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!

 

Comprehensible Hebrew: Big Ideas

When I’m invited to present or consult with elementary, middle, high school or supplementary (temple-based) administrators and parents who are unfamiliar with the field of Second Language Acquisition (SLA), I often provide a “Big Ideas” hand-out for later reference and reflection.  I offer it here on the blog, and invite your questions, wonderings and feedback.

Comprehensible Hebrew  –  BIG IDEAS

*Primacy:  Humans acquire language one way:  By understanding messages, a.k.a. Comprehensible Input (CI).

*Communication:  Modern Hebrew is a tool for communication.  A focus on phonology, morphology, grammar or syntax constitutes linguistics – and does not serve our communicative goals.

*Input vs. Output:  Listening and reading, the receptive/input skills, precede writing and speaking, the productive/output skills.  Therefore, we must build a foundation via input, then set appropriate and reasonable expectations for output.

*Compelling Interest:  When the incoming messages are compelling, listening and engagement skyrocket.

*Personalization:  By tailoring the messages through co-created images, scenes & stories, we optimize the input and attention to it.

*Literacy:  Reading compounds language acquisition.  Once the sound and meaning of the language are in their heads, reading feels natural & effortless.

*Program Content:  Modern Ivrit for interpersonal communication is different from liturgy, religious study & sacred text, though there is overlap.  BICS/CALP continuum – Basic Interpersonal Communicative Skills & Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency.

*Instructional Time:  A 90-minute/week Hebrew offering means that after 4 years, students have logged +- 200 hours.  Compare that to nearly 12,000 hours of native English input that kindergarteners come to school with (VanPatten).  Bottom line: Most of our students are Hebrew language ‘toddlers;’  every precious class minute counts; optimizing quality is paramount.

*Outcomes:  Set realistic, developmentally appropriate goals, and align our teaching with them, across the offering.

*Instructional Quality:  By rededicating ourselves to quality instruction with well-trained, Hebrew-proficient faculty, we can deliver compelling Hebrew at the discourse level.  By monitoring and refining our offering, we ensure for our students an enjoyable & effective Ivrit experience.

*CI Hebrew Resources:  Currently there are precious few research-aligned Hebrew trade materials.  Many CI teachers adapt or create original materials based on their teaching environment, student proficiency level & interests.

*Professional Development:  We can support our Modern Hebrew instructors by: Providing high-quality training that aligns with SLA; engaging in mentoring & coaching; observing & reflecting on other experienced CI teachers’ practice.

*Community:  Stakeholders will embrace the re-envisioned Modern Hebrew offering when they hear positive student buzz, and see the camaraderie it fosters.  CI strategies are appropriate for students of all ages, including adults!

*Reflection:  I invite you to read and comment on my Comprehensible Hebrew community blog.  This free resource is dedicated to teachers improving Modern Hebrew instruction, and, in turn, enhancing student attitudes, learning experiences & outcomes.  

*Take a Peek:  I invite you to view this blog post for a captioned video of DAY 1 Hebrew instruction at my temple-based supplementary school program.

*Inspire:  Your school has a unique opportunity to pioneer a research aligned, re-envisioned Modern Hebrew offering.  Your bold leadership in this area will influence Modern Hebrew instruction, attitudes & outcomes both locally and globally.  

Revamp:  Now that SLA is ‘out of the bag,’ we must:  1. Take a hard look at current Ivrit classroom practice and school offerings; 2. Abandon those methods that don’t align with SLA;  3. Deliver compelling & comprehensible Ivrit, the driver of acquisition!

*Transform:  Ivrit class ought to be inviting, positive and joyful for our students and faculty, affording continued growth in proficiency, while sparking interest and encouraging pursuit

Finally, it’s been an honor and pleasure to open this exciting dialogue with you.  Please contact me with questions & comments.

Cracking the Written Code…One Name at a Time

Recently, as I was observing some of the teachers whom I’ve begun to train in CI strategies, I was struck by how our issues in Hebrew school environments are generally the same as those of any World Language instructors, with the exception of a few pesky details:

•Hebrew reads from right to left and doesn’t employ the Romanized alphabet (like Spanish or French, for example), making it less ‘transparent’ and harder to decode for the English-dominant learner;

•Hebrew texts – textbooks for learners, religious texts, children’s books, newspapers, etc.- are printed in square-edged block, yet most Hebrew teachers (and speakers) hand-write using flowy-er cursive;

•Many traditional teachers and Hebrew instructional texts include vowel pointing, called ‘nikkud,’ but proficient Hebrew speakers do not use nikkud in their writing, nor need it for reading.

