Thursday, June 30, 2005

An approach to learning

There are a number of problems with the contemporary approach to learning.

1. In Yeshivas hardly any ground is covered. This is not just my complaint, if you read R' Shach's letters he complains about how in a year in many Yeshivas they maybe learn 20 blatt.
2. There is little emphasis on review (chazara). This is especially apparent among those who work and who have a limited amount of time. For example, someone who has 1-2 hours a day to learn and spends most of it at a daf yomi shiur will have little or no time to review. This leads to in one ear out the other. I don't mean to pick on Daf Yomi, but how many people who learn Daf Yomi can tell me what is on shabbos daf 48 which was learned not long ago? I myself found this problem with Daf Yomi, the pace moves so fast that you have no time to review. This is also a problem in Yeshivas, chazara is not stressed nearly enough.

Recently, I started learning an Amud Yomi, with massive chazara and tests. You spend much more time reviewing then learning something new, yet an amud yomi is not a bad pace. I find that I actually remember the gemara and can tell you the whole shakla v'tarya of the 5 blatt that I took a test on. There is also an emphasis on who said what. I think that is very important as well, to know which Ammoraim and Tannaim said what. This is also neglected nowadays.

This approach is not foolproof, it doesn't deal with learning b'iyun. I personally, have enough time to do all the chazaras (review the day's amud at least 5 times, plus spend a half an hour reviewing previous amudim) and still be m'ayen. This approach gives me the best of both worlds. I am covering ground but on certain interesting sugyas I can go deeper into the gemara, rishonim, etc. So far, I am very happy with this approach, I feel that using this approach, I will actually retain the information.

People might think, tests? Who wants to take tests? The tests are a tremendous thing. They give you a goal, they force you to chazer (no one wants to look like an idiot), and they give you an impartial assessment of how you are doing.

I wish that I had taken this approach when I was learning in Yeshiva. If from the age of 18-25 I had done something like this, learning either an amud or a daf a day with massive chazara (2-3 hours a day total), and periodic tests, while still learning b'iyun in the mornings, I would have a mastery of most of shas on a basic pshat level.

I am not advocating not learning b'iyun in yeshiva, what I am advocating is a structured program of bekius where in a few years guys can master much of shas on a basic pshat level.

I conclude with a story.

A Hungarian godol once visited R' Chaim in Brisk. R' Chaim pointed to his 14 year old son Velvel (who became the Brisker Rav) and said proudly he knows all of shas with Rashi. The Hungarian godol asked in astonishment, I thought in Brisk you advocated iyun, chiddushim??? R' Chaim answered, certainly we do, but if someone doesn't know shas with Rashi he can't say even begin to be m'ayen and say chiddushim.

We need to get back to the basics, people need a solid grounding in gemara and Rashi so that their learning b'iyun is meaningful. I think that an amud yomi, with a lot of chazara and yes, tests, is a very good way to do it.


Anonymous said...

who sponsors these tests?
is there a similar program in the us - do you know?

I agree w/ you 100% that lack of bekius is a huge problem and that yeshivas shoudl incorporate bkius into the curriculum from a young age - maybe even earlier than you suggest

Anonymous said...

There is a program in some cities known as "dirshu". You learn an amud a day, and take weekly tests. I suspect the standards as to what you learn vary from place to place (at least a little bit) but it does give you a chevrah who are all keeping a certain pace, but not going as quickly as daf yomi. In Chicago, every fourth week is for chazarah.