The present study offers a systematic analysis of the evolution of talk practices of ultraorthodox Jews learning in dyads called Chavruta. We investigate whether and how these practices contribute to the maintenance of traditional legal discourses and or move in a transformative direction. We answer this question by observing two learners in a Chavruta setting in consecutive sessions. We show that the Chavruta learners are constantly seeking for finding methods of their own while discussing legal texts. We show that the study of Chavruta learning is relevant to both educational change and to civil law in Western countries. Although the institutions and contexts in which ultraorthodox students learn seem extremely stable, we show that this relevance relates to social change, both in education and in civil law.
The succession of protocols we provided has an implication in the educational realm too. We reviewed the impoverishment of school talk which is either controlled by the teacher in classroom discussions, or left to students arranged in small groups, who have difficulties to sustain them. However, in the last decades, there are signs of change in classroom talk. Progressive pedagogies aimed at societal change have emerged, and have a profound impact on classroom talk. These pedagogies are firstly based on the recognition that current talk practices are not optimal for learning and development. They are committed to reducing both teacher-led discussions and individual work, in favor of small-group work (Webb, 2009), and argumentation (Schwarz & Baker, 2016). In addition, new pedagogies foster the use of texts not as monological resources from which ideas should extracted, but as tools for inquiry (Goldman et al., 2016). In science education, students are presented Adapted Primary Literature (APL) texts that report not only on results but also the process through which these results were discovered, including doubts or hypotheses rejected after being tested. We could describe initial attempts in other disciplines (see Schwarz & Baker, 2016, for examples of such attempts). The general picture that arises from these first attempts is that progressive pedagogies aim at favoring small group work around texts as tools for collaborative inquiry and argumentation. As claimed by Schwarz and Baker (2016), the efforts of these pedagogies are not aimed at improving educational outcomes but at changing the educational system. The efforts to favor small group work around texts through collaboration and argumentation, are aimed at enabling students to co-construct knowledge, and to prepare them to participate in a deliberative democracy, in which citizens take part to deliberations of civic importance at all levels. Small group work around texts, collaborative inquiry and argumentation, are omnipresent in Yeshiva learning.
The present paper has shown Avi and Moshe's incessant yearning for methods. Although the texts they studied showed how different religious authorities reached their conclusions (and seemingly imposed them on the following generations of believers), Avi knew how to navigate in this authoritarian minefield to propose methods of their own. Our observations of Chavruta learning suggest that the modest efforts invested in, say, the use of APL texts in science classrooms in small groups can be democratized. So far, this practice has been tested with high-level students only, and for a short period of time. A proper design based on texts tailored to arise students' interests, and norms of collaboration and argumentation instilled since elementary school can invite groups to discuss controversial issues in a productive way. They may autonomously co-construct knowledge, and submit their conclusions to peer groups, like in Yeshiva learning. Of course, the issue of design in this case is very challenging (e.g., issues of validation), but the Chavruta setting provides a vivid proof concept that proper design helps in massive dialectical-dialogical learning around texts in schools. The massive implementation of small-group collaborative and argumentative practices, is susceptible to lead to profound changes in democracies, although, like in the legal realm, strong ideational and teleological caveats demarcate progressive pedagogies from Chavruta learning.
Goldman, S. R., Britt, M. A., Brown, W., Cribb, G., George, M., Greenleaf, C., ... Project READ (2016). Disciplinary literacies and learning to read for understanding: A conceptual framework for disciplinary literacy. Educational Psychologist, 51(2), 219–246.
Schwarz, B. B., & Baker, M. J. (2016). Dialogue, argumentation and education: History, theory and practice. Cambridge University Press.
Webb, N. M. (2009). The teacher’s role in promoting collaborative dialogue in the classroom. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 79, 1–28.