HaYidion Article in Summer, 2019 Issue

The umbrella organization for North American Jewish Day Schools, PRIZMAH, invited me to submit an article for their most recent educational journal.  The volume’s theme, ‘Deepening Talent,’ focuses on “cultivating growth and vitality for all its [school] stakeholders, from students to board members.”  My article, “Reimagining Modern Hebrew Instruction,” appears in the ‘Study and Reflection’ section, and mentions many of the precepts contained in my articles on this blog, with a focus on transforming Hebrew teacher and learner attitudes and outcomes.

Here’s the link to the journal:  https://www.prizmah.org/hayidion-digital/#/shelf/view/default

And here’s a direct link to my article on page 54: 

https://www.prizmah.org/hayidion-digital/#/reader/24790/744521

As always, I invite readers to reflect, question, challenge and engage.

Please leave a comment and/or contact me through the blog!

 

Starting The Year #3: Scripted Circling & PQA

As teachers new to Comprehensible Input strategies get their feet wet in the classroom, it’s often helpful to imagine a beginners conversation and script the language use, insuring that the novice-level students don’t get overwhelmed by too many new sounds and words coming in.  As teachers gain experience implementing the strategies, they may be able to deliver Hebrew language more improvisationally.  But to start, it’s nice to have a road map!  Feel free to print and highlight the questions (listed in Hebrew without English how-to commentary at bottom of blog  post!), and use them as a loose script, until your own Circling & PQA become more automatic and effortless!

Let’s say that in the interest of laying in the highest frequency Hebrew verbs in order to build a practical foundation in Hebrew, you decide to interview and survey your students about their preferred ice cream flavor, focusing primarily on the verb, אוהב/ אוהבת.

This slide is from my Intro To T/CI presentation on the blog, here.

A series of affirmations, negations, compare & contrast, counting and summarizing questions may ensue, as follows:

T= Teacher; S = Student; Ss = students; C= (whole) Class

NB:  All of the parts of the initial statement will be clarified through gesturing, Pause-Point-Slow, sketching, establishing meaning, and ongoing comprehension checks, as discussed and modeled in parts #1 & #2 of this Starting The Year blog post series.

כיתה,  אני אוהבת גלידת ׳מוס טרקס.׳

Teacher comes close to next student to interview and addresses him/her by name, looking at her and ‘teaching to the eyes’:

T:  זיוה, את אוהבת גלידת ‘מוס טרקס?’

Zivah gestures a thumbs down.

T to Zivah:  

?אהההה, את לא אוהבת גלידת ‘מוס טרקס?’  

?כיתה, אני אוהבת גלידת ׳מוס טרקס.׳  זיוה לא אוהבת גלידת ‘מוס טרקס, נכון זיוה

The word, ?נכון is a rejoinder.  If not already posted because it hasn’t emerged yet, then establish its meaning by writing it on the board, underlining it, and writing it’s English translation below, Correct?  -in a contrasting color.  Pause-Point-Slow every time you use it, until students demonstrate acquisition by recognizing/using it independently.  This may take several sessions.

.זיוה:  נכון

Teacher acknowledges Zivah’s comprehension with a high five or fist-bump (‘יש!’) and moves to the next student, or summarizes/contrasts the 2 opinions:

T:  .’אני אוהבת גלידת ‘מוס טרקס.’  זיוה לא אוהבת גלידת ‘מוס טרקס

Depending on grade/age and decoding ability, you may decide to leave these as 2 separate (if choppy & short) sentences, for now. Once the incoming message is more effortlessly and automatically understood, you may wish to introduce the conjunction, ‘but’ in context, so simply establish its meaning and restate:

‘.כיתה, אני אוהבת גלידת ‘מוס טרקס’ אבל זיוה לא אוהבת גלידת ‘מוס טרקס

T:  ?זיוה, איזה גלידה את אוהבת

Teacher asks with great interest, continuing to gesture, Pause-Point-Slow, and support the conversational language with non-verbal cues.  If the student can’t produce a flavor, offer a few cognate flavor choices, as in:

T:  ?זיוה, את אוהבת גלידת בננה, או את אוהבת גלידת וניל

Teacher may do a comprehension check here:  “What do you think גלידת בננה is?”  “What do you think גלידת וניל means?” Acknowledge student comprehension with warmth, smiles, a fist bump (יש!).  Though they hopefully don’t feel it, our students’ brains are working hard to understand!

T:  !כיתה!  זיוה אוהבת גלידת שוקולד מנטה  

At that moment you hear a ‘buzz’ in the classroom as other students concur with or differ from Zivah’s choice.  You follow the energy and go right to someone you heard who likes or doesn’t like  .גלידת שוקולד מנטה  

T:  !רגע, רגע, רגע

You gesture the Israeli !רגע with one hand, and establish meaning, orally and/or on the board.  You walk over to Tammy.

T:  ?טמי, את אוהבת גלידת שוקולד מנטה

Tammy shakes her head ‘yes,’ or says, “yes,” or maybe even, “כן.”

You report back to the class, taking care to gesture, pause, and chunk the phrases:

T:   .כיתה, זיוה אוהבת גלידת שוקולד מנטה, אבל אני לא אוהבת גלידת שוקולד מנטה

 וטמי אוהבת גלידת שוקולד מנטה

C:  .הוווווו

T:  ?  (Point to self)  ?ואני כיתה?  אני אוהבת גלידת שוקולד מנטה    

?’או אני אוהבת גלידת ‘מוס טרקס

C:  Moose Tracks.

T:   (Expectant pause) ?…נכון, כיתה, נכון.  אני אוהבת גלידת ‘מוס טרקס,’ זיוה אוהבת

C:  Mint Chocolate!

T:  כן, זה נכון!  זיוה אוהבת גלידת שוקולד מנטה,  וטמי גם אוהבת גלידת שוקולד מנטה

C:  !כן

T:  What do you think גם means?  

T:  נכון, גם means ‘also.’

גם זיוה אוהבת גלידת שוקולד מנטה, וגם טמי אוהבת גלידת שוקולד מנטה!

C:  הוווווו!

T:  ?דניס, גם את אוהבת גלידת שוקולד מנטה

 D:  .לא

T: ‘?דניס, את אוהבת גלידת ‘מוס טראקס

D:   לא

T:  ?כיתה!   דניס לא אוהבת גלידת ‘מוס טראקס’ וגם לא אוהבת גלידת שוקולד מנטה! הםםםםםםם, דניס את אוהבת גלידת בננה? 

At this point (or before!) you may wish to take out a cheat sheet of cognate or borrowed word ice cream flavors from the Israeli ice cream shop menu linked in the previous blog post:

http://www.glidabeersheva.com/%D7%98%D7%A2%D7%9E%D7%99%D7%9D/

D:  Salted Carmel.

T: ?או- לה- לה, דניס אוהבת גלידת קרמל!  נכון, דניס? את אוהבת גלידת קרמל

D:  כן.

T:  !כיתה, דניס אוהבת גלידת קרמל   

At any natural point the teacher can add an additional rejoinder when she learns new, (EXCITING!) information, as in:

T:  ! מקסים!  כיתה, דניס אוהבת גלידת קרמל!  דניס, זה מקסים

Teacher establishes meaning, writing the Hebrew rejoinder word, underlines it, and in a contrasting color, writes the English word ‘Awesome!’  below it, pausing and pointing every time it comes up in conversation.

