Torah She-ba’al Peh taught in the classroom poses great challenges on the
teacher and student, alike. On a daily basis, the teacher faces the
challenge of instructing a relatively abstract and “dry” subject. The
author instructs a low level, grade 7 class in Mishnah. Her aim is to
understand thought processes of her students and develop teaching methods
that will aid in their understanding of the material.
Two major types of processing information (coding) have been recognized:
simultaneous and successive/ sequential.
The sequential process involves step-by-step problem solving, analyzing
the textual structure. Most material taught in the classroom setting is
taught in this manner. A child possessing strong sequential skills will
more easily remember these lists of spelling words, historical events and
rules of grammar. Class-work, homework and exams usually follow this same
“Simultaneous,” or “holistic” problem solving involves the processing of
many stimuli at once including spatial, analogic and organizational
processes. Children with well-developed simultaneous problem solving
skills have an advantage in rapidly learning the shapes of letters and
spatial configurations of words during the early stages of reading and
possess an enhanced processing ability necessary for understanding the
main themes of stories.
Unfortunately, children with a tendency toward simultaneous learning
skills lose their advantage early on in their education and are often lost
in the typical classroom. Lessons are usually not designed to cater to
students with these skills and therefore, these students often present
with difficulties in the classroom.
Pask & Scott (1972) investigated the efficacy of employing either a serial
or holistic approach to teaching new material to students. Students were
categorized as “serialists” or “holists” and then taught using a
predominantly serial or holistic approach. When students’ problem-solving
processing strengths were matched to their treatment approach, nearly
perfect performance resulted. Students mismatched between processing
strength and treatment scored much lower on the criterion measure.
Based on the learning process principles stated above, the author
developed different teaching methods for her 7th grade Torah She-be’al Peh
class. Her efforts significantly included steering from “typical”
sequential methods to a combined approach, incorporating a fair amount of
simultaneous teaching, as well. The aim was to ease the students’
understanding of the material by presenting the mishnayot in a fashion
familiar to their learning processes. Some methods were specifically
geared to students, who would be categorized as primarily “simultaneous
processors,” while other methods combined the two cognitive processes.
With the purpose of testing different learning methods in the classroom,
the author created a series of 4 classes in Mishnah, in which each student
had the opportunity to learn from different teaching methods. This tested
which methods students most benefited from and determined whether any
correlation exists between the type of teaching method used by the teacher
and the degree of success in understanding the Mishnah by the students.
Four methods of teaching these mishnayot were used:
1. Pictorial - Pictures were drawn for each Mishnah. These pictures
explained the Mishnah through a pictorial display of its content. The text
of the Mishnah was written beneath its corresponding portion of the
picture, connecting the text to the picture. 2. Cards - The text of each
Mishnah was written on colored cards. A phrase of the Mishnah was written
on each card and an explanation of that phrase was written on the reverse
side of the card. 3. Skit - A short skit was written for each Mishnah.
The skits were prepared before the lesson and presented to the students to
use for their “performance.” The script incorporated the content of the
Mishnah and enabled the Mishnah to be brought to life and to greater
relevance for today’s world. 4. Cassette - An explanation of each Mishnah
was recorded onto audiocassette before class. This “taped lesson” was
played for the students and contained a typical classroom instruction of
These four modalities tapped the different systems with which students
process their information: pictorial for the simultaneous-dominant
student, cards and cassette for the sequential-dominant student, and skits
for those students who like to be active in the classroom and who
concentrate better while “acting out” the material.
The class was divided into four scholastically heterogeneous groups. Each
group consisted of 4-5 students and the experiment took place for 4
consecutive classes. In each class, each group was instructed using one
modality and rotated to other modalities during subsequent classes.
Therefore, over the four classes each group experienced each of the four
modalities. During each class, each group received the text of the Mishnah
and the activity by which they would learn the Mishnah. The students were
provided with 30-45 minutes in which to prepare the material. Afterward,
the mishnayot were collected and the class was given a short quiz on that
day’s material. Test scores of the students were evaluated complemented by
answers to the feedback questions. Conclusions regarding the students
enhanced or reduced learning abilities with these modalities were formed.
The students clearly benefited from the varied learning modalities used in
these classes. Grades for certain weak students significantly improved and
the teacher noted improved classroom participation, behavior and learning
efforts among many students. Only one or two students (out of 19) may not
have benefited from this exercise. Students volunteered positive feedback
and described the improved learning atmosphere created by teaching
modalities that matched their cognitive patterns.
Whereas Torah She-ba’al Peh instruction primarily and perhaps almost
exclusively utilizes sequential patterns, students are varied in their
cognitive ability. Teaching patterns that utilize varied methods of
instructing the subject material will achieve greater success. Continued
investigation is necessary to ascertain which methods are most successful
and how best to structure the classroom, accordingly. However, relating
to varied cognitive patterns in teaching Torah She-ba’al Peh is beneficial
at least and necessary at most to achieve success in the classroom.