Tuesday, March 29, 2016

A workshop about workshops
(papercutting meets Inception)


I had a fascinating experience the other night. I was teaching a workshop in papercutting — but I do that a lot. What made this a different experience was that I was in a class of graduate school students in an education program, and I wasn't really teaching them papercutting; I was actually teaching them about teaching papercutting.

Each of the fellows in the AJU Dream Lab program that I'm a part of this year is doing a similar thing – doing what we do in the classroom but for this graduate school class instead, as part of our efforts to figure out how we can incorporate the arts into traditional Jewish education, to reinvigorate and revitalize it.

The class was led by Dr. Rachel Lerner, Graduate Center for Jewish Education at AJU. The first half of the night was taught by Rabbi Adam Greenwald, who shared with us some fascinating ideas about Passover (and teaching Passover). My workshop went as most of them do – I introduced the subject, the tools, and did a bit on knife safety… and then we got into cutting. Everyone worked on a papercut related to Passover, which they designed themselves. What made it so different for me was that every time I had a moment where I was internally thinking about my process, I was allowed and, in fact, encouraged to speak aloud about the process and generate a discussion. Very meta!

The work that all of the students created was wonderful, and I'm always impressed at how people who have never held a knife before can nonetheless create such beauty with such relevance to our tradition. But on top of that, I was really able to think about how I present and teach, and how I can tell if/what my students are hearing and understanding what I'm saying. The feedback I got from this class enabled me to fine-tune my approach, and think more deeply about my intentions and ways to measure my results.

I think I naturally have a bit of self-doubt when I'm leading a workshop – I don't believe that it affects the process, and students seem to really enjoy it and get a great deal out of it, but nonetheless I do – in my head – sometimes find myself asking myself questions about my approach and efficacy. This was an opportunity to voice those questions out loud, and to improve my technique through interaction with this class and their suggestions and feedback.

In the end, it proved really useful to me – because I think one of the hardest parts of being in a classroom setting in leading a workshop is not always getting feedback on the process from the students. Sometimes they're too young, or they just lack the background to provide feedback on what they've experienced. In this case, the participants were perfectly suited to deliver feedback and suggestions for improvement, and I am grateful for the opportunity to have been in the classroom with them.