Other rejoinders that may work nicely here – but not all at once – use, then post for future use:

   !יופי!         פנטסטי!      סבבה!         מצויין

The class carries on as the teacher works her way from student to student, in an unpredictable pattern.  While it’s preferable to make sure everyone is interviewed during a single class period, she takes her time, questioning-negating-affirming-comparing:

Comparing students’ preference with each other;

Comparing a student’s preference with her own;

Counting how many prefer a particular flavor (if that happens);

Peppering the banter with rejoinders;

Insuring that she ‘hits her targets’ by including the verb chunk every time -either לא/ אוהב/ת  or, if you are starting to branch off the conversation to talk about which flavors have/contain chocolate, then the addition of the verb form יש.  (No, it’s not really a verb but it functions as a verb in terms of meaning, and is super hi-frequency!)

T:  ?כיתה, יש לגלידת קרמל שוקולד

C: No.  (Don’t worry that their response isn’t in Hebrew!  We are ascertaining whether they understand the question.)

T:  .נכון. אין לגלידת קרמל שוקולד. קרמל זה לא שוקולד, ושוקולד זה לא קרמל

Comprehension check.  Possibly write the sentence on the board, depending on decoding skill, and comb through it, establishing meaning as you go.

יש and אין  are on one of your hi-frequency posters and subsequently find their place on your Word Wall.

By the end of the class you should be able to surmise everyone’s preferred flavor, and they, each others.’  Depending on the number of Ss, this whole process may take upwards of 20 minutes.  We are trying to draw out an engaging conversation, and keep it interesting; we are NOT trying to hurry through in order to extract or list the information.  It’s the compelling topic, the repetitions in context, the variations within a narrow set of language, punctuated by rejoinders, fist bumps, smiles and celebration that make this surveying activity so effective in building foundational language.

Next class might begin by inserting the collected favorite flavor info into a graphic organizer, in this case perhaps a bar graph with flavors as column titles, and student names sorted into each column.  This visual anchor allows us to reconfirm as we build the graph, review, count, sort, compare, and, on the literacy side, decode low stress/hi success names of students and flavors. 

For more on using visual anchors read my previous post, Starting the Year #2:  Extending CI While Staying In Bounds.

For a copy of the Hebrew only ice cream survey Personalized Questions & Answers (PQA) and Circling script in this article, but without the English ‘How-to’ commentary, click here.

Starting the Year #2: Extending CI While Staying In Bounds

For Part 1 of this post on student surveys and PQA, click here.

How can we get lots of repetition on hi-frequency language, so that the students develop a practical Hebrew foundation?  Here are some ideas for after you take an oral survey of student interest, such as ‘Which ice cream do you love?’  (See an extensive Hebrew menu of  ice cream flavors here.)

Layer on a Visual Anchor:

When we casually ask the same question to each class member and orally collect personalized survey information, massaging it into a compelling conversation, we can later insert this new-found information into a graphic organizer.  This allows us to focus on a visual anchor as we review the community’s preferences, and since we’re doing it with a new visual, it feels fresh and novel.

Simple visual aids may include:  

  • A labeled T-chart
  • a bar graph
  • a tally chart
  • a simple list

We can easily draw this on the white board at the front of the room.  We can get fancy, adding colorful artwork, borders, graphics, etc.

Then, we review and discuss (same or next class) based on that class-specific visual.  No extra work for teacher – we build the graphic in real time or after the initial conversation.  We may need to think through what we’ll want the info graphic to look like, and prepare, print or draw a template.

We may also choose to create a paper template, so that each student can track the data as it’s collected – but wait to do this until after the students demonstrate a secure foundation in basic Hebrew – several hours/months into the school year.

By the end of this session of circling, interviewing and asking details using repetitive language, comparing and contrasting preferences, restating and re-telling in slightly different phrasing (“They love; they do not love”), and presenting the data visually in a graphic organizer, you’ll be ready to add some new questions to the mix.

How many students love Tutti-Frutti?  

How many girls love ice cream that has chocolate?

NB:  Make sure the ?כמה interrogative poster from my Hebrew Corpus Word Wall is posted for Pause-Point-Slow.

Another easy visual way to anchor a survey discussion is via a slideshow – in this case various internet images of different ice cream flavors.  (Requires projector and screen).  Simply narrate your way through the slides, asking questions and making comments as you flip through.

Experiment with different formats, beginning with those that seem easiest for you to execute, allowing you and the class to remain comprehensible and interesting.

Literacy Extensions:

*To practice writing their names while creating a simple bar graph, have each student write/copy his/her Hebrew name  (from a prepared slide or chart) on a sticky note and ‘vote’ in the appropriate survey column. (In this case the column titles will be preferred flavors of ice cream.)

*Create a brief reading on the board in real time by writing sentences from the discussion and model reading them aloud.  Ask students to join in if they want, otherwise visually track the words as you read.

*Write up a ‘class story’ – a series of patterned statements based on the conversation –  and a sentence about each student -and read it to the class.  

Kids of many ages (not just the youngest!) love to illustrate their class story page – experiment with giving a few minutes/crayons to do this – the resulting ‘book’ is a lot more inviting to read.

Writing/Dictation:

*Point to written class list of students’ names – this is good to have on chart paper for all to see and decode throughout the year. 

Do target language dictations on dry erase boards, (lowers anxiety), one sentence at a time.  We want sound and meaning already in their heads when they come to a writing/reading task.  Let’s say we want to dictate these 3 sentences:


1.  Alisa loves Moose Tracks ice cream.      .עליזה אוהבת גלידת מוס טרקס

2.  Talia has an allergy to chocolate.            .לטליה יש אלרגיה לשוקולד

3.  Gavriel loves Mint Chip.              .גבריאל אוהב גלידת שוקולד מנטה  

The purpose of dictation, for our setting:

  • Associating sound and meaning to the letters/ written word
  • Hebrew cursive letter formation (muscle memory)
  • Building student confidence

Follow the dictation protocol below, keeping dictated sentences short and simple to guarantee student success.  

Before starting, briefly discuss behavioral expectations regarding dry erase board/materials use.

For example:

We respect these materials, insuring that they can be used again and again by:

  • not tapping, scratching, doodling, throwing, etc.
  • demonstrating we understand my instructions

Back to the task: 

Students write the one sentence they hear on lined side of dry erase board.  

Hebrew alphabet poster -block and manuscript letters -at front of room.

Teacher repeats the sentence aloud as requested.

Teacher circulates and notices non-standard inventive spelling/letter formation.  It’s OK!  Spelling emerges over time from reading.  It probably won’t be accurate to start.  Resist your impulse to correct student work!

After students have attempted to write it, teacher models/writes correct sentence in large cursive print on the board.  Students are noticing how you form your letters, so write big, slowly and clearly here.  We give them a minute to compare their version with yours, noticing differences, then students copy the correct version below their initial attempt.  Afterwards they may erase, or if they want and there’s room, go on to another dictated comprehensible sentence.  

Briefly point out ‘final letters’ in Hebrew, or other surface features.  

Students look at the 2 versions, then erase or continue same protocol for next sentence.

See my related blog post:  http://cmovan.edublogs.org/2016/09/22/demystifying-hebrew-literacy-part-1/

Practice Hebrew classroom survival phrases by having students follow your commands:

  • pick up/put down boards/markers
  • uncap/close markers
  • write/ erase

By laying in these instructions, you insure that you can conduct subsequent dictation activities entirely in Hebrew.  All repeated class routines, such as materials distribution and collection, are worthy of laying in in the target language, since they will come up over and over again.  Materials management is a great way to provide concrete language and allow students to demonstrate their understanding with a performance task.

Read about Classroom Hebrew survival phrases here:

http://cmovan.edublogs.org/2017/03/21/survival-for-the-comprehensible-hebrew-classroom/

and find my Classroom Survival Expressions when you scroll down on the Hebrew Corpus.

Teach, write, establish meaning and point to the Hebrew words, “Please repeat/Again” so that students can self-advocate whenever necessary.

