Wednesday, April 30, 2014

What I Think About What You Said About What I Said -- Benefits of Collaborative Feedback in the Classroom

 Peer feedback is an online learning technique which has been receiving a good deal of attention over the past few years. The educational world has not given sufficient attention to this important component of the learning process,but as increasing numbers of teacher report on their own positive experiences with collaborative feedback, more elearning classrooms are integrating the practice into their online environments. What is clear, however, is that asynchronous written communication gives students support for their ideas and thoughts, facilitates a supportive environment of information-sharing,  promotes analytical thinking and gives them time to process and absorb information, allowing them to "come back" to the content after thinking about it. 

Peer feedback is a component of social learning, or learning as part of a group. It's an important way to help students develop important skills in self-reflection, critical thinking, and co-construction of knowledge, as well as to value and gain experience in collaboration. It has also been shown to result in an enhanced sense of community, better learning outcomes, and increased acquisition of the life skills that are necessary for teamwork and reciprocity in the classroom and the workplace.

Collaborative learning in an elearning classroom can take the form of discussion among the whole class or within small groups. To successfully incorporate collaborative feedback in an elearning environment demands skill on the part of the instructor. The teacher must be able to create and manage interaction.

Some of the basics for fostering collaborative learning involve giving students:

1.     An understanding of what collaborative feedback involves.
Collaborative feedback involves informing others of your perceptions and suggestions for improving their performance as you provide your peers with positive reinforcement and constructive criticism.

2.     An understanding of why collaborative feedback can be helpful
Students who receive regular feedback about their work perform  better, learn faster, and develop better judgment than those who do not.

3.     Feedback skills
The instructor must teach the students to develop proper feedback skills. These steps involve:
a.     Stating something that the classmate wrote with which you agreed or liked.
b.     Stating something that the classmate wrote with which you disagreed or didn't like.
c.      Asking a probing question about something that the classmate wrote.
d.     Suggesting a new idea or way to look at an issue

Some recent comments from students in a JETS Jewish Contemporary Issues Class about their experiences with collaborative feedback:

"I enjoy reading what my classmates say on the discussion forums because sometimes I hadn’t thought about something they said, and it allows me to take their ideas and internalize them and add their answers to my own. Sometimes I will even change my opinion because of what someone has said. I also like the online aspect because I can do it whenever I want - I don’t feel rushed in class that I have to finish something and it allows me time to form my answer. (I like the ability to add and change)"

"I have learned how to be a responder- how to learn about a controversial topic and respond in a polite way that expresses my opinion."

"I also like the lino boards because it’s a great example of how you can build on what people say - literally. The boards always look so cool because there are stickies upon stickies and sometimes they branch off and/or you can add new ideas."

"I often learn just as much from my fellow students as I do from my teachers. It’s great to gain knowledge by sharing from each other. It’s like a multi-faceted chavruta only online!"

Friday, April 25, 2014

Presenting Pesach, Freedom and the Jewish Right to a Homeland to Home-Based Hebrew School Students

When I was growing up in the '60s, most of my generation took it for granted that Israel had a right to exist. Today's youngsters, however, are bombarded by BDS propaganda and an unfriendly media. Many students, even those who receive a solid Jewish education in a Jewish day school or afternoon school, are confused. Is it possible that the Jews don't have a right to their own country?

The JconnecT online Hebrew School program addressed this issue head-on in its pre-Pesach session this year. The class is comprised of pre-teen and teenaged students from across North America who learn about Judaism and Israel online from their own homes. During the last session before Passover break the students discussed what it means to be free, what it means to lack freedom, and how that relates to the rights of the Jewish people to establish and run their Jewish State.

To begin the class the students were asked to comment on what it means to be free and what it means to NOT be free. The instructor guided the discussion as the youngsters reviewed Jewish history via audio and visual sources relating to the historical Jewish experience.

One of the advantages involved in presenting activities online is that every student can participate at all times. Interactions between the students are encouraged to enable the students to work on various projects and materials collaboratively and engage freely without disturbing the progression of the lesson. In this class the students divided into groups to complete a PPT that examined some of the reasons that a Jewish State was – and is – vital to the Jewish people.  

