Check out our archive of the 2010 podcast series “Classroom Teaching with Mark Smilowitz.” Rabbi Mark Smilowitz is a seasoned educator who has taught Judaic studies for middle school, high school, and post-high school ages in the classroom setting in New Jersey, Seattle, and Israel. This podcast is Mark’s attempt to share what he has learned over the years so that teachers – beginners and veterans – can find personal satisfaction in their profession. Happy Teaching!
Rabbi Mark Smilowitz has rabbinic ordination from Yeshiva University and graduate degrees in teaching Judaic studies from both Yeshiva University and Herzog College. He is currently working on a doctorate on the Jewish philosophy of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik at the Hebrew University. Mark lives in Beit Shemesh with his wife Michelle and their children.
Goals and Objectives
A discussion on the difference between goals and objectives, and which one teachers should focus on, day-to-day.
LEAST Classroom Management
The LEAST method of classroom management helps teachers avoid disrupting their own classes and encourages students to take responsibility for their own behavior, saving the most drastic teacher responses for only the most drastic student misbehavior.
Fostering Student Questions
How do we teach our students to become independent learners? One way is to teach them the art of asking effective questions. Here is a technique to teach them this important and often neglected skill.
Helping Students Get Organized
Students often have problems keeping track of all their \”stuff\”, and their disorganization can kill a well prepared lesson. Here are some ideas about how to help students stay on top things so that they can focus all their energies on the learning.
The Three Ingredients of Learning
For effective learning to happen, a unit should include three main ingredients: facts, skills, and concepts. Here\’s how to make sure your lessons include all three.
Norms Versus Rules
An alternative to rules, norms help to create a culture of learning in the class and teach kids that controlling their behavior is a fundamental part of learning.
The Role of the Teacher
You can\’t be everything for everyone, so, as a teacher, what exactly are you and for whom? Where do the responsibilities of a classroom teacher begin and end? Clarifying your role as teacher will focus your efforts on real achievement and can significantly reduce your stress levels.
When a Kid Fails a Test
What do you do when your student fails a test? Whose problem is it? What should you say to the student and what do you say to the parents? Here is a comprehensive guide to handling this situation with competence and professionalism.
Talking to Parents
Parents should be your allies in helping your students grow and develop. Here\’s a \”top ten\” list of guidelines to help conduct constructive communication with parents.
Varying Learning Modes
Here\’s one way to put some variety into your lessons in order to grab more students\’ interest and attention and hold it for longer. Includes a fun Chanuka lesson idea.
When your students just want to be doing something else – anything else – how can you pull them in so they want to learn? And how can you help them to sustain their drive to learn for the duration of the year, and maybe even beyond? This episode analyzes a few effective motivational approaches, with plenty of examples, including one special for Chanukah.
Do all students learn in the same way? Of course not. So why should we teach them all in the same way? It may sound difficult, but there are practical ways teachers can easily adjust their lessons to meet the different needs of different students. Here are some reflections on differentiated instruction in the Judaic studies classroom.
Teaching Thinking Skills
For students to be fully engaged in learning, they need to be challenged with tasks that go beyond remembering and explaining. This episode reviews the six thinking skills of Benjamin Bloom\’s Taxonomy and suggests ways of using them in the Judaic studies classroom in order to nurture higher level thinking.
Report cards can either be a nuisance or a motivating force and educational tool. Here are some reflections on how to make it the latter.
More Thoughts on Thinking Skills
How does Judaism view higher level thinking? Reflections on the relationship between Judaism and thinking skills.
The Role of Love
Like flowers need water, students need love to grow. Here are ten ways to show your love for your students.
Pacing Professional Development
Rome wasn\’t built in a day, and we don\’t become masters of our trade in a year. A good approach to professional growth is to take baby steps for the short term while maintaining a long term perspective. This podcast includes some suggestions for choosing specific areas of focused growth.
Evaluating Your Teaching
How do you assess your effectiveness as a teacher? There are some obvious, tell-tale signs around you, but there are some other things you can do to get a more accurate and thorough assessment.
Teaching Reading Proficiency
If you teach a class that involves reading classic Jewish texts, who does the reading? Do all of your students get the practice they need? Here are five ways to hear your students read so you can help them improve.
The Right to Discipline
What is the basis of my right to tell my students how they have to behave? Maintaining clarity on the nature of my disciplinary role can help me to avoid power struggles and to nurture an atmosphere that supports learning.
Two Types of Assessment
Before we can teach our students, we have to know who they are, what they are thinking and feeling, and what they can and cannot do. That\’s why we need to plan regular assessments into our lessons. This podcast explains both summative and formative assessments, with examples and tips for making them effective.