I recommend not sacrificing more than 5-7 minutes at the end of CI class time for dictation.  It serves as a brain break & alternative literacy activity, and to help develop recognition of the letters and their formation, but focus on your primary goal of driving acquisition by providing a flood of compelling, comprehensible input. 

Everything I learned about Dictation, before trying it and tweaking it in my own elementary classroom, I learned from master CI French instructor, Ben Slavic.  See his Dicteé protocol, here.

Summary Of T/CI-Aligned Practices:

All this personalized surveying at the beginning of the school year and throughout, serves several crucial purposes in the Comprehensible Input framework:

  1. Provides lots of connected, compelling, tailored Comprehensible Input at the discourse level
  2. Provides massed exposure through repetition of hi-frequency practical language
  3. Slowly builds students’ stamina for processing conversational /discourse-level Ivrit
  4. Builds a community that is warm & playful, where each individual feels known and therefore safe
  5. Establishes class norms and behaviors, by pointing them out/modeling norms if/when there are infractions
  6. Sends a strong message that in this class, we communicate primarily in Hebrew – that you understand – to build our Hebrew skills

Caveat On Survey Questions:

We want interesting info without being too personal or potentially sensitive (asking abt parents if there is divorce; asking about a pet when someone’s dog just died, etc.)

SOME SAFE TOPICS FOR INTEREST SURVEYS:

(Advise older students that only vetted and appropriate topics will be included in this class)

-Favorite ice cream flavor ‘Which ice cream do you love?’, fruit, etc.

-Favorite childhood picture book

-Do you have a pet/ pet name – non pet owners can pick a dream pet (including fantasy pets – here we offer cognates like dragon, flamingo, gorilla, etc.)

-TV – possibilities are endless but must be appropriate – train your Ss to suggest only ideas appropriate for a the setting – no violence, romance, swearing, etc.

-Least/favorite – restaurant; chores; vegetables 

-(Least)/favorite book/movie; or character (or any art form)

-(Least)/favorite place to hang out (specific) other than school

-(Least)/favorite music type/song/artist

-Dream vacation – where (specific)?

-Is your room neat or messy?  ?החדר שלך מסודר או יש בלאגן

-Secret talent

-Secret fear (all secrets can be invented – this is Hebrew class – where anything is possible!)

Again, we the teacher are very interested in our students’ answers, we are teaching to the eyes, spinning the conversation out of the (sometimes fantasy) ‘facts’ we are collecting – comparing and contrasting – extending the language and getting lots of repetition; recording the info visually and/or in writing – via info graphic and/or a class story.

Here is another survey questionairre you may be able to use – click on “See Inside” above the graphic.

https://teachables.scholastic.com/teachables/books/Student-Interest-Survey-9780439303026_028.html

Whew.  A lot to think about at first.  How much language?  When to establish meaning by writing on the board?  How often to circle, and which parts?  (Go for the verb-containing chunk!)  You will try it, and it will get easier.  Like the language itself, you’ll begin to acquire some practices with automaticity, freeing up your brain space for other concerns.  Your skills will grow!!  The main thing is to get started, give it a try, and watch your students bask and thrive in a warm pool of compelling, comprehensible input!

*Terry Waltz, PhD.  See Hebrew ‘Super 7’ verbs here – scroll down to page 15.

Starting The Year #1: Build A Solid Foundation With PQA

Where to begin?

Starting the year in a proficiency-oriented Hebrew classroom, where we aim to soak our students in compelling and comprehensible messages, can seem like a daunting task, particularly for teachers new to the strategies, and students who haven’t really heard a lot of connected Hebrew-for-communication before.  With any luck, this series of posts will serve as ‘Golden Rails’ to follow, on this first exciting leg of your Teaching with Comprehensible Input (T/CI) journey.

Personalization & Circling Through Surveying

First, select a compelling topic of interest

Criteria:  

  1. Is it developmentally appropriate & compelling for the age group, and topically appropriate for the setting?  
  2. Is it simple, concrete, and can you support it with visuals – gestures, dramatization, sketches, images, props, etc.?

Say I decided to comprehensibly circle the survey question,  “Which ice cream do you love?”  ?איזה גלידה את אוהבת

I might:  

  • Point to the interrogative poster, ?איזה pausing after I say the word
  • Pretend to hold and lick my (imaginary) ice cream cone
  • Draw a sketch of an ice cream cone and an arrow pointing to the scoop – soon after I say the word and gesture its meaning
  • Write the word  גלידה  with the English translation words, ‘ice cream’ clearly below it, in a contrasting color
  • Slowly pause and point, indicating the ‘Super 7’* hi-frequency verb, אוהב/אוהבת  
  • Gesture the ‘love/s’ verb by forming a heart shape with my hands near my heart
  • Check for comprehension, by repeating the Hebrew question, then asking a student, “What am I asking?”

Let’s assume that during the course of my conversation, surveying student after student, I get lots of repetition of similar sentences that contain ‘love’ and it’s negation, ‘doesn’t/don’t love.’

Say I learned from this initial survey question that:

•Tova loves Mint Chocolate Chip

•Gavriel loves Rocky Road

•Alisa loves Moose Tracks, etc.

I can include my own opinion on ice cream, thereby inserting the אני pronoun and voice, as in,

אני לא אוהבת גלידת שוקולד מנטה’

As I ask each of my students’ preferred flavor, I compare and contrast loves and dislikes as I move about the room.

‘Tova, you love Mint Chocolate, but you don’t love Rocky Road?  Class, who loves Rocky Road?   I really love Moose Tracks…and you, Gavriel, do you love Mint…?’  

If I wanted, I could offer cognate flavor choices in advance, writing them on the board and pausing/pointing each time.  

Otherwise, I write down the flavors in Hebrew or English (names of ice cream are not the goal of the lesson, but do offer opportunities for success in decoding.)  

RESOURCE:  Familiarize yourself with many borrowed name flavors written in Hebrew with this Hebrew ice cream menu

These are only a few of the many flavors on the menu!

If your class already has solid letter/sound recognition of the Hebrew alphabet, then you may choose, if possible, to project this ice cream menu and decode it together as a class at the end of the oral surveying phase, (skip over the non-cognate flavors – they won’t have meaning) or print it out.  Alternatively, copy only the direct cognate flavors onto chart paper, making your own more limited but comprehensible menu.

Back to my students and their flavors:

I notice that all three of the above students love ice cream with chocolate in it.  “Ahhh, Tova likes Mint Chip, Gavriel likes Rocky Road and Alisa likes Moose Tracks…they all have chocolate!” – I write the word for ‘has’ in both languages to establish meaning.  I gesture ‘has’  by cupping my open hands side by side as if I’m scooping up water.  I insure comprehension by telling the students that this is my gesture for יש /have/has.

I encourage the students to use the gestures, too, every time they hear the word.

Then I ask the class and/or individual student for confirmation:  

“Class, does Mint Chip ice cream have chocolate?”

“Avi, does Rocky Road ice cream have chocolate?” 

“Ya’akov, does Moose Tracks ice cream have chocolate?”

“Class, does Banana ice cream have chocolate?”  

I can ask about as many flavors that were mentioned in class as I want – following the demonstrated group interest and energy in the room.

Now, I have used two important hi-frequency verbs in context, ‘love/s’ and ‘have/has’ with their negations, ‘doesn’t love,’ and ‘doesn’t have.’  I am gesturing, pausing/pointing and spot-checking for comprehension as I extend a conversation based on the information I’ve collected.  I’m noticing trends in ice cream preference, comparing & contrasting, grouping, counting, and confirming, all within this narrow set of language in use.  

I am staying ‘in bounds.’

I make sure to ask a full question each time;  that way the verb-containing chunks (love/s; has/have) are always repeated.  I gesture the heart shape for ‘loves’ and my hand cupping  ‘have/has’ gesture, whenever the words arise. 

