The Power of Public Displays

JCDS Chanukah 4.JPG
JCDS 8th Graders at the Chanukah Celebration

By Dr. Susie Tanchel

During the time that the Maccabees were at war with the Greeks, it took courage to be visibly Jewish. We recognize that in certain places around the world this remains true today. Likely in response to this historical reality, the Rabbis instructed Jews to place their chanukkiyah (the menorah for Chanukkah) on a windowsill, visible to all who pass. By individually lighting our own chanukkiyah, each of us makes a public statement about our commitments and values. Each display demonstrates an individual’s capacity to contribute, and the collective display reflects our strength as a community.

Like the symbol of a chanukkiyah on a windowsill, each day at JCDS, we publicly share and celebrate our growth as learners. We believe that publicly sharing student work is a critical step in the learning process, and that the ways in which we display each student’s contributions reflects our educational vision.

Student work is featured in many different ways at JCDS: on boards and tables in hallways and classrooms, through performances, and during opportunities for students to teach their families. These creative expressions serve as more than proud displays of a final, polished product – they reflect a learning process designed to provide opportunities for children to persevere through challenges, to collaborate, and to encourage curious and respectful engagement with the content and with each other.

Whether it is their peers or their family, our students know their work will have an authentic audience. This pushes them – as it would for all of us – to increase their effort in order to ensure that they share their best possible result. Students understand their work is relevant and important now. We are not merely preparing them for high school and adulthood (though we are!). We are also communicating to our students that their work matters in the present, and that they can shape how others understand and relate to a math equation, a scientific question, a sacred biblical text or rabbinic commentary, or a beloved piece of American literature.

These public displays are only a small window into the deeper culture of students making their thinking and learning visible. Each day in our classrooms, the children ask questions, offer insights, and generate strategies and solutions with each other. Our students are able to do this because their teachers have previously made their own thinking visible; they have modeled for our students how to do this. They share the objectives of their lessons, why the content is relevant, and their own process in making sense of the material. This induction into the world of reflective practice enables our students to learn and to understand how they learn. This skill will serve them as they continue learn new things in JCDS and beyond.

The process of making their learning visible to others enables our children to develop a keen sense of themselves, deep confidence in their ability to learn and grow, and pride in what they have accomplished. The spirit of the Maccabees lives on in the public displays of learning we share in our community every day. Chag Urim Sameach! May we all enjoy a season of light, learning, and bold displays of growth.

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