Monday, July 11, 2011

Do Your Students Type in Hebrew?

There is a debate underway in this country about the value of teaching cursive (aka script) handwriting in schools. Defenders of this age-old practice speak of it as a venerable institution, helping students move from a clunky print handwriting to a more mellifluous and unbroken script, and thus, presumable, aiding in the writing process. A person properly signs his name in script, and thus this skill is one that should continue to be taught as soon as students have properly mastered printing.

On the other side of the argument are those who claim that students barely write anymore. That is not to say that they no longer compose sentences, but rather that they rarely engage in the physical act known as writing. As technology continues to ride its ever-increasing and all-encompassing encroachment into our lives and the lives of our students, the fact is that the times when a person will need to actually write something by hand may be reduced to nothing more than the occasional signing of his name.

Whichever side of this debate one finds himself on (and I suspect that the qwerty crowd will ultimately succeed, or at least minimize the time used in teaching cursive - see here for one such example), Jewish schools have a second item to think about in this regard - teaching Hebrew keyboarding. Until now, it was fairly easy to ignore this skill - Judaic Studies teachers, at least in Middle School and High School, are somewhat notorious for assigning far less homework and far fewer papers than their General Studies counterparts, and given the general inability of our students to type in Hebrew, we have allowed ourselves to be satisfied will transliterations or pencilled-in Hebrew, while silently praising those few students who have mastered Hebrew typing on their own.

But we are entered a time when this will no longer suffice. Google forms and wikis allow a teacher to create homework assignments that students can answer online, and they both allow one to type in Hebrew. To the extent that students are not trained in Hebrew typing, the questions asked by nature must be limited - no direct quotes from פסוקים, no finding a שורש, and certainly no work for עברית class at all. Why should half of our faculty be forced to accept a בדיעבד use of the wonderful tools that are out there?

The students may, of course, pick up on this disparity as well. If their General Studies courses are rich in computer-based assignments and their Judaic Studies classes still rely on pen and paper, which half of the day will seem to be more dynamic and relevant to their increasingly wired and screen-based lives? We have a difficult enough time making Torah relevant to our 21st century students - we should at least take advantage of those avenues that are readily open and available.

Of course, teaching Hebrew keyboarding (remember when it was called typing?) will take time, but the solution should be easy. Just as the 3rd grade English teacher has to give up a little time to invest in this future skill, 4th grade Hebrew teachers should be willing to make the same sacrifice in the name of the bigger picture (students should not learn two keyboards at once - that could result in system overload). While it might cost a perek or two of Navi, which could of course be made up by any creative and enterprising teacher, it will give their students the opportunity to acquire a skill that will benefit them for the rest of their educational careers.

1 comment:

Tzvi Daum said...

I like it! You are right, Hebrew keyboarding is an important skill that should not be overlooked. Keyboarding is also much faster than writing (at least it should be), so why not get a few Hebrew typing games and have students learn! At the very least schools could invest in Hebrew labeled keyboards or encourage students to use virtual keyboards that are available from a number of websites to enable the typing of an occasional word or two. I think part of the problem is that many Judaic Studies teachers probably can't type in Hebrew themselves and therefore don't expect it מהתלמידים.