Beyond the Limitations of the Classroom


by S. Olidort - NEWARK, NJ

July 10, 2003

Why are children often so resistant to rules, and why is the threat of punishment, or the promise of reward so often ineffective?

According to renowned psychologist, Rabbi Dr. Avraham H. Fried, addressing the second annual women’s Chinuch Conference this week, the reason is simple: “Give me liberty or give me death.” Children, like adults, yearn to be in control, says Fried, and when teachers use rules as a control mechanism, children will invariably resist. Fried, who is Associate Professor of Psychology and Education at Stern College, Yeshiva University and at the Azrieli Graduate Program in Jewish Education at YU, says that effective behavior management, and ultimately effective teaching, employs rules in a manner that gives students a sense of control, and when consistently enforced, a sense of real empowerment.

These and other ideas exploring how students learn best were the subject of a series of comprehensive workshops and lectures that spoke to the conference theme: “Beyond the Limitations of the Classroom.” Aimed at “promoting creative, progressive thinking in education that recognizes the individual needs of each child and caters to him/her,” explains Rabbi Nochem Kaplan, director of the Chinuch Office, the sessions unfolded along three tracks: preschool, elementary school, and high school. A project of the Chinuch Office, under the aegis of Merkos L’Inyonei Chinuch, and a committee of 35 Chabad educators, the conference drew 150 teachers, principals, and school directors, all women, from across the United States and abroad.

Dr. Mel Levine, co-founder of “All Kinds of Minds,” a non-profit organization for the understanding of differences in learning, addressed the conference on “Finding a Place for All Kinds of Minds,” a practical approach to understanding students by taking a closer look at the brain’s functioning and learning to recognize students’ strengths and weaknesses.

When a child is having difficulty in the classroom, said Levine, it is because the way he/she is being taught is simply incompatible with the way the particular child learns best. Instead of using labels like ADD or LD, Dr. Levine encourages educators to identify a student’s neurodevelopmental profile, which is divided into eight constructs, including attention, memory, and spatial ordering, and allows teachers to zoom in on the source of the difficulty, so that she can address the issue at hand.

It’s an approach that educators like Mrs. Chienna Lazaroff, principal of Torah Day School in Houston Texas, embrace enthusiastically. Parents, she says, can often become major obstacles in their children’s self-improvement, because they don’t want to hear what is “wrong” with their child. “Labeling the manifestation of the child’s learning ability, rather than the child himself, or his ‘problem’, is more palatable for the parents,” she says, and it enables them to see the teacher not as a threat, but as someone on their team, who they can work with to help their child.

And it’s just as important for the child who finds himself being called stupid, or awkward, and has no idea why. Identifying the root cause of the issue, says Lazaroff, paves the way for demystification, a process that helps the child gain an understanding of his own difficulty so that he can help himself overcome it.

Additional sessions ranged from the emergent curriculum, with its focus on allowing children to set their own pace, to Rabbi Y. L. Newman’s “From Accuracy to Fluency” Hebrew instruction workshop. At each, participants absorbed a wealth of information with practical guidelines for implementation in their own classrooms and schools.

“We discussed the idea of a cooperative learning system for kids, where children can work together, learning from and with each other,” says Devory Raitport, an early childhood educator in Brooklyn. The conference, she says, “helped clarify certain ideas, and raised new possibilities for more effective teaching, like breaking down anecdotal records to be able to track students’ progress and identify their strengths and weaknesses.”

“It’s not about ‘how smart my kid is’ but ‘how my kid is smart’,” was Sori Rottenstreich’s message at the preschool workshop she presented, which emphasized the importance of providing the possibilities for different kinds of learning and expression in an early childhood education, so that children can explore themselves and the world around them musically, artistically, linguistically or in whatever form they can best relate to.

With the number of Chabad schools steadily on the rise, observed Rabbi Yehuda Krinsky, Chairman of Merkos L'inyonei Chinuch, who addressed the conference, a larger percentage of Jewish parents are turning to Chabad for their children’s educational needs. “The need for our schools and children to have highly qualified and well trained educators is absolutely critical, and the Chinuch Conference is designed for this purpose,” he said.

Leah Aizenman, principal of Chabad Hebrew Academy in Myrtle Beach, S.C., concurs. “The conference helped us focus on new theories, bringing us up to date with applicable information that is backed with relevant research.” It also provided an open forum for people passionate about the future of Jewish education to engage in a meaningful exchange of ideas.

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