It's time to turn Hebrew learning on its head!
Let’s Learn Hebrew Side-by-Side offers new answers to when we teach Hebrew and how.
A revolution is afoot in the teaching of Hebrew in part‐time Jewish educational settings. Why? As one Jewish educator has noted, “the cat is out of the bag…. too many sixth graders at the end of their ‘Hebrew School’ studies are still struggling to decode Hebrew.” The goals and curriculum that have been in place for decades across North America are not serving our students as well as they did when children attended three days a week. This decades-old-model also doesn’t honor the sound-to-print progression by which children learn to read in their native tongue. Thus Hebrew decoding becomes much harder a process than it needs to be.
When do students use Let’s Learn Hebrew Side-by-Side?
This online and hands-on learning program was designed for 5th and 6th graders (not third and fourth graders, as is the current practice). By waiting till 5th or 6th grade to teach decoding/reading, a number of things happen:
- Students have a few more years to build a rich bank of Hebrew sounds by
- Hearing and reciting prayers in congregational, camp and school worship
- Hearing, repeating and using Hebrew cultural words (e.g., mazel tov, Rosh Hashanah, ner shel Shabbat, Bat Mitzvah)
- Learning Hebrew songs
- Students have developed into more mature learners
- Students become more motivated to learn Hebrew in a semester, not a year … or four years!
Approximately how long does it take for a child to complete Let’s Learn Hebrew Side-by-Side?
While each child is different, our pilot students took on average 15-20 minutes for the online learning component and 10-15 minutes for the review and hands-on activity. With 24 individual lessons (a total of 13 units), most children will complete the program in 12-15 hours of learning time, whether in a classroom or working at home with a parent or older sibling. If students spend 30-35 minutes per session working on the materials, and have two learning sessions a week (recommended), then it would take 12-15 hours (one semester) to complete the program.
What does Let’s Learn Hebrew Side-by-Side learning look like?
STEP ONE (generally 15 minutes): A student (and his or her learning facilitator) clicks through each Story Presentation of Let’s Learn Hebrew Side‐by‐Side. There are:
- Story lines to read
- Videos to watch
- Reinforcing activities to do
The learning facilitator helps if necessary - perhaps sharing in the English reading, making sure that student “gets” a new letter and any decoding principles, helping trouble‐shoot if necessary, and giving human‐encouragement.
STEP TWO: The facilitator reviews the lesson with the student, using the materials provided in the hands-on guide.
STEP THREE: The facilitator does a hands‐on activity with the student, using the materials provided in the hands-on guide.
Step two and three together are generally 15-20 minutes.
I need one learning facilitator for each child... really?
Yes! But there are some easy ways to find learning facilitators.
- Many of our part-time educational settings have too many teen assistants – indeed, they are one of our most underutilized resources - 2-3 per classroom, many sitting in the back of the room unsure of what to be doing.
- A learning facilitator could be an older adult, even a retiree, looking for part-time volunteer work.
- The facilitator could also be a parent, brother or sister, or other adult.
The facilitator makes sure that the student is clicking through the screen and practicing the Hebrew aloud. In the way of “flipped learning,” once each lesson is complete, the facilitator does a hands-on review, as well as a learning activity that reinforces the current and past lessons.
While learning facilitators need to be able to decode Hebrew accurately, some of those in the pilot had “forgotten” some of their Hebrew prior to working with a child. Those who fell into this category found they were able to dust off their Hebrew by spending 15 minutes working alone with the online materials.
How is Let’s Learn Hebrew Side-by-Side different from more traditional primer programs?
While Hebrew teachers often say that Hebrew decoding is pretty straight forward, it is not. There are nuances of Hebrew orthography that make it more difficult to learn than we realize. Thus, Let’s Learn Hebrew Side-by-Side is a carefully constructed program that:
- Uses high-interest stories, each based on a middle-school child finding Hebrew in his/her environment who then asks a teen or adult for help in learning to read it.
- Consistently uses words that are part of a student’s Jewish-cultural vocabulary as the basis for learning new letters and vowel signs.
- Uses explanatory language quite carefully, with lots of reinforcement so that students “get” the nuances of Hebrew decoding.
- Takes decoding out of a classroom setting, and creates a one-on-one learning situation. Each and every student
- has many opportunities to practice aloud (no hiding behind others, nor reading a total of 3 words in a given class period)
- hears instant reinforcement for correct or incorrect decoding
- never falls behind if absent (a child who’s absent on the day that the ע is taught may never quite “get” that letter)
- always finishes learning the AlefBet, as compared to those caught in the situation of a teacher rushing to complete a primer at the end of the year, with the final units becoming a blur of unlearned letters
- enjoys the benefits of building a relationship with a “cool” teen assistant, or an interested (and interesting!) adult
- Blends online learning with hands-on reinforcement.
Who created Let’s Learn Hebrew Side-by-Side?
Let’s Learn Hebrew Side-by-Side is a project of the Jewish Education Center of Cleveland’s Curriculum Department. It is based on the research and understandings of Dr. Lifsa Schachter, Professor Emerita of the former Laura and Alvin Siegal College of Judaic Studies.Let’s Learn Hebrew Side-by-Side and its recommended delay in teaching of Hebrew decoding till grades five or six, is one of four Hebrew learning recommendations by the JECC’s Curriculum Department in an effort to transform Hebrew language learning to successful sound-to-print progression. They are:
- Teaching Hebrew language, beginning when students enter our programs.
- Connecting students to the prayers of our people through consistent chanting of Hebrew prayers and spirituality-stretching-exercises, beginning with our youngest classes.
- Introducing Hebrew print literacy to children prior to teaching decoding.
- Delaying the teaching of Hebrew decoding/reading beyond the currently placed grades three and four.
For more information on each, check out Nachama Skolnik Moskowitz’s challenge to her colleagues. The JECC supports Hebrew Through Movement, developed by Dr. Lifsa Schachter, based on the Total Physical Response work of Dr. James J. Asher. Hebrew Through Movement is taught for 15 minutes each time the program meets.
“I’m Gonna Stand Up” is the JECC’s latest foray into shifting the learning of t’fillah and Hebrew, offering a series of challenges on the Amidah to pre Bar/Bat Mitzvah-age children.