Tuesday, September 23, 2014

City Explorers: Sights of NYC 2014

Last week we celebrated the kickoff of Strategic Hebrew City Explorers with our first "Sights of NYC" tour.  From August 25-29, our Explorers (aged 7-12) and their Madrichot toured NYC attractions in Hebrew.  At each stop on the tour, students learned new vocabulary and experienced the sights, tastes and history of this great city.

Explorers came from Jewish Day School and public school backgrounds, some had attended Hebrew school and some were fully conversant in Hebrew.  Each student was paired with a madricha (Language Guide) who encouraged conversation and supported the learning process.  All showed dramatic improvement in their skills during the course of the week.

The Madrichot had completed last years' Leaders Fellowship, where they learned about language acquisition, lesson planning and how to foster strategy development in Hebrew language learners. They are leaders in their own school communities and are committed to the goal of revitalizing Hebrew language in fun settings.  

Over the five days, the Explorers learned how to pay attention to the strategies they used to understand the spoken Hebrew and written activities.  They spent time drafting scripts for screen plays about the venues and shared helpful tips with each other.  We were very pleased to watch the Explorers gain confidence in speaking Hebrew throughout the week and are proud of their linguistic discoveries.  

As they return to school this fall, we expect that their performance in all subjects will benefit from the language strategies and cognitive skills they acquired during this week. 

Here is a brief recap of our week and what the Explorers had to say about their experiences:

DAY ONE: Lower East Side Tasting Tour

Teambuilding: Find that בָּקְבּוּק!
יְמִינָה, שְֹמאֹלָה, קָדִימָה...
(Find that bottle... right, left, forward...)
Essex Street Market בִּינְגוֹ (bingo)

"אֵיפֹה פִּיתָה"  (Where's the pita)?

"Hey... is banana really בָּנָנָה (banana) in Hebrew?" 
Screenwriting at the
Eldridge Street Synagogue
Yum, חַמוּצִים (pickles)!

"I pretended I knew what to do & followed the others.  It was my first day hearing spoken Hebrew!"

"I especially enjoyed the pickles!"

"I learned the names of lots of foods in the Bingo  game."

DAY TWO: שָֹפָה וְטֶבָע  Language and Nature

Flower scavenger hunt in the
Conservatory Garden
שִֹיחוֹת (discussions)
at the Jewish Museum
"I learned that it helps to keep repeating new words throughout the day."

"I asked questions." 

"I learned to say 'wheels' and 'raccoon'"
!הַמָדְרִיכוֹת הַיָפוֹת
(Our lovely counselors!)
Reflecting on the art of language.

"The painting that I loved is called 'Misunderstandings' because it is so abstract." 

"I learned names of plants!"

"I feel more confident speaking Hebrew!"

DAY THREE: פֶּסֶל הַחֵרוּת (Statue of Liberty)!

Partners in historical discovery...

"Give me your tired, your poor,
your huddled masses yearning to
breathe free.... I lift my lamp beside
your golden door."
--Emma Lazarus
Crowning ourselves:
"Lady Liberty's Attendants"

Conversations overheard in Hebrew:
"I liked speaking in Hebrew because I used new words."

"I never knew you could go inside the statue!"

"Did you know how long it took to build her?"

"Learning Hebrew בָּחוּץ (outside) is fun!"

DAY FOUR: Life and Video  

How long are your כְּנָפַיִים (wings)?

Fun with the פֶּנְגְוִוינִים (penguins)!
Can you jump as far as a נַמֵר (leopard)?

"After Tuesday, I found myself thinking in Hebrew... but since I didn't know all the words yet, I couldn't quite understand my own thoughts.  Today it's making more sense!

 "At the zoo, I learned how to describe animals and the names of animals I didn't know before. "

"We created a news broadcast and interviewed the animals.  We asked them what their names were in Hebrew.  I was the Director!"

DAY FIVE: Nature Walk & Ice cream

Ordering Gelato in Hebrew.

After a week of speaking in Hebrew, Explorers had the following to say about their experience:

"I learned conversation skills and that Mel Bochner is awesome!"

"I feel proud of my progress." 

"I didn't know that I knew enough Hebrew to speak for a whole day... but know I know I can. And I feel proud!"

"We played Taboo... I see how you can play Taboo in your head when you are looking for the right word"

"Yum, delicious day!"

We invite you to join us for more language adventures with City Explorers during school vacations in December, June and August.  

