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At BERS, we are focused on helping all of our students find success whenever they walk into our building. That’s why we are proud to launch our new Hebrew program, which we believe will best situate our students to become enthusiastic, successful Hebrew learners.
Research shows that language is best learned from sound-to-print, meaning our beginning steps in language skills acquisition begin first from hearing the language, then speaking it, and then proceeding to reading and decoding, so we have made some changes to our curriculum to align BERS with these best practices.
We have a new Hebrew Through Movement specialist who will work with kindergarten and first grade classes. In our Hebrew Through Movement sessions, which will happen regularly throughout the year, students will learn Hebrew by hearing and responding to commands. This fun and interactive approach is an adaptation of James J. Asher’s Total Physical Response and creates a positive first link between children and Hebrew. While it is not a methodology that teaches communicative Hebrew, it gives children a good foundation upon which they will be ready to begin the process of Hebrew reading.
Students at BERS begin their formal introduction of the Hebrew alef bet in the second grade. By the end of the year, students will be introduced to all of the letters and vowels in the alef bet and will begin the process of decoding – blending consonants and vowels together to read fluently.
BERS students begin their midweek studies in the third grade, launching them into the process of gaining comfort and familiarity with blessings and prayers in Hebrew, giving them the foundation to comfortably join the praying community at Congregation Beth El. The HebrewWorkshop program is a self-paced Hebrew program for students in grades 3-6. Each Tuesday and Wednesday afternoon, our students participate in this unique program that meets them where they are, allowing to learn in small groups at the pace that best meets their needs.
Our Self-Paced Hebrew Workshop is designed to meet students where they are and allow them learn at their own pace. Working in small groups with a teacher on a specific skill or prayer, they will learn at their own speed until they have mastered it. Once they’ve achieved that accomplishment, they’ll move on to the next step. And that’s the key to why do this – we want kids to have that feeling of accomplishment. We want them to have confidence in their ability to work with Hebrew.
Many of our students are in about the same place, in terms of Hebrew and prayer skills, as their classmates. But not all of them. Some of our students started BERS a little later than their peers. Some are regular participants in Shabbat morning programs and have a familiarity with more prayers than other students in their grade. Some of our students have special learning needs or just need a little more time to work with Hebrew. Some students find Hebrew comes easily and they are looking for more challenges. What makes a self-paced program work for everyone is that everyone gets what they need.
Over the first three weeks we will assess every student in the 4th-6th grades. We’ll combine that assessment with what else we know about your child (for example: does he/she have an IEP?) and use all of that data to decide where they should begin their journey in Hebrew Workshop during the current school year.
Our Self-Paced Hebrew Program begins in mid-October. During their Hebrew Workshop session, all students in their grade will head to their Hebrew Workshop group. They’ll be joined by a few more students and a teacher, plus our madrichim (teen assistants) will be on hand to help. For about fifty minutes, they’ll work in small groups or one-on-one with their teacher and madrich on the specific skill or prayer they are studying. We’ll have two sessions of Self-Paced Hebrew each afternoon, one for students in 3rd – 4th grade and one for students in 5th – 7th grade. When they’re not in Self-Paced Hebrew, students will be in their regular classrooms.
This program is multi-aged, but the age range is small, because we limit each session to just two grades. Many of our students find themselves sitting with children in the same grade but not all of them. As for the teacher, all of our classroom teachers participate in the program but not necessarily with their own students. For example, when the 3rdgrade is in the program, their teachers are there too but they won’t be exclusively working with 3rd graders. When the 3rdgrade leaves, so do their teachers. We also have 6-8 Hebrew Workshop faculty who only work with small groups during our midweek sessions.
When your child’s self-paced Hebrew teacher feels they are ready, we assess their mastery of whatever they’ve been working on. Can they read a series of consonants and vowels with fluency? Can they chant the prayer they’ve been studying with confidence and accuracy? Mastery looks different depending on what they are focusing on but we’ll be sure they know what their goals are.
This is where the small groups are key. If your child is struggling, our teachers figure out why and adapt the learning until it clicks. Maybe they need a little more one-on-one. Maybe we need to make things more active or use music or a few more games to help it all stick. Because there aren’t 20 kids all working on the same thing at the same time, our teachers have the chance to make sure your child gets what he/she needs.
Every child moves at their own pace. So we don’t have a magic number. We have a list of of Hebrew skills and prayers we want our BERS students to feel comfortable with. Most get through that list over several years. Some move faster. Some move slower. Some focus on a smaller number and some need more to keep them challenged and engaged. All of that is ok.
In our classrooms, we’ve got a lot of learning to do. Our BERS curriculum includes Torah, history, holidays, lifecycle, ethics, Israel….you get the picture. As part of that learning, our teachers explore the meaning, history, and choreography of prayer. This exploration reinforces everything happening in Hebrew Workshop. In addition, we sing Hebrew songs in music, use Hebrew words throughout our study of Judaics, and experience prayer in all of our holiday celebrations. Every Sunday, our K-5th grade students participate in a morning prayer experience, elevating the prayers they are learning with a spiritual experience. Hebrew is a priority in our curriculum throughout the grades.