Different Strokes for Differentiated Folks

Azrieli Adds New Requirement to Master’s Program

As the worldwide educational community places increasing emphasis on the heterogeneous nature of the classroom, Yeshiva University’s Azrieli Graduate School of Jewish Education and Administration has added a new requirement to its master’s program: a course in differentiated instruction.  “We want our graduates to be fully armed and prepared to provide for an array of needs in Jewish education,” said David J. Schnall, dean of Azrieli, “and the first step is to sensitize teachers to this diversity and equip them with the tools and technology to respond.”

The course, which has been taught at Azrieli for the past five years by Scott Goldberg, director of its Institute for University-School Partnership, trains teachers to manage multiple experiences for students within the same classroom. “Students engage with the instructor in different ways, and the instructor provides different scaffolding for each student based on his or her level,” Dr. Goldberg explained. The variations are often subtle. For example, Dr. Goldberg described a classroom in which a casual observer would detect nothing unusual: a teacher lecturing from a blackboard as the class listens and take notes. However, in a differentiated environment, these students may all be listening for—and learning about—different information. One group might need to fill in the blanks in a copy of notes prepared by the teacher, while another might have a list of the day’s main topics, and still another may be required to deduce the topics individually.

The Differentiated Instruction course, which is differentiated itself, is offered in tandem with another course, Diverse Learners, to hone teachers’ ability to recognize the complex needs of a varied student body. The course in differentiated instruction builds on this understanding to train teachers to develop curricula goals and materials, classroom experiences, assessments, and environments, which can be tailored for a variety of students at once, according to Goldberg.

The new requirement is a major investment for the graduate school. Of the 36 credits comprising the master’s degree in Jewish education, six are dedicated to meeting the challenges of diverse needs within the classroom. Yet Dean Schnall felt that this only served to emphasize how critical it is for today’s teachers to possess these skills. “The single most important function of the Jewish community is providing Jewish education to the next generation,” he said. “Numerous studies indicate that day schools are key to that process and we are committed to making them the most meaningful and responsive institutions they can be.”

In addition to the newly-required course, the Institute is developing programming to train Judaic Studies teachers across the globe. With support from the Jim Joseph Foundation, online certificate programs will be launched in January, including one in differentiated instruction, to share the knowledge and experience cultivated at Azrieli with the larger community of Jewish educators.

For more information about advanced study at Azrieli, visit www.yu.edu/azrieli. To learn more about the online certificate programs in differentiated instruction, contact Naava Frank, director of Continuing Education and Professional Development at the Institute for University-School Partnership, at naava.frank@yu.edu.

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