HERE'S THE CHALLENGE FROM NACHAMA MOSKOWITZ:

I spent today in a local 6th grade Hebrew class. Their teacher has a good understanding of the ins and outs of Hebrew decoding, and from what I saw in this observation and in one other earlier this year, she knows how to scaffold student learning pretty well (she's learned from Lifsa Schachter, who has other things posted on this wiki). Today, there were four students in class (ah, that time of year!).
One could pretty easily and smoothly decode anything put before him; he also remembered other things taught during the year, like shorashim.

One student, who I understand has been absent a lot, had trouble decoding. The process seemed to overwhelm her, but with the teacher's help to divide a word into syllables, she could then work how to read it... slowly.

The other two students were somewhere in the middle - they could decode, but had trouble with a letter or vowel here or there in a 4-5 word line of reading. When the teacher had the students together chant the first Haftarah blessing, these two moved their mouths, but not always with the correct pronunciation (hey, I was reading lips!).

With four students absent from this class (and a different midweek group on Thursday afternoon), I'm not sure how much this small group of 4 is representative of the entire program.

But these are students who have been going to midweek Hebrew since 3rd grade, 2 days a week. The director and I chatted after class for a bit and I wondered whether we are really able to acheive good-enough prayer decoding goals with a 2 day a week Hebrew program. So, I'd like to know what is happening in other 6th grade classes at this time of year. Could those of you who have access to such a class go in and get a sense of how well each one of them decodes and/or remember other core things your teachers (or you) taught this year. How many can decode smoothly? How many still have some issues (and how might you classify them)? Can you quantify (or categorize) the students? Can you reflect a bit about what you see? [Let us know too how many years these kids have been going to midweek Hebrew, and whether this is a 2 or 3 day per week program.] This is not formal, publishable research - pick a reporting format that works for you.

If you wish to post without identifying yourself or your school, send your posting to nmoskowitz@jecc.org. Or, post on thisnpage "6th Graders End of Year Research". Thanks!

Nachama Skolnik Moskowitz, Cleveland



*
Hi all,
It's interesting that this should come up today. We are midway through our Dalet assessments. Every 6th grade student comes individually to one of the rabbis to recite the prayers that they ostensibly learned this year. We give them feedback, tell them to go practice and come back when they're ready. They keep coming back until they pass! The results are sometimes disheartening but it's better to see the unvarnished truth ourselves rather than through the sometimes optimistic eyes of the teacher.

We have once a week Hebrew using the Hineni curriculum (Sunday is Judaica only). I find that the students whose families come to services do the best with prayer recitation (no hiddush there!), even if they aren't the strongest students academically. --Lisa Levenberg, Congregation Shir Hadash, Los Gatos, CA


In Indianapolis, we have a community Hebrew School that is separate from the Religious Schools offered by the synagogues. A few years ago, our school changed the number of days that students attend from 3 days per week to 2 days for the first two years and the 4th year was cut from 2 days per week to one day. We have, unfortunately, noticed an overall decline in ability, especially among our Dalet (4th year) students. This becomes very prevalent when our students begin to work with our B'nai Mitzvah Facilitator 6 months prior to their Bar/Bat Mitzvah.

What we have noticed, especially when students work with the B'nai Mitzvah Facilitator, is that the standard bell-curve still applies. Regardless of the change in frequency of Hebrew School, there are always students who excel and students who need help. However, the students somewhere in the middle have a more difficult time getting to the positive side of the bell-curve. They simply need more time to reinforce what they are learning (which could be an entirely different focus). Students who come from homes where parents or older siblings know Hebrew are able to help are better able to succeed. Similarly, those families who take Hebrew education seriously and are willing to get help for their children are better able to succeed. Again, this could be a completely separate focus.
-- Miles Roger, Bureau of Jewish Education, Indianapolis, IN


