Design Thinking, Yeshiva Har Torah and the Day School Collaboration Network: Addressing the Challenges of Differentiated Instruction in a Modern Jewish Day School

Jul. 25, 2013

Source: eJewish Philanthropy


An educational team from Yeshiva Har Torah participating in the Day School Collaboration Network, seeks to provide differentiated instruction to all of its students while ensuring equity of instruction for each student.


At Yeshiva Har Torah, we have delved more deeply into the practicalities of differentiated learning by participating in the Day School Collaboration Network (DSCN), an initiative of The Jewish Education Project and UpStart Bay Area made possible by a generous grant from UJA-Federation of New York. YHT is part of a larger team of leading educators from a diverse group of Jewish day schools that reflect the religious and geographic diversity of New York. Utilizing the method of “Design Thinking,” we address challenges facing individual schools while also impacting the broader field of Jewish Day School education. Design thinking, with its bias toward experimentation, is aligned with our school culture that supports and advances new educational models.


Based on responses from teacher interviews, our team defined and articulated two main challenges that our colleagues faced in working to manage the goals of differentiated and equitable instruction in the classroom. After defining the problems, we started to brainstorm, or “ideate,” developing prototypes to address each of these challenges:


Challenge #1: How do we track and measure the investment of teacher time in relation to student performance?


At Yeshiva Har Torah, we continually assess each student’s reading level and math aptitude. Based on these assessments, teachers and administrators divide students into groups that reflect each student’s skill development. In this highly flexible system, students advance from one group to the next based entirely on their personal rate of skills development.

We developed a prototype to provide teachers with a means for tracking their time with each student. Through this new system, teachers can record individual time spent with each student within each of their work groups. The cards are placed in pockets according to reading level – A, B, C, D, E, etc. The pockets allow for the teachers to move each card easily from one level to another as a student progresses. Using this information, mentors and teachers can make data-driven analysis of the relationship between student academic performance and the individual time spent with each teacher.


Challenge #2: Differentiated instruction with limited staff resources


We tested our prototype in a few classrooms and it was well received. By successfully employing this new tracking system, we clarified another and more significant challenge: how might we meet our school’s high standards for differentiated instruction with limited time and personnel? The information that we gleaned through our design process showed that we will require additional adult instructional support in our classrooms if we are meet our goals for both differentiated and equity of instruction. When we discussed and further ideated with our colleagues in the DSCN, our next prototype – one more extensive and ambitious than the first – was born.


When we considered options for providing additional adult instruction in the classroom, we realized that student teachers would be an ideal and as of yet untapped resource. Although a number of colleges in New York place student teachers in public school settings, Jewish day schools do not generally benefit from these placements. Our Yeshiva Har Torah and DSCN colleagues quickly realized, however, that partnering with undergraduate student teacher programs would help us achieve our goals for our students while serving as an incubator for the next generation of Jewish day school educators. Our team at Har Torah is currently in discussions with higher education institutions in the New York metropolitan area to pilot this model in the 2013-14 school year, seeking to place student teachers at Har Torah under the direction of experienced classroom teachers.


In addition to benefiting the students at Har Torah by significantly adding to the quantity of one on one instruction in each classroom, our new prototype – if adapted on a larger scale – has the potential to bring additional, albeit unanticipated, benefits to the field of Jewish day school education.


We look forward to sharing the results of our first design prototypes, and our continuing work in the DSCN, with colleagues in New York and beyond as we progress through the coming academic year. We would appreciate hearing responses from colleagues to our design process and prototypes – and we hope you will share your own work that advances the quality and value of your Jewish day schools and the broader field of Jewish day school education. Read the entire article at eJewish Philanthropy.

Updated: Aug. 30, 2013