While many of us aim to reach learning targets in areas of skills, content, and affect, I have found that sometimes those in the affective domain (what I will call from now on the “big ideas”) are not clear enough to the students. I believe that this is what often results in questions such as, “why are we learning this?” and complaints of “this doesn’t apply to me!” I have found these questions to be particularly pervasive in classes of students who find the textual work and content to be especially challenging. If one of our primary goals is to engender a love of learning Gemara, then while we continue to teach textual skills in new and engaging ways, perhaps it is worthwhile to invest time in focusing on and highlighting to the students the big ideas that are latent (or sometimes readily apparent) in each sugyah.
Here are a few different strategies that I have found to be successful. While some of them may be effective in community cognitive big ideas as well, I have found them particularly helpful in communicating some of the affective big ideas. As I have had the benefit of learning from so many wonderful colleagues, these are not all my own ideas and I will give credit where credit is due.
1) Labeling Each Sugyah: Titling sugyot in a ‘cute’ way can be used as a trigger to engage the students (for example, “Two for the price of you” for the בנין אב sugyah on קידושין מא: ), or they can contain some of the big ideas that the teacher is trying to communicate. An example of a title that contains a big idea in the first sugyah in the 4th Perek of Brachot might be “Going the Extra Mile” to highlight the concept of ותיקין. I believe that labeling sugyot was Sally Mayer’s idea.
2) Gemara Journal: I have had students purchase a separate “Gemara journal” and have given them 3-5 minutes of “journal time” at the end of each class to respond either to a specific prompt about a big idea we discussed, or to a broader prompt of “how does something that you learned today apply to your life (i.e. - Did it provide you with insight into a personal situation that you faced/are facing? Did it provide a new perspective on issues of the day? etc.). I have then had students volunteer to read their entries to the class, and have surprisingly had many students who love to volunteer. Some classes have preferred not writing in a separate journal, and I have opted to accommodate this request by having a section on their chavruta sheet called “Deep Thoughts by The Gemara” in which they respond to the same prompts. (One of the benefits of this method is that the students are faced with the idea that “Gemara says something about my life” every time they see the chavruta sheet in class, and when they study for assessments.
3) Signs Around the Room: This entails creating paper-sized posters all of the big ideas from the curriculum and posting them around the room with sticky-back Velcro at the start of the school year. I tried this for the first time this year, and have found it to accomplish a number of things:
a) The students constantly “see” the ‘relevant’ messages of the Gemara, as they are literally surrounded by them
b) Taking them on and off the wall whenever they come up (almost daily) reinforces the ideas and the fact that Gemara is relevant over and over again
c) It is a way to engaged the students, as I can ask them to figure out which of the posters around the room connects to the sugyah that we are learning.
I heard about this idea from Sara Gordon.
4) Projects/Toontastic: As our students are privileged to have received iPads, I assigned them to create cartoons using Toontastic, a cartoon-making app. The assignment entailed reading through a list of all the big ideas that we had discussed, explaining how each sugyah reflected its correlating idea(s), and then choosing 3 ideas and creating 1-3 cartoons that demonstrated that idea. Examples of big ideas from the beginning of the 4th Perek of Brachot included: “Everyone Needs God’s Help,” “Going the Extra Mile,” and others.
Note: Except for strategy #1, I use strategies #2-4 as follow-ups to our class discussions of these ideas.
I also think that assessing students on the big ideas that we have discussed is crucial in making sure that we have met our affective goals, and further reinforces the messages that this is part of what learning Gemara is about, just as outlining, translating, and explaining are part of what Gemara learning is about.
I would love to hear other strategies that have been successful.