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My Summer Reading List 2018- Rabbi Malkus
Rabbi Mitch Malkus

My Summer Reading List 2018

If your schedule is anything like mine, summer tends to be a slower time and affords me the opportunity to indulge in reading many more books than during the rest of the year. I also enjoy learning what others are reading and it has become my custom to share my reading list through this blog. With that in mind, here are the volumes on my summer reading list:

Letters to My Palestinian Neighbor by Yossi Klein Halevi. Klein is a senior fellow of the Shalom Hartman Institute and veteran journalist and author. The book is an attempt to share with Palestinians the complex narrative that informs his identity as a Zionist and a Jew as it relates to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Through his letters, Halevi hopes his anonymous Palestinian neighbor will gain a better understanding of the painful choices facing Israelis and Palestinians alike as they try to achieve harmony in their region of the world.

The Road to Character by David Brooks. This work is Brooks' attempt to focus people on the priorities in life which he feels should emerge from moral depth and inner humility. He use the concepts of "resume virtues" (wealth, fame, status) versus "eulogy virtues" (kindness, bravery, honesty) to launch his discussion of how we can each build our own inner character. This will be the CESJDS school-wide read for 2018-19.

Wait, What? And Life's Other Essential Questions by James E. Ryan. Harvard Graduate School of Education Dean James Ryan expanded one of his graduation speeches that went viral into this slim volume about the value of significant questions. Ryan weaves into his essay stories and lessons from his personal and professional life as a law professor and now dean of Harvard's Graduate School of Education.

Dancing in the Rain; Leading with Compassion, Vitality and Mindfulness in Education by Jerome T. Murphy. This work by former Harvard Graduate School of Education Dean, Murphy, is aimed at helping educators thrive under pressure and flourish as leaders. He draws on his own experiences as well as both Eastern and Western contemplative practices and psychology.

Jewish Family; Identity and Self-Formation at Home by Alex Pomson and Randal F. Schnoor. My colleague Alex Pomson and his frequent collaborator Schnoor have teamed up to explore and share their recent research on the family unit as provider of identity formation. Using over ten years of research and grounded in theories of both family development and transmission of social and cultural capital, the authors provide a view into the complexity of being Jewish in North America today.

I would love to hear what you are reading and thinking about this summer too. Happy reading!

The Challenge of Dual Narratives in Education
Rabbi Mitch Malkus

Today marked a milestone for Israel and Jews throughout the world as the United States officially relocated its Embassy to Jerusalem. Politically, this move has been controversial with supporters suggesting it recognizes an important fact without predisposing the parties to any final resolution. Critics claim it positions the United States as partial to one side of the conflict while unnecessarily provoking Palestinians and many in the Arab world. This move also reveals tensions that exist for Jewish educators around how we engage in Israel education.

Unlike seventy years ago at its founding or after the Six Day War, Israel is no longer a unifying element in Jewish life. Avraham Infeld, a giant in Israel and Zionist education and former CEO of Hillel International, told Ha'aretz newspaper earlier this year that he found "that Israel had become the most disunifying force in the Jewish community." We see the truth of this statement as rabbis feel they can no longer speak to their communities about Israel without fear of backlash.

In Jewish education, we experience the lack of unity around Israel in discussions we have with parents and at the higher grade levels with students. In schools with a commitment to Israel, we often articulate that value by promoting a "love of Israel" or "developing a relationship with Israel." Some parents feel that educators should mostly promote Israel's many accomplishments, while others express the need to share the complex reality that Israel faces. Among students we hear questions about the narratives we are teaching and the lack of diversity within the curriculum. What is an educator to do when facing questions of how to teach about events like the relocation of the US Embassy?

Yossi Klein HaLevi, a senior fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem recently penned an op-ed piece in the Los Angeles Times that holds promise for educators who want to engage students around difficult issues relating to Israel. He observes that today's move is part of the war of competing narratives. "This week," he writes, "Israelis celebrate 70 years of victory over repeated attempts to destroy the miraculous rebirth of Jewish sovereignty, and Palestinians mourn 70 years of defeat, displacement and occupation." HaLevi goes on to say that each side must acknowledge and accept the other's narrative.

Jewish educators outside of Israel need to consider HaLevi's approach. As Jews, we are proud of Israel, recognize its historical significance and celebrate its existence. We have our narrative even as the situation is complex. At the same time, Palestinians have their narrative. HaLevi challenges us to understand both our narrative and the Palestinian narrative. He believes that only when the two groups embrace each other understanding of the history, something he believes majorities of both societies are prepared to do, will we reach a reconciliation. As Jewish educators we have the opportunity to begin this work with our students.

Leading in the Study of Holocaust Awareness
Rabbi Mitch Malkus

A recent survey from the Claims Conference found a striking lack of awareness around the basic facts of the Holocaust. 41 percent of millennials believe that 2 million or fewer people perished in the Shoah and an alarming 66 percent of millennials do

not know what Auschwitz was. The study highlights that the further we are away from the events of the Holocaust, the greater the lack of awareness of this event is, particularly among the youngest adult generation in the United States.

The Claims Conference also highlighted what they called "encouraging notes" in the survey. The positive signs they saw are that 93% of all Americans believe all students should learn about the Holocaust in school and that 80% percent of Americans say it is important to keep teaching about the Holocaust so that it is not repeated.

