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 #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.

Assessing Acquisition

If you follow my blog, you’re probably used to reading this again and again by now:  When the input is comprehensible and compelling, chances are good that our students will acquire the language.

BUT HOW WILL WE KNOW FOR SURE?

Of course, Pearson has a device-based a$$essment for that.  But really for language acquisition, it’s pretty Old School.  You start with this Essential Question:

‘Do my students understand the message, and can they show me?’

So as you are chatting, asking story details, reviewing the facts, dramatizing, reading a leveled novel, viewing/narrating a video clip, etc., you insure that your students are comprehending language in real time.  How?  You teach to the eyes, you monitor individual and choral responses, you measure engagement (student posture, eye contact, appropriate reactions – laughter, surprise, rejoinders), you may occasionally even ask, “What does this (word) mean?” or have the group translate a sentence or passage into English.  These ongoing formative assessments insure that the input is always comprehensible. (See Teaching with Comprehensible Input Foundational Skills, here.)

Knowing that Comprehensible Input drives acquisition strongly suggests that the great majority of class time, particularly for novice-level learners, ought to be spent taking in the target language – either aurally or through reading (‘input’ or ‘receptive’ skills).  And yet, many novice level language assessments focus equally on writing and speaking, the two later-acquired ‘output’ or ‘productive’ language skills.  (For a discussion of input before output, read this.) During the first several hundred hours of instruction, students require copious amounts of compelling comprehensible input, and their progress, therefore, ought only be monitored through measures of comprehension.

Before digging into what an SLA-informed comprehension-based assessment for young novices might look like, I feel compelled to question our motive for formally assessing students before 5th grade, with, depending on the program offering, fewer than 300+ hours in the target language under their belts.  By formally, I’m referring to nationally normed foreign language assessments such as the ELLOPA (Early Language Listening and Oral Proficiency Assessment for grades PreK-2) or SOPA (Student Oral Proficiency Assessment for grades 2-8).  These are “…language proficiency assessment instruments designed [by the Center for Applied Linguistics or CAL] to allow students to demonstrate their highest level of performance in oral fluency, grammar, vocabulary, and listening comprehension.”  Another similar commonly used assessment tool is the Avant STAMP 4Se (Standards-based Measurement of Proficiency, grades 2-6):  “STAMP’s [computer interface] adaptive test design adjusts to a student’s level so s/he is challenged, but not overwhelmed.”  These instruments claim to dovetail with the American Council for Teacher of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) proficiency guidelines, yielding a ranking in each of the 4 language skills:  Listening, Speaking, Reading and Writing.  Such inventories also claim to help schools and language programs “refocus their curricula and introduce professional development to hone their teachers’ ability to deliver improved outcomes.” (STAMP 4Se)

BUT AGAIN, WHY WOULD WE ASSESS THE OUTPUT SKILLS [Writing and Speaking] OF OUR YOUNG NOVICES?

Instead, here are some teacher-made test item types that might comprise a comprehension-based assessment for the young novice language learner (acquirer):

•Listen to a prompt and circle the correct picture representation of it.

•While viewing an image or storyboard, re-order the pictures according to the Hebrew oral story or instructions, or answer Yes/No or Either/Or questions.

•Demonstrate comprehension through oral performance-based tasks such as those in a Total Physical Response (TPR) series (i.e., Simon Says) or Listen & Draw.

•Listen to a brief mini-story in Hebrew, and circle the correct facts, in English (this way the student demonstrates comprehension, not just recognition of similar Hebrew text/words).

•(For literate students):  Demonstrate comprehension by reading performance-based tasks (i.e., written instructions for drawing a picture).

What do all these novice level assessment items have in common?  They require comprehension of the aural or written message, but they don’t require speaking or writing (output).  They rely on language that the student has already been exposed to, but in novel contexts.  They don’t ask the students to produce language beyond their level of acquisition.  No oral interviews which presuppose facility and control at the discourse level.  The tasks and items are unrehearsed, not studied or practiced.  The assessment doesn’t emphasize grammatical accuracy or discreet vocabulary knowledge.  In these ways, students can demonstrate what they do know, and not feel anxiety or shame for what they don’t.

