Furthering Argument Skills and Epistemic Development in Talmudic Learning for Seniors in High School
By: Shawn Yanklowitz
Published: 10/17/2012
Uploaded: 12/07/2017
Uploaded by: Pocket Masters
Pockets: 2012 (October) Teachers College Columbia University Ed.D. Dissertations, Gottesman Libraries Archive, Historical Dissertations
Tags: argumentation, Cognitive, development, Epistemology, moral, Talmud

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Description/Abstract: Argument skills can be used to enhance learning when reasoning is treated as a process of argumentation (Kuhn, 1992, 1993), fundamentally dialogical (Bakhtin, 1981, 1986; Wertsch, 1991), and metacognitive (Hofer & Pintrich, 1997). Important differences in approach have emerged regarding how to best cultivate the skills of argument. In this study, I explored the implementation of an argument skill curriculum to an Orthodox Jewish High School with students (seniors) enrolled in an honors-level Talmud class. The objective of the study was to learn how argument skills and epistemological development can be furthered in a Talmudic learning environment.

The intervention took place over the span of half a year at a Talmudic high school in Southern California. A class of high school seniors participated in a curriculum that involves text study, argument, and debate in a more nuanced and dynamic fashion than other Talmudic learning environments. The teacher assists students who are struggling to understand the Hebrew or the content of the text, but mostly the teacher plays a facilitative rather than didactic role. Students are empowered by questioning and debate and the opportunity to constantly engage with peers rather than listen passively.

Assessments following the intervention supported the impression of a positive impact of integrating an argument skills curriculum into Talmudic studies. Participants showed gains both in their argument skills and in the development of epistemological understanding.
The argument over Talmudic texts is already the foundation of traditional learning in schools like the one in which the study took place. The present work suggests that it can be enhanced through a more intentional and focused argument skills curriculum. A move from a more frontal and authoritarian model of learning to a more democratic style of learning may better prepare students to engage in thoughtful arguments outside the classroom as autonomous responsible citizens. Such a curriculum can serve as a significant enhancement to religious text study education.