Prompt: What Forms of Challenge and Support Create an Ongoing Commitment to Excellence and Innovation?

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Writer: Cyd B. Weissman

Wordle - CWeissmanNaming and Assessing Learner Outcomes for the ReFrame Initiative

Even the best of congregational schools, like those highlighted in Jack Wertheimer’s 2009 book, Schools That Work, lack a practice for naming and assessing learner outcomes. Wertheimer found that assessment has generally been a subjective random activity guided by individuals’ instincts or by publishers. Connection between a congregation’s vision and what counts as learner success is rare.  This finding led Wertheimer to recommend that, “all educational efforts, would do better if  they were clear about their goals and honest with themselves about how well they are succeeding in attaining their stated goals (p. 33).

During the past four years, The Coalition of Innovating Congregations, over thirty congregations in New York, has taken Wertheimer’s recommendation seriously. Working with The Jewish Education Project and the Experiment in Congregational Education, The Coalition experimented with a method for assessing learner outcomes aligned to their congregations’ visions. This practice, referred to as Whole Person Learning and Assessment, I believe, can be useful for the ReFrame project. You will want to answer the question, “Is the ReFrame Project successful?”

 

What Counts as Success?

Coming to agreement on what counts as success is challenging. Without an outside body having the authority to dictate measures, in the way state and federal governments do in public education, a diverse group representing multiple perspectives can be mired in a motley crew of outcomes. The Coalition Congregations began their practice of Whole Person Learning and Assessment by excavating essential documents of authority, their educational vision statements.

Educational teams within congregations unpacked their visions with questions like: “What are the main themes expressed? Is there one component that ties together the various ideas of our vision? If we were successful, what would we observe in learners today and in the future?”

Answers to these questions enabled educational teams to articulate priority goals. These priorities in turn provided a focus on what is most important to accomplish with learners. In a moment of candor, we have to say we can’t achieve the laundry list most often expected of congregations. Priorities are hard to set, but once in place, guide decisions about the learning experience and the learner outcomes.

 

Samples priority goals have included:

• Learners will be on a journey of applying Torah to daily life.

• Learners will be on a spiritual journey rooted in Jewish tradition.

• Learners will be in an ongoing dynamic relationship with Am Yisrael and/or Eretz Yisrael/ Medinat Yisrael.

• Learners will be on a journey of mending the world guided by a Jewish moral compass.

 

A few worthy, reasonable, long-term outcomes for learners — priority goals derived from vision – equip leaders with a “north star” for making decisions. Replacing an unruly list of disparate outcomes, priority goals focus on long-term lived outcomes. (LOMED Handbook for Powerful Learning Experiences, 2011)

 

Long Term Priorities Guide Short-term Measurable Outcomes

Priority Goals tend to be articulated in terms of life journeys. Educators can be left with a nagging question, “Do I have to wait until my learners are thirty years old before knowing if we were successful?” The answer is simply no. Rather, we see Coalition Congregations using long-term, life-transferable goals to guide the articulation of short-term (e.g. for a unit) outcomes.

Short-term outcomes intended to support a person’s life journey require attending not just to the mind or the feelings of a learner, but the whole of a person.  Steven M. Cohen points out that “sociologists of religious identity speak of the three B’s: Belief, Behavior, and Belonging” (Cohen, 2006). Knowledge surely serves as an indispensable basis for the three B’s. Therefore short-term outcomes for learners need to be articulated within a whole person framework.

Short-term whole person outcomes address growth in Knowledge (K), Doing (D), Believing/Valuing, (B) and Belonging (B).  Whole Person Learning and Assessment honors the personal alchemy of each individual. Some individuals, for example, connect mostly through action/doing, while others connect through knowledge or relationships. We’ve heard educators reflect that prior to using the whole person spectrum for naming outcomes that they tended to focus on one or two areas, like knowledge and values. The whole person framework effectively expands the focus for teaching and assessment.

 

A Guide for Setting Whole Person Outcomes

Educators identify short-term outcomes for:      Educators ask when creating an experiential unit:

KnowledgeNames the essential knowledge and

skills that learners will acquire in a

unit so they can participate

in a real life Jewish experience or practice.

