Tag Archives: Teacher

Israeli teens use cell phones in class: What we can learn

Various cell phones displayed at a shop.

Cell phones: not an opt-out tool for most teeens

According to a recent University of Haifa poll, over 94% of Israeli High School students use social networks in class (via cell phones). Mostly, they’re not checking facts, but Facebook profiles.

This came to my inbox today, a day after I wrote a blog from a cell phone’s point of view.

In that blog, I mentioned that Jewish teens may not be aware of the rich Jewish resources available for the taking from such a small device.  I also referred to the fact that teachers sometimes take away cell phones all together.

I was once a proponent of this.

I thought that (much like the practice at summer camps of instituting a ‘cell phone fast’ for campers to increase the ‘here and now’ opportunities) keeping phones out of the class increased class connections between students and teacher.

I don’t think in those black and white terms any more.

What I believe now, is that like any good educational tool, media needs to be mediated.

In this light, it’s particularly interesting to examine the findings of the poll, which states that the more permissive a teacher is, the less that cell phones will be used in class.

Interesting, no?

Conversely, the study results also showed that the more authoritarian the teacher–those with a more rigid approach, the more students will use cell phones in class.

So, what are the boundaries that teachers should put in place? What are the school’s policies that should not be broken, but bent to advance the curriculum? These are things that need to be thought through before the school year. From a student’s point of view.

So, this what I learned, none of which strikes me as so illuminating, but for me, the benefits were a game changer:

1. It is very difficult to separate teens from their phones, as some teens see it as their lifeline.

2. Teachers need to figure out ways of using the phones as tools, to expand teen’s horizons about the subject area.

3. The way in which this is handled, can be crucial when building community in the class, and respect from students.

Photo credit: wikipedia

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Teens Report What Really Happens In Classrooms

Teacher

Teachers and Classroom Behavior Photo credit: tim ellis

I read an eighth grader’s blog (!) today that resonated with me, and it triggered a memory of what Jewish teens shared with me in a discussion about bullying.

Back to the blog. This young teen wrote about derogatory and mean comments that kids said in hushed tones to others in her class. What they said was either whispered, written, or mouthed out—-all while the teacher’s back was turned.

Can you imagine the effect on the ‘victims’? Just thinking about it will probably tug at your heart.

Instantaneous changes of emotion. Heads bowed. Backs rounded. The day ruined.

And then—-thoughts of a system that offers no corrective action.

The talk I remembered having with my 10th graders was similar. They experienced or witnessed as a bystander, all kinds of inappropriate behavior by teens that was not done at recess, not on the school bus, not on the playing field, but in class!

In most cases, the teacher’s back was turned. 

Want to be shocked?  The students affirmed that sometimes, the teacher was not facing the board, or doing work at the desk.

“What happened during those other times?”, I asked.

“Ugh, the teacher just pretended not to hear or see.”

Can we think of a more challenging environment for our students?

Some feel that they are constantly the ones to point out flaws, misbehavior, or teacher concerns. They’ve told me that when they’ve actually brought these incidents to the teacher’s attention, the information is not even acted upon. And there certainly is a lot of negative feedback the teens get for doing that. (The cultural pull of not being a tattletale comes to mind).

A while ago, I wrote about our schools being Safe Havens, and reading the blog today made this fact even more potent.

No one should deduce that all teachers ignore bad behavior.

But neither should we assume that the teacher is always equipped to manage bad behavior. Or that the teacher gets support from the administration on these issues.

We can rise to the occasion, be better listeners, better mentors, and better teachers of Jewish values.

But that won’t change the system.

Creating students who want to become activists just might.

Supporting their efforts as parents and teachers is what we have to do. And oh yes, we can’t let them give up.


Talking Tech With Jewish Teens

By now, I think most educators have figured out that technology is not something that can be isolated from educational endeavors, but should be integral to them.

"Technology has exceeded our humanity"

You’d think.  But the reality is that we’re not all there yet, and some educational settings are debating whether or not to offer  WiFi.

The tech toys and glorious gadgets are here to stay whether we figure out ways to incorporate them or not.  So, it’s not so much that we can incorporate technology into our work as Jewish educators and parents, but that we can help teens mediate the content they choose, use, and how it reflects their values, when they’re in our settings or not. 

We also need to connect Judaism to their tech experiences.