When you give a test, your students can throw you some surprises. This podcast is a response to a teacher\’s email about what happens when students ask you, \”Is this what I\’m supposed to write?\” as well as other issues that come up when adminstering tests.
Sometimes it\’s hard to pinpoint the source of a problem and there is a temptation to mete out consequences to the whole group when only a few students are responsible. There is much to learn about this situation from the Biblical story of King David and Avigayil.
Pedagogical Techniques from the Seder
Our Sages were master educators, and the Haggada and the Pesach Seder is one of their crowning achievements. Here are ten pedagogical techniques and approaches used by the Haggada that we as teachers should be using in our classrooms.
The Last Months of School
Here are five suggestions how to help the students end the year with a sense of pride and accomplishment in their achievements.
Writing Behavioral Objectives
There are great advantages in formulating your daily lesson objectives in terms of student behavior. Here are some tips to help write effective behavioral objectives for your lessons.
Having Fun in Class
What\’s wrong with making your classroom fun? Here are some ways to bring fun into the classroom.
Teaching can be overwhelming. This episode identifies seven contributors to teacher burnout, and offers strategies to get you back on track.
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ords to Use and Avoid
Our choice of language can have significant impact on a student\’s self-image. This episode explores a number of words teachers can use to help promote a positive student self-image, as well as words we would do well to avoid.
Debriefing After Class
So many things happen in class that a teacher needs to remember, but keeping all those thoughts organized is a dizzying prospect. Teachers need to \”debrief\” after class, so here\’s one way of doing it.
The Last Days of School
While the school year is still fresh in your mind, while you still have your students and your colleagues are still with you, there are a number of resources a teacher can take advantage of to already make next year easier.
Teacher Performance or Student Achievement
This episode considers two models of teaching, one that focuses on the teacher\’s presentation, and the other that focuses on student work and achievement. One of these seems more prevalent today, but the other has compelling features that should be considered.
Planning a Year
Summer is not only a time to get a head start on planning your lessons, but it\’s also a good time to reflect on the larger framework of your year-long course. Here are a number of suggestions, including how to identify core ideas and key questions in your subject.
While surprises are fun, we all need routines – teachers and students – in order for class to run smoothly. Here are some ideas about the importance of building a variety of routines into your teaching and practical suggestions about how to use them.
Becoming More Knowledgeable
While a teacher does not need to be the world\’s expert in their subject matter, the more you know and understand, the better you\’ll be able to teach. Here are some things teachers might do over the summer to grow in knowledge of their subject.
An Interview with Professor Stevie Bravmann
Mark and Stevie discuss an extremely important idea for teachers: how to deconstruct your own learning process in order to use that process to inform how you teach others.
Seven Instructional Questions
This episode discusses seven questions worth asking yourself to help plan your year of teaching. They are also useful for planning units and planning lessons.
Staying on top of the flow of papers can be a real challenge to teachers, who struggle to maintain order among the various handouts and student work that streams in and out. Rather than resign yourself to the mess and the lost papers, here is a system that you can implement from day one of school to help keep all your papers exactly where they ought to be.
Planning a Unit
Unlike math or history textbooks that break the material up into units for the teacher, classical Judaic texts do not always lend themselves to being broken up into 3-5 week units. Here are some reasons why it\’s important to divide the learning year into smaller units, along with tips how the Judaic studies teacher can do so effectively.
THE First Week of School
What is the best way to start the school year? Should I get serious right away to set the tone? Or should I have fun with the students in order to get to know each other? Is there a way to combine both? Here\’s a suggestion for an integrated approach that smoothly merges two seemingly conflicting attitudes toward the first days of school.
Interview with Dr Chaim Feuerman
Mark Smilowitz interviews educator Dr Chaim Feuerman about the four innately pleasurable learning activities that teachers should be using regularly in their classes.
Breadth or Depth?
What\’s more important – covering a lot of ground at the expense of depth, or developing thinking and discussion at the expense of breadth? Does it really have to be a choice? This episode shows why both breadth and depth are indispensible, and in fact reinforce one another, along with suggestions of how to combine them. Includes some examples for teaching about the holiday of Sukkot.
An Interview with Rabbi Yonah Fuld
Mark talks to Rabbi Fuld, past principal of SAR Academy in New York for 25 years, about experiential learning, and how it can nurture real connection and commitment to Judaism in ways beyond those of conventional classroom teaching.
The Myth of Defensive Teaching
This episode considers what to do when you and your students discover a weakness in an idea you are teaching that you don\’t know how to answer. Instead of offering inadequate defenses, a teacher can seize this teachable moment to show kids how a mature thinker handles intellectual challenges.
