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Integrated Learner Conversation

by Cantor Judi Rowland, Park Avenue Synagogue

In my second grade class the girls sit on one side of the oval table and the
boys on the other. Even at the precious age of 7 or 8 the learners self-
segregate. But, when they do mingle for an activity, especially an activity
that is perceived as “free time”, I am often privy to fascinating conversation 
that goes beyond typical “girl-talk” or “boy-talk”, and, surprisingly, it usually based on the lesson I have just taught. In this way, the “free time” serves
not only as relationship time and conversation time but also time to reflect
on the lesson.

Two examples: 


At the end of the day I sometimes allow the learners free time at the
blackboard to write Hebrew letters. What learner doesn’t like writing on
the blackboard? And at the blackboard, there is no segregation. The boys and girls intermingle, vying for space, the precious colored chalk and the
erasers. The better Hebrew students help the weaker, and they talk amongst
themselves about how to write the letter, which has a “tail” or a “flag” or
a “space”. Or they talk about writing in general. After the class had read the
story of Joseph, animated conversation occurred at the blackboard about the
learner’s siblings and who had younger siblings and who had older. “Who
is an oldest?” someone shouted, and several hands shot up. “Who is a
youngest?” someone else shouted. And the room was buzzing with the pros
and cons of one’s birth order.

When the weather allows I take my class to the roof to play on the
playground for 15 minutes in the middle of their two-hour session. There
is no lesson plan other than relationship building.
Here again, the boys and
the girls play together – they chase each other. They shoot basketballs. The
climb on the equipment and compare their skills on the hand-over-hand
ladder (what is that called?). And they talk. At the playground I can’t quite
hear what they’re talking about. All I know is that they really like each other. They know each other’s names.

OK – I’ll admit that I enjoy those 15 minutes of reflection myself. I’ll also
admit that when we come in the kids are exhausted and ready to plop down
on the rug for a book or quiet singing. But the reality is that these “free
time” activities enable the learners to form a class bond that could never happen at their tables. It’s a very powerful lesson. 

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