This doesn’t even strike me as a new concept, but I haven’t found an overwhelming amount of resources that will help us do this.

Teens have easily claimed ownership of technology ever since they programmed their first iphone, downloaded thousands of songs, figured out what apps are best, and searched for their favorite videos on YouTube.

They are prosumers, creating content and leaving little social media footprints everywhere they go.  The individual choices for developing and viewing content is staggering.

We’re relieved when bullying and facebook nightmares are not part of their lives, but they are experiencing the world in entirely different ways mostly on their own, in a one-on-one with a tech gadget.

Could we engage them in a discussion of how they assess content? What values do they bring to bear on their choices? What role does Judaism have in this? Do they know? Care? We know that Jewish law says something about almost everything.

I might be missing something, but when I poked around some movement websites to search “social media responsa” what came up were articles about how to use social media (to fundraise, generate interest, create storylines) not to help others mediate it. If there are such resources, please point me in the right direction.

If Judaism is not relevant to this part of their lives, where they “live” for so many hours in a day, we’ve already lost. Do our students know there are apps for the Siddur? Bible? Talmud? Might they be more likely to experience text in this way? What worlds can we open for them that they wouldn’t search for on their own?

For hundreds of years, practicing Judaism meant mediating ‘content’ within a larger society. Encouraging our teens to do that helps them understand what it means to be Jewish in our world today.

We can then ask ourselves whether or not we agree with the Einstein quote pictured above–but with a twist: Will technology compromise our connection to Judaism?

                                                                                                                                                                     (Photo credit: Toban Black)


Teens: Got a bad grade? Work it!

Life Stinks

Image via Wikipedia

Getting a bad grade, especially when you expected something else entirely, pretty much stinks.

It’s hard enough being in high school when so much of your life seems to be defined by grades. When the grades don’t match up with your expectations or your output, it must feel lousy.

Though I have issues with the idea of being defined by grades, we’re not going there now.

So, you can either sulk or use this life event to get some feedback.

Think of this as an opportunity to engage in a dialogue with your teacher about your work. I know, it’s tough, but give it a try. You can:

  • learn how to advocate for yourself
  • begin to see yourself the way he/she does, and take the opportunity to self-correct
  • figure out what the teacher really wants before it’s too late in the year
  • impress the teacher with your willingness to engage in this type of conversation
  • practice asking for clarification of a decision, which is a skill you’ll use later in life
  • demonstrate your interest in the subject matter
  • cut yourself a break.
  • learn that despite what you’re feeling now, this doesn’t define you
  • feel great about asserting yourself!

Guiding teens without a moral compass

English: A HTC Desire S showing a compass app

Image via Wikipedia

Picture this: a class of freshly minted teenagers, not even a year after becoming b’nei mitzvah, who attend an optional Jewish education program.

Ostensibly they come from homes where the parent/s place an importance on Jewish values. Yet, despite that, they seem to have internalized society’s penchant for abdicating personal responsiblity.

Over 90% of high school students cheat. Entire schools have been accused of tampering with test results.

These incidents reverberate beyond charts and stats–and I felt the tremors last week.

I presented this scenario to students taking a class in Jewish values and ethics:

Your teacher asks you to take home and complete a unit summary without looking at notes, any textbooks, or the internet. What would you do?

I value their openness with me. Only one student in the class said that he would not cheat. One out of 15 students. Eighth graders.

What did the other students say? Most nodded enthusiastically to this response:

It was the teacher’s fault….she shouldn’t have expected us not to look at anything. Did she think we wouldn’t cheat?”

So, what they were saying is that the teacher should have known better. She should have known not to trust them.  For them, there is no such thing as an honor system.

When I was in middle school, cheating also occurred. It’s just that we knew who would cheat and who wouldn’t. I’m not sure that’s the case anymore.

In fact, what was the kicker to my question? Three students said that their teacher just gave them a similar assignment–to complete a worksheet at home–and when they came back to school she revealed that she expected them to look things up even though she asked them not to.  So this lack of trust goes both ways.

This is the world we are all living in and this is what we’re up against. 

There were other comments by students toward the beginning of the lesson that didn’t surprise me; comments about whether ‘to tell’ on a friend who cheated or stole. That was pretty predictable. The peer pressure is so intense they admitted, that no one wants to be labeled as ‘the kid who tells’.

