Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Center for Studies in Jewish Education

Piloting a School-Based Research Initiative with Kesher Supplementary School

The Kesher Beit Midrash served both as a professional development program for the Kesher staff as well as a research site for exploring and expanding the use of havruta learning tools in the classroom.  These tools are based on Orit Kent's work identifying key practices of havruta learning. The hope was to enhance the teaching of Jewish texts and student learning at Kesher, as well as to better understand how teachers translate this experience into their different classroom settings.

Interim Report: "Text Study, Collaborative Learning and Meaning-Making in a Jewish Supplementary School"

An onlooker to the Kesher Beit Midrash for Teachers would have observed teachers, paired in lively havrutot, deliberating over Jewish text. While exploring and sometimes disagreeing over the text's meaning, teachers also kept track of the nature of their discussions.

  • What kinds of questions am I asking?

  • How effectively am I listening to my partner's ideas or articulating my own?

  • How are we helping one another build knowledge and understanding together?

  • What does generative collaboration really look like?

Through the examination of teachers' own havruta learning experiences, teachers were then asked to make the leap to their classrooms.

  • How can I help my students be better listeners and articulators?

  • What kinds of questions do I mean to be asking my students to best access their ideas and the big ideas of the content we are learning?

  • How do I help my students engage in respectful disagreement about important issues?

These three dimensions of practice: (1) content (text) learning; (2) the pedagogy of cooperative learning in havruta and; (3) applications to the classroom, constituted the many rich discussions in the Kesher Beit Midrash.

In addition to working with the entire staff in beit midrash sessions, the project also worked more intensively with two Kesher teachers in their respective classrooms. This classroom work included documenting how teachers build forms of cooperative text learning into their lessons and observing how students work together to make sense of the texts and their relationship to them. Lessons in these classrooms were videotaped and then viewed by the entire Kesher staff as a basis for further learning about collaborative meaning making and teaching and learning Jewish texts. These video-viewing discussions played an important role in the ongoing development of a shared professional language for teaching and learning among the Kesher teachers.

Through the course of this project, researchers from the Mandel Center collected and analyzed video documentation, as well as teacher and student work in order to write about the faculty learning that evolved through this process and its impact in the classrooms.