Gen Ed Torah is a blog series by Rabbi Lee Buckman, in which he reviews current literature in education and applies it to the world of Jewish education.

Do You See Trash Bins in Your Future?

by | Dec 10, 2019 | Gen Ed Torah | 0 comments

How do we help our students gain mastery in Hebrew language so that they feel a sense of mastery in oral and written language skills? There is no single answer especially given cultural factors that work against Hebrew language acquisition (e.g. English on the streets of Jerusalem and English translations of classical texts in most libraries).

However, one thing that is certain: The more students actively use their language skills, the more likely they will become competent and confident Hebrew language learners. In classes where teachers encourage more peer-to-peer Hebrew conversation, instead of exclusively teacher-to-student or student-to-teacher conversation, students will get more practice speaking.

Likewise, in classes where Ivrit teachers use peer-editing, which we commonly associate with General Studies Language Arts classes, twice the number of students benefit from the feedback: the author who receives it and the peer editor who has a new opportunity to mobilize his or her active language skills. Imagine if students were asked to write a comment or a question after reading a peer’s essay in Hebrew. Imagine if they were asked to keep their eye out for a particular type of mistake. An entire class would be engaging skills that otherwise would not be activated.

However, there is a social component that often makes peer editing awkward and unsuccessful. Karen McDonald, an eighth grade English teacher, provides an important tip to overcome the social barriers and make peer editing as effective as possible. Her discovery is summarized in Marshall Memo Issue 770 and is applicable to all limudei kodesh classes and has particular promise in Ivrit classes.

A New Twist on Peer Editing with Pennsylvania Eighth Graders In this EdSurge article, Pennsylvania teacher Karen McDonald says she was beginning to have doubts about having her eighth graders peer-edit each other’s research papers. Her go-to prompt for research papers, usually written in March, is the Billy Joel song, “We Didn’t Start the Fire.” Students pick one of the many events in the song (McCarthyism, Vietnam, the Pepsi/Coca-Cola wars), do research, and produce a five-page paper.

McDonald’s first concern was that students were resistant to peer editing; after working hard digging up information and writing their five pages, most students just wanted to hand in their paper and be done with it. In addition, McDonald says her students spent so much time on their phones after school that they weren’t very adept at face-to-face conversation. Did they have the interpersonal skills to respond to each other’s writing positively and constructively and add value?

Last spring, she decided to try a new approach to peer editing: covering students’ names so classmates wouldn’t know whose paper they were commenting on. “As soon as I mentioned that word, ‘anonymously,’” says McDonald, “the mood in the room shifted and students sat up a bit straighter in their seats.” All the printed-out papers were laid out on tables at the back of the classroom, names covered with tape (easily removable later on), with a large orange and pink sticky note on each one. Students were instructed to pick a paper at random, follow three steps, return it, and take a second.
Students were to write:

  • Two things they liked about the paper on the pink sticky note;
  • Things they felt needed improvement on the orange sticky note;
  • Corrections in spelling, style, and usage right on the paper.

As students chose the first of their two papers, there was “an air of excitement in the room,” says McDonald. “We had never tried this before, and they were eager to get started.” One Marshall Memo 770 January 21, 2019 7 super-anxious students asked, “You mean no one will know I read their paper, and I won’t know who read mine?” Yes. The anonymity made her and everyone else relax, and they worked diligently making corrections and writing comments, producing a plethora of helpful feedback. Students then had a week to revise and edit their papers based on the suggestions from their two peer editors. “The activity had a profound effect on their final work,” says McDonald. “It is a good day for a teacher when students feel a sense of satisfaction about their work, and take their feedback seriously. Now, the process evokes curiosity and excitement – not dread. And that is how I want my students to feel about writing.” A few students had trouble incorporating comments and needed hand-holding. McDonald’s idea for future years is to build in some individual and small-group conferencing and perhaps use high-achieving students as second-stage editors. Based on one student’s suggestion, she’s also thinking about building in another round of anonymous peer editing.

“How Anonymous Peer Editing Changed the Culture of My Classroom” by Karen McDonald in EdSurge, December 13, 2018, https://bit.ly/2Cdxe9F; McDonald can be reached at kmcdonald@stjosephrc.org.

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Rabbi Lee Buckman

Rabbi Lee Buckman

Rabbi Lee Buckman lives and works in Jerusalem. He is the Executive Director of JEDvision, which provides educational services, consulting, and executive coaching to Jewish organizations and institutions globally. Prior to making aliyah, he served as Head of School at three institutions: TanenbaumCHAT, the Greenfield Hebrew Academy, and the Frankel Jewish Academy. Lee has been a Lookstein Center contributor for more than 10 years. He can be reached at lee@jedvision.com.

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