Artist as Visionary: Eisner’s Conceptions of Differentiated Instruction and their Contribution to Jewish Education

Jun. 26, 2015

Source: International Journal of Jewish Education Research (IJJER), 2015 (8), 81-103


Just as the artist sees beyond the present to that which exists only in potential, so Elliot Eisner proposed several theories as early as 1963 that find a comfortable landing in today’s educational landscape. This article examines Eisner’s notions of qualitative intelligence, expressive outcomes , and multiple forms of literacy through the modern lens of differentiated instruction, and suggests that these concepts support current needs in Jewish education.

Lessons can be gleaned from Eisner to improve day school spiritual education, capitalize on the analytical skill developing from hours of text study, and open traditional teachers to the possibility of sustaining multiple perspectives on the same topic. Creative students, rather than set a traditional teacher off track with answers diverging from mainstream opinion, can feel welcome to propose new ideas even within a religious classroom. Most significantly, Eisner’s theories propose ways to expand differentiated instruction in accordance with the Jewish concept that a student must be taught in a way that works best for him, “ al pi darko .” Ever an artist, Eisner conceived of tactics to solve problems decades before the mainstream community identified their existence. It is Eisner the art instructor who spent the many hours engaged in work with “diverse” learners who can offer us advice in addressing the needs of such students – and in the current educational climate which prizes innovation as a standard 21st century skill – all students. Although he did not coin the term, Eisner became a connoisseur of “differentiated instruction,” not only in his teaching, but also reflecting on his work through decades of thoughtful writing. His proposals, which offer new perspectives to both the community of differentiated learning and the Jewish community, push us all to be more tolerant and more creative. Although predating our current issues by more than half a century, they are now essential to the educational practice and research that will benefit our children

Updated: Jul. 22, 2015