Three leading educators from community institutions have been richly rewarded for their work in educational innovation. Rabbi Yoni Fein of The Moriah School, who serves as assistant principal for middle school Judaic studies and Jewish life, has been awarded a Kohelet Prize in “differentiated instruction.” In the category of “risk taking,” Shira Greenspan, a former limudei kodesh teacher at Yeshivat Noam, has also been awarded a Kohelet Prize for her work with enrichment students in Noam’s seventh grade. Zahava Greenwald, Bruriah Junior High coordinator, received an honorable mention in the category of “differentiated instruction” for her addition of “flipped instruction” to Bruriah’s limudei kodesh curriculum.
A total of 327 educators submitted their work to the Pennsylvania-based Kohelet Foundation, which requires that all applications be released to the public, so that innovations, successes and constructive failures are noted and can be utilized on a national and international scale. One winner and one honorable mention were selected in each of the following categories: Physical Learning Environment, Interdisciplinary Integration, Differentiated Instruction, Real-World Learning, Critical and Creative Thinking and Risk Taking and Failure. Each winner received a $36,000 cash prize.
Rabbi Chaim Hagler, principal of Yeshivat Noam, shared his thoughts on Greenspan’s win. “Shira is an incredibly passionate teacher who is always striving to challenge each of her students. Through her participation in the Katz Enrichment Grant and her creativity and research, Shira developed the B’chol Dor Va’dor anchor activity. Numerous Yeshivat Noam students benefited from this accelerated level of Tanach study,” he said.
“We’re incredibly proud of the work that Rabbi Fein and the Talmud department have been doing,” said Moriah head of school Rabbi Daniel Alter. Rabbi Fein created this program after being influenced by the success of the Moriah Multi-Modal program, which was created at Moriah under the auspices of a BOLD grant.
“This program has brought Moriah to a place where learning is truly personalized,” Rabbi Fein said. “Our new innovative approach to middle-school Talmud instruction is a game changer. The model of Talmud instruction in Jewish Day schools has remained mostly intact for decades. With a team of rabbanim that includes both experienced and first-year teachers with a wide range of technological skills, we’ve established a successful growth mindset and collaborative culture around the transition to personalized learning in Talmud.”
He added that to have had his work selected from the many impressive entries is “remarkable, and I feel fortunate to work in a school that takes pride in trying new, innovative approaches to better help our students be the best versions of themselves.”
Greenspan said of her award, “Sometimes, we teachers set out to meet a goal and, in doing so, challenge the success of another goal. That was the challenge I faced when I aimed to increase engagement and make learning more meaningful for my gifted Tanach students a few years ago. I developed an enrichment anchor activity for students who had demonstrated a unique aptitude for learning Tanach independently, developing and supporting abstract ideas through concrete textual evidence.”
“I’m excited being a part of this movement towards innovation and collaboration, which is exactly what the Kohelet Prize stands for,” said Greenwald. “There are so many creative ideas out there and to have a database where teachers may share and learn from one another—that’s tremendous.”
Greenwald’s project, “Flipped Instruction,” takes advantage of emerging technologies to present new material to students at home or on the road, allowing class time to be spent on discussion, analysis and collaboration.
“Innovative, creative, cutting edge are the first attributes that come to mind when I think of Zehava Greenwald. She is a gem, in a star-studded school that has been in the forefront of young women’s education for half a century,” said Rabbi Joseph Oratz, principal of Bruriah High School.
Rabbi Alter told The Jewish Link that Rabbi Fein’s project established eight basic standards that instructors of Talmud can work to help students achieve, four primary and four secondary. “When you speak to most Gemara teachers about goals, we noted that their answers were something like, ‘to finish 16 blatt,’” which are not helping in creating differentiated instruction or in getting an accurate picture of a specific student’s skills, said Rabbi Alter.
Together with his team, Rabbi Fein used those criteria to develop a program that would track the criteria, in curriculum mapping and assessment of skills, and “once you have goals you can personalize the learning, and differentiate it for each student,” said Rabbi Alter.
Greenspan, whose project was conducted at Yeshivat Noam, won the risk-taking category for “In Every Generation,” the school’s independent anchor activity for accelerated Tanach students that encourages meaningful inter-textual exploration of the Bible. The project called for students to identify underlying themes of Pesach by analyzing 18 events in Tanach that took place during the holiday and create their own seder symbols to be used at family sedarim.
Created to celebrate extraordinary accomplishment, stimulate breakthroughs and enrich the field of Jewish day school education, the Kohelet Foundation accepted entries to the Kohelet Prize from early September through November, 2016. An independent panel of seven judges representing the fields of cognitive psychology, developmental psychology, classroom pedagogy and educational administration conducted an extensive review of each one.
Along with announcing the prize winners, today the Kohelet Foundation launched the Kohelet Prize Database in which all Kohelet Prize entries are available to explore. The foundation designed the database to be searchable by category, subject area, grade level and pedagogical approach. The Kohelet Prize Database can be accessed via the Kohelet Prize website: www.koheletprize.org.
The Kohelet Foundation’s work focuses primarily on Jewish day schools and the institutions that support them. By creating and implementing programs that are replicable and accessible and awarding a variety of unique and targeted grants, the Kohelet Foundation is transforming what is possible for Jewish day schools and their communities nationwide. Visit them at www.koheletfoundation.org.
The Kohelet Foundation plans to award the six prizes again next year. The submission period for the 2018 prize begins in September 2017.