Students worked in pairs as they examined different subjects including anti-semitism, the Jews' historical reliance on governments and powers for protection, and Jewish religious identity as they relate to the need for a Jewish nation. Following the independent work, the students reconvened as a group to present their findings. Student comments included a review of the need for Jewish self-defense in the wake of the unwillingness of world powers to protect the Jews under attack, the need for a safe and supportive environment where Jews can practice their religion, and the importance of the Zionist philosophy that gives Jews the right to fulfill the commandment of living in their own land.

The students then viewed a historical film clip of the 1947 UN vote that authorized the establishment of the State of Israel. The students were moved by the film and expressed their amazement that so many countries stood by the Jewish nation in its hour of need.

As the students connected the theme of freedom to Jewish nationhood and the rights of the Jewish people to their own country the instructor presented four quotes from Israel's Declaration of Independence, all of which relate to the rights of the Jewish people to pursue freedom. Each student was asked to select one of the quotes and discuss how the quote impacts on them personally.  It was clear that the students had been moved by their class. One student commented that "the hardships that the Jews had to go through to achieve a nation were unimaginable. They never ceased to pray….after being away for so long they still wanted to be Jewish, still wanted their own country. The existence of Israel can never be taken for granted."

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Maximizing Linoboards in the Classroom

Linoboards are one of the educational world's fastest-growing online web-tools. Students always enjoy sharing their thoughts and ideas, and the linoboard allows them to do just that in a dynamic environment that immerses them in the subject matter while allowing them to express themselves freely. When set up effectively, the linoboard promotes retention, analysis, peer interaction, and opportunities for students to think creatively and to problem-solve.

JETS linoboard
In order to optimize the value of the linoboard, it is important for the teacher to organize the board effectively before the lesson so as to maximize student activity. Some tips that will help teachers make the most of the linoboard include:

1.       Set up a time limit to encourage the students to respond quickly. Tell the students that they have a specific number of minutes to respond on the linoboard to keep the pace of the class moving at a rapid clip.
2.       Remind the students to record their names on their sticky notes.
3.       Ask open-ended questions to solicit more thoughtful responses.
4.       Make your linoboard attractive with photos, videos, colors, and various text styles.
5.       Allow for differentiated learning styles. Give the students the option to choose which of the questions, videos, articles or other material to which they wish to relate. Offer them the opportunity to "work on 2 out of the 3 questions", respond with their choice of a visual, audio or visual tool, etc.
6.       Encourage peer interaction. Ask the students to debate one another, comment on each other's posts, etc. 
7.        Involve personal elements. Ask the students to comment on something in the material that is meaningful to them.
8.       Keep the assignment simple. Make sure that the instructions are clear and unambiguous.

JETS linoboard "Tzdekka Heroes"

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Temple Emanuel of Pascack Valley Takes their Religious School Online!

Jewish educators have been grappling with the question of how to create a more meaningful and engaging Hebrew School environment for over half a century. Afternoon Hebrew schools have been an important part of transmitting Jewish heritage to young American Jewish youngsters since the 1920s but 100 years later, it's clear that changes are needed in order to more fully engage 21st century youngsters.

Most Jewish educators agree on several points:
·         Today's Jewish educational model must offer a more meaningful and personalized experience that will provide students with the  knowledge and guidance that they need to integrate Judaism into their lives
·         Experiential Jewish education is a highly effective way of transmitting Jewish heritage on to the next generation
·         When parents are involved with their children's Jewish education, Hebrew school  becomes a more significant experience  for the students. The students are more likely to take their Jewish studies more seriously, and parents may choose to integrate their child's Hebrew school experiences into the home
·         Hebrew schools often send an unspoken message that the "goal" of Hebrew school is to perform or chant for a Bar or Bat Mitzvah. This message should be replaced with information and skills that aim to help the children develop into ethical, giving and kind people with an understanding of how their Jewish heritage translates into these values.
To address these issues the Religious School of Temple Emanuel of Pascack Valley, under the leadership of Education Director Rabbi ShelleyKniaz, has partnered with JETS, Jerusalem EdTech Solutions, to present a highly innovative distance learning program for their 7th grade students. The interactive program meets online, to provide the students with an opportunity to learn about a wide range of Jewish concepts and values via engaging online tools.