An Interview with Rabbi Aytan Kadden
In this episode Mark talks with Israel\’s Teacher of the Year Rabbi Aytan Kadden about empowering students. Rabbi Kadden received the prize for his work in an experimental school that seeks to bridge the gaps between secular and religious students.
UbD in the Judaic Studies Classroom
This episode explores the Understanding By Design approach to planning lessons and its relevance to the specific needs of the Judaic studies teacher, based on years of experimentation with the UbD system.This podcast explores the Understanding By Design approach to planning lessons and its relevance to the specific needs of the Judaic studies teacher, based on years of experimentation with the UbD system.
Interview with Semadar Goldstein
Mark interviews Semadar Goldstein, a veteran teacher who researched and developed ways to use Multiple Intelligences (MI) theory in the Judaic Studies classroom. Semadar describes the intelligences and explains how teachers can use them to maximize the learning of each child.
Natural and Logical Consequences
With engaging lessons and good classroom management skills, a teacher can take care of nearly all behavior problems. But then there\’s the occasional student who persists in disruptive behavior no matter what preventative measures a teacher takes. This episode explores guidelines for giving out the kinds of consequences that are most likely to have a positive impact on future student behavior.
An Interview With Michelle Berkowitz
In this episode Mark talks with educational consultant Michelle Berkowitz about teaching kids how to summarize. We expect our students to summarize all the time, but we rarely think about all the skills they need to do it, nor do we consider the possibility that many kids don\’t know how. This interview sheds new light on an important but often ignored topic.
Handing Papers Back On Time
How quickly do you get your students\’ papers graded and returned? Do you tend to have papers pile up? This episode includes a number of useful tips to help you sail through those piles of pages. It also discusses the educational and psychological benefits of returning papers in a timely way, and how doing so can increase student performance and teacher satisfaction.
An Interview with Rabbi Haim Perlmutter
In this episode Mark Smilowitz explores the issue of teaching overarching concepts with R. Perlmutter, author of the book Gemara Wisdom. R. Perlmutter has extracted life lessons from the details of Jewish law discussed in the Talmud and in this episode he shares with Mark and listeners his secrets of how to discover and teach these powerful ideas that dwell in the depths of your subject area, whatever you may teach. Learn more about Haim and his work here.
Special Purim Podcast: An Interview the Worst Teacher of the Year
In this special Purim episode, Mark Smilowitz gets hints and tips from a teacher who has earned the title \”worst teacher of the year.\” Come listen for a fascinating journey into a world of incompetence and negligence. Recommended listening, especially with an alcoholic beverage.
Start Where They Are
It\’s a well known adage of education to start a lesson where the kids already are. But what does this mean, how does one do it, and how important is it? In this episode Mark Smilowitz explores different aspects of this fundamental principle. Includes examples for teaching about Pesach.
An Interview with Chana Tannenbaum
In this episode Mark Smilowitz explores the issue of gender differences in the classroom with Dr. Chana Tannebaum. Some of the questions explored include, do teachers tend to treat boys and girls differently? Are there topics which should be taught differently to boys than to girls? Do the different genders tend to have different relative strengths and weakness as students? Come listen to this lively discussion about a fascinating and important topic.
Accepting Your Successes
In this episode Mark Smilowitz considers the tendency for us as teachers to let others assess our success as teachers instead of doing so ourselves. He also discusses the habit we sometimes have of focusing on our failures instead of accepting our successes. Mark considers these issues in response to a recent story that happened to him.
An Interview with Rabbi Bernie Fox on Accountability
This episode focuses on the topic of accountability in the classroom with an interview with Rabbi Bernie Fox, the head of school at the Northwest Yeshiva High School of Seattle. He shares an impressively well thought-out and systematic approach to nurturing an ongoing sense of accountability among the students, which includes connecting accountability to stated goals and objectives, creating a learning partnership with the students, offering feedback in a cooperative manner, and other related issues.
Teaching Toward Appreciation
Beyond learning content knowledge and skills, many teachers would like to see their students develop a real and lasting appreciation for their subject. In this episode of Classroom Teaching, Mark Smilowitz offers an outline of how to teach toward appreciation.
The Difficult Student
There is a lot of good advice out there about how to deal with a difficult student. In this podcast Mark Smilowitz suggests that one critical issue that is often overlooked is the teacher\’s need to adjust his or her attitude from adversarial to advocative. Mark offers his advice how to do so to help effectively manage the difficult student.
Transmission and Transformation with Professor Stevie Bravmann
Mark Smilowitz interviews retired teacher and professor of education Stephanie Bravmann on the topic of transformative education, including transformative Jewish education. They discuss the challenges teachers face in moving beyond transmitting information to transforming the child, why transformation is important, and what kind of mindset a teacher needs in order to do it.
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