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From the Field – Elisha Stein

Elisha (Cohort 4) is starting his ninth year of teaching at Barrack Academy in Bryn Mawr, PA. Elisha has served as a mentor for PEP students during student teaching. He has also been on staff at Summer Curriculum Workshop, was involved in the Hevruta project, and is an active participant on our listserve. He lives with his wife and two children in Merion, PA.

Mishnayot can be integrated into a curriculum in a variety of ways: as an introduction to the rabbinic treatment of a topic that will be traced historically; to explore various modes of traditional interpretation; and prefatory to learning a particular Gemara (to name just a few). In addition to these approaches, I teach a skills-based unit on reading Mishnah as part of our 9th-grade Beit Midrash program, a text-centered curricular track that focuses on Toshba. 

One goal of this unit is to develop students' ability to recognize and understand the most important structural elements found in the Mishnah, including: l'chatchilah/b'dievad; reisha/seifa; various types of machloket; different usages of the terms chayav/patur; and verbal constructs that are crucial to decoding the text (e.g., past tense setting up a case, present tense indicating permissibility of an action, etc.). I typically introduce each element by first teaching the concept frontally, and then presenting a mishnah to the class so that we can brainstorm together as to how to recognize and de-construct the element. Students then work in havruta on another mishnah, identifying and analyzing the same concept.

VoiceThread™ is a technology I have found helpful in allowing students to practice these techniques outside of class in a fun and interactive way. VoiceThread™ allows me to upload a text (also images and sound) that the students haven't yet seen, and then send them a link with instructions as to the particular elements I want them to identify in the mishnah. Students can provide their input by recording a message (either with a computer microphone or by dialing in with a phone), writing a text response, or recording a video of themselves analyzing the text. As they do so, they have the ability to visually 'mark up' the mishnah in order to draw attention to the points they are making. Other students can then respond and add their own comments. This helps to create a virtual classroom using mixed media, in which all of the input is recorded and accessible by the students throughout the process. The kind of assignment I have described can take the form of homework, or even a summative assessment (in which students are challenged to find all of the structural elements contained within the mishnah). While VoiceThread™ lacks some features I'd like to see (e.g., it doesn't allow responses to be 'inserted' into a particular comment), it is a useful piece of technology for both its simplicity and ability to engage students in the learning process.