Source: Journal of Jewish Education
This article uses data from site visits to four Hasidic elementary schools in Brooklyn to examine how specific learning, review, and testing activities used in these schools might be applied in other Jewish education classrooms to build knowledge depth and automaticity.
The literature on learning and cognition in secular subjects has identified many classroom techniques that promote deep learning and long-term retention rather than superficial recall, but these techniques have not been applied systematically to Jewish studies classrooms. Hasidic schools, whose overall approach to religious education differs significantly from that of other Jewish day schools, employ distinctive learning activities that incorporate many of these techniques. Some elements of Hasidic learning practices may thus represent a valuable model for other Jewish studies contexts.
Jewish day schools vary in their commitment and ability to implement classroom activity structures productively. Yet even innovative, progressive schools often adopt the latest methodology that has proliferated in non-Jewish educational contexts without deeper consideration of its usefulness in a Judaic studies context. Not enough attention is invested in investigating the real efficacy of these approaches and even less into assessing whether they are a good fit for Jewish subject matter. Hasidic schools offer a radically different approach to Jewish education. They are certainly not concerned with the latest educational methods but instead operate along a completely different axis.
There are no doubt real and nontrivial reasons why Hasidic practices cannot simply be adopted by other communities. The specific form these learning practices take only makes sense within the larger cultural context of Hasidic life. Nevertheless, because many Hasidic learning practices tap into features of learning that are well established in the research literature, and Hasidic schools achieve high levels of engagement and interest in Jewish studies (and likely high levels of learning as well), this article has proposed that it may be worthwhile to consider how some aspects of these practices might be implemented in other contexts.
Some of these suggestions may require substantial changes to existing curricula and classroom practices; these changes reflect an approach to learning that sees the goal as retention of all the material and views this as realistic and attainable for all students. There is no reason why this shouldn’t be possible in all Jewish educational settings. We want students to develop absolute automaticity so that the material they learn now will be readily accessible as background when they need to engage with complex ideas in Jewish texts at a more advanced level. If this seems like a difficult goal, that may only be because we are using the wrong techniques. If teachers can find a way to incorporate argumentation, productive failure, testing, spacing, and interleaving into the curriculum, goals that seem impractical will quickly become realistic.