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The Classroomless Class

10/13/14

By Cyd Weissman

This week, TIME magazine featured the Paperless Classroom. Students equipped with iPads don’t need paper to write, or books to read. Just a click and a stylus makes learning magical. As much as I appreciate the trees that will be saved from this innovation, it is an innovation barking up the wrong tree. Paperless is not the answer. What we need is a Classlessroom Class.

I recently visited a progressive elementary school. Every 20 minutes the children had another assignment. I left thinking if I had to spend seven hours per day following the rules and confined to schedules, I’d run away from home. What was the difference between the regiment the students were experiencing and the prison on Orange is the New Black? That confining feeling of someone watching your every move, trying to sneak a chat  and always following orders, or be punished is cringe worthy.

empty classroom

I am recommending we forbid learning within the walls of the classroom. No more children staring at cinder block walls. Hard, cold chairs in rows or even placed in circles are to be banned. Pealing posters and florescent lighting should be x’ed out. The schedule and the rules of every 20 minutes, listen and now do this activity sheet should be quarantined.

In my work in NY we’ve created learning to spur teacher’s skills and imagination. The most successful experiences have been:
1. In a shopping mall – what does Jewish tradition say about buying?
2. In a restaurant – Torah learning and values go hand in hand with a meal.
3. At the NYC High Line – blessings said and understood when seeing true wonder.
4. At the art museum – where color and text and soul enliven.

We could have done any of these lessons in a classroom. Dance, music and drawing could have trumped the pen and pencil. But no amount of dance or storytelling, no amount of apps and programs could have made the lessons more memorable.

Jewish learning that is memorable and happens in real life, it is not meant for a classroom – as Dr. Jeff Kress says, “Judaism is not a subject to be learned ABOUT.” Living Jewish resulting from learning Jewish takes place in malls, restaurants, the garden path and museums… When we wake, when we walk and when go to bed at night. I have this idea on very high authority.

The iPad, TIME’s paperless paper would enable text, reflection to accompany and enrich the learning, but not define it.

What would it take for us to foster Jewish learning for children and  families that takes place where they are and not with the cinder blocks? I asked my students at H.U.C. while sitting on the roof of the building and  smelling limes to awaken the soul (Jewish teaching says smell is for the soul – whereas food is for the body) to write down the questions they have been pondering since the holidays. They said things like: How can I be authentic while living up to people’s expectations? How do I show love when I’m stressed during my days?

These are the kinds of questions our learners hold. And they can’t be addressed within cinder block walls if we want to penetrate the amount of “stuff” that comes to learners.

The Classlessroom Class speaks to the real life questions people are wondering about— and in the spaces that amplify not diminish learning.

What are the tools of the Classlessroom Class?
*Really knowing the learner – their interests and needs
*Family desire
*Apps at the ready
*Personal follow-up beyond what an iPad can do
*A chevra – no kid can believe she or he is alone on an island
*Some mentoring
*Flexibility

CircleOfFriends

What do you think? Could you imagine the Classlessroom Class?
I think this could happen anywhere just like a tree that grows in Brooklyn… Manhattan, Westchester, Long Island and wherever our learners walk.

 

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