Sunday, April 7, 2013

What's 'Strategic' about Hebrew?

"Strategic Hebrew" is a novel approach to language instruction that incorporates critical thinking, individual motivation and proactive participation in the language learning process.  More than just a Hebrew class, each program is a complete language experience unto itself.  Rather than envisioning students as simple vessels that passively (or with a great deal of struggle and memorization) absorb components of a language, we give them an active role in their own language (and personal) development.  

The name “Strategic Hebrew” is a conflation of several ideas that relate to the use of strategies in Hebrew language learning.  Here is a brief explanation of each:

Strategic Instruction: Teaching focuses on roots, grammar patterns and recurring vocabulary that form the building blocks of the Hebrew language.  
As students learn to appreciate the beauty and structure of the language, they become better prepared to glean meaningful information from the Hebrew.  This approach encourages students to think critically about the language and how to dissect its many parts.  It engages the intellect to a higher degree than straight memory drills or verb conjugation because students take an active role in building their own understanding for meaningful results.

Strategic Thinking: Students develop and apply strategies for interpretation, vocabulary recall, reading, writing and other communicative needs.
By shifting the focus of lessons to emphasize development of strategies, students are equipped with tools to continue building their language skills outside of class.  Moreover, these strategies can be applied to every area of a student's life, where they manifest as skills for life and learning.  Strategies do not substitute for basic, empirical knowledge of vocabulary and grammar skills, but they are an excellent starting point for deeper language study and help students become proactive participant in their own language learning process.  

Strategic Planning: Curricular design considers students’ life situations; lessons meet the students where they are most motivated to learn.  
Classes that focus on material geared to match students’ interests and intellect are more likely to gain their attention than repetition and memorization of unrelated material.  Showing students how the language lessons can apply to their daily lives, whether by the immediate gratification of asking for and receiving ice cream or by recognizing that they can understand the Hebrew prayers on an empirical level, will help them develop a deeper love and appreciation for the language, and therefore a heightened desire to learn it by participating more attentively in lessons.

The "Strategic Hebrew" method acknowledges that teaching a language is tantamount to teaching a whole person; one must take into account students’ interests, desires, intellect, and ability to apply and transfer skills from one arena to another.  The more a student is encouraged to take the reigns of his/her own learning process, the more determined s/he will be to succeed and the more pride s/he will feel in each accomplishment.

Amy Fechter is Founder and Curriculum Strategist at Strategic Hebrew, Inc. A NY State certified teacher with a Master's Degree in literacy from Bank Street College, she has extensively studied language acquisition in both theory and practice. The 'Strategic' approach is the result of more than a decade of successful development and implementation of constructivist language instruction for students nursery through adult.

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