These clunky realities regarding written Hebrew have conspired to preserve outmoded ‘isolate & copy’ exercises that even my parents (and theirs?) suffered through at least a generation ago…. in favor of more engaging and meaningful learning experiences for our students.

Raise your hand if you had a (light blue?) lined mach’beret in which you dutifully copied the isolated Hebrew ‘letter/s of the day’ over and over, this time with a kamatz, this time with a segol….

Or maybe you learned to decode with a primer.  On the third or fourth line of the page, the target letter was combined with another to form a sound chunk, or phoneme.  Perhaps half-way down the page the gimmel in question was clumped with two or three other Hebrew letters, to form a nonsense word, or even a real one, whose meaning, unknown and without context, sounded equally befuddling!

This is how we did it, baby.  Squiggles and dots on the page, without a schema for sound, and utterly devoid of meaning.

But Second Language Acquisition reminds us that the durable linguistic foundation is built on compelling and meaning-bearing auditory input.  We need a sense of what is being expressed, and we need to develop, through exposure, an ear for how it sounds, in order to extract a message.  Input precedes output, as sure as listening comprehension precedes reading.

So, back to the practical classroom question:

How can we help crack the written Hebrew code early on, clearing obstacles so our students can access the power of reading?

We need a way to get our students reading in the target language ASAP without overwhelming them, to bolster and broaden their input, reinforcing and extending the language they’ve been taking in aurally.

I say we begin to resolve this conundrum with the most personalized and intriguing bite-sized input available from Day One:  The students’ Hebrew names.

Some students have been together before, and know each others’ Hebrew names.  I’m not suggesting a simple round of, ‘Ari’eh, meet Rami;’  ‘Liora, meet Ester.’  I’m recommending exploiting the Hebrew class roll as compelling yet narrow language, to flood the students with comprehensible auditory and written input.  This readily available resource, I believe, can provide the contextualized exposure, repetition, and interest to break the code, flex the decoding muscle, and build confidence, all with a friendly & light-hearted community-building vibe.

Our task is to capitalize on our students’ names, which echo through generations of family history, to help our students recognize the letters, sounds and contours of these new Hebrew words.  How can we harness the power of a name – likely one of the first words our students ever read or wrote in their native language, to jumpstart Hebrew literacy?

It’s simple.  More PERSONALIZED QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS  (PQA) – purposefully combined with literacy.

Here’s the scenario.  The teacher has, in advance, a class list of the students’ Hebrew first names.

S/he copies it, in cursive Hebrew (NO VOWELS), onto poster-size chart paper, making sure the font is large/bold, consistent and legible from the back row of seats.  There’s plenty of space between names (2 columns is fine); consider alternating colors for enhanced legibility.

The teacher posts the entire class list (possibly several sheets) onto the central teaching board.

The Aleph Bet Chart is also posted and visible.

The teacher initially engages in predictable circling, including Pause-Point & S-L-O-W (PPS).

All questioning occurs in the target language, using the interrogative word posters from the adjacent Word Wall, as necessary (with PPS).  Ideally, the students are somewhat familiar with their names and already have seen their name cards or name tags.

[To read more about Hebrew names and name tags, click here.]

Phase 1:  Identifying Students By Name would work to kick off the year’s first day/s lesson/s.

T:  Where is Yosi [pointing to first name on chart]?

T:  Are you [pointing to student]  Yosi?                S:  No.

T:  You’re not Yosi…Hmmm.  [Approaches a different student, points]  Are you Yosi?                S:  No.

T:  Oh, you’re not Yosi [pointing to student A],  and you’re not Yosi [pointing to student B]. Hmm…Where is Yosi?

[returns to chart; points to the word, “Yosi”].

Students raises hand.  Teacher approaches student.

T:  (Surprised)  Are you [pointing to student] Yosi?  [Pointing to name on chart]                    S: Yes.

T:  Ahh, class, he’s Yosi!  [Points’ to student, then name on chart]  He….is….Yosi!

Teacher applauds, encouraging others to applause for figuring it out.  Teacher continues with another student, pointing first to the chart, modeling the decoding, and trying to find/match the name of the student in question using similar banter.  As each student is identified, s/he celebrates, then groups them next to each other, affording movement and a ‘shuffling the deck’ challenge.

Note:  Students may answer teacher questions in English; the focus, at this early stage, is on demonstrating comprehension, not on Hebrew output.

