Critical Thinking in the study of Navi

By: Rabbi Yaakov Jaffe, EdD
from Maimonides

Category:
Development of Critical and / or Creative Thinking

Subject(s) of entry:
Tanach

Pedagogy:
UBD - understanding by design

Grade(s) to which this was taught:
Grade 10

Grade(s) for which this will be useful:
9, 10, 11, 12, High school

The attached curriculum is part of a project in our school to ask higher level questions in our Navi program, instead of focusing on just translating the words on the page. Our curriculum spans Grades 10, 11, and 12 – and focuses on different areas of critical thinking at different grades. The attached curriculum focuses on the grade 10 portion of the project.

Entry Text

The attached curriculum is part of a project in our school to ask higher level questions in our Navi program, instead of focusing on just translating the words on the page. Our curriculum spans Grades 10, 11, and 12 – and focuses on different areas of critical thinking at different grades. The attached curriculum focuses on the grade 10 portion of the project.

One of the major challenges for the teaching and learning of Jewish text-based classes, is that teachers tend to focus on reading and translating the text, without asking deeper, more essential questions which stimulate critical and creative thinking. This curriculum addresses the challenge by regularly returning students to think deeply about underling issues such as the relationship between text and context, between form and content, and between author and work. We discuss selection of genre, choice of narrative voice, and purpose for the writing of the work. We consider the choices made by the actors within the story, and the authors who reflect on those stories and events. This curriculum project is 55 lesson long, which reflects a single semester for schools studying Navi each day for a partial year; or a whole year for schools who study Navi a few times each week. At our school, this curriculum is studied in grade 10, but it could be studied at other grade levels as well. We consider four poetic books all written at around the same time (Isaiah, Amos, Micha, and Hoshea), and portions of two different historical records of those times (Melachim and Divrei Hayamim) which enable us to compare different literary works over the course of the year, and not just read one text verse by verse.

Students generally relish the opportunity to think critically about the text, and not engage in the more superficial methods of analysis they may have grown accustomed to. In particular, moments in which students are called upon to compare and contrast the secular literature they have studied with the Navi are particularly fulfilling for students. In the end, students acquire deeper knowledge of Navi and of Literature in general as a result of this project.

One of the challenges we face with this project relates to the balance of critical thinking with content coverage. Each class consists of many critical thought questions – but as students focus on those deeper questions, they have less time for more basic operations such as translating the Hebrew text, or mastering all of the details of the text. Time is one of the greatest challenges throughout American Day School Modern Orthodox education, and the constraints time places on us is no exception.

Attached are a series of documents:

[1] Bloom’s taxonomy applications and Essential Questions for the year of Study

[2] List of Literary Techniques studied, writing modes and examples of cross-curricular literary connections for the year, which illustrate many of the more critical ways we consider the texts.

[3] A Youtube video explaining some of the underlying theory that governs our class

[4] A map of the entire curriculum listing for each class for reference.

Entry Videos