The subject matter includes sessions entitled Freedom and Slavery, Pursuing Justice, Redeeming Captives, Accepting Strangers, Remembering and Rebuilding: Holocaust and the State of Israel, and more.  Students log on from their home computer and chat, talk, post, create audios, play online games appropriate to the lesson, break off into teams, view guided multi-media and engage in non-stop activities as they relate ancient texts to modern day dilemmas and consider "what does it mean to be Jewish?"

Parents have responded enthusiastically to the program. One parent noted that "it uses the technology that relates to the children’s interest; it holds their interest longer" while a second parent related to the content, writing that "The topics are rich for learning and discussion. My son sometimes wants to do more research into a topic after school."

A core component of the program is parental involvement. Religious schools often look to involve parents by inviting them to come to the school or synagogue/temple. Conversely, parents try to find time to participate in their children's Hebrew School program. The online program enables parents to participate in their children's Hebrew School experience without ever leaving their home. Parents can join in the class, observe their child's engagement and interactions and even watch the discussions so if they wish, they can follow up later. This has proven to be a successful model, with parents expressing their satisfaction as they watch their children interact with their peers and teachers in the online environment. Some of the parents' comments:
·         "The topics are rich for learning and discussion. My son sometimes wants to do more research into a topic after school."
·         My daughter finds the subject matter very interesting and informative."
·          I like the enriched learning they are receiving. It is very interactive and incorporates technology into the learning."
·         "My son is enjoying the experience immensely. I am happy that my child is enthusiastic about the program and enjoys participating"
·         "My daughter is enjoying it very much!"

Students, parents and Temple Emanuel synagogue staff are enthusiastic about the project which is scheduled to move into its second year in September 2014. Both students and parents note the convenience aspect. Students expressed their heightened engagement in class activities and comprehension of the subject material. Parents commented that the online program holds their children's interest longer even as it presents more challenging subject material and a faster pace which includes multiple interactive activities in each lesson. For the school staff, the ability of the parents to be present and observe their children's Jewish learning is a tremendous benefit of the program, unifying the Hebrew school, parents and children.

Students also weighed in on the new program with comments that expressed their involvement and engagement with the material. 
·         "I have learned so much I will never forget. I really feel a part of something big."
·         “Better than class and you can relate to more of your classmates.”
·         "It is great, a cool way to learn; it’s interactive and fun."

Saturday, April 12, 2014

JETS Seniors Program -- Hot off the Press

·      Who are the Haredim and why are they at loggerheads with a large part of Israeli society?

·      Who are the "singing rabbis?"

·      How does Bibi Netanyahu get ready for Pesach?

·      What's going on with the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks?

·      Is the United States finally ready to release Jonathan Pollard?

These and many other questions were addressed on Monday night at the most recent session of "Hot off the Press," a JETS Israel initiative for seniors.

The April 7th session brought Rabbi Joel Cohn to the Morse Senior Center of Palm Beach in a dynamic distance learning session that provided the participants with up-to-date information about the "real Israel", as well as some background about additional events that are of interest to people who follow the news in the Middle East.
Rabbi Joel Cohn, presenter

Residents who joined the web-conferencing session "met" the Jerusalem-based Rabbi online as he summarized what's currently happening in Israel regarding political, social and cultural events. Hot off the Press is aimed at providing a look at the kinds of stories that don't generally make it to international media reports about Israel as participants have a chance to "experience" – virtually – the day to day beauty of life in Israel. 

During the session Rabbi Cohn dealt head-on with a major confrontation that is currently taking place in Israel. Haredim (Ultra Orthodox) are locked in a struggle with the non-Haredi public over recent legislation that mandates military conscription for all Israelis. The subject is a touchy topic in Israeli society, but Rabbi Cohn presented all sides of the story to ensure that the Morse residents would be able to get an overview of the sensitive issue's complexities.

The vibrant class also included snippets of day-to-day life in Israel, including Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu's visit to a matza-baking facility to observe the process of making hand-made matza. Rabbi Cohn also screened a clip that appeared on Israel's "Star is Born" TV program that showed two Hassidic rabbis singing Simon and Garfunkel.

