To Learn to Teach
Milwaukee Jewish Day School is on a mission to bring as many authentic, student-owned learning experiences to our students as possible. The underlying idea is quite simple: authentic learning opportunities lead to much deeper student engagement; and deeper student engagement leads to better learning outcomes.
MJDS’ fourth grade Jewish studies teacher takes this mission seriously. This year, she decided to throw out her traditional lessons on the High Holy Days and replace them with a more authentic experience. It all began with a simple question: how can we make the study of the High Holy Days really matter to a class of fourth graders who come from homes with diverse Jewish practices?
Her answer was bold. She reached out to the comparative religion professor at a nearby university and arranged for her fourth graders to teach a class to college students about the High Holy Days. Educational experiences don’t get much more authentic than that.
The nature of this learning experience fundamentally changed the students’ learning process. Because the final product was teaching a real class to real college students and not a test or project just for the teacher’s eyes, they understood from the start that they had to produce quality work. And to produce quality work required collaboration with team members and the willingness to accept constructive feedback. Two groups even threw out their entire presentations and started over based on feedback from their classmates.
The groups—one each for Rosh HaShanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot and Simchat Torah—researched, compiled and synthesized information, organized presentations, and practiced—all the while working through technology challenges inherent in this type of project. Then they revised and revised again and again until, finally, presentation day finally arrived.
The students were nervous, but they were also excited and proud. They even dressed up. And they made their presentations to twenty-plus smiling college students with confidence and poise. Their work certainly wasn’t perfect, but they will never forget the day a bunch of fourth graders taught college students about Judaism.