AS WE ENTER 5773...

In January, 2010, the Hebrew Project launched as a result of increased questions and concerns about the teaching of Hebrew in our Jewish part-time educational settings. This wikispace served as the location for a national conversation, with many educators posting here in 2010.

It's exciting that a variety of new Hebrew projects have launched in the last year or two. For instance, Temple Micah (Washington, DC) and others began connecting teachers and students via Skype. The Jewish Journey Project experimented with some different kinds of Hebrew classes (like "Saturday Night Gadna"). And, the Jewish Education Center of Cleveland formalized and spread the work of Dr. Lifsa Schachter in Total Physical Response (TPR) in teaching Hebrew ( Even more recently, the JECC has created a very different model for teaching Hebrew decoding/reading that is now being piloted.

All this leaves me curious - are the experiments working? How will we learn from each other which of these are worthwhile directions for more of us to adopt?
  • What does a student learn (and how well does s/he learn), when a teacher provides undivided attention for 15 minutes? Does 15 minutes of Skype work as well - or well enough - as compared to 15 minutes of in person time?
  • How does physical movement connect a student to Hebrew?
  • Is there a model of "flipped" Hebrew learning that engages a higher number of students in learning Hebrew at home? <<in other words, a model that students actually feel compelled to work on at home!
  • Under what circumstances (if any) can a child learn Hebrew language (eg., ulpan) one day a week?
  • Even bigger: what are our goals for teaching Hebrew in our part-time Jewish educational settings, and how will we know that we achieved them?
Kol hakavod to the Jewish educator who contacted me this past year asking where on the Hebrew Project wiki we're sharing questions of assessment. While at the time there had been no postings on the topic, a new page has been created called, "Evaluating Progress" - I do hope that many of us use it!

With thanks to everyone I've learned from over the last several years, I'd like to share my current thinking about teaching Hebrew in our part-time Jewish educational settings. I still value the learning of our Hebrew prayers - Hebrew worship anchors us as a people to a past that spans more than 3000 years. But I understand and acknowledge how hard the Hebrew of our prayers is for those who don't have an intermediate to advanced knowledge of the language... and even in English, the concepts are hard for a young student to grasp. So here are my thoughts as we enter 5773:
  • Let's stop teaching the Hebrew alefbet as an isolated exercise in K-2. I've seen programs where "today is the Gimel next Sunday will be the Lamed." In these kinds of programs, most students don't have the opportunity to learn the letters well enough to remember them from week to week. I've come to learn that there are more brain-friendly ways we can introduce Hebrew print-literacy at this age, minimally, שלום posted on the door and the dreidel game come to mind.
  • Let's start teaching Hebrew language the moment that our children enter our programs. Fifteen minutes of Total Physical Response (TPR) per session seems to be able to build vocabulary and understanding. Hebrew Through Movement, from Kindergarten through Grade Six has the potential to engage our students in Hebrew learning in ways we haven't been able to achieve previously.
  • Let's help students connect to the prayers of our people through spirituality-stretching-exercises and chanting of Hebrew prayers beginning with our youngest classes. Most adults don't read-decode the prayers when in our worship services - they've learned them well enough to recite the Hebrew, and then can follow along in the siddur. How do we enable this to heppen for our children?
  • Let's be brave enough to delay the teaching of Hebrew decoding/reading till a later grade (grade 5 or 6). This will mean retooling how we teach this skill (and perhaps moving to models that provide one-on-one learning), but it's do-able...and the teaching may move along much faster!.
  • If grades 3 & 4 (and maybe 5) don't require huge amounts of time to work on Hebrew decoding and prayer skills (ah, because they've been moved to different grades!), we can shift the time previously devoted to teaching Hebrew to enable us to delve into more compelling questions and content. Problem-based learning or Project-Based learning have a chance to succeed because students can explore an issue for more than 40 or 50 minutes a session.

I look forward to the challenges that 5773 brings - more hypotheses, more experiments, more assessment of our work. I do wonder what our goals for Hebrew learning could/should be in relationship to new thinking about Bar/Bat Mitzvah (, and in relation to shifting models of learning (i.e., those moving off of "Sunday from 9-noon, with or without a midweek day or two"). Without consistent weekly time, how will we retool our teaching of Hebrew? I also wonder how we can better bridge t'fillah and Hebrew learning between summer camp and our congregations ... who's doing this work?

To the almost 200 people who are members of this wiki, please keep posting. The conversation on these pages helps us all take some interesting steps forward! [To enter into discussion on this page, click on the DISCUSSION tab at the top of the page - you'll find a little icon!]

L'shanah tovah!
Nachama Skolnik Moskowitz
Jewish Education Center of Cleveland.