What knowledge and skills areneeded to participate in a real life experience grounded in Judaism?
DoingNames the authentic lived

experience grounded in Judaism that learners will engage in.

What real life experiences grounded in Judaism will learners participate in and shape?
Belief/ValuesNames the core belief and/or values

that students will be able to explore

and articulate according to their own

perspectives and understandings.

How will learners use their knowledgeand reflect on their experience to

express emerging beliefs and values?

BelongingNames the opportunities for caring,

purposeful connections to others,

to God, and to Am Yisrael.

How will learners build long lasting and caring relationships in the community/with God?

 

KDBB enables teachers, in conversation with one another, to name markers of success that speak to the whole of the learner. Educational teams also often work with learners to set measurable outcomes for a unit of study. Educators begin the conversation with questions like: “What relationships do you want to build? Describe the Jewish life practice you want to try. What are you passionate about? What questions do you have from your daily life?”

Short-term whole person outcomes are like mile markers on a journey telling educators, learners and educational designers how far they’ve gone and what’s ahead. Every participant in a learning and change process needs to answer “Where am I going and how far have I traveled?”
”How do we need to adjust course?”


Sample: Ten year old learner,  Short Term Outcomes- Priority Goal:  a Child’s Spiritual Journey

Knowing Doing Believing/Valuing Belonging
*Uses key vocabulary of Jewish blessing at designated times to explore and express gratitude (keva) 

*Name the stories of key people in Jewish tradition express gratitude to God in their own words (kavanah)

*Uses brachot at fixed times within the learning experiences and independently outside of fixed situations 

 

* Expresses what it is like to be in conversation with God 

*Explores the benefit and challenge of using brachot in daily life and within community

 

*Talks to God at bedtime using her/his own language and the language of tradition 

*Regularly meets with teens and seniors to share the experience of expressing gratitude to and talking to God with fixed blessings and personal conversation

 

How Can Growth Be Documented Over Time?

Once short-term outcomes are articulated educators then select assessment tools and prompts to collect data. Assessment tools include journals, blogs, video essays, recorded interviews and online portfolios. These kinds of tools capture the full range of learner outcomes. A journal, for example, can document a learner’s knowledge, action/doing, expressed values/beliefs, and growing relationships/belonging. Educators often give learners a choice about what tool to select. The role of learner choice in naming outcomes and assessment tools can’t be underestimated.

We’ve seen in New York that assessment tools like journals and blogs are well suited for documenting events and fostering reflection that is at the core of meaning making. A collection of these tools creates a portfolio for a child’s growth over time. One Conservative congregation in Westchester taught parents how to create portfolios of their children’s Jewish journey for a year. Children were given “Jewish teddy bears” to take with them when they celebrated holidays and did mitzvot. Parents photographed their children and reflected with their children. (http://www.ujafedny.org/teddy-bears-transform-jewish-education/). One could imagine the portfolios showed growth and became precious family artifacts.

Assessment tools are incomplete without prompts. Prompts are questions, sentence starters or instructions created by educators so that learners can express their growth and learning over time. Each short-term outcome for a unit should have a prompt to focus data collection and reflection.

 

10 year old Sample: Short Term Outcomes- Priority Goal: Child’s Spiritual Journey

Use a Journal and answer the following questions throughout the unit

Knowing Doing Believing/Valuing Belonging
Prompt: Describe the times you used three brachot. Use the words of blessing in your description.Prompt: in your own words tell how Hannah and

Moses expressed gratitude from their heart.

Prompt: Place in your journal four photos of times you used brachot to express gratitude. Explain when and why you used a particular blessing. 

 

Prompt: Your parents or friends may ask why you are experimenting with adding brachot to your life. Explain what it is like to talk with God. Share how Hannah, &Moses or the senior or teen you meet with  also spoke to God. Explain the challenge & the benefit of saying brachot regularly.  What questions are do you have about this practice that you can ask them? Prompt:  What have you taken away from the time you’ve spent with the seniors and teens? Create a series of photos, songs or drawings that capture their experience with talking to God and expressing gratitude.How will you keep the conversation going with God? With the seniors? Teens?