‘Tova loves Mint Chip, yes, Tova?  You love…? Class, she loves Mint Chip but she doesn’t love…Banana?  Tova, do you love Banana?

Class she does love Mint Chip….’

I check for comprehension regularly.  What does ‘יש’ mean?“  “What does this (heart gesture) mean?” 

“What does, גבריאל לא אוהב גלידת בננה  mean?”  

Then I move on to a different student, Ester, and ask her what kind of ice cream Tova likes; ask someone else to confirm Alisa’s favorite ice cream, etc. In this way I am constantly recycling the language, checking to make sure the information was understood, and extending the conversation to include more participants.  All the while we are communicating and learning about each other as we build our light-hearted community.

I continue comparing and contrasting students and their favorite ice cream until I’ve surveyed everyone in class.  I may introduce the connecting words, ‘but,’ and ‘also/too’ as in, ‘I like Moose Tracks ice cream, but Ya’akov loves lemon ice cream.’  Or, ‘Ya’akov loves lemon ice cream and Smadar loves it, too.’

Rule of thumb:  If it feels automatic and effortless for the students to understand, then you are in the Sweet Spot.  Resist the temptation to pile on more new language.  Wait ’til next time.  And these new words will have to undergo the full treatment:

-Using them in context

-Writing them on the board with translation, to establish meaning

Pause-point-slow
-Use a gesture / image / prop

-Comprehension check

Some students like fruity flavors.  I ask Talia if she (also) likes Moose Tracks.  I establish meaning of the word ‘also,’ pausing and pointing to it on the board with each subsequent use, and doing comprehension checks intermittently.  She exclaims (in English – no worries) that she’s ‘allergic to chocolate.’  !היא אלרגית לשוקולד

Hurray! a direct cognate.  I walk over and tell Tova, Gavriel and Alisa the news – each separately, that Talia doesn’t like their specific ice cream – because she’s allergic (If you choose to use it, establish meaning of ‘because’ on the board in both languages).

How long the oral survey/classroom banter carries on depends on your growing skill in maintaining interest and understanding.  We try to reach all the kids in the class in one session, so pace yourself accordingly!

In the next Starting the Year post, learn how to be repetitive without seeming repetitious as you circle your way through PQA….Or is it repetitious without seeming repetitive?  

Story Extensions: 1. Visual Reinforcement

In my recent Basic Quest Story blogpost, I recounted my first comprehensible input (Spanish) story from a few years ago, about a sushi-loving T-Rex named “Guácala,” (which means, “Yuk” in Spanish).  I have dedicated over 90 minutes of (1st grade) instruction to the drama SO FAR, and the kids show no signs of story fatigue.  To be fair, our 3x week 30 minute lessons also include a greeting and leave-taking segment, a circle-time name tag-passing snippet, and at least two brain bursts or breaks, in which the kids get up and move according to my Spanish instructions.

To review, first we nailed the simple story orally over the course of a few class periods and came up with these layered on details, with the help of my very special puppet:

There is a dinosaur.  His name is Guácala.
Guácala, the dinosaur is hungry.
Guácala doesn’t like:  Pizza, yogurt, steak, bananas, or broccoli.  ¡Guácale!  [Yuk!]
Guácala likes sushi.  Only sushi.

The children heard tons of variations of what the T-Rex likes and doesn’t like, fed the dinosaur, pet him, watched him reject food, exclaimed, “¡Guácala!” with and for him, until they were clear on his dislikes and preference.

Next, I ushered the 1st graders to the chair zone of my classroom, where I have a SmartBoard/screen.  There, I showed and narrated a picture story slideshow (which you can access here), ascertaining more personalized details.

Having worked in the community for a long time, I am quite familiar with popular eating and shopping destinations.  I incorporated these into the slideshow to model the inclusion of details with group appeal.

On the cover slide, I have a clipart image of Guácala with some sushi, and some ‘thumbs up’ icons, as an opportunity to review the gesture for ‘likes.’

Subsequent slides pair new images with prior oral language.  This time, the dinosaur says, “I’m hungry,” and “I love sushi.”

To add episodic repetition and an opportunity for movement in this Basic Quest Story,  the dino goes to three different locations to attempt to solve his problem and find sushi.  First, he goes to the most popular local family eatery, Little Ricky’s.  This restaurant adventure affords the opportunity to try some (cognate) foods Little Ricky’s  (LR) has on their menu.  Here I ask real questions, whose answers only my 1st grade experts know, like:  Do you like LR?  Does LR have:  Pizza, steak, tortillas, etc.?  Does the dino like pizza, steak, tortillas?  Does LR have sushi?  Does Guácala like LR?  Is Guácala happy?

(NOTE:   If I so chose, I could have incorporated other forms of travel to LR – i.e. Guácala walks/swims/runs/marches/rides a bus/submarine/motorcycle to Little Ricky’s….more on padding the basic story in a later post?)

Next, I had Guácala go to the local pizzeria, Marco Roma, in search of sushi.  Many pre- and emergent readers recognized the restaurant logo from my slide and were therefore able to successfully identify it!

Same treatment as for Little Ricky’s – but an entree list including pizza, salad, spaghetti and ravioli.  All cognates.

Finally, Guácala goes (drives his minivan?) to Costco (where all roads lead.) The kids love the very mention of Costco, and glaze over with memories of bite-size samples.

Then comes the $64,000.00 question:

Does Costco have sushi?

It turns out, they do!  And lots and lots of it!  Guácala is very, very happy!  He and his dino friend (Barney) eat and eat and eat…and in the last slide, two dinosaurs are wading and sipping in a shallow lake, because after gorging on sushi, they’re thirsty.

More on more dino shenanigans to come!

Anatomy of a Basic Quest Story a la CI

I hope this blogpost finds you well and off to a great start in your comprehensible Hebrew classrooms.  Here’s to a year filled with health, love, joy, meaning and Hebrew language acquisition!

If you are new to teaching with comprehensible input (T/CI), the strategies outlined and referred to in many of my other blog posts represent a real shift in teacher-student interactions and classroom practices, and may take a while to sink in.  Go easy on yourself, knowing that whatever procedures you employ that align with Second Language Acquisition (SLA) research and interesting, understandable messages, provided by a ‘language parent’ and for language learner/s, are probably better than anything you served up with a textbook, verb chart or thematic vocabulary list!

Many a Comprehensible Input teacher has concluded, “A bad day teaching with CI is still better [more fun and effective] than the Old Way!”

When I first migrated to T/CI strategies, I used a puppet to ask a basic Quest Story* in my 1st grade Spanish class. [I was so excited by the kids’ reaction that I repeated it up through grade 4 – and they all LOVED it!]   I chose the puppet carefully – he’s a gold-skinned red-mouthed T-Rex with pointy teeth – years ago my brother gave him to one of my own sons as a birthday present.  I considered good ole’ Rex a sentimental amulet who would protect me from flopping –  and he did not disappoint.  I decided to ask the simplest and most concrete story for my little ones, so I planned my props beforehand.

With my pretend mini-grocery cart loaded with plastic cognate foods beside me, I introduced the dinosaur to my group. (Dinosaur, as it happens, is a cognate in both Spanish and Hebrew, as are the foods I’m using in this example.)  Here’s an English translation of the story I built, entirely in the Target Language (TL – in this case Spanish):

ME:  Class!  What is it?  Is it a flamingo?  [No.]  No, class!   It’s not a flamingo!  That’s crazy!  It’s obviously not a flamingo! [negate/confirm]

Hmmm, class is it a toucan?  [No!]

I begin to walk around the circle, allowing the students a closer look.  Some pet the dinosaur.  They are entering my magical story-world… I roar playfully at some of the kids… peck others on the cheek with the dino’s snout.

