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Dave Smolar is co-founder of Kikayon Productions, creating turn-key solutions for Jewish education. Our “TORAH TIME LIVE!” Parashah Play series is now for sale! From Creation to Mt. Sinai, click on “Our Store” for more!

Sometimes, someone I work with will overhear a classroom activity I’m doing with my 5th or 6th grade and peek in. In fact, they might just listen in from nearby. And sometimes I hear about it later, from them, or my principal, or feedback from a parent.

Of course, there’s always going to be a disconnect when someone partially observes your class or group session or meeting out of context. Imagine you’re at work in the middle of an icebreaker where folks have names and facts of other people at the meeting put on a sticker and stuck to their back, and they must learn what’s on their back from having other people read the sticker, then they have to find the person who’s mentioned in the sticker and meet them and confirm the info…you get the gist.

NOW imagine someone with no idea what’s going on suddenly entering the room. They’re confused. They’re out of place. And maybe they simply write off what they’re seeing as a bunch of people screwing off at work instead of taking things seriously. Considering that an icebreaker has many benefits to it, not the least of which is improving employee morale and boosting team bonding, what the person peeking in has to say about the activity, and how they couch what they’ve seen when complaining about it to someone else, can become altogether destructive to the office.

For me, this perfectly sums up the occasional unfortunate turn of events when a parent or shul officer happens to be near my classroom when my students are engaged in an energetic and even silly game. If my students are tired and I want to build their energy and enthusiasm and focus, all I need to do is play a game, any game, that gets them on their feet. Doesn’t have to be complicated at all. Could be something as simple as having 2 teams of kids try to walk across the room by laying Hebrew flash cards on the ground in a path and telling them they can only move ahead after they’ve read a card.

While many teachers I’ve met will complain about having to teach grades 5-7 Hebrew school students, from what I’ve heard, the complaints seem to revolve around the fact that this age of students doesn’t like to sit still and be told what to think. And if you think that you’re not necessarily telling them what to think, well, the kids are reacting to and rebelling against a passive and frontal style of teaching, having the teacher stand in front of the group and talk while the kids passively sit and presumably absorb the information. You, dear Reader, might know by now that the theme of my blog, and what permeates my teaching efforts and educational products, is the clarion call to frontal free pedagogy.

I’m hoping and praying for a day when someone walks by and sees or overhears my class doing something fun, whether it be loud or silly or both, and rather than unfairly judge me and the group as flaky or irreverent, they assume that we’re find new and exciting way of making Judaism come alive. I am not coddling the students by doing a fun activity, or a food-making activity, or an outdoor dance activity, or a play or songs or improv or artwork or anything else. I don’t do an activity without a lesson attached, without a tangible takeaway, without assessment and follow-up and a depth of understanding for my students.

My biggest mistake over the years has been not overindulging but under-indulging students in creative approaches to learning. The truth is that Hebrew is more fun when you can keep the kids on their feet, and the kids who seem the mouthiest become the best leaders in the class, sometimes taking the reins on a project or activity and improving upon it. So if you come by my class some time, and you see a kid whom others have written off for bad behavior, and that kid is now leading a class activity…and the activity addresses and explores something within our curriculum…and the kids are wearing masks or making funny noises or building something elaborate and cartoonish…please don’t judge. Because the next time we have class, they enter the room laughing, they’re open with their opinions in discussion, and they remember and understand the material we explored during that activity. And that is how we not only teach but inspire these students as they’re flung headfirst into the age of the b’nai mitzvah.

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