CoJDS has been publishing curriculum for Jewish day schools since 2010, including the L’havin U’lehaskil Chumash curriculum, a new Navi curriculum, a Parsha curriculum, and Tefillah/Brachot curriculum. In conjunction with the preparation of this edition of the Journal of Jewish Day School Leadership, we sat down with some of the people who have been involved in this undertaking to learn about how they write curriculum and what their goals and guiding principles are.
Mrs. Elissa Hochbaum: Last year I wrote the parsha curriculum for the CoJDS. I began with Parshas Bereishis and wrote through Korach to cover the school year. The curriculum was different from the regular summary of the parsha and its details. It focuses on a segment of the parsha and brings out a lesson to be explored. In this lesson other sources and ideas are included. At the end of each lesson there are 3 separate activities for the class to join and work together and as individuals.
Rabbi Yaacov Feit: This past summer we published my first workbook and curriculum in a series on tefilla curriculum called “Davening with Depth: Understanding Bracha Acharona”. I am currently working on a second curriculum about the Shmone Esrei and am also project manager for the new Shmos and Shmuel Alef curricula.
Mrs. Sara Chaiya Feinstein: I am writing the Shmuel Alef curriculum. So far, we have published the first half, and I am currently working on part 2. It’s really a team process which involves many people and steps. After I write each unit I send it to Mrs. Gettinger for review, I adjust it based on her recommendations and then it is further edited by Rabbi Jacobs. Their feedback and insights have really enhanced the curriculum tremendously.
Mrs. Miriam Gettinger: I’ve worked as a volunteer with CoJDS for the past five years. I serve as a Senior Principal as well as Middle School curriculum consultant. Specifically, I’ve worked on the recent Shmuel Alef Vaeira/Bo, and Birkas Hamazon ventures.
Mrs. Rachel Schuh: I have not had the privilege of writing curriculum from A to Z; however, I have been involved in some of the Chumash curriculum that has been written for Parshios Bo and Beshalach, which is currently being written. I’ve also been asked to oversee and proofread some of the other curriculums, including Shmuel Alef (1st book of Samuel) and some of the others that are coming down the pipe. Even though I’m not actually writing curricula, I love being a part of the written curriculum project because the way that it’s written is with a lot of idea development and trying to put it all together so that each book is written carefully with the advancement of the student in mind – from the perspectives of skills, content and growth. We’re trying to see where we want our students to be and how we can use the content that is being focused on in the curriculum we’re writing in order to get there.
MG: “Waze” would be my word choice. Curriculum goes beyond a syllabus of sefarim and parshios to be studied, but rather presents a global overview map along with sequential directions and targeted guidance to navigate smoothly and avoid obstructions and bumps along the road to independent student mastery. For limudei kodesh specifically, this is the driving imperative of “vishinantam livanecha”: if we are to reach and teach students ala ‘diracheha darchei noam.’ Curriculum initiatives are the GPS devices that ground both teachers and students amidst the cacophony of “rush hour traffic” of content information overload by prioritizing key concepts and skills into the “express lanes” of retention.
YF: I would choose “Shulchan Aruch” or “Toolbox.” Educators need material that is presented to them “like a set table” with clear, in depth, and organized material that they can use as a toolbox, containing whatever tools they need to reach their students and teach their subject matter.
SCF: A “travel guide for tourists.” Imagine a teacher taking her class on a field trip to a new city. It would be difficult to prepare for the tour by going around the city to look for attractions, visiting each place at different times and days, looking for parking, trying out different routes, etc. There are so many possibilities of places to visit, she would spend all her time with these logistics! A good travel guide allows the teacher to get an overview of the local attractions, parking, highlights that would be age-appropriate and ideas for activities at each attraction. The teacher can then pick those that are most suitable for her students. To use this metaphor further, a teacher may decide not to visit a certain location for lack of time. Still, if while driving by, a student asks about it, she can share what she knows based on the travel guide.
RS: If I had to think of a metaphor, I would use “the forest and the trees.” In grades 1 through 5 we work a lot on developing curriculum for the trees, at the level of details from a content perspective and from a skills perspective. When we then progress to middle school, we’re working more broadly on the forest, where all the trees are in place and all the details are in place, but now we get to see how they contribute to the bigger picture. Sometimes it’s an idea, sometimes it’s compare and contrast in a specific commentary, or sometimes it’s in understanding a theme.
YF: I want my material to be organized and clear. I prefer to offer more than less by providing teachers with anything that they may want to use in the classroom and then allow them to personalize the material by choosing what works for them.
SCF: There are a few: First, the idea of nevua she’hutzrecha l’doros nechteva, any nevuah that has been recorded for future generations has timeless messages and relevance to us today.