For the novice-mid level and up through the intermediate low (again on the ACTLF proficiency scale), teachers may ask students of say grades 6 and up to do prompted free writes, in which the students write in Hebrew as much as they can on a given topic, or retell a story that was generated in class.  Here, teachers simply count the Hebrew words (proper nouns like ‘Disneyland’ and ‘Barney’ are excluded), and watch the length of these writings grow over time.  They are not corrected, but rather assessed for comprehensibility and complexity, and may provide critical information to the teacher.  If the same written error is repeated by several students, the teacher may choose to include the difficult or confusing word chunk in her classroom banter and story-asking, in order for her students to hear it correctly,  repeatedly but without drilling, and in context.

Video-recorded student retells also provide insight for the conscientious teacher and her students.  While not all students need be recorded at each testing interval, the teacher may choose to collect such documentation to:  share with parents as a window into their child’s developing proficiency; study for patterns, holes and phenomena;  gather longitudinal data for comparison/documentation in a portfolio.  Such extemporaneous output-based assessments are not recommended for beginner novices who have yet to build a Hebrew language foundation.  Open-ended oral interviews are frustrating and discouraging for novice-low students.

Let’s review:

Our assessments ought to reflect what we’re doing in class (T/CI for novice through intermediate-level classes), and provide valuable feedback for informing and refining our instruction;

According to SLA research, we can’t expect our students to speak and write before they’ve had copious amounts of comprehensible input [“A flood of input for a trickle of output,” Wynn Wong];

By teaching with CI, our students develop spontaneous, unrehearsed, and fluent output.  Even our novice students create with language in response to our constant questioning, although it may only be in short-answer format;

Assessment that triggers the affective filter (i.e., anxiety) or discourages our ‘language babies’ is counter-productive for students and teachers alike;

Teacher-student interactions ought to focus on meaning, not form (grammar, syntax, morphology, phonology);

The best way to measure acquisition for beginners is to teach to the eyes, form a trusting community in which the affective filter remains low, and collaborate on compelling comprehensible input;

Early start-long sequence language programs are better in the long run, affording students a better ear and accent, more exposure to late-acquired features, and overall more time to acquire;

We can do our best to optimize the input, but we can’t rush Mother Nature!

#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.

Hebrew School and Religious School: 2 Parts of a Harmonious Whole

screen-shot-2016-10-10-at-10-36-23-pmHumans acquire languages one way only:  By understanding messages, aka, Comprehensible Input  (Krashen, Foreign Language Education The Easy Way).

By the time they’re 5 years old, most kids have racked up around 15,000 hours of quality comprehensible language input.  So our 200-400 hour total, after 5 years of supplementary Hebrew school programming, is paltry to say the least.  All this suggests that we must be clear and realistic about our language-outcome expectations.

What kinds of student results can we anticipate from our twice-weekly Hebrew program in grades 3 through 7 (about an hour or so total per week)?  Unlike World Language classes in public school, our kids do get some additional Hebrew input through literacy (reading & writing) instruction as part of the liturgical/lifecycle curricula, which together with Modern Hebrew, makes up the Hebrew supplementary school offering.  Though our supplementary schools have traditionally seen these two domains – Modern Hebrew and Religious Hebrew instruction –  as mutually exclusive, I argue that they can and ought to purposefully inform each other, to fortify the overall program.

screen-shot-2016-10-07-at-4-07-15-pmOur rich and diverse liturgical/lifecycle/holiday curricula – hereafter called religious school – explores prayers, songs, religious artifacts, images, communities (including Israel), food, customs, and some texts.  Let’s discuss the texts.

Until now, when our children first formally learn prayers at religious school, they do so by rote memorization, often with the support of predictable melodies.  The prayers are reinforced in temple music class, through assemblies and special events in the sanctuary, through attending services outside of religious school, and perhaps at home or summer camp, as well.  But we can easily put the written Hebrew words into our students’ hands right away and help them develop at the very least, a right-to-left concept of print, as they didscreen-shot-2016-10-07-at-3-52-52-pm as pre-schoolers (or even earlier these days!) with their native English.

