Motivational issues in the study of Gemara among American high school senior boys
Ross, Aaron S.
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In the current curriculum in Modern Orthodox Yeshiva high schools, Talmud is the one subject which is granted far more instructional time than any other. However, there has been virtually no research aimed at discovering the results of such a devotion to one subject area. This study set out to gauge the success of this stress on Talmud through the prism of the motivation of the students to continue studying Talmud once their formal schooling had ended. A total of 115 New York metropolitan area high school senior boys took a survey that measured their motivation towards the study of Talmud. The Patterns of Adaptive Learning Scales (PALS) measured the degree to which the students' parents, peer group, and teachers and classroom environment exerted an influence on them with regard to their desire to study Talmud. The Intrinsic Motivation Inventory (IMI) produced a measure of their motivation to study Talmud, as well as a measure of the affinity that they felt for their rebbe, or Talmud instructor, separate from their affinity or aversion for the subject. Students were also asked to rank all of their subjects in order from most to least favorite. Hierarchical multiple regressions were performed, whereby the students' general academic motivation was removed from the equation, thus allowing the individual impacts of parents, peers, and teachers on motivation to study Talmud specifically above and beyond a student's overall inclination to perform well in school to emerge. The most significant finds of these analyses was that student motivation to study Talmud seems to be most closely linked to his motivation to succeed in school in general, while the impact of parents, peers, and teachers on motivation was significant only with regard to the relationships that students reported having with their rebbeim. When asked to rank their classes, one-third of the students placed Talmud in the lower one-third of their classes, but almost one-half ranked Talmud in the top one-third of their classes, with one-third ranking it first among their subjects. Analyses of variance were performed to better explain the relationship between the rankings and the actual motivation that students had towards Talmud. In general, student motivation correlated well with the ranking that students gave their Talmud class. The one surprising finding was that many students who ranked Talmud lower among their subjects still reported a positive relationship with their rebbe. These findings bring some focus to the question of what schools are attempting to accomplish by allotting over two hours of instructional time per day to the study of Talmud, and the suggestion is made that it is not the study of Talmud itself which is most important, but rather the increased exposure to the positive religious role model of the rebbe.