We recently completed 8 hours of Teaching with Comprehensible Input (T/CI) teacher training at Temple Beth Israel (TBI). I presented 2-hour sessions on Monday and Wednesday mornings, for 2 consecutive weeks. There were (usually) 9 participants, including 6 TBI teachers and one teacher from another temple, Lori (the education director), and me.
Lori made sure we had a lovely breakfast spread for each training segment, and we shared a bite around the table together before transitioning to our presentation space in the cozy temple library. On the first day, I briefly explained ‘How I got here’ and we went around the table answering the question, “What do I hope to get out of this Hebrew instructional training experience?” Not surprisingly, everyone was looking for ways to spice up Hebrew school, get and keep our kids interested and engaged, and of course, impart real-world Modern Hebrew communication skills.
As I launched into Reimagining Modern Hebrew Language Instruction, I saw my ‘students’ nodding their heads, finding the concepts to be quite intuitive, especially the moms in the room who had observed their own toddlers’ evolution to speaking.
The friendly breakfast and pre-training chit-chat had helped establish a cooperative tone for our first foray into story-asking. My subjects were readily ushered into a short & silly Spanish demonstration-story about a princess who went from place to place looking for her beloved…chocolate.
We debriefed the strategies they observed, and ended the session by perusing my Novice Hebrew Corpus, so that my ‘students’ could see for themselves the wealth of Hebrew/English cognates available to exploit, not to mention the other hi-frequency target language. I’ve found that providing teachers with a list of words – and this one is around 10 pages long! – they’ll be using in class, can be an effective way to start rethinking curriculum!
Last fall (2015), our temple’s intrepid education director, Lori Sagarin, invited the parents of 3rd graders to a חגיגת עברית (Chagigat Ivrit), a ceremony celebrating the onset of Hebrew study at our temple’s supplemental (Wednesday evenings and Sunday mornings) school. As a Hebrew devotee and World Language teacher myself, as well as a Hebrew school mom, she was preaching to the choir about the benefits of language study and its value in exploring Jewish identity. This was an exciting journey my almost 9-year-old daughter was about to embark upon! But more intriguing to me, though, was Lori’s mention of a recent article she’d written in the journal, The Aleph-Bet of Israel Education. In her piece, Modern Hebrew in Personal Identity Development, Lori not only rejoices in her own Hebrew trek, but also bemoans the sorry state of basic Hebrew communication skills among K-12 diaspora Hebrew students.
This was my opening, my moment, my invitation to try to make a difference and offer a hopeful and practical alternative to Hebrew school as usual. My recent re-tooling after over 20 years as an elementary Spanish teacher on Chicago’s North Shore would certainly apply to Hebrew instruction at my temple!
I sat down to answer Lori’s impassioned plea. It took me days…. (See a version of that lengthy response to Lori, here.) I waited…and thankfully, Lori was excited and inspired by my reply. Within weeks, I came to her office to present on Comprehensible Input instructional strategies. To Lori it felt intuitive and exciting, and she was ready for the next step. Soon afterwards, the two of us wrote a “Best Practice” grant proposal to the Community Foundation for Jewish Education (CFJE) entitled, Fortifying Hebrew Instruction with Comprehensible Input Strategies, and the temple was granted funding in the spring of 2016.
The grant funds cover some materials – a document camera, a digital projector, a set of dry erase lapboards & markers – plus some classroom props and posters, but most of the funding will go toward teacher training, ongoing coaching and mentorship. I will use this blog – C’movan – כמובן – to document and share our work.
I welcome you, and invite you to join me on this journey, and contribute to our learning, ביחד – together!