Since it’s already October and we know our students’ names, we’d skip Phase 1 and move straight to…

Phase 2:  Simple Name-Focused Personalized Questions & Answers 

With the Hebrew class names chart front-and-center, decide upon a compelling survey question or two.  In my last series of posts we focused on favorite ice cream flavor, which lent itself, in the heat of the waning summer, to some pleasantly compelling & comprehensible banter.  Then we followed with sample literacy extensions, creating a simple data table to record the class info, and used it to review, count, compare, contrast and draw conclusions, all while staying narrow and in-bounds.  Such T-charts and bar graphs also employ student names and cognate ice cream flavors, and therefore serve as appropriately contextualized, and heavily scaffolded Hebrew literacy experiences!  Students are invited to decode and comprehend (i.e., READ!) the limited Hebrew text, recognizing letters and generalizing their sounds in context.  Written input is predictable, building success and confidence!

Say this time we mine another universally popular topic of convo, pets.  Who has a dog?  Who has a cat?  We can set up the topic, building a bridge of interest, and scaffolding meaning by first showing and comprehensibly ‘talking through’ a brief slideshow of, say, 5 funny cartoon animals:  a dog, cat, kangaroo, flamingo & llama (the latter three are direct Hebrew cognates).   If possible, also print these pictures, and have them posted to refer to in class.

For students who don’t currently own a pet, you’ve already, by including the three cognate animals above, introduced the possibility of owning a fantasy pet.  Tell them to pick one they like, and stick with it.  Draw from a broader list of  Hebrew cognate animals, (scroll down!) the more outrageous, the better.  List a few fantasy choices in Hebrew on the board, and add the real pets to this short list as they are claimed by students.

Notice that among these three animal cognates alone, קנגורו, פלמנגו, למה the students will have in-context exposure to nine distinct Hebrew letters/sounds!  Add dog & cat – כלב, חתול – and that’s more than half the Alef Bet.

CAVEAT:  You may choose to Hebrew label these cognate fantasy animals, though since you will be saying their identical-to-English names while pointing to the picture, it’s not necessary, and too much text could overwhelm the absolute novice.

Remember: We want reading to feel automatic and effortless.

In this version of PQA, the phrasing of the personalized question often begins with, “Who?” because we want the students to successfully answer our questions with their classmates’ Hebrew name.  We are asking them to repeatedly associate the sound of their classmate’s name with its written chart counterpart.

As the information is initially collected, the teacher, as usual, is working the crowd.  S/He is circulating, ‘teaching to the eyes’ (Susie Gross), ascertaining, confirming, misunderstanding, negating, affirming, comparing (with self and other student/s), grouping, counting and summarizing.   As every name arises, she is Pause-Point-S-L-O-Wly drawing attention to the student’s name from the central name poster/s.

Say we asked, “Who has a kangaroo?” and learned that, in fact, Sagit does.

T:  Nofar (PPS), Sagit (PPS) has a kangaroo (PPS).   Do you (points to Nofar (PPS)) have a kangaroo?  (PPS)

S:  No.

T:  Oh, Nofar (PPS), you don’t have a kangaroo…Nofar, do you have a dog? (PPS)

S:  Yes.

T:  Nofar (PPS), you have a dog! (PPS)  Class, Nofar (PPS) has a dog! (PPS)

Note that the teacher is free to pepper Yes/No and Either/Or questions, which work well when the answers are animals (‘dog’ & ‘cat’ would need to be listed/translated on the board) or kangaroo, etc.  Here, s/he is Pause-Point-S-L-O-Wly indicating the animal type from the posted Hebrew words/pet pictures.  Our mission is to converse comprehensibly at the discourse level (back and forth in meaning-filled chunks) while attaching the written code to the sounds our students are hearing.

Sound & Meaning… Then Add Reading.

T:  [Confused] Class, Sagit (PPS) has a kangaroo (PPS), or Sagit has a dog (PPS)?

Ss:  Dog (PPS).

T:  Ah, Sagit (PPS) has a dog?

Ss:  Yes (PPS).

[Teacher points to previously modeled Yes/No Hebrew poster.]

T:  Who has a flamingo (PPS)?

S:  Ze’ev (PPS).

T:  Ahhh, so Sagit (PPS) has a kangaroo (PPS); Nofar (PPS) has a dog (PPS); and Ze’ev (PPS) has a flamingo (PPS)?

