- The traditional way of teaching Hebrew reading instruction simply does not work. Gathering a classroom full of children to memorize and recite the names of Hebrew letters, and then teaching them through frontal instruction to put those letters together into meaningless "words" they can "read," is contrary to what we now know about how the human brain learns language. It also creates an environment where a few children pick up Hebrew but most of them struggle, and many of them hide their struggles for years in a large group, feel worried and embarrassed about their lack of real learning, and are turned off from Jewish learning.
- Contemporary methods of teaching Hebrew rely on the Total Physical Response theory of language acquisition: that children learn language first by hearing it, then by speaking it, and finally by reading and writing it. That method has been adapted to Hebrew instruction, following a "sound-to-print" approach. We have found that the sound-to-print approach is much more successful in helping students become confident Hebrew readers who have an appreciation for the language of the Jewish people; are well-prepared to read Torah and lead a b'nai mitzvah service; and can navigate prayer services and other Jewish spaces with self-assurance.
- This website offers more in-depth information on our approach to Hebrew reading instruction, for those who are interested in more detail and theory. At Rodeph Shalom, we are on the cutting-edge of this educational movement.
- The fact is that we only have three hours of time with our students every Sunday morning. We use that time to build strong social connections among them, and to help them learn the foundations of what it means to live and worship as a Jew: Torah stories and values, Jewish holidays, Shabbat, prayer, life-cycle, Jewish history from its origins through the modern era, American Jewish history, Israel, the Holocaust, and theories of God. There just isn't time for meaningful sound-to-print Hebrew instruction on top of all that!
- Instead, every Sunday our students in 1st through 4th grades participate in Hebrew Through Movement and our students in PreK through 7th grade participate in an age-appropriate t'filah (worship service). Then, reading instruction happens during the week, in either Midweek Hebrew or Hebrew Chevruta.
Hebrew Through Movement:
Students in 1st through 4th grades engage weekly in Hebrew Through Movement classes.
Hebrew Through Movement (HTM) is a language-acquisition strategy in which students learn Hebrew through hearing and responding to Hebrew commands.
Beginning in 5th grade, students are introduced to the alef-bet in print and begin to learn how to “decode” – that is, to sound out words in Hebrew by knowing the pronunciation of the letters and vowels. Assessments at the beginning of the year help us create small groups of 2-3 students per teacher to improve the learning process, and assessments throughout the year help to understand progress and identify areas in which students need assistance.
After mastering the alef-bet, students proceed to reading Hebrew prayers and learning how to recognize the shoresh (root) of commonly-used words in those prayers (for example, b-r-ch – the shoresh denoting “blessing” – forms the basis of common prayer words baruch, bracha, bar’chu, and b’ruchim, all of which refer to “blessing”).
Hebrew reading tools include textbooks, siddurim (prayer books), chumashim (printed Torah books), Hebrew labels and artwork in classrooms and hallways, and a wide variety of games and other creative strategies.
For students who want to engage more deeply with Hebrew and practice Hebrew reading in a mixed-age group setting, we offer two additional hours of in-person class time on Wednesday afternoons or one additional hour online every Tuesday afternoon. Hebrew Through Movement, Modern Hebrew, and a variety of games and individual assessments round out the midweek Hebrew experience.
A chevruta, or learning partnership, is a traditional Jewish way of study. We harness the power of chevruta learning in our Hebrew reading instruction. Children in 5th and 6th grades participate in Hebrew chevruta with a teacher over Zoom for 30 minutes every week. Groups of two or three children are paired based on their Hebrew reading level and their personal schedules. We offer Hebrew chevruta sessions on four evenings a week, and that plus the use of Zoom helps our students make their commitment to Hebrew reading work in their busy lives.