April 18, 2024
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April 18, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Rabbi Gershom Tave continues his series about his new Passaic yeshiva, Da’ehu.

(Courtesy of Da’ehu)

Strong Foundations

When you first learned to drive a car, someone sat in the seat next to you, yet there was no conversation. Your mind was occupied with the one task at hand: driving. The mind can only handle one conscious task at a time. Does school respect that rule?

Let’s look at a traditional Chumash class. The students are simultaneously learning 1) vocabulary 2) grammar 3) the storyline 4) phonetic reading and 5) textual analysis. Trying to exercise multiple skills at one time, the average student will not succeed in mastering even one of these foundational skills so as to be able to later apply them independently as a true learner. The result is that many students find school to be very frustrating because they lack the foundations for success. Many of our local students are actually in therapy, in part, because of their frustrations and feelings of inadequacy in school. Strong foundations are built one skill at a time.

Not only does the average student not master these skills in the so-called traditional approach, many students are outright failing in them! Many high school students struggle to read Hebrew even phonetically. Prefixes and suffixes and dikduk in general are also a mystery. How many students can open a Chumash and find a specific topic or event or simply cite in which פרשה it appears? Why should rattling off the names of the parshios pass for knowing פרשה?

Now let’s look at Da’ehu’s approach to Chumash and those four skills leading up to being ready for textual analysis: 1) vocabulary 2) grammar 3) storyline and 4) phonetic reading, and let’s understand a very basic concept, which is that thinking and learning do not require a written language! Babies quickly master a huge vocabulary and even grammar without knowing how to read. It is unnatural and generally ineffective to learn vocabulary by reading and translating from one language to another. Relying on the more developed right hemisphere of their brains, preschool children can use real objects or pictures, together with voice and kinesthetic activities, to master a large Hebrew vocabulary as well as prefixes and suffixes, leining, gematria and more. As for the פרשה storyline, I refer you to my Torah Picture Scroll, which offers young students their first-ever opportunity to independently review what they’ve learned and that has been downloaded thousands of times in hundreds of communities around the world. Being able to correctly sort and sequence parsha pictures is a valid example of a strong foundation in the פרשה.

The fact is that reading, the left-brained decoding of abstract symbols into words, Hebrew or otherwise, is taught too early for many students, some of whom are simply not neurologically ready until as late as 9 years old. At Da’ehu, reading is learned when the child is ready and we develop reading fluency by practicing reading the daily tefillos. Chumash study is then the kind of textual analysis in which children learn to find buried treasures after having acquired greater maturity and having mastered the prerequisite skills.

Tefillah also has foundations aside from reading. I have worked with middle school students who are frustrated with tefillah because they don’t know their way around the siddur, they don’t know what they’re reading and they don’t know why they’re reading it. At Da’ehu we develop students’ familiarity with the siddur, the parts within each tefillah and the general idea of each tefillah before they start to read them. Students should understand the architecture of the Beis Hamikdash and how it relates to the architecture of the tefillah. (See my blog post “Ahavas Hashem, Tefillah and the Architecture of the Mikdash” at daehu.org.) All of this can and should start in preschool in order to form a solid foundation upon which to base the rest of our children’s career as learners.

Da’ehu foundations are not just in Chumash and tefillah. In math, a longer and more intensive focus on skip-counting up and down the number line forms a more solid foundation for fractions and multiplication. In social studies, children have the opportunity to first know where these places are. In all of these topics and much more, the Da’ehu curriculum breaks down each skill brick by brick, stone by stone, from the earliest beginnings using non-linguistic techniques to enable even pre-readers to build strong foundations before moving on.

Another difference also helps Da’ehu students build stronger foundations. The Rambam states that students learn more from their peers than they do from their teachers. They learn still more from their “students.” Da’ehu’s mixed-aged classes help students find peer learners even if their abilities vary. One individual can be peer-student in one subject and peer-teacher in another. Such individualized success at all levels and in all topics breeds self-confidence and a desire to continually learn more, whether about Hashem’s Torah or Hashem’s world, and to be closer to Hashem.

Gershom Tave is available to speak with you about Da’ehu at 973.356.3729.

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