When I discussed their reasoning for what they shared with me, they said that it’s okay because in “middle school you don’t have to worry about anything yet” (i.e. high school then college). They  continued trying to convince me that their choice was okay: “what you do in school doesn’t really matter until you get to 9th grade, or even 10th.

I wanted to teach them a different course of action and there were many topics to explore, but the clock was ticking with little time left in the period.

I could have espoused other teachings from sages and scholars who have been grappling with these issue throughout our tradition. I didn’t think this would resonate.  Instead, I briefly mentioned the perspective of Jewish law regarding personal responsibility.

Then, I told them they are like onions. Their character has layers, and everything they do, every action they take, forms who they are.  Those layered experiences are part of them, much like the peels of an onion that won’t just disappear when they get to another grade.

And if they make choices that they will regret, those choices will be there, under the surface, but there none the less.  And it will affect them.  Guiding teens through these perplexing situations is what we can do as Jewish educators and parents. How do we begin the process with our teens?

A good place to start is by opening the door to these types of conversations. Allow your teens to share what their school environment is like, and what ethical challenges they face. Listen to what they say. They are our very sweetest onions.


News Flash! A Collaborative Model in the Jewish Community

Circle Design
A tightly knit collaborative circle. Image by matley0

I’m by nature an optimistic  person (I’m a Jewish educator, after all). But, there’s no doubt that when I consider the topics I’ve written about the outlook seems a little gloomy, and the word ‘kvetch’ comes to mind.

The process of change seems to tug along slower than a cruiser trying to glide through oil.  

Even though I tell myself that what I’ve observed and written about is true  and some would say it’s in the best interest of the Jewish community for me to point these things out, the overall vista is more than gray. “Kvetch” is still the word stubbornly sticking around.    

Since the month before Rosh HaShanah is a time of introspection, I decided to get back to my optimistic core and write about a program that works as a model of collaboration on behalf of Jewish teens. 

I recently spent time during our evening program with over 45 students in 11th and 12th grade who are making an incredibly serious commitment to the Jewish community.  They are amazing, many will be our future leaders, and I owe it to them to talk about what they’re doing. 

In partnership with the URJ, local synagogues, and a Jewish community high school, Jewish teens participate in a win-win situation. 

Students work in their synagogues one day a week as classroom aides, and attend a second day (YES, a second day) taking classes which complement their experience and add to their repertoire of teaching techniques. 

In the final year of the program, students take a freshman college course in Foundations of Education (child development, multiple intelligences, classroom dynamics, lesson planning…) plus a college level Bible course.  

“Training Students to Become Jewish Educators”  is an article I co-wrote which is relevant here and outlines only some of the benefits of the Education course.

In this arrangement, synagogues get the benefit of classroom assistants who are role models for their school, but not only as paid staff, but as students who are making a continued commitment to their own Jewish education

Working to make this program successful are local Reform Jewish Educators, Rabbis of the reform synagogues, administrators and educators at the Jewish community high school, plus parents who encourage and support their teens in the program.  When I think about this program, the word optimistic fills the space in my mind, as the word kvetch silently skulks off stage.


What Jewish teens want us to know

English: Classroom in SIM University.

Image via Wikipedia

A panel of teens expressed their opinions in a workshop at a Jewish educator’s conference in Philadelphia called “Understanding the Teenage Brain.”

Who were they? These were teens already involved in post Bar/t mitzvah education, both in synagogue and community schools, which means they are committed to continuing their Jewish education.

I asked them to talk honestly about what they want from their relationship with their teachers, and from their Jewish education experiences.

Do you want to know the amazing things they said? Can you fathom the tons of resources we’d have to pull together in order to do what they’re asking?

Here are some of their comments:

  • When we come to class, ask us how we’re doing and how our day was
  • Get us involved in what we’re learning
  • Ask us how we want to learn the material
  • Create a sense of enjoyment in the classroom
  • Allow 5 to 10  minutes to debrief from the day, or give us the ‘free space’ to talk about what we want during that time
  • Don’t talk down to us
  • Don’t use language to ‘be cool’
  • Create an environment where we feel comfortable and not judged
  • Recognize that we have a lot of stress in our day, and we have a hard time adding more

Tell me what’s not doable here. And yet they felt the majority of their teachers were not doing these things.

Why not? What is the biggest investment we need to make?

We need to listen, or better:  Na’aseh v’nishmah. (Exodus 24:7 We will do and we will keep listening so we understand).


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