Two Local Teachers Receive Kohelet Prizes


Wanting to create a culture of goal-setting at Kohelet Yeshiva Lab School three years ago, teacher Rachael Simon had her kindergarten students explore objectives through the story of Jacob working for Lavan to marry Rachel.

She then asked them to set their own personal goals.

They committed to reading a chapter book, finishing the monkey bars and staying calm when upset. Simon submitted this goal-setting program to the Kohelet Prizes, which recognize accomplishments in one of six areas of progressive Jewish education, and won.

Of the six winners for the 2017-2018 prizes, two — including Simon — are  local teachers.

Rachael Simon | Photo provided

Simon won the Kohelet Prize for Differentiated Instruction, and Rabbi Daniel Rosenberg, a Jewish studies and bible teacher at Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy, won for Development of Critical and/or Creative Thinking.

“Both Rachael and Daniel went beyond describing their work in the classroom,” said Rebecca Goldberg, chief program officer at the Kohelet Foundation. “Both also shared profound examples of student work, as well as their own critical reflections about their processes.”

Members of the Narberth-based Kohelet Foundation came to each school to present the prizes to the teachers last month. Neither knew in advance that they had won. They each received a prize of $36,000, some of which both said they plan on donating.

“I really didn’t have many expectations of winning,” Simon said. “The original goal was just to put this project on the website and allow other teachers to see it.”

This is the third year that Simon has implemented her goal-setting program in the classroom. Now, both kindergarteners and first-graders are setting goals, and because the original students have moved through the school, the culture has spread.

In Simon’s program, students make a plan and work toward a goal over the course of a month. At first, they work together toward a communal objective the teacher picks. Then they pick goals from a list the teacher creates and, later on, the students create their own objectives.

“It’s made [the students] more aware of their own learning,” Simon said. “One of our major goals is having that metacognition, that they know what they know and they don’t. Setting goals has forced them to sit down and think about what’s something that they need to learn.”

From left: Rabbi Gil Perl, chief academic officer at the Kohelet Foundation; David Magerman, president and founder at the Kohelet Foundation; Rabbi Daniel Rosenberg; Holly Cohen, executive director at the Kohelet Foundation; and Sharon Levin, Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy head of school | Photo provided

At Barrack, Rosenberg had ninth-grade students in his combined Talmud and Tanach honors class make sugyas occupy space.

A sugya, he said, is a conversation in a Talmudic style. He compared it to a Roomba vacuum, which continues in a direction until it bumps into a wall and turns around. Eventually, the Roomba covers all the space.

Students had the option of writing a sugya addressing the issue of public dignity and public shame, or the relative importance of the Hebrew language versus other languages. Both were topics that the students learned about during the academic year. They had to make a claim on one of these topics, as well as write an imagined conversation, and then make their sugyas take up space through sculptures that reflect their thesis and arguments. The students, Rosenberg noted, chose to argue the entire range of opinions on these two topics.

The purpose of this project is to incorporate STEAM education into a Jewish studies classroom. Rosenberg implemented this for the first time last year after serving on the school’s STEAM education committee and feeling challenged to bring its principles into his classroom. An experience he had at Camp Ramah Darom, where he worked with an art director to create Jewish art pieces, also inspired him.

Rosenberg wanted to see if the students could not just understand the Talmud, but also think like the Talmud in the development of their own sugyas

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