Although the program is aimed at focusing on little-known aspects of Israeli news and life, Rabbi Cohn was asked to address the question of what's happening in the latest round of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, a topic that is of particular interest to the Morse residents. He presented a summary of the demands of both the Palestinians and the Israelis, some information about the stumbling blocks that the negotiators are facing, and a few insights into the reasons that the talks seem to have broken down. Regardless of personal convictions, the presentation and subsequent discussion remained open and unbiased. 

Another issue that is on everyone's mind involves the question of if and how releasing Jonathan Pollard could play a part in the peace talks. Rabbi Cohn discussed Pollard's story, including the irregularities involved in his conviction and sentencing.  He explained the connection that US Secretary of State John Kerry might be trying to draw between the American government's possible release of Pollard and the Palestinian demand that the Israelis release Palestinians who have been convicted of terrorist acts. Rabbi Cohn reviewed the question from all sides to provide the participants with a full understanding of the issues involved in the possible release of Pollard.

A question and answer session concluded the session and after Pesach, Morse residents will again meet Rabbi Cohn to learn what's Hot off the Press in Israel.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Tweet the Test

An evaluation of student progress can take place in any number of formats.

Tikvah Weiner of the Frisch Real School blogged about her recent experience of giving a Twitter test. Her students enjoyed the exercise and commented on how they felt about the authentic assessment.

bennituchman: I'm ready to discuss and respond to each other #10final
6/14/2013 1:36:30 PM

solomonrapoport: @AjulianK I disagree. He finds his version of a "utopia," although it
may not seem ideal #10final
6/14/2013 1:43:12 PM

madmillertary: CD* also shows that a utopia can be different for different people and
one person's utopia can be different than someone else's #10final
6/14/2013 1:45:17 PM

* CD stands for Candide by Voltaire

jrosen97: @AjulianK @madmillertary i don't think there is such a thing as a "perfect
world" nothing is ever as perfect as it seems #10final
6/14/2013 1:46:39 PM

dzuck0114: A complete U/dystopia is not possible. CD and 84* show that always in
society there will be upper/lower classes.@bennituchman #10final
6/14/2013 1:49:13 PM

*84 stands for 1984

swimer123: The books we read this year were very European and class based.gave me
a greater appreciation for America #10final
6/14/2013 1:49:47 PM

ILove10HEnglish: @ILove10HEnglish: @TikvahWiener we're all stuck in a bubble and
must open our minds to the larger problems in the world! #africa #10final
6/14/2013 1:51:08 PM

dzuck0114: @swimer123 @bennyweisbrot @tikvahwiener They [books] show us that it is
human nature to lust for what they [people] can't have. #10final
6/14/2013 2:31:24 PM

livmylife1: @swimer123 #10final I agree that Adam and Eve show that man always
wants more

6/14/2013 2:31:31 PM

jrosen97: @TikvahWiener @livmylife1 #10final But in sonnet 116, the enjambment
shows his [Shakespeare's] continuation of his thought on true love, not physical love.
6/14/2013 2:33:16 PM

bennituchman: @TikvahWiener Judaism disciplines us and makes us choose what is
best for us even is it is contrary to what people initially want #10final

6/14/2013 2:33:59 PM

solomonrapoport: @swimer123 but that brings us back to the point of reaching for the
impossible. If u try for a perfect life, ull get a full life. #10final
6/14/2013 2:36:12 PM
Danielferber97: I have never been more excited for a final, and I get pretty excited for
finals #10final

livmylife1: @CoryBooker first ever twitter final at Frisch! Starting at 9:35 EST #10final.
Please join us!
6/14/2013 1:09:52 PM
madmillertary: @TikvahWiener @solomonrapoport life needs its flaws and mistakes,
you don't live a full life unless you learn from them #10final
6/14/2013 2:38:56 PM
AjulianK: @solomonrapoport I wrote how he finds a good society. But it doesn't fulfill
his criteria of a utopia #10final
6/14/2013 1:44:01 PM

jrosen97: @swimer123 #10final but doesn't it make you realize how corrupt society is?
including america?
6/14/2013 1:51:12 PM

dzuck0114: @BennyWeisbrot I dont agree. Although book is described as dystopia,
would the Inner Party say that they live in a dystopia? #10final

Tikvah's Twitter chat rubric. 

