Experiential Jewish Education: What We Are Doing To Grow It.

By Shuki Taylor [This is an introductory article to a series dedicated to experiential Jewish education that will be published over the coming weeks.] In recent years, the field of experiential Jewish education (EJE) has been subject to much attention. Many Jewish institutions have created new positions - or reframed existing ones - that focus on EJE. New master’s and certificate programs are being offered, and they attract a growing number of applicants. Opinions for and against the development of the field of EJE have been published - many of them on these pages - and many EJE-related achievements have been publically celebrated. Most recently, I was struck by the words of Dr. Daniel Pekarsky who so profoundly described experiential Jewish education as an opportunity “to ensure that … [Read more...]

From “Experiential Education” to “Experience-Savvy Education”

From "Experiential Education" to "Experience-Savvy Education:" Changing Jewish Educational Discourse and Practice By Daniel Pekarsky The term experiential education is an obstacle to the pursuit of excellence in Jewish education. Here are three reasons why: First, it often leads to thoughtlessly devised practices organized around the idea that being plunked down in an interesting setting or being asked to engage in a hands-on activity will have a desirable and powerful educational impact; this is magical thinking. Second, the movement to encourage experiential education is too often intertwined with undervaluing the desirability of serious content learning, the acquisition of skills and dispositions, and the fostering of attitudes that encourage further learning. Third, and most … [Read more...]

Placing Experience at the Center of Understanding Experiential Learning

By Dr. Gabe Goldman [Note: In this article, the terms “teacher” and “student” also include counselors, hike leaders, campers, trip participants, etc.] There is a wonderful story about chavrutot (learning partners) who completely disagree about the meaning of the text they are learning. Their views are exactly opposite of each other so they go to their teacher to find out which of them is right. The first student goes into the rabbi’s study and presents his case. The rabbi tells him that his understanding is exactly right. He leaves and the second student enters the rabbi’s study to present his case. The rabbi tells him that his understanding is exactly right. He leaves and the rabbi’s wife enters and says, “Those boys were in total disagreement but you told each of them he was right.” The … [Read more...]

Experiential Jewish Education: Back to the Future

by Dr. Gil Graff Recently, I attended the annual conference of the Network for Research in Jewish Education, in Los Angeles. There, I participated in a session on principles of experiential education articulated by John Dewey in the first half of the twentieth century as applied to Jewish learning in contemporary settings of Jewish education. The presentation included a look at some project-based learning experiences at schools, anchored in “a Dewey-inspired perspective.” Several weeks later, I came across a piece authored in 1925 by Dr. David de Sola Pool, spiritual leader of the Spanish and Portuguese Congregation, Shearith Israel (in New York), in the pages of The Jewish Forum. Titled “Can Our Jewish Schools Be Made to Teach?” the article encouraged project-based experiential education. … [Read more...]

At P’tach Lo: Putting Essential Questions at the Center of Experiential Jewish Education

by Rabbi Zac Johnson As a practitioner of experiential Jewish education (EJE) with a background in formal classroom instruction, I was elated to read Yeshiva University’s recent report “Mapping Goals in Experiential Jewish Education.” The report indicates that while goal-setting has not yet been universally adopted by EJE agencies, its growing prevalence signals an informal field’s integration of a proven approach from formal education. Outcomes-based planning, most successfully demonstrated by the indispensable guide Understanding By Design (UBD), assists teachers in becoming “coaches of understanding,” helping students uncover and “make meaning” of big ideas and learning to transfer such skills as interpretation, application and empathy.[i ]Like UBD, the three core outcomes of BBYO‘s … [Read more...]

Text at the Core of Experiential Jewish Education

[This is the sixth, and last, in a series of articles highlighting the scope of best practices in experiential Jewish education.] by Judith Schiller Sometimes it takes a fall in the dirt to open up pages of text. Several years ago, as a convener of a Jewish educators’ training workshop focused on creating sacred community, I participated in a ropes course experience with a group of colleagues. Our final team initiative of the day was the Mohawk Walk - a series of foot cables strung between trees or poles, in a zig-zag pattern. Our goal was to traverse the lengths of the cables without falling off, with assistance coming only from the hands of our teammates. Two groups began at opposite ends of the zig-zagging cable. While my group struggled to help the person on the cable stay on balance … [Read more...]

The Journey of the Four Children

Berlow Article Figure 1

[This is the fifth in a series of articles highlighting the scope of best practices in experiential Jewish education.] by Benji Berlow Many developmental psychologists have tracked different, but surprisingly similar stages of human development. While each of these developmental models focuses on a different life question (needs, values, self-identity), Fred Kofman suggests in his book Conscious Business that they all show a journey from unconscious (not even perceived) to impulsive (it is all about me) to conformist (herd mentality) to reflective (not satisfied with conventional thinking). … [Read more...]

Is Experiential Education Simply All Fun and Games?

[This is the fourth in a series of articles highlighting the scope of best practices in experiential Jewish education.] by Sara Smith The competitive edge of the sixteen participants was palpable on their third and final attempt to both complete the given task and beat the record they set on their previous attempts. The personalities in the group quickly emerged: the leaders, the followers, the challengers, and those who couldn't care less. On their final attempt, they began to think outside the box and question assumptions as they lay on the floor, using sweaters and around-the-neck nametags, pointing their toes and encouraging each other, to create the longest line possible with their bodies. To the casual observer and perhaps to the participants themselves, this was a fun and exciting way … [Read more...]