ME:  Class, it’s not a flamingo and it’s not a toucan.  It’s a gorilla!

‘NO!!’ they shout.  ‘It’s a dinosaur!’

ME:  Ahh, it’s a dinosaur?  [Yes!!]  Ahh.  It IS a dinosaur.  [confirm] Hmmm…

I have the puppet whisper in my ear, shushing the class to hear better.  You can hear a pin drop!

ME:  Class!  The dinosaur has a problem!  (I place my open hands on either side of my chin.  They know/I’ve trained them to answer this gesture with the rejoinder, “Oh, no!  Oh, no!” See rejoinders on the Hebrew Corpus.)

ME:  Yes, class.  The dinosaur is hungry!

I rub my own stomach – then I rub the puppet’s – then I ask a comprehension check question:  I ask, ‘What is “Tiene hambre?”‘  “He’s hungry!” they answer chorally.  I ask the dino, directly, ‘Are you hungry?’  He whispers in my ear and I confirm back to the group:  “Yes, class!  The dinosaur is hungry!”  (Mental checklist:  So far I’ve used ‘It’s a…’ as well as ‘is hungry’ and their negations.)  

Note:  All this classroom banter, aside from the comprehension check/answer is in the Target Language (TL).

ME:  Class, am I hungry, or is the dinosaur hungry?   [The dinosaur!]  Oh, I’m not hungry!  The dino is hungry!

Next I have the dino taste a selection of foods.

Here comes the last new targeted chunk for the time being.  I take out a piece of plastic steak from the grocery cart.  The kids shift and anticipate the puppet devouring the meat!

ME:  Class, does the dinosaur like steak? (I gesture with a thumbs up, and do a comprehension check).  [YES!!]

I place the ‘meat’ in the dinosaur’s bright mouth.  He ‘chews’ on it for a couple of seconds…and then spits it onto the floor with great fanfare, exclaiming, “¡Guácala!”    “Yuk!!”    “!!איכס”

The kids find this ill-mannered and unpredictable creature…funny!  They begin to chuckle and whisper!

KIDS:   She has other stuff to feed it in her cart!

ME:  Class, does the dinosaur like the steak?   [No].  No, he doesn’t like steak!  (The word ‘carnivore’ is a cognate in Spanish AND Hebrew, so I throw it in for kicks…)  Is the dinosaur a carnivore?

I ask the puppet directly, ‘Do you like steak?’  He spits it out again and this time some of the kids are saying, “¡Guácala!” for him.  Now that’s a high-interest rapidly acquired word!

ME:  Hmmm, class, does the dinosaur like…(pasta/spaghetti/yogurt/melon/chocolate/banana/hamburger)?

You can take your pick of the cognate foods – there’s a list here on my Hebrew Corpus.

I have him try each new food in turn, allowing my hungry friend to chew, munch or bite before dramatically spitting it out on the floor, with an emphatic, “¡Guácala!”   (“Yuk!!”    “!!איכס”)  The kids find it hysterical!

I lay the rejected foods, one by one, in a neat line before me, for later revisiting.

(I highly recommend you follow the energy in the room – if the students are patient and willing to continue feeding different foods to dino, then keep it going!  These are opportunities to keep continuous contextualized and compelling chunks of language pouring into their ears and brains, with plenty of repetition!  Set aside your own reaction to the repetition, and respond to their interest….)

As the end of class nears, I insure closure.  Either I decide before-hand, or in the moment determine the fussy T-Rex’s favored meal.  Best case scenario – as in the dino story- the idea comes from a student suggestion.

So far I have used most of my 30 minutes to provide compelling & comprehensible input at my students’ level, and they are eating out of my hand!!  Everyone who wants a chance to touch or feed the hungry dino gets one, and I wrap language around each interaction, making sure to use my students’ names.  Everyone likes to hear his/her name!

I hear a kid suggest a funny idea…so I rummage around for my set of rubber sushi at the bottom of my grocery cart.

ME:  Class, does the dinosaur like…sushi???

There are whispers all around.  “I love/hate sushi!”  “Sushi is my favorite/is disgusting!”

Rex tears into a California Roll and chomps thoughtfully.  Anticipation hangs in the air…

ME/REX:  “Mmmmm, !Sí!  Me gusta el sushi!”  [Yes!  I like sushi!]

He roars to the group!  I give volunteers the opportunity to feed him sushi.  He gobbles noisily.  I narrate (in Spanish) each interaction in the TL.

ME/REX:  Dino likes sushi!  Mmm, thank you, José!   It’s my favorite, thanks, Marina!

He eats and eats and eats and eats…because he is very, very, very, very hungry, and he really, really, really, really likes sushi!

As the group files out of class, a student gleefully offers, “¡Señora Shapiro!  We should name the dinosaur, ‘¡Guácala!’ because he says it so much!”

Meet Guácala, the main character of my first ever T/CI story.  Here he is, contemplating the steak:

In my next post, I’ll talk about ways to extend this simple Quest Story and keep the excitement going, even for older students!

 

*From thewritersworkshop.net:  “…The goal for the Quest [Story is to] encourage a sense of seeking, questioning and curiosity, propelling readers forward into the narrative. It gives a structure and suspense to a piece that might otherwise be flat and static.”

#PRIZMAH17 Chicago Conference

I just got back from attending the Prizmah, 2017 Jewish Day School Conference which, lucky for me, is in Chicago this year.  I only heard about it a few weeks ago, so it was too late to pitch a proposal to be a presenter.  (Maybe next time?)  Instead I attended a most intriguing session:

As far as I could tell, this was the only session (among hundreds) that focused on Modern Hebrew instruction, and many respected speakers participated on the panel.  My goal was to get a read on current thinking in the field, in part, because I am obsessed with the topic, but also to gauge how ‘ready’ the day school community seems for the primacy of Comprehensible Input message.

The session was fantastic and did not disappoint.  Thanks to the wonderful panel of Hebrew leaders.

Here are some of my takeaways:

+Our pre-k-12 Jewish learning institutions, no matter how religious or what their modern Hebrew programming looks like – immersion, foreign language, content-related, lots of or limited instructional minutes – are all struggling to improve the quality and effectiveness of their modern Hebrew programs.  They are fully aware that their stakeholders (students, parents, teachers) aren’t satisfied, and that their Hebrew outcomes are generally…underwhelming.  (I wasn’t sure everyone knew, but they do.  This is very good news, indeed!)

+Our institutions are talking about embracing proficiency-oriented programming for communication.  THIS IS HUGE!   When I was a student, it was rare to question any, let alone the Audio-lingual (grammar drills) or translation teaching methods.  Now, though, our leaders realize that face to face communication does not arise from ‘slice ‘n dice’ methods that chop the language up and explain how the parts work.  Day schools want a vibrant Hebrew culture where the language is a tool for everyday communication – in the library and cafeteria, as well as the Hebrew classroom.

+Our day school leaders realize we need to create a cadre of knowledgeable teacher leaders for ongoing improvement and sustainability.  They believe in quality professional development and common experiences for our teachers.  They realize that a native Hebrew speaker does not an expert in teaching strategies make.  THIS IS GIGANTIC.

+Our day schools are willing to experiment in their buildings, tweaking the program delivery model, scheduling, offerings, team-teaching, coaching/mentoring, teacher meetings and collaboration time, peer observations, curriculum, etc.  They are finding creative ways to re-brand their programs to increase visibility, information, and positive press among the community of parents and students.  And importantly, many are willing to shine a flashlight on their existing program and perform a self audit (by an outside/objective observer) to ascertain weaknesses and opportunities for improvement.  Many are undergoing massive revision-ing.