Ss:  Yes! (PPS)

Phase 3:  Follow-up:  Creating a Literacy-Rich Visual Anchor

We can interview all the students in the class in one go (though it’s a lot to process for the absolute novice reader – so monitor for attention/fatigue), then project or post a simple three- column (Hebrew) chart:  Student’s Name; Student’s Hebrew Name; Student’s Pet.  In our parallel T/CI universe, everyone has a pet, even if it’s a gorilla:}   The teacher can then re-ask the information with new purpose, this time filling in the missing info.

It may feel repetitive to you, but if you approach the info as fascinating, and the chart as a task worthy of the class’ time, then the novelty of the chart will feel fresh, and the students will follow your lead, this time guided by reading input.

Students are noticing letter formation as the teacher fills in the information, so exploit the opportunity for the students to watch you write, emphasizing sound/letter correspondence aloud.  Not the name of the letter, but the sound it makes within the word.  After you finish writing the word (student name or pet); review the info yet again:  (In Hebrew), ‘Ze’ev (PPS) has a flamingo.’ (PPS)

Perhaps in the teacher’s mind, one purpose of this CONVERSATION is writing and repeatedly reading students’ names & pets in order to, as we said above, lay in some foundational Hebrew literacy skills.  However, in the course of the conversation we are also contextually exercising the heck out of the high frequency verb, “has/have” and its (completely different) negation, not to mention the essential Hebrew pronouns (I, you, he/she; we; they, etc.)  A series of simple, yet high-interest sentences, all with a similar format, “Student X  has/doesn’t have a Y pet,” provides many permutations of playful, in-bounds, beginners’ discourse-level Hebrew!

B-I-N-G-O!

If you have more class time, or another day, try distributing the dry erase board materials (also discussed in the blog post linked below) and ask the following kinds of sure success questions:   Who has a flamingo?  Does Ze’ev have a cat?  Have Ss flash their boards with written answers – for a quick comprehension check and peek into their developing letter/word formation.  (The students copy the words from the class posters & lists.)

And as a double extra credit one time only super bonus:}, model (on the board) a full sentence, such as, “I have a gorilla.”  Have the students copy the ‘I have’ part, and allow them to choose and copy whichever fantasy animal suits their fancy, completing the written sentence on their boards.

Then, simply circulate and observe your students’ emerging Hebrew literacy…. This is a baseline for later comparison.  Throughout the year you will notice fewer letter reversals, more automaticity, and growing confidence in writing for meaning… one name at a time.

That was pretty painless, no?

For more on this topic, please read my earlier blog post, Demystifying Hebrew Literacy.

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!

What The Avi Chai Hebrew Report Tells Us (And What It Doesn’t)

The long awaited Avi Chai Foundation Hebrew report, Hebrew For What? Hebrew at the Heart of Jewish Day Schools, was released this month, and is enjoying broad discussion and commentary among Hebrew educators and administrators.

While I read it closely and with great interest, I was left scratching my head, surprised both by its content, and by what failed to make its way into the hefty 64-page volume.

On this Pesach 5777, our season of fundamental questions, let’s start with the report’s Executive Summary, which, right off the bat, outlines some of my concerns.   As the summary opens, its researcher/authors lament the difficult and complex task of teaching Hebrew, due to the multiple purposes that the Hebrew curriculum serves (studying both classical sacred texts, and acquiring modern Hebrew communication skills) in a day school setting.  The authors seem to be seeking readers’ leniency by describing a nearly impossible feat, relating that Hebrew faculty is hard to find; instructional minutes are hard to come by; parental demands add stress; maintaining older students’ interest is challenging; and my personal favorite, the non-Romanized alphabet makes Hebrew harder to learn than other commonly taught world languages, such as Spanish and French.

Before we continue, I say we need to come to some common understanding about what it is we are trying to accomplish with Hebrew in the day school classroom, refine and articulate our goals regarding Hebrew instruction, and align our teaching with our goals.  I believe that a better handle on Second Languages Acquisition (SLA) research, which is, lamentably, all but absent from the Avi Chai report, will aid our grasp of the issues above, and how to address them.

Big Idea #1:  Humans acquire language one way only –  by understanding messages (Chomsky/Krashen).  If we want our students to acquire Hebrew for any purpose, sacred or secular, conversational or literary, then we must begin by delivering comprehensible input, aural/oral and written messages that they can understand and that are so compelling that they attend to them effortlessly and automatically.

