03 May 2016

Navi Class Goes Montessori: Prologue

Part I: How Do People Teach Navi?

I’ve spoken over the years with a couple of Navi teachers, I’ve observed a couple of classes, and I am blessed to be a student of some truly great Navi teachers, like the one I’ve quoted here before under the name of Rabbi St. Helens.

Most Navi teachers of my acquaintance begin a perek or lesson with an overview or an anticipatory question or anecdote, perhaps an “Imagine that you are…” moment. Then they call on each student in turn to read and translate a verse. They write new vocabulary and grammar rules on the board for students to study. They “bring out” the lessons of each passage by telling the lessons explicitly, sometimes with additional stories, or by initiating a class discussion. Eventually the class gets to the end of a perek and then there is a review game or art project (e.g. make a scrapbook page, or build the scene out of candy), and a test.

Some Navi classes, among them many night lectures for adults, are more what is called in the vernacular “outside”; that is, outside the text: the focus of the class is not so much on the text itself but on its application; the course objective is only to teach ideas, not to also develop student text-skills.
My middle-school Navi teacher just had us dramatize each perek and then take turns reading it aloud in English, but that’s not standard.

Part II: How I Tweaked the Model

I knew when I started teaching this year that I did not want to follow the model of most of the best and most inspiring and popular Navi teachers I know, who lay each verse before the class by having a student read and translate it. In some skills-intensive classrooms this constitutes the majority of the lesson. I suspect that it takes a lot of motivation/inspiration/classroom management presence/charisma/student philadelphia to keep a roomful of students focused on a Hebrew text before them, silently following along to improve their own skills while one classmate at a time haltingly hones hers aloud. I am neither male nor South African and I just could not see myself pulling that off effectively and keeping students excited about it in a class with a four-year grade span.

Instead, I gave each student a list of translated – not words, exactly, but shorashim and prefixes and suffixes and an occasional injunction to “look in your friendly local Metzudas Tzion” – and set them in chevrusos (draw a toy from the basket; learn with the girl who drew the same species or color; and eventually I assigned seatmates, which saves shuffling-around time) to prepare the text; and then we went over their work together.

Some loved this and said it worked much better for them than the read-aloud model; some – they are after all preteen girls – missed the higher percentage of large-group social experience.

Discussion, creative projects, games, tests. I try to stick with art projects that demand either a detailed or a sophisticated understanding of the material, so we didn’t do a whole lot of scrapbooking.

Class was good…

…but the proportion of School to Fireworks was still too high. I like to see a blinding Aha! moment go off at least once every 40 minutes and despite varying the lesson in all sorts of interesting ways I just was not getting that kind of display from them.

“Make it top-down,” advised Rabbi Silktie.
“Make it bottom-up,” advised Rabbi Estuary.
“Make it so top-down it stands on its head,” advised Rebbetzin Appletree.
I experimented…

…class got better…

…still didn’t get enough fireworks.

I went back to the principal, and asked, “Can we revisit that idea I proposed at the beginning of the year…?”
So we did, and here it is.

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