Visit http://www.strategichebrew.com/strategic-hebrew-city-explorers.html for more details!

Thursday, July 24, 2014

How to Have a Conversation About Strategies

“But I never learned Hebrew before now!” a student protests.

The question at hand was how students knew how to follow directions given entirely in Hebrew during the preceding activity.  This student assumes that the “right answer” involves translating unfamiliar Hebrew words.  He feels frustrated as his inability to perform.

How do we turn this conversation on its head into a positive learning experience?

Step one: diffusing tension
The most important thing is to assure the students that they are not being asked to define vocabulary at this moment.  Emphasize “how did you understand?” rather than “what do the words mean?”  Refocus the conversation into the realm of strategies:

“We are so glad you are starting your Hebrew journey now.  Of course no one expects you to understand everything in one day!  But I noticed that you were able to play the game with us just a few moments ago.  Can you tell me how you knew what to do?”

By complimenting the student on his success so far, we empower him to reflect on the tools he already has at his disposal.  He may still need time to vocalize his answer.  Tell him you will come back to him after giving a few other students a chance to share their strategies.  (It’s important not to forget to call on him after two or three other students).

Step two: guided metacognition
Prompt the students to identify their process with some of the following questions:
  • How did you know where to go/what to do?
  • Where did you look for help?
  • Did you recognize any words that you heard?
  • Were there any clues besides the Hebrew words?

Many students will acknowledge strategies such as following other students, listening for words they knew, vocal inflections, watching teacher’s hand motions, even guessing.  All of these are legitimate strategies.  The goal is to encourage the students to be honest about their metacognitive response to hearing the language.

Step 3: emotional reconnaissance
Once students own up to the “tricks” they used during the immersion part of the lesson, push them to explore their visceral response in greater depth.  
  • How did you feel when we were speaking only in Hebrew?
  • Did you need to know ALL the words in order to participate, or just SOME?  Are there any words you heard more than once?  Do you have a guess what they might mean?
  • What did you learn about your ability to learn the language?
  • Do you feel successful?

Step four: reflection and planning
Now that the students have unpacked the strategies they used to understand the foreign language, they can begin to think critically about what worked best and what tools they may want to make use of in the future.

  • Was it enough just to follow other students or is it important to start listening for key words among the rush of language?  What will help you to build your Hebrew skills?
  • Which words did you find most helpful?  What can you do to help you remember important new words?  
    • Repeat them aloud?  
    • Write them down?  
    • Review them at home?
  • What might you do differently next time you hear Hebrew?  
  • What strategies did you hear other students using that you can try in the future?

Ultimately, our goal is to prove to students that when it comes to language, there are many different strategies they can use to succeed.  As they grow more comfortable applying strategies, their word recognition and familiarity with the language will only grow.  They will also see that the same strategies can be applied to many other areas of school and life.  

The key is that working from strategies to automaticity (rather than through vocabulary memorization) will afford students the tools to expand their skills beyond the walls of the classroom.  

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Frequently Asked Questions: Why learn Hebrew through a touring program???

Why learn Hebrew while touring NYC?
Well, the question really should be “why not???

Learning a language is about communication and effective sharing of information.  It’s not about passing a test in a room with four walls.  So, if we can practice making ourselves understood anywhere, why not practice while doing something fun?!

Where does the concept of City Explorers come from?
NYC is home to many different cultural venues.  Why not take advantage of the talent and skill of the many native Hebrew speaking tour guides, restaurateurs, entrepreneurs, artists and artisans in the city?  

The sightseeing component adds an extra element of motivation to language studies and creates unforgettable location-centric memories.  

What can participants expect to learn?
We know that there are many different ways to learn a language, so we focus on strategies that can be applied to every situation and every subject.  

Participants will be surrounded by the sounds of the Hebrew language and engage in hands-on experiences during the program.  Through the lens of language exploration, participants pay attention to their brain’s efforts to make sense of information and develop tools and strategies to advance their understanding.  

Join us in stepping out of the classroom and into the great, wide, communicative world!

Who is this geared for?
City Explorers are children ages 6 -- 11 who are excited about Hebrew language and are looking for a different kind of learning experience.  Some (English) writing skills are helpful as students will have opportunities to reflect on their experiences at different points throughout the program.

All levels--from absolute beginner to native speaker--welcome and supported.