The Avi Chai report researchers uncover a curious trend in their surveys.  The day school kids, they report, seem to be losing their Hebrew ability after fifth grade!   Interestingly, this deterioration of skill in not found elsewhere in the literature among students of other languages, nor is the Hebrew phenomenon explained in the report within any SLA framework.  So I offer these fundamental questions:

Could it be that after 5th grade, many Hebrew programs shift from a more experiential, conversational, compelling comprehensible input (CCI)-rich communicative model, to a high-stakes grammar and vocabulary-heavy memorize-and-test grind (unsupported by any SLA research)?

Could it be that after 5th grade, Hebrew is no longer used as the lingua franca of the classroom, but that upper level teachers talk (in English) about how Hebrew’s grammar and syntax, morphology and phonology work?  Such a focus on the surface of the language in lieu of language as a tool for communication is also unsupported by any of the best-practice research, and would come at the expense of CCI and its attendant student comfort and engagement.  As the amount of CCI, overall program interest and therefore quality decline, so do student outcomes.

Could it be that some programs abandon communicating in modern Hebrew altogether after 5th grade, instead shifting their limited instructional minutes to classical sacred texts – using mostly English?  This possibility would most certainly render the class less conducive to Hebrew language acquisition.

Recommendations:  Create and defend an early start-long sequence modern Hebrew language program, rich in CCI, that broadens students’ linguistic foundation from year to year.  Insure that the content is compelling by incorporating student interests and ideas.  Integrate lots more reading into the program from an early age, with literacy materials connected to and based on the acquired aural/oral language.  Reading compounds language gains, and can be leveraged for the study of sacred texts.  The handicap of a non-Romanized alphabet can be overcome if students are exposed to appropriate reading materials over the long haul.  Protect the time dedicated to modern Hebrew instruction; it is different from sacred text study, and should not be substituted at the beginner-to-intermediate levels. Educate faculty, parents and students about your new (department-wide!) approach.  Demonstrate CCI lessons at go-to-school-night, which is sure to create a buzz.  Parents will be more likely to support you if their children are happy and successfully learning, and they understand the framework and what you’re trying to accomplish.

Watch student enthusiasm take off and soar, alongside acquisition.  While face to face modern Hebrew communication will grow proportionately with the amount of quality CCI, it will not keep pace with the complex concepts, parables, allegories and commentaries contained in the Hebrew sacred texts.  Either these will have to be adapted for beginner to intermediate Hebrew learners’ needs, or their study will have to take place in English, or in combination of Hebrew and English, whichever arrangement best meets the linguistic needs of the students.  We cannot hope to teach beginners’ basic modern Hebrew for daily communication, and Talmud Torah as it appears in its original form, on the same day.  It’s like reading a high school social studies textbook to a kindergartner!  We must adapt our Hebrew texts to meet the needs of our learners, insure our students are engaged and comfortable – NOT STRESSED OUT or made to feel inadequate.  A high affective filter can be a major obstacle to language acquisition, so we must be vigilant that we aren’t freaking out our kids, or they will tune out and turn off.  And researchers will conclude that they are ‘losing their Hebrew language,’ when it’s really the program, itself, that has lost its way.

If it’s not clear by now, I am advocating for two (or more) entirely separate classes: modern Hebrew, and ‘Judaics’/sacred texts.  Let’s treat modern Hebrew like the secular subject it is – like Spanish or French – and inform our instruction with both the tenets of Second Language Acquisition research and the intuitive strategies that have been embraced by thousands of world language teachers over the past 20+ years.  Of course we’ll apply and enjoy the strong modern Hebrew literacy skills our students develop over in their classical Judaics/Talmud & Torah classroom, where they’ll also benefit from the linguistic knowledge they’ve gained in modern Hebrew class (general vocabulary, familiar verb forms, prefixes, transition words, etc.)  The sounds and meanings are already in their heads!  By starting with language for meaning – modern Ivrit –  we will build capacity for the more intellectual pursuit of classical text analysis by prioritizing and insuring the development of comprehension, literacy skills, interest and confidence.

Big Idea #2:  Listening comprehension and reading, the receptive/input skills, precede writing and speaking, the productive/output skills (Read this blog post).