Additionally, I try to help students achieve balance to understand the personalities of gedolei olam in navi, such as Shaul and Dovid, who operated on a different plane, appreciating the nuances of their calculations and mistakes, yet at the same time appreciating the lessons and takeaways that we can apply to our lives. My hope is when students say tehillim, they feel more connected to Dovid Hamelech – his struggles, his faith and his resilience.
Finally, we try to engage students through active learning and higher order thinking, offering many opportunities for students to be involved in the process of discovering the pshat. When they are engaged, they feel connected – Mi she’amal bah nikrais Torahso.
EH: I always ask the following questions: Is your goal attainable for the age that you are writing for? Is it something universal, relevant for most schools? Is it feasible to be completed in an appropriate amount of time?
MG: Our curriculum consists of two distinct resources: an instructional guide for teachers and a student-friendly workbook, rather than a single wraparound edition with answer key. This helps focus the mindset for the two disparate groups of end users. Each is created from the perspective of the end user. The teacher’s edition culls all the resources and meforshim on the page as footnotes, provides thematic essential questions, suggests formative and summative projects, highlights connecting texts in tefilla and tanach, and provides basic pacing, scope and sequence overviews. The student edition rehearses skills and vocabulary and provides content review through differentiated mastery and higher-order thinking questions and creative learning activities to be used as homework or in classroom instruction.
YF: We’re thinking about both! The material needs to relate to the students that it is meant for and allow them to interact with the material on their own level. I want to provide materials to teachers in a way that can not only give them serious and in-depth content but with suggestions for how that content can be delivered to the students in a meaningful way.
SCF: I don’t view it as two separate needs. The Oze L’malko curriculum makes it easier for a teacher to be well prepared with an engaging lesson for class, which is a direct benefit for the students, because it’s a better lesson and because teachers can be more present and have more time to be involved with the students’ needs.
MG: Chochma ba’goyim ta’amin, Torah she’b’goyim al ta’amin– instructional methodology predicated upon 21st century skills, such as critical and creative thinking, communication, and collaboration, facilitate opportunities embedded in our mesorah for millennia (such as chavrusa, shakla v’tarya). Project-based and integrative learning experiences engage students in summarization, and connectivity activities bringing passion and spice to their textual skill building. The presentation of curriculum in modern fonts, colorful maps, charts, sticky note graphics, and eye-popping covers, plus digital resource enhancements including music, interactive games, using audio recordings of student reading pesukim, etc., truly engage 21st century students while maintaining the core content al pi taharas hakodesh.
YF: I like to think that we have been using 21st century skills long before the 21st century. Critical thinking and collaboration have been part of our mesorah of learning for centuries. I also believe that our age-old mesorah is to do whatever is necessary to fulfill our mission of Chanoch l’na’ar al pi darko.
SCF: Torah is timeless. Its lessons are timeless and relevant now as always. I specifically created the curriculum with the sefer as the focal point. Mesorah and proper hashkafos are fundamental and I am careful to quote the sources I cite and ask for rabbinic guidance when dealing with delicate nuanced hashkafos. The interactive question and answer style, higher order thinking, parallel connections, and focus on the rebbi-talmid relationship are cornerstones of our mesorah; modern educational philosophy is just catching up to what we always knew. The meshalim, stories, creative activities, and visuals that supplement the learning are definitely 21st century, but are all rooted in mesorah.
At this past summer’s CoJDS Think Tank, Rav Lopiansky said that our job as mechanchim, starting with Moshe Rabeinu, and applicable to every mechanech in every situation, is to teach the Torah in a way that students can understand, in their language.
EH: I am excited about the work I do training and mentoring other teachers in L’havin U’lehaskil. In making students more familiar with their skills and being able to use them in all pesukim, it fosters independence of learning. Once a student is able to recognize their ability to translate Torah, the world of opportunity is open with no end.
YF: I am really excited to be creating curriculum about tefilla. As parents and educators, we expect our children to be proficient daveners, and yet so little time is spent on thinking about what we say. We can’t expect meaningful tefilla unless it is taught. There is no “go to” like rashi on the siddur that any rebbi or morah can open up and use. I try to provide teachers with material that they can use easily to inspire the tefilla of our students and I am very excited about the opportunity to be able to do that.
MG: I truly enjoy the professional banter with the curriculum writers as well as school leaders and teachers utilizing these cutting-edge materials “lihagdil Torah u’liha’adira.”
SCF: I hope the Oze L’malko Shmuel curriculum can be of help to the dedicated teachers of Klal Yisrael to ease the load of teachers and enhance student learning of navi, transmitting the appreciation and timeless wisdom of navi to the next generation. When our amazing teachers get curricular support, they can focus more on the students and their needs. The curriculum is being used in schools across the globe, and so far, the feedback we have received has been overwhelming. I am so grateful for the zechus to have a part in the Consortium’s efforts of harbotzas Torah! p