Consider Pat the Bunny or Good Night Moon.  Kids who heard these early favorites on their loved-ones’ laps eventually came to predict and recite the tender words, and many kids began to develop letter-sound correspondences, too!  If they didn’t begin to decode the words by discreet sounds, then they often learned them as sight words, recognizing the combined letter shapes and contours as a whole chunk.

I contend that even with the first 6 words of most standard Hebrew prayers, (ברוך אתה __אלוהינו מלך העולם) our kids could be internalizing nearly half the Hebrew alphabet’s letter-sound correspondences!   After all, these 6 words contain 12 distinct Hebrew letters, including some final-letter forms.  And, BONUS!  One of the words is mega-hi-frequency (conversationally):

אתה means you!

Once the kids are literate in English, we ought to matter-of-factly present the additional modality of Hebrew reading to support and fortify our instruction, specifically AFTER our kids have had ample aural Hebrew comprehensible input of the words in question:   Students’ Hebrew names (a very personal and therefore powerful way to recognize letters and their sounds); prayers and song lyrics; the names of religious objects being studied, etc.  It’s a missed opportunity to refer to such Hebrew words as Shabbat or challah, or תפוחים ודבש  (i.e., apples & honey) screen-shot-2016-10-07-at-4-00-13-pmwithout simultaneously presenting their written Hebrew counterparts in context.  But I’m not advocating for isolated word labelling, like we used to see in so many bilingual classrooms in the 80’s – 90’s.  I’m talking about contextualized chunks of written Hebrew language, chunks that will be repeated orally throughout the normal course of class.

My original question was, “What can we expect our kids to be able to do with Hebrew after 3rd through 7th grade supplementary Hebrew & religious school?”  I just explained how the religious/liturgical/lifecycle studies can reinforce our kids’ Modern Hebrew acumen through increased exposure to contextualized Hebrew text, the more comprehensible & compelling, the better.

As I wrote in my manifesto (here) to our temple’s Education Director, Lori Sagarin, back in November, when I first embarked on this mission to reform Modern Hebrew language education, “By the end of 7th grade, we could realistically hope to graduate students with a strong ear for Hebrew, a great Hebrew accent, resulting from copious auditory input, excellent listening, decoding and reading comprehension within the limited high-frequency Hebrew corpus in which they’ve been immersed, discourse at the paragraph level…, and, in the upper grades, some writing skill beyond simple sentences.  Most importantly, we will bring our students to a proficiency level at which they can seek more language input independently.  We call this early but impressive skill set, ‘micro-fluency.’ (term coined by Terry Waltz, PhD).”

If, by 7th grade, our kids feel that their Hebrew journey thus far has been enjoyable and worthwhile, if they feel confident in their growing Hebrew communication skill set, in their ability to understand and produce comprehensible messages, then they’ll be more inclined to continue their Hebrew trajectory.  In high school, college, travel, ulpan…wherever.screen-shot-2016-10-09-at-9-00-44-am

And we know that mutual understanding is the foundation of trust and peace.

!יאללה    Let’s get going!  There’s work to do in 5777!

Demystifying Hebrew Literacy: Part 1

screen-shot-2016-09-21-at-11-22-33-pmTo most American English speakers, languages written in non-Romanized letters seem impossibly difficult.  Their very unfamiliarity is off-putting at the least, and constitutes a deal-breaker for many.  “How can I possibly learn….? (Fill in the blank:  Hebrew, Mandarin, Arabic, Russian, etc.)  The writing is downright indecipherable!”