 

Learning from the Assessment

Educators often have a “sense” of how well a group is learning. Personal observations are important, but not sufficient to guide educational plans or to enable learners to see their own growth over time. Documentation and analysis works to confirm or challenge teacher observations. Documentation also enables an educator to use what is learned to inform plans for future experiences. Vivid evidence of growth enables learners to mark their progress and set new goals.

 

When reviewing learner products, educators ask three critical questions:

1. How do you know if your learners are growing and reaching identified short-term outcomes?

 

2. What can you learn from the patterns of how individuals and/or groups are reaching short-term outcomes?

 

3. What can you learn from their journeys that will inform your teaching?

• How can you help learners get closer to the destination?

• What changes might you need to make in what you do?

 

Reflecting on the work of learners is a team sport. We see educational teams helping one another discover how close or far learners are from reaching the outcomes. And then they work together to reshape the learning experience to better reach outcomes or recognize that the outcomes require editing.

We see children and parents appreciate visible meaningful demonstration of learning. It kills the word “nothing” when the question is asked “what did you learn today?”

 

Not Easy, but Possible and Valuable

Whole Person Learning and Assessment is a methodology that is alive and well in New York in Conservative Congregations like Park Avenue Synagogue, Hollis Hills Jewish Center, Temple Israel Center of White Plains, and Temple Beth Sholom of Roslyn. These are just a few examples of congregations that have dramatically changed their assessment practice over the last few years.

To do this they have created teams of educators who have learned and used this method of assessment in their own teaching. These leadership teams in turn work with the rest of the staff to create short-term outcomes, collect data and reflect on them to direct teaching and learning. Educators in these congregations meet regularly for ongoing professional learning.

These congregations report dramatic cultural change. Educators now have shared language and direction about what counts as success. They use these outcomes to shape the learning experience. Learners and leaders have evidence of growth, now, not some time long in the future.

What I have shared, I hope, can help educators and designers respond to the question: “Is the ReFrame Successful?” The Whole Person Framework will enable you to say with confidence, “These are the ways children are growing in knowledge, beliefs/values, lived action and relationships. And these are the areas we need to adjust.” You can also say to Jack Wertheimer, “We are clear about our goals and honest with ourselves about how well we are achieving them.”

 

Your thoughts:

1. What long term goals does your congregation set for learners?

2. What evidence do you collect now to show that learners are growing toward those goals?

3. In what ways would it be helpful to attend to outcomes that include: Knowing, Doing, Believing/Valuing and Belonging? What additional important domains do you imagine?

4. What kind of professional learning/support would you need to deepen your practice of learner assessment?

5. What evidence will you take that the ReFrame is working in your community?

6. Are you interested in learning more about Whole Person Learning and Assessment?

 

Visit innovatingcongregations.org

 

Download for free:

Webinars on Noticing: innovatingcongregations.org/Noticing

LOMED Handbook. Innovatingcongregations.org /resources

 


RESOURCES:

Cohen, S. (2006) “What We Should Know About Jewish Identity” Retrieved from: http://members.ngfp.org/Courses/Cohen/cohen1.pdf

LOMED: Handbook for Powerful Learning Experiences (2011) The Jewish Education Project, The Experiment In Congregational Education, and the Leadership Institute of Hebrew College and The Jewish Theological Seminary, funded by UJA-Federation of New York.

Wertheimer, J. (2009) Schools That Work: What We Can Learn From Good Jewish  Supplementary Schools, p. 33. Avi Chai Foundation.

 


Cyd B. Weissman, is the director, Innovation in Congregational Learning, for The Jewish Education Project where she leads a team to support the creation of Jewish learning environments that positively nurture the lives of learners. Cyd also works with the Leadership Institute, a joint program of the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion and The Jewish Theological Seminary of America, the partnership is designed to create a landscape of congregational education that nurtures the lives of Jewish learners.

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