The survey results were in stark relief for me last week as the school commemorated Yom Ha-Shoah v' Ha-Gevurah, Holocaust Remembrance and Heroism Day. Students in Jewish day schools study and commemorate the tragic events of the Holocaust and, over a period of years, gain an appreciation for both the loss of life and for the disappearance of Jewish culture and civilization that existed in Europe prior to World War II.

In Jewish History courses, we teach students about the context and causes of the Holocaust. Through rigorous historical analysis combined with the study of human behavior as they relate to the Holocaust, we challenge students to gain a better understanding of racism, religious intolerance, and prejudice. The goals of this type of study are to increase students' ability to relate history to their own lives and promote ethical decision-making in their lives to prevent similar events from occurring.

Last year, Ryan Spiegel, a Gaithersburg Council Member (and a CESJDS Parent), asked Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) to detail how their curriculum teaches the facts and history of the Holocaust. Spiegel was alarmed by the "striking ignorance" he saw in the broader community and was concerned about how and to what extent the Holocaust was being taught. While many public schools have a mandate to teach the holocaust and some private independent schools do include small amounts of this in their curricula, largely schools are not addressing these areas in a significant manner.

As the Claims Conference study made clear, schools are the primary venue where Americans will need to learn about and the lessons from the Holocaust. Currently, this work is only taking place in a significant way in Jewish day schools. In addition to the value this brings our students, there may be a case for Day Schools to reach out to their local public and private independent colleagues school to advance this area is that is readily diminishing in the consciousness of Americans.

How Do Students Develop Mastery?
Rabbi Mitchel Malkus

I'm a basketball fan and with the NBA Playoffs around the corner, I am guaranteed a lot of late nights, a number of close, tense games, and, hopefully, a close Finals. I say hopefully because the Golden State Warriors have a dynasty-caliber team. While I am not a huge Stephen Curry fan, I am amazed at the way he has mastered three-point shooting. If you have ever watched him, it appears that he just flicks the ball at the basket and it goes through cleanly almost every time. I constantly find myself thinking that he just must be lucky to drain those shots. The truth is he puts in a tremendous amount of practice.

In education, we often speak about developing mastery of specific skills or a subject area. Just as with three-point shooting, if you want to master a cognitive skill, you have to practice. But how exactly do we teach mastery? There is a body of research that indicates that practicing does not make perfect; just shooting three-pointers won't make you a better shooter. Anders Ericsson, has written extensively that developing mastery of a skill requires what he terms "deliberate practice." In teaching, we need to break down specific skills and then practice discreet elements of those skills.

The second aspect to developing a particular skill or expertise is the use of feedback. When we start learning, we need information on how we are performing. To develop specific skills, we must receive evaluation and feedback. But not just any feedback. Learners require what is called targeted feedback. John Hattie, a researcher in education, has identified different forms of effective feedback. Hattie's research indicates that outside evaluation that is targeted is the best kind. So in schools that means teachers giving clear and specific feedback or in basketball shooting coaches breaking down the elements of a shot. That is the most effective way to provide feedback and lead a learner to mastery.

A few years ago I was reading about how Steph Curry became the best shooter in the NBA. An article by Rob Mahoney details the "fine tuning" practice sessions that Curry uses. Not only does he work hard, but Curry's practice involves breaking down the elements of shooting to their very basic elements and then watching film and receiving feedback from coaches. I may not be a Steph Curry fan, but as an educator, it is clear that Curry has learned that deliberate practice and targeted feedback are two of the key elements to developing mastery when learning any skill.

Cognitive Load – Why it is Easier to Learn in Small Chunks
Rabbi Mitchel Malkus

In 1956, George Miller, a Professor of Psychology at Princeton, published one of the most influential papers ever written on education, "The Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two: Some Limits on Our Capacity for Processing Information." In his research, Miller asserted that our brains are only capable of recalling seven items (+ or – 2) in our short-term memories. This idea is significant because we learn information by first storing it in our short-term memories before transferring it to our long-term memories where it is stored and used together with other information to create knowledge.

In the late 1980's, John Sweller, an Australian Psychology Professor, built on Miller's work by developing what he calls Cognitive Load Theory. Cognitive Load Theory suggests that our short-term memory is like a little sketch pad; it is small and keeps out large pieces of information. In order to learn, we need to break down information into digestible pieces so that it will fit into our short-term memory before it will be stored in our long-term memory.

What are the implications of this research on teaching and learning? It suggests that teachers should target learning and concentrate on discrete and small amounts of mastery in information and skills. We learn better in small doses and, therefore, presenting too much at one time prevents people from learning.

The second implication of Cognitive Load Theory is that prolonged lectures, working on two issues at once, or trying to understand a complex idea in one sitting lead to what Sweller calls "cognitive overload." If we overwhelm our short terms memories, we will not be able to learn at all.

In classrooms and with homework, educators have developed approaches to break down information into "chunks" to make it easy for our brains to learn in our short term memories. Over time, our brains then move that information into our long-term memories.

I often think about cognitive overload when students tell me they can "multitask" while they are learning. I am often tempted to respond, "Actually, the research indicates that our brains can only store a small amount of information at one time." Instead, the idea of cognitive load allows me to assist a learner who is struggling by saying, "Let's break this down, it's often easier to understand something when we look at it in smaller chunks."