Educators talk about assessment all the time. How do we know if we have been successful? How will we know if the long term goals are met, or whether students forget what we’ve taught them as soon as they walk out the doors? I’d like to share two conversations I had recently, which demonstrate that our older students are making significant connections in their Jewish learning.
Last month I had the opportunity to teach our 7th graders about the Jewish Life Cycle, from brit milah to rituals of death and comforting mourners. When we discussed Brit Milah, I asked the students to tell me about the brit — the covenant — with Abraham. “The cookies!” someone remarked. They were referring to the sugar cookies that retired second grade teacher Rivkah Nachlas had used to symbolize the brit. Five years earlier, these seventh graders had each gone home with a frosted cookie covered with half star sprinkles and half colored sugar, and were told they couldn’t eat them until they explained the brit to their parents, that the cookie represented the promise of descendants numbering as many as the stars in the sky and the sands of the sea.
Another day, I joined Hebrew teacher Nurit Sallen as working with a few seventh grade students on Modern Hebrew. In between practicing conversations, they were talking about the word shalom. It’s a simple word, at first. Nurit explained that Shin-Lamed-Mem means complete, whole, and peace; it appears in Yerushalayim. One student remarked that it suddenly made sense, and said “this is awesome! Why haven’t we learned these connections before?” I commented that even if we had shared the information, he wouldn’t have been ready for all of the deeper connections – the human brain is funny like that. Now, in seventh grade, the synapses are firing.
When we completed the life cycle unit, we had a small party called a siyyum, a completion. I hope that as we continue to learn together, your children will want to extend their learning past this year, into the years of abstract connections and deeper complex thoughts. Let’s make seventh grade the beginning, not the siyyum, of serious and complex Jewish education.