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From the Field (May 2013)

Enabling Independent Learners:
Developing a קריאה System for the High School Tanakh Student

by Deborah Anstandig

Enabling students to feel a sense of ownership in the process of their own learning is a major goal in my classroom. This year, my SAR High School colleague Ari Schwab and I have been experimenting with and tweaking a process known as our “קריאה System”. We assume that students will need to read the text several times, each time developing a deeper understanding of the text. They will progress from a basic summary of the text, to offering observations, asking questions and offering potential solutions. The next steps challenge students to identify key verses and explain their significance, and identify themes and enduring understandings that arise from the text. This process of learning has been invaluable for our own organization of units and our scaffolding of important skills and methodologies. Most importantly, though, after engaging this process for a year in Tanakh class, students emerge capable of progressing through a new set of psukim, equipped with tools to develop independence in learning.

קריאה ראשונה: Understanding

I often include a word bank of key words or highlight key terms or phrases for which students will be responsible in the future. Students are expected to write a list of the characters and generate a short summary of what they have read.

To differentiate: provide some students with Hebrew-English text, modify length of text, expect different number of vocabulary words, etc.

1.5 קריאה: Checking for Understanding

This is the basic reading comprehension step. Before analyzing key ideas, students must be able to answer key questions about the narrative. Students must successfully answer all questions before moving on to the next phase of learning. (The reason this is called 1.5 is because I added this step after the students had already mastered the system. The .5 is also helpful in that it helps the students recognize that they are not ready to progress until they are aware that they have a full understanding of the text).

To differentiate: some students only need to check through the questions to be sure they know the answers, while others must put them in writing.

קריאה שניה: Questions, Observations, Suggested Responses

Students have an opportunity to express their questions, offer possible solutions to their questions, and write general comments on the text. They include a דיבור המתחיל from the פסוק, so that they are able to articulate what sparks their question.

Students naturally demonstrate their various levels of understanding and their stage of analytical thought in this section. Reading student questions is a meaningful window into their abilities to think critically, notice detail, and imagine.

קריאה שלישית: Analysis

I have identified 4 different reasons that a פסוק may be חשוב-or significant: plot, character development, textual irregularity, theme. By creating language to describe the פסוק, students are forced to articulate what stands out to them using clearly defined categories. I often ask students to identify a certain number of פסוקים as “חשוב” and to articulate why.

The second step of analysis often comes from my presentation of an issue that arises based on one of those criteria.

In חומש class, this is the stage at which I would introduce פרשנות. Seeing the comments of the medievals through this lens allows students to identify what is motivating the פרשן and how their own understanding compliments or engages those of the פרשנים.

I differentiate by having different expectations of the content and process of learning the medievals, and of my expectations of what specific students may notice when looking at the text.

קריאה רביעית: Enduring Understandings

This is a perfect example of סוף מעשה במחשבה תחילה. Although I have identified the goals and enduring messages of the text before teaching, it is only at this stage when students are asked to identify the theme or lesson that the text teaches. Very often I will ask students to write several lessons they think can be derived from these פסוקים. At this point, students share their thoughts. Students know that only ideas that can be supported with the text can be presented.