After 4 sessions (around +-2 hours total) of high-frequency-verb-containing Hebrew Comprehensible (auditory) Input, I decided it was time to shift gears for a moment and have our kids try their hand at Hebrew writing.  I also wanted to dispel any fear of ‘cursive without vowels’ for my students and their parents before it surfaced.  Not that they haven’t written Hebrew before….All but this year’s 3rd graders have explored the Hebrew written word to various degrees.  The younger grades (3rd – 5th) have mostly decoded liturgical Hebrew and have muddled through Modern Hebrew basal readers that slice and dice the language into isolated letters, phonemes and chunks in an effort to lay-in letter-sound correspondence (plus nikkud = vowels).  This laser focus on discreet sounds has been all but abandoned in most Language Arts classrooms, in favor of reading instruction centered on whole words and phrases, the building blocks of meaning.  The 6th graders explored trope last year as they prepared for their Bar and Bat Mitzvah, and have happily retained their solid decoding skills.

Since September 7, my 3rd through 7th graders have seen me establish meaning by writing words on the board in Hebrew, and translating them to English right below, regularly pausing and pointing to reinforce & connect the written word with sound with meaning.  Now it was time to scaffold another language experience where they’d feel successful and encouraged.  It called for a fail-proof process, so I employed my secret ace-in-the hole tool:  The humble and hardworking dry erase lap board.

Any multi-step procedure in the CI classroom is but a (cloaked) opportunity/invitation for careful listening and repetitions, so I turned the distribution and handling of the materials into Total Physical Response (TPR):

(בעברית)

Put your board, pen and eraser under your chair.screen-shot-2016-09-21-at-10-23-57-pmscreen-shot-2016-09-21-at-10-19-52-pm

Pick up your board.

Put your board under the chair.

Pick up the pen.  Open (un-cap) the pen.  Close the pen.

Put the pen under your chair.

Pick up the eraser.   Put the eraser under your chair.

Pick up the board.

I gestured and paused/pointed to all necessary vocabulary written on the big board.  So far so good.

Next I had the kids take off their name tags and place it on their lapboards, on the lined side (the flip side is un-lined).  I asked them to copy their Hebrew names with their pointer finger between the lines on the board.  I referred to this simple print and cursive Alef Bet poster I’d hung on the wall, reminding them that we’d be using cursive exclusively.  Finger spelling IS NOT BABYISH when you’re learning (reviewing?) to form new letters!

I invited my kids to uncap their markers and, with no regard for letter formation, copy their Hebrew names onto their dry-erase lapboards.  Again and again.  I circulated around the room with the other Hebrew teachers, insuring that the sofIT letters were long/tall enough, that the ’ר’ didn׳t look like a ’כ’ and so on.

It never fails.  Students love to skate and glide their markers across the shiny board surface.  And the task is so forgiving.  If you make a ’ד’ that looks like a ’צ’, then simply sweep it away with your eraser and try, try again.  Mistakes are good.  They mean you’re trying.  Confident students were encouraged to write their names without looking at their name tag exemplar.

Soon I was looking at a sea of proud faces and Hebrew-filled lapboards.

Next I modeled these instructions (I used some English here):

Erase your boards.

screen-shot-2016-09-21-at-11-16-11-pmStand up.

Raise one arm.

Close your eyes.

See your Hebrew name in your mind.

Copy your name in the sky.  (That’s right.  3rd through 7th graders skywriting.)

Sit down.

It was nearly time to go.  I asked who wanted to try a bit more writing – this time a complete sentence.  Hands shot up like weeds after a summer storm.

I urged them to write the word, ’אני’ followed by their Hebrew name, as in, ’אני עליזה’.  “I am Alisa.”  A notebook exercise blossomed into a meaningful message before our eyes.

Their faces lit up with success.

“Is Hebrew writing as hard as you thought it would be?”  “Not really.”

Not when you have what you need.  Not when your message is simple and narrow.screen-shot-2016-09-21-at-11-05-14-pm

Before class ended, I assigned the first ‘major’ homework assignment of the year:

To skywrite their Hebrew name as often as possible over the next few days – in the shower, in bed, in the car…. And for extra credit?  To extend to a sentence by putting ‘אני in front of it.   .אני שמחה

 

Ways and Means

Beginning of the School Year Logistics

Here’s our Hebrew & Religious School schedule:screen-shot-2016-09-13-at-11-13-07-pm

Wednesdays, 4:15 – 6:00pm

Sundays, 9:00 – 12:10 (of which the last hour, 11:10 – 12:10 is dedicated to Hebrew instruction)

