Source: Journal of Jewish Education, Vol. 82, No. 3, 208–230, 2016
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)
This longitudinal study examined the curricular approaches of 14 student-teachers in training to teach Jewish subjects, from the preservice training stage through the beginning of teaching in secondary schools.
This study carried out over a period of 6 years, and it examined the curriculum approach of student-teachers from their 1st year of studies until their 6th year when they took their places as full-fledged teachers in schools.
This study focuses on the student-teachers’ approaches to curriculum and the differences in their attitudes toward two formal study programs: Jewish Philosophy and Bible studies, that differ in character and essence.
The participants were 14 student-teachers in the Revivim program, a prestigious university program at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem established to train an elite group of outstanding teachers in the field of Jewish Studies.
Data were collected through observations, in-depth interviews, and document collection.
This longitudinal study uses the multiple case studies method. Each of the student-teachers is a unique case, and each gives expression to a unique and individual curricular approach. The research process includes an analysis of the cases and an exploration of the differences and commonalities between them.
The study’s findings identified differences in the curricular approaches held by the participating student-teachers from the beginning of training through professional teaching. The curricular approaches in Jewish Philosophy exhibited a more prominent tendency toward autonomy, open-mindedness, creativity, and flexibility. In contrast, curricular approaches in Bible Studies emphasized adherence to the sequence of mandatory chapters and the student-teachers’ commitment to preparing their pupils for the bagrut exams according to the requirements in the written curriculum.
It seems that the institutional component was a significant factor in the differences between the two subjects. While teaching Bible confronted the teachers with the need to meet an obligatory curriculum and prepare their pupils for bagrut exams, teaching Jewish Philosophy provided them a great deal of leeway in choosing topics to teach and especially in creating bagrut exams to match the curriculum they had taught their classes.
The study’s prominent finding is that in Year 1, the 1st year of training, the students expressed their autonomous approach regarding appropriate teaching and their idealistic aspiration to effect change in the school system. Steeped in a sense of purpose and euphoria, the students described their role as teachers for the most important subjects and emphasized their aim to develop an alternative curriculum, reflecting their ideals and manifesting their educational vision. Furthermore, the student-teachers were exposed to an external curriculum, receiving dictates from policy-makers, and the school’s organizational culture. They tended to acquiesce to the system’s curricular requirements and move away from the autonomous, flexible, and spontaneous approach that characterized their early teaching as a student. It is important to note that this finding was especially prominent in the context of Bible lessons.
The conceptual change which took place in the student-teachers’ curricular approach may also indicate professional regression in matters concerning their autonomous position as teachers and their readiness to adjust the curriculum to their pupils’ needs. The aspiration to create a unique and exclusive curriculum, reflecting the students' educational ideals and emphasizing the basic tenets they consider appropriate, increasingly dissipates, and the sense of purpose and vision along with it. Instead, they develop a pragmatic approach, characterized by increasing adherence to detailed, edited external curricula, accepting external dictates, and increasing acquiescence to the system’s curricular requirements. Instead of referring to the learner as their point of departure and focusing on the learner’s needs and interests, they increasingly attempt to expand the learner’s knowledge, improve the learner’s textual skills, and concern themselves with immediate remedies for the learner’s cognitive difficulties.
The lesson from this study is that more effective means must be found for preserving the sense of vision and purpose in student-teachers prior to becoming full-fledged teachers. This approach would encourage them to maintain their ideological motivation and sense of mission, throughout the stages of their professional development, without losing it upon beginning their work as teachers.
In the spirit of the constructive approach, the author offers the following suggestions to the question of how students and novice teachers can best be supported, especially in Jewish subjects:
● Using metaphors to clarify conceptions and beliefs relating to various planning processes in their daily lives.
● Considering the task of planning as a visualization process while sharpening the connection between planning and learning. Students would be asked to formulate questions and issues they deem relevant to lesson planning such as: What are the planning principles they consider vital and central?
● Simulation-based learning. The students will be asked to use curricular discretion and reach decisions relating to the operational stage of the curriculum, from the point of view of a team of teachers addressing questions such as: How does one start planning?
● Opening a window into two options of autonomous curricular development: One option would emphasize curricular skills and behaviors, training the students to function as smart consumers of written curricula and learning materials. The other option would emphasize skills and behaviors that would prepare students for independently planning their teaching and creating their own curricula and learning materials.
● Practical experience with both methods for curricular development:
As part of practical training, students would be able to gain experience in schools which constitute a good environment for training encourage their teachers to interpret and adapt the written curricular according to their conceptions and understanding, and allow them to express their unique approach and their response to the class’s specific needs.