+Many schools are finding ways to extend modern Hebrew beyond the classroom and throughout the schoolhouse by hosting Hebrew language sports classes (Krav Maga); using Hebrew in the lunchroom, and integrating Hebrew across the curriculum by singing Hebrew songs in Music class; employing Hebrew in Art, etc.

+Hebrew is gaining legitimacy by affiliation with the national parent organization, ACTFL (The American Council of Teachers of Foreign Languages).  Many Jewish schools are looking to the ACTFL proficiency guidelines to set standards.  Hopefully soon there will be a Hebrew Special Interest Group (SIG) within ACTFL, as well as a National Association of Hebrew Teachers, providing more support and resources for Hebrew teachers nation-wide.

+Delet l’Ivrit through Hebrew Union College has a new university program to train Hebrew teachers with their best practices pedagogy.

And the list of innovations goes on!

HOWEVER, I do see some challenges, though I have no doubt we will clear them.

Challenges and caveats:

-Many of the day schools talk about data-driven decision making, the new ABCs of education in a post NCLB world.  But language is different than math and science, in that it is NOT CONCEPTUAL.  There are no formulas or causalities to be learned; on the contrary, language acquisition is unconscious (SD Krashen), and the key ingredient driving acquisition is comprehensible input (CI).  No one knows exactly how much input it takes until a student starts speaking (and there are many variables), but we in the field say, as a rule,  “A flood of input for a trickle of output” (Wynn Wong).  So output-based (speaking, writing) assessments for beginners are inappropriate, because these novices are still building a linguistic foundation.  Would you proctor a speaking test on a 14-month-old?  Assessments of comprehension are formative and ongoing by the well-trained T/CI instructor.  Evaluators can see in class if students demonstrate comprehension of the input; parents can see it in a video of class.  Later, once the students have built a broader linguistic base and have the literacy skills necessary, students can write and even speak more in Hebrew.  According to the research, though, practicing speaking through memorized dialogues and cloze (fill in the blank) activities is not real communication, and does not beget real communication.  (See this article on Principles for Language Teachers from my SLA comrade in arms, Chris Stolz).

-Related to assessment, above:  We must be skeptical of written level-placement tests based on discreet vocabulary items and/or speaking/writing output, especially for the novice to intermediate proficiency levels.  In fact, many placements tests, for admission to Hebrew camps, day schools, ulpanim (intensive Hebrew study programs), university and other programs, are outdated and do not align with SLA research.  Check out this study packet for Chalutzim, a 7-week Hebrew immersion camp experience that my son attended.  While he had a fantastic summer, the entrance test likely created obstacles and anxiety for many potential campers.  It sends the message, ‘If you don’t know or memorize this random list of low frequency words, you aren’t a good fit.’  Is that the pronouncement we want to convey to our 15-year-olds?  The study packet asks students to (be prepared to) memorize semantic sets (i.e. – a list of colors, nature words, numbers), but this is not how the brain acquires (Robert Waring); and potential campers are invited to study verb endings for tense formation, but this practice constitutes a focus on form, which is linguistics, not language acquisition.  Many of the language instructional practices once at Chalutzim also lack research-based alignment, and the program as a whole (and others like it) would greatly benefit from an audit and overhaul, to optimize Hebrew acquisition, its stated goal.

-Teachers and administrators must know how humans acquire language (SLA research) in order to establish and monitor an acquisition-conducive program, (as stated in my manifesto, here.)  Otherwise, we’ll be chasing our tails, trying new curricula and materials, substituting one expensive, misguided and ineffective program for another.  Our teaching strategies must align with the research.  We know that humans need comprehensible input to acquire, and that by making the input compelling, the likelihood for attending to messages is greater, optimizing our time and effort.  (Read about SLA here.)

-Many well-intentioned teachers and programs insist that their novice level youngsters speak/respond only in Hebrew, say in the cafeteria or in other school common spaces.  We call this practice, “forced output,” and it flies in the face of what we know about acquisition and the affective filter.  If a student is forced to speak in Hebrew before s/he is ready, (before the utterance comes unprompted, confidently and without hesitation), then we run the risk of raising the student’s affective filter, making him nervous/self-conscious and less likely to willingly speak the next time around.  WE MUST BE PATIENT UNTIL THE LANGUAGE FALLS FROM THEIR MOUTHS, giving students ample invitation and opportunity to speak in more supported and natural ways.  This point cannot be overstated.  Often teachers and schools feel pressure to prove that their Hebrew classes are effective, by showing what the kids can say/do with the language (“using complete sentences!”)  Instead, we must re-educate our whole community on the importance of investing our time and energies in CI, and showing how it works by:  1.  Demonstrating T/CI on parents; 2.  Inviting them to observe Hebrew class: 3.  videotaping our classes so that observers can appreciate just how much Hebrew our kids are hearing, attending to, and comprehending.  There is no research that I know of supporting forced output (“You may only speak Hebrew in gym class”) or language practice, (as in, “Repeat after me:”) as a pathway to proficiency – for beginners.  On the contrary, Comprehensible Input provides the fertile soil from which speaking and writing (output skills) grow.

-Many schools assume that teacher-made thematic units are the way to go, and map their curriculum accordingly.  But we know that young students (and most people, no?)  like to talk about one thing more than any other – themselves!  Therefore, setting a curriculum focused on exploiting the highest frequency words (& verb-containing chunks), while incorporating students’ interests and ideas through story-asking, is a fun, lively, engaging and creative way to customize classes for the group in front of you!  Using hi-frequency verb-chunks to talk about “my house” or “my morning routine” is flat and boring, while collaborative, creative and personalized stories bring light and laughter into a discipline in which the brain is already working hard!  We can decide upon a corps of foundational verbs we want to use, and recycle & add more each year to articulate a curriculum up through the grades, realizing full well that we may deviate while following student interest.  The key to good language instruction is sustaining engagement and attention to the comprehensible message, while using Hebrew all the while.

Clearly I could go on, but I’ll stop here, to bask in the knowledge that great and positive changes are within reach for Hebrew teaching and learning (acquisition)!   Change takes courage, and the Prizmah session was filled with courageous Hebrew leaders.  I believe we are ready to transform Hebrew instruction, and improve the experience and Hebrew language outcomes for our students!

I wish to be part of the wave that’s coming.  If I can help you or your institution realize your dream and re-imagine your Hebrew offering, please reach out! and we’ll set up a training for administrators, teachers, parents and/or students.

I’d love to hear your comments on the Prizmah session, and/or the future of Modern Hebrew instruction.

Let’s make it happen!

I’M ALL IN.

Training Wheels

I get it.

For a teacher, change can feel risky.  The admin and the community (parents, teachers and students) have expectations, based on observations, murmurings, your bulletin board, an Open House presentation you gave a few years back….  You have a reputation to uphold.  Plus, for years you have tweaked and streamlined and created ancillary materials to accompany the (pre-fab?) curriculum you currently use.

But it’s not really working.  The kids aren’t interested or engaged, and their language skills, growth and retention are, ahem,…unremarkable.

By now, you’ve grown more familiar with the Second Language Acquisition research, which points to Comprehensible Input as the primary conduit for language gains.  So it’s hard to fathom going back to your grammar-based textbook, or even a curriculum that claims to be new and different…  but when you delve further, it, too, is filled with conjugation charts, rules about masculine and feminine, singular and plural endings, and thematic vocabulary lists, like, “places in the house,” or, “weather expressions.”

But we don’t communicate in lists.

We can’t go back.  We can’t teach letters/sounds with nonsense words, and we can’t continue to teach sets of related nouns, hoping that our kids’ brains will magically fill in the rest of the sentence.  And we can’t slice ‘n dice the language into rules and exceptions, tenses and endings, hoping that our kids will reconstitute it like some kind of powdered astronaut food.  We need to scaffold the language, flesh it out, and communicate naturally,  at the discourse level.  No substitution drills.  No scripted dialogues.

