In my last post, I discussed the ways in which Summit Learning’s structures and outcomes align and suggest new (but old) ways to design Judaic learning in our schools. By using similar structures and systems in general and Judaic studies students can benefit from a more coherent experience where norms easily transfer from one class to another and teachers can more easily utilize each other’s data to tailor instruction to student needs.  In this post, I will share how these new structures and the Summit Learning platform can transform curriculum design and collaboration in the field of Judaic studies- better utilizing our most precious resource in Jewish education: teacher time.

The Challenge of Curriculum Design in Judaic Studies

For the past twelve years I have been teaching Judaic studies, I –like most Judaic teachers- have been given minimal guidance and criteria for what I should include in my curriculum and how I should teach or assess it. With almost no published curricula available and no standardized set of skills or assessments, we are left to make our own decisions and often find ourselves planning lessons on a day to day basis. When teachers are also expected to provide meaningful feedback, build relationships with students, design meaningful differentiated activities and consider students personal and religious growth, they are forced to either revert to what they already know, cut corners or burn out.

A number of attempts have developed over the past few years to write and sell Judaic curricula to schools. Unfortunately, much of the funding for this work has been dedicated to designing online courses that are meant to replace the need for classroom teachers instead of provide resources to them. Other curricula have been designed by individuals or organizations not formally connected to classrooms or schools who often develop materials that are not adaptable to the needs or realities of unique schools and student bodies.

Ideally, curriculum are developed and adapted with the teachers who will be implementing it. Either within or across schools, common guidelines are developed allowing the work to be divided and easily shared.

The Opportunity of Summit Learning Structures and Platform

The Summit Learning platform allows for a critical balance between standardization and customization, design and curation that could be transformative for Judaic teachers and schools. Within schools, the structures of Summit make sure that every project and focus area contains certain core elements:

  • All projects require a description, essential questions, cognitive skills they are aligned with, a final product/performance assessment and checkpoints for feedback as students move towards the final product.
  • All focus areas require a bank of diagnostic and final assessments, specific learning objectives and resources correlated with each objective.

This standardized template and structure ensures alignment and cohesion within individual courses and across courses within a school. Within the structure, schools can decide how much autonomy teachers have as designers. The common structure, though, makes collaboration amongst faculty more transparent and that, in turn, allows for enhanced accountability and cohesion. In addition, because Summit documents all of their processes and protocols, guidelines and templates for designing all aspects of a course are found in the “Educator Resource” part of the platform.

Beyond the structure provided within schools, if multiple schools designed course materials using Summit structures, they could easily be shared and adapted. When developing courses in the Summit platform, teachers (or schools) have the flexibility of designing a course from scratch, using the template of a course or mixing and matching projects of focus areas from different courses. Besides Summit’s Base Curriculum that it developed, all schools on the platform grant access to their courses by default. This allows users to peruse courses, projects or focus area from other schools, copy it and use or customize it for their own school. For Judaic studies, therefore, this would enable effortless sharing and adaptation for full courses or individual elements within it.

Two potential examples may make the potential value clearer:

1) I would like to design a project where my students will be presenting a shiur (Torah lecture) based on the portions of Tanach we recently studied. Instead of designing the project, determining how to scaffold it and align it with appropriate skills on my own, I search the Summit library for a different “shiur preparation project”. I find that a teacher in a different school has developed a well designed project for delivering a shiur related to a completely different section of Tanach. I would simply copy the project into my course, keep the final product, skills and checkpoints and swap out the content and activities with material better aligned with my course content.

2) For our “Beit Midrash Bekiut” (see last post) work in Mishna next semester, I would like to give students the opportunity to complete certain chapters of Masechet (tractate) Shabbat, Megillah and Sukkah. Instead of writing content questions worksheets for each section, I search on the platform for other schools that have designed Focus Area Units for each of these chapters. I cut and paste their units, tweak the language of some of the questions, add a couple of resources I think my students will benefit from and am ready for them to learn!

Of course, there are challenges and potential concerns in the approaches I have outlined and the idealistic collaborative picture I have painted. I look forward to feedback and questions from the field and welcome other suggestions for how to advance the work of Judaic studies and utilize the powerful (free!) resources of Summit Learning.