Does my child need to know any Hebrew to participate?  What if his/her Hebrew skills are rusty?  
There will be activities appropriate for different levels of Hebrew, and all will be supported throughout the program.  The games, scavenger hunts and discussions will be led by our talented Strategic Hebrew fellows who are prepared to work with mixed age and ability groups.

Don’t sweat it… we’ll give your children all the vocabulary and tools they need to enjoy the program!

They will come away with some new vocabulary, but more than that, they will have the opportunity to watch themselves figure out what to do and how to make themselves understood in this Hebrew centered environment.

What if I am a native speaker and my children are fluent?
Your children are welcome to come along and help contribute to the Hebrew atmosphere we strive to cultivate.  Of course, they won’t be stuck with the beginning language learners all day!  All activities are led by native speakers who maintain a high level of Hebrew exposure throughout the program.  

There will be activities appropriate to each conversational level, and really… who doesn’t love a trip to the zoo?

Who are the counselors?
Small groups of Explorers are led by Fellows who have taken part in the Strategic Hebrew Leaders Fellowship.  American high school students with strong language skills, Fellows have spent time studying the process of language acquisition and are prepared to guide your children through their experience.

For an in-depth look at our training program, check out our recap of the Strategic Hebrew Leaders Fellowship in 2013.  

Tell me more about the team?
Amy Fechter, Program Director, is also Curriculum Strategist at Strategic Hebrew, Inc. Winner of the 2013 Grinspoon-Steinhardt Award for Excellence in Jewish Education, Amy brings over a decade of classroom experience with students ages 3-adult.  In founding Strategic Hebrew, Amy incorporated the principles of constructivist learning from Bank Street College of Education, where she received her Masters’ Degree in Literacy.  She delights in inspiring confidence and cultivating popcorn moments among American Hebrew speakers.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Fostering “Aha Moments”

“Well, we might as well highlight the whole page,” says one student philosophically, realizing he knew how to read and understand nearly all the Hebrew words in the מַה נִֹשְתָנָה (Four Questions asked on Passover) for the first time!

For several weeks this spring, students have listened to Hebrew children’s stories, conducted an in-depth study of  לַילָה טוֹב יָרֵחַ (Goodnight Moon) and begun to craft original short stories with the vocabulary and grammar they have learned in our JJP Hebrew Through Children’s Storybooks course.  Every session has pushed the students incrementally farther in their understanding of the Hebrew language leading up to today’s spontaneous revelation.

We were reading a pattern story about a boy’s discoveries on the road to visit his grandmother.  The end of each page posed the question: ?מַה מָצְאוּ בַּדֶרֶךְ (What did they find on the path)?

All of a sudden we heard sounds of “popcorn” popping all over the room.  
“I’ve heard that word before!!!”
“Is it anything like Manishtana?”

Exactly right!  This is the moment we had been building toward all semester!

To emphasize to students the depth of their knowledge, we wrote the words of the Ma Nishtana on chart paper.  This is a song the students had been practicing for weeks in preparation for Passover.  They could read it, sing it and even explain its main themes.  However, it was clear after a few moments that they had not yet discovered how many of the Hebrew words they could actually understand on their own, by virtue of their studies in modern Hebrew literature.  

So we created a challenge:
The students were tasked with highlighting each word they could READ AND UNDERSTAND in the text (not words they kinda, sorta, like, almost got the gist of).  Then they got to work.

Word by word, students discussed whether they heard it before and what they thought it meant.  Several times, they delved into their personal dictionaries to confirm the meaning of a word they had learned in another context.  They identified prefixes, plural word endings and verb roots, applying many of the language strategies we have been practicing.  

All the while, there was such excitement and pride on their faces!  

Many were truly amazed by their own ability to read and understand the familiar yet still foreign Hebrew text.  We were so immersed in our discoveries that I forgot to take photos of the learning in action!  But you can see the final highlighted product on the left.

At the end of the class, students shared several observations about their own learning.  One student commented, “When I see Hebrew, now I try to read it… more than I did before.”  Another student added that he is “not so afraid to speak Hebrew now because I didn’t think I could do it before.” See the following journal entries for further reflections.

There is a midway point in every course where the tenor of our studies changes.  
Several things happen at once:

  • Students recognize the value of what they are learning… for it’s own sake.  
  • They begin to draw connections between the coursework and their own lives.
  • They exhibit a greater “buy in” to future lessons as a direct result of recognizing their own progress.

When, like today, the students begin to see real meaning in the prayers they encounter in their religious and family lives... these are the transformative “aha” moments that both students and teachers will treasure for a lifetime.