We need to provide TONS of comprehensible input so that our students’ brains can unconsciously and deductively uncover its patterns.  If we’re new to this, we need strategies and guidelines for how to make the target language comprehensible, compelling and contextualized.

We need a roadmap.

What might a Comprehensible Input-based curriculum look like, considering that we are trying to build language based on student interest and ideas, to keep it compelling?  How can we create a flexible course-long sequence to follow (or cherry pick), while laying-in a foundation of the highest-frequency language?  Sounds like a tall order for a teacher who is also trying to change her practices, and learn new teaching strategies herself….

There is a way.  It’s older than cave-painting, yet it constitutes the latest research-aligned approach:

Stories.

We can create collections of compelling mini stories,+- 10- line fanciful tales or scenes, employing a smattering of the most foundational vocabulary combined with cognates and proper names/places.  These could be used to teach our youngest readers, or serve as independent reading for any age group;

We can author interest-based scenes, episodes or chapters for story collections, each with its own parallel readings (different versions),  literacy extensions and activities;

We can write (or translate existing) inviting leveled chapter books or novels, geared to the unique needs of Hebrew language learners, controlling vocabulary and syntax to ensure reader ease, pleasure and success;

All these readings, great and small, provide teachers with curricular content – the students and stories are the curriculum – from which to plan her classes.  Once she internalizes the new T/CI strategies by practicing with these written collections, she may choose to then abandon the pre-written stories, and collaborate instead with her own students on mini-stories and scenes, episodes and extended stories, or a class-spun novel (it’s been done in other World Language classrooms!)  But until then, she’ll feel sustained, supported, and balanced by the training wheels of a story-based written curriculum.

I plan to begin writing such a curriculum.

Students and stories.  Students’ interests and ideas, magically spun to create customized group stories.  Stories, creating an imaginative and magical context for foundational language.

Students, stories, inventiveness and communication.  Rules, verb endings, tenses, and lists.

Let’s call it:  No contest.

Shoring up Our Modern Hebrew Programs (Part 2)

You can read Part 1, “Why We Need To Legitimize Modern Hebrew,” here.

Since Hebrew programs offered in seven area public high schools are experiencing a crisis of enrollment and qualified/certified Hebrew teachers, the community response, with its best intentions, has been to advocate for saving their programs at school board meetings.

The more I explore, though, the clearer it becomes that Hebrew teacher and student shortages are a symptom of a bigger dilemma that no amount of clamoring will resolve.  If we’re able to save a high school Hebrew program from the chopping block for one more year, this temporary solution will only delay the next crisis, and the program will soon end up at-risk again.  Why are we having these Hebrew program stability issues?

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THE CRITIQUE:    Because from what I’ve seen and heard so far, the quality & consistency of these high school Hebrew offerings varies widely.  And these variations aren’t unique to public high school Hebrew programs; they are, unfortunately, ubiquitous.

Some high school programs relegate the fundamental input job to a Hebrew online computer course.  Some rely on a dry, grammar-heavy & outmoded text book.  Some are so stretched and strained that they don’t allow a teaching setup that meets the needs of individual students and levels; still others focus on Israeli culture and Jewish identity (delivered in English), punting on their stated goal: Hebrew language proficiency.  Many teachers dedicate their precious instructional minutes to teaching Hebrew linguistics – grammatical and syntactical features of the language, with a heavy emphasis on accuracy over meaning – at the expense of copious Hebrew input to build acquisition for real communication.  Most don’t scaffold the language enough for the novice to comprehend messages, or map meaning of individual words.  The strongest tool in the Second Language Acquisition box, READING, isn’t leveraged effectively.  No Hebrew curriculum that I know of focuses on students acquiring a corpus of the highest frequency words, to afford greatest coverage.  This last strategy eluded me for the first two decades of my Spanish teaching career 😳 !

THE PROPOSED SOLUTION:  With the kind of material and community support we have at our disposal, we can, no doubt! shore up our Hebrew offerings.  Not just the public high school programs, but all our programs.  We want the highest quality early start – long sequence learning (acquiring), so let’s start thinking about coordinating the entire progression.  Let’s create pre-K to 8th grade programs so effective and enjoyable that a considerable number of students will elect to continue taking Modern Hebrew in high school, and beyond!  It’s not too great or too difficult a goal to fathom or accomplish.  It will take energy and will, but, speaking from my experience, it’s definitely doable! 

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Here’s my first draft Road Map to Improving Modern Hebrew Instruction:

A.  TRAIN/RE-TRAIN TEACHERS:

I was a veteran Spanish language teacher for nearly 20 years before I retooled my teaching with Comprehensible Input (T/CI).  I attended workshops, got support from my administration and department colleagues (we all retrained together), and tinkered in my classroom.  I read, watched demonstration videos, went to conferences, was coached by master teachers, and participated in two Professional Learning Communities (PLCs).  I also visited CI-based classrooms for the best training of all – live observation and debriefing with the teacher.  All these teacher-to-teacher experiences knit me into a network of inspired and inspiring colleagues, from whom I continue to learn.

I propose an 8-10 hour (total) beginners’ workshop (3-5 hours per day?) with sessions in Rationale (Second Language Acquisition) and Comprehensible Input strategies, coached skills practice, and resource assessment & development, for all stakeholders – teachers, administrators, Hebrew camp counselors & directors, etc.  Such groundwork will get us ‘all on the same page,’ ready to dive into CI strategies in our classrooms/learning environments.  (Read about the 8-hour Hebrew teacher training I led this summer.)

I hope to organize and lead broader Hebrew trainings this academic year, aimed at any Hebrew language teachers/levels and attended by all aforementioned stakeholders, as the basic principles (for absolute beginners through intermediate level students of any age) are the same.  It would be wonderful to bring different area institutions together to host a regional training, thereby building teacher and administrator networks!

Once we are all enlightened on how the brain acquires language, and we can discern which strategies we need to dump, keep or add, we’ll be ready to…

B.  ORGANIZE FOR ONGOING SUPPORT:

This step is part & parcel to training, and helps insure shared vision, consistency, and a common language experience for our students, as well as resources & materials for teachers.   As we train, we group Hebrew teachers by the grade/level they teach, to build networks of colleagues across the area/country/world:
screen-shot-2016-11-24-at-8-57-47-am*Elementary Pre-K to 2nd grade &  3rd to 5th grade sub-groups

*Middle school to junior high, 6th-8th grade

*High school & adult learners

(We can combine above groupings for many aspects of training.)

Next we form and/or participate in online users’ groups (i.e., moreTPRS Yahoo! group, Facebook ifltntprsciteaching, shared Google docs, more blogs and such,) so that teachers can support each other, sharing documents, questions and reflections in user-friendly, archive-able and searchable platforms.  A YouTube channel of Hebrew teacher demonstration videos could be a tremendous resource!  I’m happy to start building a repository on my blog, but let’s hope we bust out and need a different ‘file cabinet,’ because my blog can’t handle the volume!

Broad, effective, ongoing training, plus support and mentorship, will set us on the path toward reclaiming real Hebrew proficiency-oriented classrooms.  My (day-job) grades 1-8 World Language department was able to completely shift our teaching, and re-invigorate our classrooms, in a matter of months!  Most of us felt the earth move, as our students leaned in, and our administrators/evaluators basked in the positive feedback streaming in from their parents.  Best of all, with such enjoyable strategies as collaborative story-asking, dramatization, and drawing, our teachers were eager to improve our CI delivery skills, experiment with different formats, and mine students’ ideas and preferences while building scenes and stories together.  Now, work is more fun for all of us, and we email and text each other regularly, sharing funny incidents and ideas from our classroom story-spinning. (After the Big Cubs Win, my students seeded the idea, and we collaborated on a Spanish re-telling of the ‘Three Bears,’ called, ‘The 3 Chicago Cubs,’ aka, ‘Los Tres Cachorros de Chicago.’)

