The Student Voice in Designing a Jewish Studies High School Curriculum: A Case Study


Source: Journal of Curriculum and Teaching Vol.6, No. 2, 2017 


In January 2012, a team of curriculum specialists based at Bar Ilan University in Israel were approached by a Jewish day school in Australia to design a new Jewish Studies curriculum for its school. The mandate was to design a curriculum model from first-steps that would form the basis for the new curriculum.

This article demonstrates how combining elements of Fullan's ideas about school partnerships with Schwab's 'commonplaces' concepts can best meet the needs of the school's specific population and ethos. The role of student voice is shown to be critical in curriculum deliberations and decision making. Assumptions made by teachers about what students would want to learn proved, in a number of instances, inaccurate. Our research seems to indicate that the student "commonplace" voice within the design of a new curriculum should be given more consideration in the curriculum design process.

While the research was conducted in a particular school context, the principles learned, specifically re: the place of student-voice, can be applied to school contexts internationally.

Concluding Thoughts

Four years after beginning the process stage 1 and stage 2 have been completed and the school is well into stage three-the writing of the curriculum units themselves. It is time to reconsider the path we took and think about its ramifications both for this project in particular but for other curriculum projects as well. Some reflections include:

  • Utilizing the curriculum principles of Fullan and Schwab, it is possible to design a relevant and vibrant curriculum which allows for all stakeholders to be partners in the process. The Jewish Studies high school curriculum is being written and is supported by all the various constituencies who have been party to the discussions from the outset. The fact that students and teachers’ "voices" have been listened to throughout has been mentioned by them as being a key factor for the success of the project thus far.
  • This collaborative model however has its downsides too. The attempt to find consensus within and between the groups can result in the formulation of statements that may not be easy for some groups to accept. For example, agreement to adopt a thematic rather than a text based option, while being the majority view, is not fully accepted by those in the minority camp.
  • While the focus of this project has been on the formal curriculum, attention should be made in such processes to integrate experiential and family education as well. These may include, among others, the organization of school camps on the weekend and summer vacations; family study evenings to complement the curriculum being studied in school; lectures to parents on topics being studied in their child's curriculum. Such an integrated perspective will help to foster the process and assist with the achievement of the learning outcomes.
  • As we have seen, within the constraints of a demanding general studies curriculum time has to be found to increase the minimum time allotment for Jewish Studies. As Zeldin (1998) has posited integrating Jewish and general studies allows for better utilization of available time. For example, the study of locations in Israel can be taught through the general studies geography curriculum rather than the Jewish Studies curriculum where time is so limited. However, as Pomson (2001) has posited. there are weaknesses in the integration model. In particular, the model of integration requires the buy in of teachers to make it work. Integration is not only a curriculum design model but it is a way of thinking as well. An integrated curriculum cannot be delivered without integrative teachers. Training integrated teachers is complicated particularly because there are few programs that prepare teachers who are not exclusively Jewish studies teachers or teachers in other disciplines.
  • The importance of student voice in the curriculum development process cannot be over-emphasized. Students have a lot to say about what they want to learn about their religion and why they want to learn it. This process has shown that listening to their voice can make for a richer and more relevant curriculum. As has been noted, assumptions were made by teachers about what students would want to learn that proved in a number of instances inaccurate. In fact, the student "commonplace" voice within the design of a new curriculum may be the most important of all.
Updated: Sep. 06, 2017