HAYIDION The Prizmah Journal

Good News for Hebrew Language Education

by Ms. Leah Nadich Meir Issue: Teaching Hebrew
TOPICS : Hebrew

There is good news for day schools educators who have pleaded for interesting, engaging and educationally superior materials for teaching Hebrew language. There has been a resurgence in the past few years in Hebrew language education at all levels, from preschool through high school and beyond. Some initiatives, such as “Hebrew in America”, sponsored by the Memorial Foundation for Jewish Culture and the Ma’alah program, developed by the Melton Center with a Covenant Foundation grant, have tackled the preschool years. Two ambitious initiatives have begun to transform Hebrew language education in day schools at the elementary and high school levels. Both are known by Hebrew acronyms: Tal Am (Tochnit Limudim Ivrit Umoreshet) is designed for grades one through six and NETA (Noar Letovat HaIvrit) is geared for grades seven through twelve.

These two comprehensive Hebrew language programs aim to improve the quality of Hebrew language learning in Jewish day schools, so that graduating students will be fluent readers and speakers of Hebrew, entirely comfortable in Modern Hebrew as well as in the classical Hebrew of Biblical and rabbinic texts. In addition, the Tal Am and NETA programs seek to nurture among students a deep love for the Hebrew language as the language of Am Yisrael and Medinat Yisrael, (the Jewish people and the Jewish state). Their non-denominational materials focus on Hebrew as the language that ties all Jews to one another, making them particularly well suited to community day schools.

Tal Am is unique in being an integrated Jewish studies curriculum that covers Hebrew language, Tanakh (Bible) and tefillah (prayer), as well as introductions to rabbinic literature and Jewish history in the older grades. Developed by Tova Shimon and a highly skilled team of educators at the Bronfman Jewish Education Centre in Montreal and in Israel, Tal Am is currently available for grades one and two, with an additional grade being added every year through 2009-2010. It is being used in over 300 day schools worldwide from all streams of Jewish life. The subject areas are spiraled and aligned to facilitate multi-lateral reinforcement of vocabulary, language skills, thinking and learning abilities and the thematic integration of concepts and values. The colorful and lively books, posters and classroom libraries, as well as CDs, imbue each step of learning with excitement. Feedback from teachers and school heads has been uniformly enthusiastic.

The NETA Hebrew language initiative is being developed by Hilla Kobliner and her colleagues, Hebrew language curriculum experts from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, and administered by Hebrew College in Boston. NETA is now being taught to over 10,000 grade 7-12 students in 56 North American schools. It is also being taught in Australia, Russia and the Ukraine. New schools are accepted yearly. For the first time, high school students can learn Hebrew language through age-appropriate and intellectually challenging materials that incorporate Biblical, rabbinic and Modern Hebrew in elegantly designed books. Each NETA unit, from the beginners’ through the advanced levels, is built around a theme that is gradually developed both linguistically and intellectually.

Experience has shown that first-rate curricular materials are only as effective as the teacher who is using them. Both Tal Am and NETA place a very high priority on the professional education of their teachers. Both programs therefore include teacher guides and provide intensive introductory seminars for teachers who will be using their materials for the first time. The introductory seminar for Tal Am includes pre-service and in-service segments, enabling teachers to learn more about the program after having had some experience in teaching it. In addition to its introductory seminar, NETA now offers three subsidized certificate courses at Hebrew College (providing credits toward a master’s degree): the first for teachers new to Hebrew language teaching who plan a career in teaching Hebrew as a second language, the second for experienced teachers and the third for Hebrew language department coordinators. A practicum with individual mentoring by a NETA educational consultant is an integral part of all three courses. In addition to mentoring the certificate course students, NETA educational consultants work closely with the Hebrew language coordinators and the administration of each school to support them in meeting the challenges of introducing a demanding program for Hebrew language teaching.

As a result of these two far-reaching initiatives, both of which are supported by multi-year grants from The AVI CHAI Foundation, day schools have access to outstanding educational materials and perhaps even more importantly, to professional education for their Hebrew language teachers. Day schools will finally be able to boast of graduates who are comfortable in all the Hebrew skills: understanding, speaking, reading and writing. Through Hebrew, these graduates will have a strong and enduring connection with the past, the present and the future of the Jewish people and the land of Israel, and a lifelong commitment to continuing their learning.

Additional details and contact information about Tal Am (www.talam.org) and NETA (www.netahebrew.org) are available on their respective websites.

Ms. Leah Nadich Meir is a Program Officer for the AVI CHAI Foundation. Ms. Meir can be reached at: lmeir@avichaina.org

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