Biblical Text Through Art: An Exploration of Secondary School Students' Bible-Based Artwork and it's Representations of Jewishness
Reingold, Matthew Aaron
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I conducted a practitioner research study at a Jewish high school in Toronto in order to understand how teaching and learning through arts can help facilitate more meaningful understandings of and connections to the Bible. I wanted to better understand why students’ best recollections of learned material at the end of the year were arts-based projects, especially given the existing research in arts-based Jewish education, which suggests that the arts are not emphasized in high school curricula. Students worked in groups of two or three and created arts-based interpretations of Numbers Chapter 12, and wrote explanatory paragraphs of their work. Following the completion of their projects, I interviewed students. In the interviews, students explained what they created, what motivated their work, and what they thought about learning through the arts. Drawing upon the projects and the interviews, three distinct themes emerged about what the arts offered students that conventional forms of teaching and assignments did not. The first theme that emerged was that the arts offered students the opportunity to take on the persona of a biblical commentator, and through this opportunity, students formed their own opinions and insights into the text, which resulted in the text becoming more meaningful. The second theme that emerged was that through the creative process students formed personal associations and connections with the narrative and its characters. As a result of these associations, students began to see the text as directly relevant to their lives, and therefore the text itself became more valuable to them. The third theme that emerged was that students felt that the arts offered them valuable educational experiences, including the opportunity to express creativity and to experience genuine collaboration. Considering the three themes as a collective grouping, it is evident that the arts offer students specific and tangible benefits in relation to textual knowledge, meaning-making, personal connections to text, and abilities to think critically and passionately about text. The study demonstrated that the arts offer teachers a powerful tool to help students develop their love of Jewish texts and deepen their relationship with their Jewishness.