Ongoing support also means regularly sending our teachers to training (meetings, workshops, conferences) for sessions in additional CI strategies, networking and coaching.  Our field is dynamic and exciting!  Some sessions may focus on integrating video or electronic text activities (i.e., Textivate), others on incorporating authentic literature, art and music; still others may focus on working with pre- and emergent literacy learners.

 C.  RECRUIT HEBREW-SPEAKING TEACHERS:
Since this is a grass-roots teacher movement, it’s highly unlikely that Hebrew candidates would be trained in T/CI strategies, as university prep programs aren’t teaching them yet!  (See this open letter to university World Language departments from SLA expert Dr. Bill VanPatten, pleading for upper level language instructors who are well-versed in Second Language Acquisition Theory).
But as long as teachers have an open mind and are willing to learn,  יאללה!! (Let’s go!)
 We MUST assertively recruit Hebrew teachers (including from universities) and train them in CI strategies, as well as retrain current teachers, who will, if they’re anything like the thousands of other WL teachers I meet at regional and (inter)national conferences every year, feel energized, and, finally, effective and successful in their Hebrew classrooms.  This first cohort of Hebrew T/CI teachers will enthusiastically spread the word to potential Hebrew colleagues.  This is precisely what happened in my department.  We continue to mentor, model lessons, and host observers – both newbies and veterans –  willing and wanting to shift their instructional strategies and improve their students’ proficiency.
This recommendation addresses the effectiveness of appropriately trained Hebrew teachers, but not the hardship in finding and hiring qualified, credentialed candidates.  One obstacle to hiring qualified Hebrew teachers is the difficulty in passing English language exams for native Hebrew candidates.  Clearly we must also recruit native English speakers and bilingual Hebrew candidates, and not only Hebrew dominant teachers, in order to expand the Hebrew teacher corps.
D.  INCREASE THE NUMBER OF HIGH SCHOOL HEBREW STUDENTS:
 To address the irregular flow of students into the high school Hebrew pipeline, we need to create an expectation in the Hebrew supplementary school, by:
*Exploiting & creating opportunities, beginning in the early years, to promote our public high school Hebrew programs.  To do this we must integrate a powerful and consistent message early on, and, of course, have a great program worthy of endorsing, to kids and parents alike;
*Ensuring parents hear our well-planned high school Hebrew presentations; inviting current high school Hebrew student testimonials for 8th graders, when it’s most critical – before January of 8th grade, when kids elect their high school language;
*Preparing our supplementary school students for high school Hebrew 2.  We do this through excellent & optimized programming and instruction from Pre-K to 8th, and coordination with the high school, for a smooth transition.  Entering at Hebrew level 2 insures that Hebrew doesn’t feel inferior to the Spanish/French option.
There you have it:  My first draft Road Map to Improving Modern Hebrew Instruction.
The single, most powerful step to improving the quality, reputation and outcomes of our Hebrew programs is teacher (re-) training.
If you are interested in reimagining your Hebrew offering and starting down the path toward Hebrew proficiency for your students, please contact me and let’s plan a training in your area!

Go With The Flow

As usual, this past Wednesday I wasn’t sure where my Hebrew classes would take me.  Where would our conversation meander, with my prompting and guidance, and what hi-frequency language could I wrangle from it?screen-shot-2016-10-29-at-10-46-36-am  I knew we needed to keep playing with the hi-frequency language we’d used thus far, and I was wary to start introducing more new words.  The previous (Sunday) Hebrew class was so short – I teach three consecutive 20-minute classes – and with transition and settling time, the kids barely get 12-15 minutes of Hebrew instruction.  Wednesday’s 35-minute classes are the heart of the program.

I loosely planned to continue with our (cognate-filled) animal story from the previous week.  I’d surveyed the kids about their pets while circling doesn’t/have, goes and wants  ( יש, אין, הולך, רוצה).*

screen-shot-2016-10-30-at-5-02-08-pm
Then I sent a pet-seeking volunteer to various pet stores (location posters) around the room, where the shopkeeper (classmate) offered a gorilla, flamingo, zebra, or giraffe.  I was willing to see where the story would go, prepared to layer on a new hi-frequency structure or two, as necessary (i.e., takes it home; buys it; says to –       לוקח הביתה, קונה, אומר ל).baby_giraffe_cartoon-994

The best laid plans….

Wednesday was a rainy, gloomy evening, and the Chicago Cubs had just lost Game 1 of the World Series, 6-0, the night before.  The kids looked tired when they entered the Hebrew room.  I asked some icebreaker questions with charades-like gesturing:  Are you hungry?  Are you sad?  Are you tired?  Presto!  The majority of the kids were understandably exhausted, having been up late the night before watching the Cubs’ drubbing.  I promptly wrote:  אני עייפה, אני עייף  and their translation, I’m tired, on the board.  One of the teachers offered, אני ממש עייפה – ‘I’m REALLY tired!’ and after we established the meaning of the phrase, several boys and girls agreed:    ‘!אני ממש עייף!’   ‘אני ממש עייפה’th

Being the conscientious professional that I am, I did as any self-respecting Jewish Mother-turned Hebrew School teacher would.  I offered them a nice nap.  Right then and there.                           ‘?את/אתה רוצה לישון’  ‘Do you want to sleep?’  One volunteer ‘slept’ on a bed made of 3 class chairs lined up side by side, while his bunkmate slumbered beneath.  A girl snored loudly under a table in the corner, as did a boy on the opposite side of the classroom.  Yet another student sprawled out under her seat.  We (remaining & awake audience members) checked on each of our nappers.  ‘Is s/he tired?  Is s/he sleeping?   Wow!  S/he’s really sleeping!  S/he’s really tired!’  I called up assistants to gently awaken the nappers.  We tried coaxing our sleepers to their feet with soft whispers, light tickling and improvised songs (I led a בוקר טוב = Good Morning song to the tune of, “If You’re Happy and You Know It”).  A girl in one class suggested we tickle our sleepers with my rubber lettuce leaf -סלט – under their noses.  It worked!  We continued around the room playing with each sleeping kid, mirthfully attempting to wake them while getting tons of repetitions on phrases such as, ‘S/he’s sleeping; s/he wants to sleep; s/he is tired.’  Finally, as time ran out, we reached consensus on an appropriate alarm clock sound, and woke our slumberers with a choral sound effect:  Beeeeeeeps, rrrrrinnnngs, and one class decided on a continuous loop of, “!קום בבקשה” – ‘Get up, please!’

screen-shot-2016-10-29-at-8-28-24-pmOur scene went absolutely NOWHERE.  The initial query, “Are you tired?” set the docket for the rest of class.  We simply and gleefully played with the unlikely possibility of taking a teacher-sanctioned nap in Hebrew class.  We explored each actor’s interpretation, one after the next, affording lots of silliness, laughter, and compelling repetition.

As Dr.  Stephen Krashen, father of modern Second Language Acquisition theory says, “Language acquisition proceeds best when the input is not just comprehensible, but really interesting, even compelling; so interesting that you forget you are listening to or reading another language.”

I’ll bet most of the kids didn’t even realize, in the moment, that it was all happening in Hebrew.

*For more info on circling and other Teaching with Comprehensible Input foundational skills, check out these Powerpoint presentations:   Reimagining Modern Hebrew Language Instruction and T/CI Foundational Skills, which are also on my blog homepage tabs, Intro to T/CI and Optimizing SLA, respectively.