Thursday, November 12, 2015

Disrupting Hebrew Class

The classroom is abuzz with energetic conversation.  Children jump out of their seats with excitement.  Discoveries abound, personalizing the experience for each individual student.  Every day brings a new depth of comprehension.  The teacher guides, answers questions, suggests a new strategy of attack.  Students are eager, curious and determined to achieve their objective.  

Is this a competitive game or a party?  There must be food involved for students to get this excited...

Nope, no food.  No games.  It’s a serious Hebrew class!  Really.  

No gimmicks, no competition, no prizes beyond the self-satisfaction of wrestling with the meaning of Hebrew text.  Strategic Hebrew focuses on building strategies for independence and agency in language acquisition.  It is unlike any Hebrew class I’ve ever seen before.  

Time flies as inquisitive students plumb the depths of text, engaging in animated discussion about content.  Each day brings a greater capacity for understanding, a higher skill level, a deeper comprehension of the prayers and a stronger connection to the Hebrew language.  The popcorn cries of “I found it!” “Oh, that’s what that means!” and “There it is!” arise in delightful chorus.

Students feel increasingly capable.

They develop tools for parsing the text into meaningful prefixes and suffixes.  They learn about syntax of adjectives and nouns.  They understand what a root is and how to identify them in context.  They teach themselves to recognize vocabulary that repeats and rely on memory to enhance understanding.  The test is the text itself… and every student engages on their own level, sharing word attack strategies that propel comprehension forward.  

Starting with the text, students themselves are in the driver’s seat of their Hebrew education.  Class concludes with a reflection on the new insights developed that day.  

Every single strategy learned can be applied to numerous real life situations beyond the classroom.  Math, science, literature, bnei mitzvah… Students are encouraged to make connections between their discoveries in class and elsewhere in their lives.  They learn to ask: Why are these words relevant?  Where else have you encountered them?  Where else might they come in handy? How did I figure this out?

The recipe for success is simple: Palpable excitement, durable learning, meaningful process, transferable strategies.  With these goals in mind, such engagement with Hebrew text is always possible!   

Monday, March 30, 2015

Celebrating Hebrew Over Dinner and קינוח*

What does it take to bring people to the table to engage with Hebrew?
You might be surprised how infrequently Hebrew is spoken in America.  

Is there room for more conversational opportunities?  Absolutely.

Friday night’s Celebrate Hebrew Dinner proved this point clearly, as 26 participants took part in a pressure-free evening of delicious food and celebration of language.  Throughout the evening, pockets of conversation discussed topics as various as amusing faux paux and prior exposure to Hebrew to career choices and leisure activities.  There was a calm vibe in the candlelit room and the majority of the crowd stayed to talk late into the night.

Was Hebrew spoken the entire time?  Not necessarily.  Was the language at the forefront of everyone’s mind for the evening?  Absolutely.  Conversations occurred on all levels of proficiency and thrived even between speakers on different levels.  

A few lovely examples:
  • A native speaker described her profession to a Hebrew novice, who listened for key words to successfully understand the gist.
  • A group of ladies discussed challenges of learning Hebrew compared to other languages such as Russian and Spanish.   
  • Many diners explored their Hebrew menus and discussed the catered food with the help of a specially formatted Dictionary Page.  
  • Others discussed their interest in learning to understand the prayers and build their reading skills.  
Between these conversational topics and a variety of available books and games (Harry Potter, Taboo, etc.) there was plenty of fodder for conversation.  

Response to initial promotion of the event was mixed: Do I know enough Hebrew to get through the meal?  Will I understand anything anyone else is saying?  What if I love the language and want to learn… but don’t know many words yet?  Will there be enough or any native speakers in the room for me to speak with?  These queries led to fascinating conversations.  

Ultimately, those in attendance agreed that it was an enjoyable and memorable evening that inspired confidence in their ability to communicate in Hebrew.  Everyone was sensitive about helping everyone else feel comfortable and welcome.  Many asked to be informed about the next one.  

Let’s make these opportunities a reality by spreading the word of what is possible in the realm of engaging Hebrew experiences.  What themes or activities would you like to see explored in Hebrew in the future?