sets chosen by the teacher and decides how much to read in preparation for regular meetings. Initially, students assume roles in the meetings – discussion director, illustrator, connector, summarizer, word wizard – although the roles usually phase out as students become proficient at managing peer-led discussions. The teacher circulates and intervenes as necessary. The goal of literature circles is to foster habits of sustained and engaged reading and provide a foundation for interpretation, prediction, analysis, and comprehension.

• Book club – Small groups of students read the same text (chosen from books on a common theme selected by the teacher), write responses in journals, and use their responses to engage in discussion. There’s a whole-class “community share” and then small-group book club discussions, the goal being to enhance students’ awareness of issues on the theme or the historical background of the text. Teachers may also use this approach to enhance the quality of students’ conversations, build fluency, develop vocabulary, and improve comprehension.

• Grand conversations – The teacher sets up several literature study groups, assigns a book to each one (or students choose a book from a list supplied by the teacher), gets students reading manageable chunks, and meets with each group for a few minutes a day to make sure they’re on track. The teacher may do a daily all-class read-aloud and pose a “big question” for discussion. When groups finish their books, they meet with the teacher to discuss story elements, their enjoyment and interpretation, and any personal connections.

• Questioning the author – The teacher helps students see the author as an imperfect writer who may not always present ideas clearly. While reading the text with students, the teacher asks questions like, What is the author saying here? Why is the author giving us this information? Is the author saying that clearly? The teacher encourages collaboration by weaving together students’ responses as they collectively work to make sense of the text.

• Instructional conversations – The teacher chooses a text, provides some background information, reads it with students, and leads a discussion focused on an interesting theme. The goal of this approach is to understand texts, learn complex concepts, and consider various viewpoints. It has been used successfully with English language learners and students with special needs.

• Junior Great Books shared inquiry – Students read a text and the whole class discusses it with the teacher, focusing on interpretive questions that have more than one right answer. Students share their opinions, test various possible interpretations, and address the ambiguities of the text. The teacher then gives students a focus question for their note-taking as they read the text a second time. Students’ notes generate further discussion, and students consider and discuss significant words or phrases in the text. This approach aims to build students’ comprehension, critical thinking skills, and enjoyment of reading as they explore the literary canon of noted novelists, essayists, philosophers, and poets.

• Collaborative reasoning – Students read a story or section of a story that raises a “big question” that could be resolved in a number of ways. Small groups of students then meet with the teacher and argue positions on the big question, give reasons for their positions, provide counterarguments, and respond to challenges. The goal is to critically consider competing points of view, with the teacher facilitating, prompting, and pushing for clarification.

• Paideia seminar – The teacher chooses a text that contains key values and ideas being studied and leads students through multiple close readings. As the class discusses the text, the teacher challenges students to identify consequential ideas in the text, facilitates without talking too much, keeps students from straying from the focus, and asks open-ended questions that get students seeking understanding in the text, analyzing details, and synthesizing ideas.

• Philosophy for children – Students read age-appropriate texts that address enduring ethical and philosophical topics. The teacher then asks students to generate open-ended questions about the issues raised in the text and selects one or more of their questions as the focus of all-class discussion. The goal is to develop strong reasoning skill, help students recognize the difference between good and poor reasoning, and get them thinking about important philosophical issues.

Of course teachers can mix and match components of these approaches to accomplish their goals. Lightner and Wilkinson list the key variables:

- Who selects the text?

- What type of text is discussed?

- How is the class organized?

- When is the text read?

- Is the discussion led by the teacher or by students?

- Who decides what is discussed?

- Who controls turn-taking?

- Who decides if what students say is right or wrong?

- Is the focus on authors’ intentions?

- Is the focus on students’ emotional connections to the text?

- Is the focus on textual analysis?

- Is the focus on critical analysis?

“Instructional Frameworks for Quality Talk About Text: Choosing the Best Approach” by Sarah Lightner and Ian Wilkinson in The Reading Teacher, January/February 2017 (Vol. 70, #4, p. 435-444),; the authors can be reached at [log in to unmask] and [log in to unmask]

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