Otiyot Medabrot -- a Proven Method of Teaching Reading for Fluency to Special Needs Students

Teachers have numerous strategies for teaching children to read. These methods include metacognition ("thinking about thinking"), modeling reading, repeated readings, phased readings, performance feedback and more.

Children with learning disabilities, however, learn differently. Teaching them to read involves a different skill set and demands a program that focuses on their strengths. Such a program must also move at a pace that is appropriate to the child's abilities and readiness.

Zehava Kelner has spent many years studying the process of teaching Hebrew reading to special needs students. She has discovered that, whereas typical students are able to easily move from the phonological stage of reading to the comprehension stage, special needs students have more difficulties in remembering letter sounds and names. These students find it difficult to transition from creating the proper sound for each letter to reading for accuracy and fluency.  

Ms. Kelner has developed a new and exciting method for teaching Hebrew via phonology. This method, Otiyot Medabrot, is appropriate for all students, but is especially useful for special needs students who require more practice and emphasis on the phonological stage of reading.

Ms. Kelner determined that when some young readers skip the phonological stage of reading, they get "stuck" at the logographical stage. Some children compensate -- moving on to the next stage by utilizing word recognition or making predictions. Others, specifically special needs students, require a different type of reading instruction in order to help them complete the cycle and move on to fluent reading.

JETS Israel sponsored a recent webinar for professionals who work with special needs children at which Ms. Kelner introduced the Otiyot Medabrot method in which letters and vowels are taught through gradual introduction of sounds and short words. The method involves a structured progression through the Hebrew letters and vowels. Students learn each letter by practicing the proper mouth structure for each separate sound, and then letter + vowel, in front of a mirror. Study aids help student move through these stages in a careful progression until the child begins to read.

Teachers know that children learn differently. The question has always been, how to find the correct learning strategy for each child. Ms. Kelner has been successfully teaching phonetics-based Hebrew reading to children who, for whatever reason, missed out on the reading basics, for many years. Her Otiyot Medabrot method has proven especially successful for children with various learning disabilities and cognitive challenges.

More information about Otiyot Medabrot is available at JETS Israel.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Figuring Out the Middle East -- A Progressive Parochial School Takes 6th Graders to the Next Level

In 2007 the PEW Research Center for People and the Press issued the findings of their most recent study in which they concluded that, although people now enjoy easy access to media sources, the public's knowledge of current events has not been significantly enhanced. The Center's summary concluded that "changing news formats are not having a great deal of impact on how much the public knows about national and international affairs."

Within the school system, educators are looking for innovative methods to combat ignorance of world events among the student population. One effective strategy  involves video-conferencing classes that helps students gain new perspectives on world events by virtually transporting them to places in which they are taking place. Using this modality, JETS - Jerusalem EdTech Solutions provides students of all ages with an objective, well-rounded overview of the fast-moving events in the Middle East 

One long-time JETS client - the St. Agnes-St. Dominic parochial school in Memphis, Tennessee - expanded their program this year to provide their students with a new and creative way of learning about the Middle East. St. Agnes-St. Dominic and JETS have been conducting sessions on the Middle East with the school's 6th graders for a number of years. This year, they collaborated to create a 9-session mini-course on the Middle East complete with an asynchronous learning component so that the students can follow up on the video-conferencing sessions with additional activities. The activities are presented via the Haiku Learning Management System which allows for a high degree of student interactivity. Both the distance learning sessions and the Haiku activities incorporate the use of online tools and JETS produced multi-media materials that help students vitually experience the history and culture of the Middle East. The course provides an understanding of the ancient Middle East as a context for understanding modern events.

The 9-session class includes a wide range of subject material including
·      A Look at the Neighborhood: Then and Now
·      Uncovering Layers of History
·      The Cradle of Religions
·      Conflict and Warfare
·      Water: Then and Now
·      Economics – From Olive Oil to Oil
·      Leadership – Combining Pragmatism and Vision
·      Contemporary Issues
The St. Agnes – St. Dominic Middle East social studies class is the "next best thing to being there."