Most Jewish day schools view the learning and teaching of Hebrew language as a vehicle to shape and reinforce their students’ Jewish identity. The outcome desired by heads of school, parents and students is for graduates to have internalized and “owned” the Hebrew language in a way that will allow them to feel comfortable using Hebrew in the context of modern Israel and be equally able to interpret at least the Siddur and the Tanakh confidently.
HAYIDION The Prizmah Journal
What are the goals of Hebrew in day schools? Do we teach it primarily to access religious texts or to speak in Tel Aviv? What are we achieving today, and what can we realistically strive to achieve? Contributors believe in the capacity of day schools to teach Hebrew and present methods and tools for achieving high goals in Hebrew.
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Its 10:30 am and the kindergarteners are talking about recycling. They’ve just put their milk cartons from snack in the class recycling bin and are wondering what the cartons will be made into. The third graders just finished reading about Joseph and his brothers and are discussing sibling rivalry. The middle schoolers are putting the finishing touches on their time capsules, the tenth graders are prepping for a debate about society’s obligations towards homeless people, and a senior is working on his graduation speech.
At the core of our Jewish tradition is the metaphor that we all stood at Sinai and received the Torah through our various senses and according to our abilities. This tenet is mirrored in the progressive educational slogans “learning for all,” “no child left behind,” and in the concept of “differentiated learning.”
Six years in the field can frequently save six hours in the library.” The message of this well known quip is clear: It’s more efficient to learn from research than to reinvent the wheel. But educators in the field don’t always have the luxury of keeping up with research.
Schools need to monitor the progress of all students in all areas of learning. Dynamic assessment tools and methods of intervention are considered the best tools to monitor student progress in reading. DIBELS (Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills) is an example of a highly reliable and valid dynamic assessment of English literacy. DIBELS assesses students individually in the Five Big Ideas of reading: phonological awareness, alphabetic principle, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension.
Learning a second language, and even more a third one, represents a challenge for both learners and teachers. For teachers, one of the most demanding tasks is to find ways to engage students in the learning of the language; in other words, to find ways to make it meaningful and relevant to them. In the context of Hebrew learning in a Spanish-speaking community, where students have very little exposure to it, this task represents an even more complex challenge. Therefore, the question remains: How do we make Hebrew a meaningful and relevant language in a community where it is not the first or even the second language of instruction?
Six years ago, I designed a curricular initiative to change Hebrew language instruction at our school, Solomon Schechter Day School of Greater Boston. We had been given the unusual opportunity of a very large financial gift to be used for the improvement of the educational program. I encouraged the school to make an investment in a full-scale K-8 redesign of our Hebrew program based on the proficiency approach.
Let me start by stating two propositions that seem to me beyond debate: 1) that the vast majority of children have strong capacity to learn languages; 2) that the vast majority of children who spend years in American day schools studying Hebrew graduate without having attained a credible degree of Hebrew fluency.
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