Since Covid-19, schools have been shifting from face-to-face learning to hyflex models as well as technology-enhanced teaching and learning. Teachers are facing rapid change in their teaching methods and are often struggling to cope with increasing demands on their time. When it comes to Hebrew instruction, one of the major challenges is the lack of engaging, ready-to-use online Hebrew language resources and tools to cope with limited Hebrew hours in synchronous instruction.
In order to understand teachers’ coping mechanisms in their teaching during the abrupt changes and adjustments needed during the Covid-19 pandemic, an extensive teachers’ survey was conducted in July 2021 by Dr. Shuli Gilutz for Jewish Interactive (Ji). Results showed a significant shift in digital instructional use for Jewish studies and Hebrew teaching. When teachers were asked whether they used the same digital content during the pandemic as they did before (website, apps, games, digital tools), 90% of the teachers, both novice and master teachers, replied “no.” Most teachers are exploring new ways of engaging students through technology.
Ready-made content is crucial in supporting and empowering teachers to use their professional knowledge, skills and expertise. Digital Hebrew resources also offer students material that can be accessed from home.
Core Questions when Considering Digital Hebrew Programs
Having a digital ecosystem where Hebrew educators can find, create, and share resources and ideas is needed more than ever. In understanding these needs, we propose four questions to ask when evaluating digital Hebrew resources:
1. Does the resource reflect current approaches to Hebrew language acquisition? For example, does it incorporate the Communicative Language Teaching (CLT) approach?
2. Does the resource empower teachers to have pedagogical freedom and the ability to deliver their Hebrew curriculum effectively?
3. Does the resource empower 21st-century learners who are creators and producers of content, and who are innovators using technological tools in myriad contexts?
4. Does the resource engage students in meaningful, comprehensible and authentic ways?
Unlike math, English, and other subjects, there are not many digital resources available for Hebrew instruction for non-native speakers. iTaLAM, Eyal, Ji Alef-Bet Series, Ulpan Or, Ivrit BeClick are some of the digital Hebrew resources used by teachers long before Covid changed the educational arena. These tools mainly target children who can read or are learning to read. Following Covid, there’s been unprecedented demand for digital Hebrew content and resources aimed at early childhood and young learners taking their first Hebrew steps.
Developing New Programs to Meet Classroom Needs Today
Funded by the Israeli Government, in collaboration with UnitEd, Ji collaborated with Hebrew language expert Margalit Kavenstock to create Ivrit Misaviv La’Olam (IML), a free curriculum that is the first of its kind, enabling schools to adapt a blended Hebrew curriculum for its youngest learners. IML is based on the communicative approach, which recognizes that skills are not used in isolation, and favors teaching language by enacting real-life situations addressing the changes affecting how children learn today. Interactive units designed to deliver an immersive Hebrew experience are paired with blended hands-on resources. Teachers can access an educators’ guide as well as many synchronous and asynchronous training opportunities with the curriculum creators, supporting teachers on their journeys to integrate new methodologies into their teaching as well as creating opportunities for community building around professional development.
Research has shown that digital Hebrew language resources need to be paired with support for teachers and should allow for flexibility and freedom in their implementation. The concept of curriculum should be adaptable and dynamic. Schools and teachers should be able to update and align the curriculum to reflect evolving societal requirements as well as individual learning needs.
Fostering Connectivity and Productive Screen Time
In a world where both connectivity and student-centered digital learning are prized, the Hebrew classroom is transforming into a hybrid or blended playground of hands-on learning, short bursts of digital Hebrew tech time and interpersonal learning.
In an environment that is looking for bite-sized modules that can be plugged into lesson segments as needed, partnerships with leading Hebrew content and pedagogy experts, like HOP TV, Eizeh Kef, Ulpan-Or and Hebrew at the Center (HATC) have been essential. The goal is not only to create content, but also, to provide training in implementation and strategy. Research shows that the prime obstacle to using technology in the classroom is inadequate professional development and training. It’s one thing to have a tool, it’s another to know how and when to use it.
The balance between teacher, content and students has shifted; options for teaching skills, vocabulary and reading have expanded with the availability of digital tools that create one-on-one learning environments. The ability to give students a digital game to play and learn has also challenged the ideals of Ivrit be’Ivrit standards. While in-class efforts would be made to avoid the use of English, teachers might allow minimal English instruction to facilitate an independent learning experience at home or in the classroom.
With students occupied in digital Hebrew learning, what is the role of the teacher in the Hebrew classroom? How often should digital learning be implemented? Is using digital content on the Smartboard as effective as assigning it on personal devices? Teachers are asking themselves how to use digital Hebrew resources to support their teaching. They are looking for digital support which would allow them to be more present with their students and enable them to reach the high levels of creativity that students have become accustomed to when using technology designed for general academic and personal use.
There isn’t one way to use digital Hebrew resources in the classroom. The goal is to feel comfortable learning how these tools can help teachers be better educators, create the opportunity for more time with each student, and maximize in-person interactions. Students are using apps and programs to create and express themselves by posting their ideas, thoughts and messages for the world. Creativity and expression in the digital realm shapes their identity and the way they communicate. Understanding this reality is influencing the way digital Hebrew tools are being built, helping educators and students use technology to forge a stronger connection with the Hebrew language.