Wednesday, September 7 is opening day.   The 3rd-4th grade group (29 kids total), hereafter referred to as Group A, will come see me right away, from 4:20-4:50, then return to their classroom with their teacher for liturgical Hebrew & religious studies.  Then Group B (53 kids, grades 5, 6, and 7)*, who started with liturgical Hebrew/religious studies in their classroom, will visit me from 4:55-5:25.  Eventually, (say, after 2 or 3 sessions?) the 30-minute Hebrew slots will increase to 45 minutes, with each group getting around 15 minutes of literacy extension after the 30 minutes of oral work.  This will eventually fill the Wednesday session.

It will take some coordinated practice (and wrangling) to get everyone settled for a punctual startup and transition between groups.

Class Lists/Hebrew Names:

I have asked the school office for class lists by grade, in the form of a 3-column table, with each student’s full English name in the first column, his/her Hebrew first name in the center (hand-written is fine), and then an empty column to the right.  This will serve as a excellent template for some early personalization and (onscreen?) class survey activities, allowing us to get to know each other as we build our playful community.

We’re also ordering name tags – the reusable vinyl sleeve kind on a lanyard – and will have kids wear their Hebrew name (written in cursive Hebrew) while attending class, until we all learn each others’ Hebrew names.  These will be collected and stored in the Hebrew Room.  If a student doesn’t have a family-given Hebrew name, I believe assigning one is a good idea.  Why?  It’s a great way to:  Establish/reinforce that this is a Hebrew-speaking zone; Practice decoding (the names) in Hebrew – very high interest!;  and introduce common Hebrew/Israeli names, which are part of Israeli culture.  Click here for a list of popular Israeli Hebrew names.

Classroom Environment:

Before opening day, I’ll set up my teaching space, making sure that it’s inviting and appealing, but also posting some of the most basic language I know I’ll need right away.  To start, I’ll probably only hang a few question words, (‘Who?’ ‘What?’ and ‘Where?’) from my printable mini-poster collection of hi-frequency verbs and interrogatives, the Hebrew Word Wall 2016.  (The Word Wall can also be found on the Novice Hebrew Corpus page.)  The walls will start relatively bare, but they’ll grow increasingly text-rich as more Hebrew is acquired and needed in context.  I don’t want to overwhelm the kids with a bunch of words they don’t know yet!  I’ll also make sure the large dry-erase whiteboard & markers are in place, and that my props are sorted in bins for easy access.

I wear a wireless headset microphone when I teach (move over, JLo)- indispensable for those of us who teach multiple daily classes using Comprehensible Input.  It really spares our voices!

My laptop computer will be connected to the overhead projector, and can toggle with the document camera to project images from paper and computer, plus videos etc. onscreen.

We’ll have a chair for each student, arranged in a horseshoe or herringbone configuration (not sure – haven’t worked in that space yet.)  No desks or tables.  This set-up frees up space for dramatization and movement, and affords general flexibility, plus writing will mostly be done on dry-erase lap boards, which can also be used as lap tables when kids write in their notebooks.

I’ll post a separate article/s on writing once we get rolling, and will also upload photos of my new Hebrew classroom digs.

I plan to upload links to video footage of our classes with reflection/commentary after class.  As soon as we figure out the tech requirements to do so, I’ll create a space on this blog where you’ll be able to view and comment on our novice Hebrew classes, both Group A (the 3rd-4th grade group) and Group B (the 5th – 7th graders.)

Please feel free to post questions about my before-opening-day prep or anything else on the blog, or email me at cmovanhebrew@gmail.com!

*ADDENDUM:  With over 50 kids, the 5th through 7th grade group is waaaaay too big and unwieldy to teach all together.  To address this challenge, I will break out the 5th grade group and teach them separately.  So I’ll teach 3x 30-minute sections on Wednesdays, and 3x 20-minute sections on Sundays.  Also, to save time, Hebrew teachers will distribute and collect their students’ name tags and store them in plastic baggies in their classrooms.