Among other benefits, familiarity with this basic tenet of SLA research helps manage student, parent, teacher, administrator (and researcher) expectations. Students require copious amounts of CCI before they are able to produce the target language at the discourse level.  “A flood of input for a trickle of output,” according to linguistics Professor Wynn Wong.  And yet, according to the Avi Chai report researchers,
           “At a few, although not all, of the schools we visited, we observed classes in which students’ speaking proficiency was evidently poorer in the higher grades than in lower ones.  While elementary school students responded in Hebrew to their teachers’ promptings, and seemed able to express themselves quite fluently in Israeli-accented Hebrew, by the time they reached the higher grades students struggled to express themselves. They groped to find the vocabulary to convey their thoughts.  Even where the rule in class was to speak only in Hebrew, students would often opt to find the right phrase in English before reverting to Hebrew.” (p. 29)
Could it be that the elementary teacher-prompted responses required only a perfunctory one word or short answer, demonstrating the students’ listening comprehension, whereas the upper school request demanded Hebrew speaking above the students’ level of acquisition, and at the discourse level?  Is the latter task reasonable, and does it reflect understanding of the SLA research?  Rather than bemoaning their students’ low interpersonal Hebrew proficiency, teachers (and researchers) must instead learn how students acquire, appreciate the natural stages of language emergence (not forced output), discern what kind of production is typical for the amount of CCI they’ve received, and ascertain how to continuously engage students in a Hebrew language-rich atmosphere.  Expectations are lower in the lower school, but then, suddenly, at the higher levels, students are expected to make a developmental leap, even as the quantity and quality of language input is diminished.
Recommendations:  Teachers and researchers are encouraged to master the theoretical underpinnings of SLA as well as the pedagogy that aligns with it, to get a better grasp of appropriate expectations for language output.  Continued high quality CCI, the driver of language acquisition, is as important as ever in the upper grades.
Big Ideas #3 & #4:  When the classroom messages are compelling, listening and engagement are greater; By personalizing and customizing comprehensible messages through class-elicited scenes, stories and images, interest skyrockets, and we optimize the input.
It’s hard to tell from the Avi Chai report just how interesting (or not) the general content of modern Hebrew classes is (at the places they studied), though stakeholders’ complaints seem to suggest a general disinterest in Hebrew class particularly at the upper levels.  Either the content or the instruction (or both) are souring students’ attitude.
What can we do about it?
Recommendation:  We need to take a sober look at our content.  Many schools embrace a pre-fabricated all inclusive curriculum that blends modern Hebrew with Judaics and prayerbook Hebrew, killing many proverbial birds with a single stone.  But they are, regrettably, also killing student (and teacher) interest and engagement, because the set curriculum is…OK I’ll say it:  mind-numbingly boring.   Set curricula often ‘covers’ static and humorless topics about which the students are not interested or passionate; nor do many of the themes incorporate the highest frequency words for greatest linguistic coverage.
So how can we insure that all students will be interested and remain engaged in the banter of our daily classes?  By involving them in the creation of the content!  By including their hobbies and passions in class stories and conversations!  By surveying their interests, and intentionally inserting this personalized information into the ‘curriculum!’  By, once knowing our students well, finding stories, video clips, commercials, poetry and songs, etc. that appeal to our group!   Once we accept that modern Hebrew is separate from Judaics/sacred texts, we are free to converse on an endless array of fiction/real topics, so long as our messages are compelling and comprehensible, and contribute to an ever-widening linguistic foundation.  By starting with student interest rather than imposing a prefab or teacher-driven curriculum, we guarantee broader relevance and authenticity, we build a community where individuals feel known and recognized, and we engage in pleasant conversation, in which all students have a foothold.
We democratize the language classroom!
Whew.  Perhaps those are enough big ideas to chew on for one blog post.
The Avi Chai report sheds light on stakeholders’ negative attitudes about Hebrew instruction, informing the quagmire in which we find ourselves.  I contend (with no blame) that often vague and contradictory instructional goals, poor and/or spotty Hebrew language teacher training, limited support and quality materials, all uninformed by SLA research, have landed us in this predicament.
The good news is, we can address our dire situation immediately and to great effect.  If my own teaching experiment is any indication, stakeholders are all eager to learn a better way.  The light and humorous beginners’ Hebrew scenes and stories are a welcome respite from the drudgery of grammar paradigms and vocabulary lists, nonsense words both spoken and copied into מחברות (notebooks).  Teachers, students and parents all report renewed enthusiasm for Comprehensible Hebrew, and kids look forward to class.
Recommendations:  Let’s re-think what we’re doing – but through the lens of Second Language Acquisition research.  Acquiring language isn’t like learning chemistry or social studies.  It’s an unconscious process.  It’s driven by compelling, comprehensible input.  Let’s rebuild our community’s confidence in Hebrew instruction as a worthwhile endeavor by demonstrating success after success.  What constitutes that success?  Our students will have a joyful experience in effective Hebrew classes; they will feel capable and successful at acquiring, comprehending and utilizing Hebrew, and they will embrace it as their own.

#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.