*
I put a post in at the beginning of The Hebrew Project, describing our new Hebrew program - which we are calling Chug Ivrit. Our students have Hebrew now, once a week, for 55 minutes with no more than 7 students in a group (most have only 5 students). The teacher has a set routine and curriculum to follow. We have done some testing of our students, and of course informal observations. Our fourth grade students - learned to 'decode' Hebrew in second grade (old program), sort of read in 3rd grade - came to 4th grade and of course it was like starting all over. The teachers made sure that each student could decode - and spent the first 8 weeks doing so. The teacher had a system, and made the students accountable. I believe that probably 90% of our fourth graders are great at decoding, of course there are some students who really struggle. Our sixth graders, though much improved, show a lot of the same stuff that you describe. But if you ask about our fifth graders - I believe here is a huge difference from the past (not that I could prove it). Our teachers, in our Chug Ivrit program make our students accountable for chanting and reading the prayers with fluency (along with other goals). Each week they are responsible to learn a few more lines, and are accountable to prove this. They are accountable for doing homework. The three teachers who used our new system, along with their good teaching abilities - have achieved success at the end of the year. Now there are still some students who can chant the prayers, and even read the prayers - but still struggle to decod unknown words. As part of our accountability - in testing our students on a cold reading of Hebrew 'words', we discovered that one of our bright students, from a service attending family, couldn't read Hebrew. She was totally faking it. Parents were notified, a tutor was hired, and the student soared to success. Because of our small groups, and our accountability methods, this child did not slip through the cracks. I believe in large classes, or programs without individual accountability - you see students who go from grade to grade, and do not meet the Hebrew goals (such as the two you observed). Keys to success- I believe:1. small groups, concentrated time in class2. systematic program with accountablitity - for chanting and reading, and for doing homework3. Quality teaching staff Questions and Comments I have related to your questoins:1. If kids are taught to decode in first, second or third grade -but do not retain the ability from week to week, or year to year - why start so early? These students are to have their habits corrected - and also because of their struggles come to hate Hebrew. 2. Some students learn to read/chant a prayer but still struggle to decode new or made up 'words'. Question: Is this good enough? 3. Do kids have to be great decoders inorder to chant the prayers that are chanted in most synagogues or to even learn to chant Torah? 4. Should kids learn to chant a prayer before they are exposed to decoding the prayer? What if they do this AND look at the word at the same time? What is you preteach some of the difficult words first? What if the student finds familiar words and identifies them before learning the prayer? 5. Is decoding a prayer with fluency a goal prior to learning to chant the prior? Is so why? These questions relate to your observations - because the value stated in your comments is that students must be good decoders - and that is the first goal - and we are often not achieving that. Perhaps it shouldn't be the first goal? And I have to always go back to accountability - and then if a child isn't meeting the stated goal - then what? I don't think we need to spend time worrying about the # of days the school meets, or how often the student attends services - we know that this should and usually does make a difference in quality - but we can only control so much. Lets focus on what works... Diane Zimmerman Associate Director of Religious Education, Temple Sinai, Washington DC



When I get relatively radical in my thinking, I do wonder about davening with kids on a regular basis so that they learn to chant/read the prayers (though you've now added an accountability element to that in the school program) , doing aural/oral language (TPR and/or using principles of language acquisition) and then teaching children how to read Hebrew at a later grade (like 5th or 6th) using language that's much more accessible than the 2nd line of the V'ahavta (or whatever example we wish to bring). It's easy for me to suggest - I don't have a school where I'd have to convince a committee to abandon the traditional way we'e done it. :-)
Nachama Skolnik Moskowitz



There are a few of us in the DC area who are having some of the conversations about issues that you bring up - using more aural/oral language in younger grades, teaching them to decode at later grades, and separating out the skill of decoding and reading/chanting prayers from teaching prayer. At the same time - the majority are still thinking that if they start teaching kids to read Hebrew at a younger grade, they will be better readers at a later grade. (The only positive I can see with starting earlier - is that many of our students and parents are excited with Hebrew at a young grade - and we do not have the same enthusaism in the more formal Hebrew classes.)

I am not sure what you mean by this; using language that's much more accessible than the 2nd line of the Vahavta <<NOTE FROM NACHAMA: By this I mean that as language, if we thought about it in normative 4th or 5th grade terms, it's not what we'd give our students. Think about what they normally read, either in school or independently, on their own reading level. The complex grammar of our prayers (the shorashim, prefixes and suffixes) is especially not appropriate for this age group. If I had chosen another blessing or prayer as my example, (Yotser Ohr, K'dushah), I'd also say that even in English, this is not the kind of conceptual reading they normally do at this age level, nor would they feel it is of high-interest or relevant. So, if we truly picked level-appropriate Hebrew for them to either decode or to read, it wouldn't be the prayers that we have on our agenda. We'd choose a complete different "something" for them to learn.

... ‚ÄčI also believe that the kids need lots of opportunity to use the prayers they are learning, along with the opportunity to engage in praying, which we know are not the same thing. At the last two places I worked we had weekly tefillah - I felt the students practiced saying the prayers, and sometimes had the opportunity to lead the prayer for the group - but when our cantor (who was leading tefillah) decided to add a silent prayer - I know that some kids did use the time to pray (one child always put his hands together, as you see Christian kids do to say their evening prayers!). What I am trying to work towards for this coming year is adding weekly time to talk about prayer and God (using the Avodah sections from the Chai Curriculum) in their Judaics classes, and to make a meaningful weekly Tefillah time. I am not sure we have the right people in place to make Tefillah a meaningful experience... but we will work towards it.
Diane Zimmerman

5/ 24
I would like to add an additional idea to the discussion about accountability.

I agree with all who have written about the importance of accountbility. But it is equally important that the instruments for holding students accountable are diagnostic in nature and that when students are asked to continue practicing they are directed to work on the specific aspects ofcdecoding with which they are struggling and not to simply continue to practice.


Lifsa Schachter