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Update: January 2021

Upcoming Event | In PoP Schools | Resources | Learning Together


PoP Educator Update

January 2021 | שבט תשפ”א

We are so glad to share this PoP Educator Update with you. As we are helping our students learn the skills of Wondering and Focusing, we find ourselves inspired by the words of Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, z’’l.

Rabbi Sacks wrote in his Haggadah, “An inheritance for which one has worked is always more secure than one for which one has not. That is why Judaism encourages children to ask questions. When a child asks, [they have] already begun the work of preparing to receive. Torah is a yerushah… an active inheritance.... It needs work on behalf of the child if it is to be passed on across the generations.”

We hope teachers and students find joy in the work of uncovering meaning, this winter and always.

Dr. Orit Kent and Allison Cook
PoP Founders and Co-Directors


Upcoming Event for PoP Educators

Interpretation at the Center: How to Engage Students in the Heart of Partnership Learning

Webinar: January 19, 2021 • 8:30-9:30 PM Eastern/ 7:30-8:30 PM Central/ 5:30-6:30 PM Pacific

Join this webinar to learn how to support students to engage in interpretation and see examples of interpretive work in action.



What’s Happening in PoP Schools?

Throughout the fall, teachers have continued to embrace new ways of connecting students to each other and the text, building the relationships at the heart of PoP’s work. In addition to finding new ways for students to partner with peers in-person or remotely, teachers have learned to “supersize the partnership learning triangle” — instead of just thinking of partnership learning being between two people and a text, they consider the entire class to be working as partners with their content together. (In PoP terms, the “triangle” is the balanced relationship built between two human partners and their shared text.)

One teacher leading a whole-class discussion proposed that she was one human partner and students collectively were the other human partner. The students instantly understood the new “triangle” and took responsibility for being in the full class conversation; together with peers, they generated a Padlet full of “wondering” questions about the text they were studying. Later in this update, we share other ideas teachers have developed for sustaining partner work in the socially distant classroom.

PoP teachers are building on the ideas of the triangle and the skills of listening and articulating to engage students in the skills of “wondering” and “focusing.” What can this look like? Students might start by “noticing” elements of a text - a way into analysis that engages even our very youngest or least confident students. “Noticings” often turn to “wonderings” (questions) as the rich texts in these classrooms offer myriad opportunities to ask questions of the text and each other. Those “wonderings” guide PoP students into deep, shared interpretation and meaning-making.

As one teacher wrote us recently, “The program has been really helpful in creating connections and engagement even in online learning. It has been so helpful in giving me the structure of helping the children interact in a meaningful way. The best professional development I could have for this year. No schtick and bells and whistles. Just human connection.”

This year more than ever, we hope that noticing, wondering, focusing, and the opportunities of meaning-making will nurture curiosity, excitement, and partnership — human connection — in every class setting.


Resources for Wondering and Focusing

Why use protocols with students? Protocols provide your students with a consistent structure for learning so that they can work together effectively without the teacher’s intervention. They help us teach students how to work together with content in meaningful ways. Protocols work best when students get to use them repeatedly (and, of course, the teacher should first explicitly teach students how to use a protocol). Protocols can work well both with havruta or group learning and in a whole-class setting.

PoP has created many different kinds of protocols to support different partnership text-learning goals. We share two below, and you can find more on our website, in both teacher versions and student-ready versions.

  • The Noticing and Wondering protocol works particularly well when students are new to a text. It helps them slow down and “hear” the text’s voice more deeply, noticing details and helping them move from noticing to wondering.
  • Another protocol designed to support wondering, “Is there another way of understanding that?” helps students consider multiple ways to understand a text, reinforcing a habit of wondering and seeking to understand, preventing students from rushing to judgment about a text’s meaning.


Learning Together While Staying Distant

PoP work has always centered around developing students’ skills and attitudes of learning together, transforming that engagement into rich learning connecting the human partners and their text partner. With the need to socially distance this fall, teachers have explored new approaches to support “socially distant havruta.” In the last PoP Educator Update, we shared some tech tools teachers have used to connect students and texts, synchronously or asynchronously, when they are learning remotely.

Many schools, however, have at least some time when they have been physically together. The luckiest schools have outdoor space (and appropriate weather) for students to work in partnership safely. Other teachers, more constrained by location, have created new opportunities. Michelle Janoschek, at Boston’s Jewish Community Day School, assigns her students to different locations in the room, and tapes off spots for students to sit in safely. They use the corners, the center, the front, and a hallway spot to connect. Because the locations are pre-set, students transition easily from their desks to their assigned havruta spot. Clipboards and backjack chairs can help make floor work more productive. Other teachers have figured out how students can safely partner from their desks across a space. If that’s too loud, some teachers have their students engage in havruta via Zoom or Google Meet by using headphones so they can see their partner in real life but also hear them more easily.

Teachers have also explored ways to tweak the structure of havruta work. Rabbi Yoni Gold, at Hillel Torah in Skokie, IL, had students record themselves reading a text dramatically (to convey meaning) using Flipgrid. In class, each student listened to his partner’s recording and identified new details of the text from the recording. This approach allowed some of the interpretive, meaning-making work to be done before class and allowed students to hear each other read with more clarity or volume than a mask and distance would allow. Video and voice recordings can be particularly helpful when reading the text with tone and inflection helps give it a voice. For a text where the visual elements - either in text or visual imagery - are more central, students can collaboratively annotate using a Jamboard or shared Zoom whiteboard.

All PoP teachers balance havruta time with whole-class discussion; this year, some teachers have found that the whole-class work is simply more manageable in their context. You can assign havruta “buddies” who listen for each other’s contributions to full class discussions and note them in their graphic organizer or instructional task as though they were working in pairs. In class or at home, students can share elements of their notes with one another using email, Google chat, phone or video chat, voice comment, or other tools. And as we describe elsewhere in this newsletter, PoP text learning protocols work very effectively to structure these conversations, whether as a full group or in pairs.

How are you making it work? Have you found a “hidden gem” in your constraints, a practice you see working well? Let us know! Because even during a pandemic, as the PoP tagline says, “How we learn is what we learn.”


Be in touch if you want to share a glimpse of PoP in action in your classroom or school in future updates!

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