Using the Contextual Orientation to Facilitate the Study of Bible with Generation X

Jan. 15, 2008

Source: Journal of Jewish Education, Volume 74, Issue 1 January 2008 , pages 6 – 28

This article investigates the expression of one teacher's "powerful conceptions and beliefs" about the teaching of Bible in a liberal synagogue: the conscious use of the contextual orientation as a deliberate part of a teacher's overall approach to reaching a particular population. The researchers explore how this approach affects the learning and engagement process for adults in their 20s and 30s, and how the contextual orientation (i.e., an historical approach to the text informed by biblical scholarship) functions as a significant part of an approach that enables these young adults to develop a deeper and more complex attachment to and understanding of the Bible. They focus in particular on one session of a bimonthly class, and present interview data from three participants in this session, illustrating ways in which historical approaches to the biblical text as part of an overall teaching strategy can effectively and meaningfully connect young Jewish adults to the ongoing study of the Bible.

As they constructed and executed this research study, they were aware that a serious examination of pedagogy that uses the contextual orientation would ultimately involve far more than documenting and analyzing one class session and a few students' reactions to the class generally. However, the understanding of orientations in teaching Bible in Jewish settings is still very new, and so far we have little data on how teachers develop their orientations about Jewish subject matter, and how orientations are used in various learning environments and with different populations. This study's additional value, it is hoped, beyond its focus on a successful Jewish educational approach with a relatively disengaged population, has been its presentation of an orientation in use, and of a teacher's own examination of his own orientation and its expressions. It is hoped that, among other things, this initial study can provoke other educators to identify the evolution of their own orientations, examine how their orientations influence and shape their teaching practices, and evaluate the effectiveness of those practices.

This study, then, has significance for researchers in their work on Jewish learners in their 20s and 30s, for practitioners as they consider their own orientations and practices, and for one specific practitioner in his ongoing work.

Updated: Mar. 26, 2008