Tuesday, May 13, 2014

A Link in the Chain: Tips for Teaching Jewish History in Elementary Schools

Educators have often been guided by a conventional "wisdom" that students in grades 5 and 6 do not yet have a sense of historical thinking. This idea is challenged in an article entitled "Historical Thinking in the Elementary Years: A Review of CurrentResearch"  by Amy von Heyking,  in which she concludes that:

1. Thinking historically does not just mean thinking about the past; it involves seeing oneself in time, as an inheritor of the legacies of the past and as a maker of the future. 
2. Many studies support the claim that elementary children and adolescents can develop quite sophisticated historical thinking skills within an appropriate context of active engagement with source material, alternative accounts and teaching that scaffolds children's emerging understandings and skills.
3. Understanding change over time is central to historical thinking.
4. Children who are able to appreciate the subtleties of historical change are those who can make connections with their own experiences.

These ideas are quite relevant to Jewish education, which attempts to help students view themselves as part of the continuum of Jewish history and tradition. In a recent article published in Hayedion entitled "Inheriting the Past, Building the Future: Developing Historical Thinking in Upper Elementary Student", JETS associate Stan Peerless, in collaboration with Lisa Micley, apply von Hayking's conclusions to Jewish education. In the article, they describe new online Jewish history modules being developed by Behrman House that can be integrated into different curricular areas in 5th and 6th grade Jewish studies. The program utilizes the idea of a time travel app that enables the children in the story to experience different events, personalities, and periods in Jewish history as they search for answers to essential questions that derive from their contemporary lives.

The article includes examples from the curriculum that demonstrate how von Hayking's principles are incorporated in the program.  These examples also indicate the degree to which online learning can be used to make classroom learning experiential.

The authors conclude with guidelines for teachers who might want to create their own Jewish history modules for upper elementary students:

·      The first principle that can be derived is that history teaching does not begin in the past. Rather, it must begin in the present, with the actual experiences of the students and with issues that they or their contemporaries face.
·      The second principle is that students should be introduced to the broad strokes of historical change in Jewish history rather than to isolated events that occurred on specific dates.
·      The third principle is that the historical changes found in history must be explicitly tied to the personal lives of the students and their contemporary reality. Furthermore, the students must be actively engaged in discovering and formulating those connections.

Effective teaching of Jewish history can provide students with a learning experience that fulfills the function of historical learning as described by historian Gerda Lerner: "It gives us a sense of perspective about our own lives and encourages us to transcend the finite span of our life-time by identifying with the generations that came before us and measuring our own actions against the generations that will follow … We can expand our reach and with it our aspirations."

JETS online history class "Comparing the Land for Peace issues that the Jews of  the Roman era faced with the Land for Peace issues that Israel faces today:


No comments:

Post a Comment