Corn Chowder and Sticky Experiential Jewish Education

Last Updated on Tuesday, 1 June 2010 01:08 Written by bryfy Tuesday, 1 June 2010 01:08

“There was my good friend Betsy and there was also Vera. The room was dark and we turned the benches over as we sat on the floor and said the prayers. I  fasted on Tisha B’Av but only when I was at camp. And then, when the fast was over, we ate corn chowder.”

This quote above was from Susan (not her real name) telling us about Tisha B’Av as a camper. Now a camp director, the Tisha B’Av that Susan described, as if it took place just last summer, actually occurred 45 years ago. As she retold the story her eyes closed, her voice quivered a bit and everyone else in the room was enraptured by her story.

Last week I had the opportunity to speak at the Foundation for Jewish Camp’s Cornerstone training. I was conducting a session about the “challenge” of  experiential Jewish education and an amazing thing happened. We had began by speaking about great Jewish experiences that we had. Those memories that really stick with us. One of the reasons that I offered that certain episodes in our life “stick” is because we had to go through some sort of challenging experience in order to have them consolidated within our own learning experience. I learn a new skill, I struggle with it, I finally work it out, eventually I might master it, then I reflect upon it – and I have learned. Professor Joseph Reimer at Brandeis University has also been doing some work around stickiness in Jewish education – there is definitely more that we can learn from the life’s broader disciplines.

But when Susan spoke something else happened. There was an emotion in the room. Not just the emotion that everyone felt for Susan as she recalled such a powerful memory. But an emotion that within this room, we all had the power to create these experiences – that would last with our campers, our students, our chanichim for 45 years and beyond.

What makes certain experiences stick and others fade?

Not just because it has a cool cover, but because it is a brilliant book, I strongly recommend that people read Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die by Chip and Dan Heath.

The ideas may seem simple – and hence their brilliance. For a full summary see the following website, but in order to cut the suspense here are 6 key principles as to why some ideas stick and others die.

PRINCIPLE 1: SIMPLICITY – How do we find the essential core of our ideas? – Find the core of your idea. This isn’t done by ‘dumbing it down’; this is done by finding what is essential to your message.

PRINCIPLE 2: UNEXPECTEDNESS – How do we get our audience to pay attention to our ideas, and how do we maintain their interest when we need time to get the ideas across?

PRINCIPLE 3: CONCRETENESS – How do we make our ideas clear? – Concrete is memorable. Abstract is not. Make your idea like Velcro. Hook them through concreteness.

PRINCIPLE 4: CREDIBILITY – How do we make people believe our ideas? – Help people believe. Honesty and trustworthiness should be glorified. Use authorities and anti-authorities. Vivid details boost credibility.

PRINCIPLE 5: EMOTIONS – How do we get people to care about our ideas? – We make them feel something. Make people care. Associate ideas with emotions that already exist in others. Bridge the emotional gap between your idea (that they don’t care about – yet) with something they already are emotional or care about.

PRINCIPLE 6: STORIES – How do we get people to act on our ideas? Hearing stories acts as a kind of mental flight simulator, preparing us to respond more quickly and effectively. Get people to act. Use stories as stimulation (tell people how to act). Use stories as inspiration (give people energy to act).

My simple hope for us all is, may all of us involved in education be able to create sticky experiences so that in 45 years time all of our students will be able to remember their Betsy, Vera, prayers and corn chowder.

Thank you Susan for teaching me so much.

And now to you, the readers of this blog. Think back to an important Jewish moment in your life. What made that moment stick?

Perhaps once we work out why certain Jewish moments stick more than others, then we can get on with the business of creating more of them that do stick.

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