In Spring of 2016, The AVI CHAI Foundation engaged Rosov Consulting to conduct the largest-scale study ever of Hebrew education in North American Jewish day schools. The goal of the Hebrew at the Heart of the Jewish Day School study was to examine how teachers, parents and students in varying types of Jewish day schools perceive Hebrew language studies, what they expect of those studies, and how each of these constituents assess the future attainments of students when it comes to Hebrew. Schechter Manhattan was one of 41 Jewish day schools that participated in the study. Students in grades 5 and 8, and teachers throughout the school completed surveys for the study. Thank you to the many Schechter Manhattan parents who did so as well.
We recently received results of the study and there are a number of noteworthy findings for our work teaching Hebrew at Schechter Manhattan. In some ways the results from the Schechter Manhattan surveys matched trends in the larger comparison group of schools in the study. In general, Hebrew teachers were found to be critical about Hebrew instruction in their schools and they pointed to many challenges to effectively teaching Hebrew. This was true for the Schechter Manhattan faculty as well, reflecting feedback we had received directly from the teachers. It is encouraging to have teachers expressing commitment to improve the quality of teaching and learning of Hebrew, and faculty feedback last spring helped us to identify Hebrew language as an important area of focus for the 16-17 school year.
Another trend in the data that Schechter Manhattan results matched relates to the reasons for learning Hebrew. The study divided reasons for learning Hebrew into symbolic reasons (such as it connects Jews around the world and it helps in forming a connection with Israel) and practical reasons (such as it helps when visiting Israel and it helps communicate with people who only speak Hebrew). Across the schools in the study there was a difference found between the reasons preferred by teachers and parents, who gave more weight to the symbolic reasons, and the students, who privileged the practical reasons for learning Hebrew. This discrepancy was true in the Schechter Manhattan data as well, and leads us to think about how we are communicating with our students about the importance of Hebrew not only for practical communication reasons, that they have already identified, but also for their Jewish identity development, which our parents and faculty think is so valuable. This trend has led the Schechter Manhattan Educational Leadership Team to ask, what enhancements to our Hebrew program would make the symbolic value of Hebrew language more explicit to students?
There were also some areas where Schechter Manhattan bucked the trends in the study. The study surveyed students in three grade levels- 5th, 8th, and 11th. In schools that had more than one of those grades, the overall trend was for older students to report being less satisfied with Hebrew instruction and perceive themselves as less proficient in Hebrew than younger peers reported. However, at Schechter Manhattan the findings were reversed. Across all areas of the survey, the 8th grade students who responded to the survey were more satisfied and had higher perceptions of their Hebrew proficiency than the 5th grade students who responded. The authors of the study pointed this out when they sent us the results, noting “your school bucks something of a trend, in that your older students perceive their skills in both Modern and Classical Hebrew to be higher than do your younger students. That is frequently not the case in other schools and is worth celebrating.” This reinforces what I have seen and our assessment of students has shown over the years at Schechter Manhattan, that students show significant growth in their Hebrew skills year to year. It also indicates that as the students grow in their proficiency they become aware of the progress.
Another area that Schechter Manhattan differed from a trend in the comparison data related to the use of Hebrew for tefillah. Students were asked to assess their proficiency of Hebrew use for aspects of text study and prayer, and one item in that part of the survey results stands out- students’ assessment of their ability to use Hebrew to lead prayers. As in the rest of the study, generally older students reported lower proficiency, and again in this case Schechter Manhattan students results go against the trend. 86% of our 8th graders reported they can lead prayers in Hebrew or lead them in Hebrew very well, significantly higher than the 8th grade students in the comparison group. This reflects confidence among our graduates in their Hebrew abilities in one of the most common uses of Hebrew in Jewish life, tefillah.
The results of the Hebrew at the Heart of the Jewish Day School study has offered us encouragement in our ongoing efforts to enrich the Hebrew program at Schechter Manhattan. This year our renewed focus on Hebrew has already included a number of action steps. Ruth Servi, our veteran Middle School Hebrew Coordinator and member of the Educational Leadership Team, took on a broader perspective, and is serving as the Hebrew and Jewish Studies Coordinator, K through 8. Ruthi is working with the faculty to nurture the strong aspects of our Hebrew program, institute changes for improvement, and ensure a coordinated school wide effort and approach. New curricula are being implemented in grades 1 and 5, and the Middle School schedule was arranged so that there are dedicated and trained Hebrew teachers for all classes. The Educational Leadership Team reflected on the structures of the Hebrew program with the Schechter Manhattan Education Committee, affording the opportunity to think through challenges and possibilities with a group of thoughtful educators. Yael Even-Moratt, a former teacher, division head, and elementary school Hebrew coordinator, is bringing her expertise in the teaching of Hebrew as a second language to our faculty as a Hebrew Consultant. Yael and Ruthi have collaborated to provide ongoing professional development to the teachers.
One outcome of those professional development sessions is the plan for next week, שבוע עברית בכיף, Hebrew Fun Week. The faculty has planned a series of fun Hebrew activities in every grade, designed to encourage students to use Hebrew throughout the day in fun ways. We anticipate that the school-wide, positive Hebrew experiences will enhance our students’ connection to and proficiency with Hebrew language.
Each week we will feature the written work of our students. We hope that you will stop by every week and see what they are writing and thinking about.
Kitah Aleph has been learning about the topsy-turvy or na-ha-foch hoo part of the joyful month of Adar. They wrote about how they imagined themselves in a topsy-turvy or na-ha-foch hoo way!
יש לי פיג’מה בכתה.
(yesh lee pyjama bakitah)
(I have pajamas in class.)
אני עצוב באדר.
(ani atzuv ba-Adar)
(I am sad in Adar.)
אני על הידיים.
(ani al ha-yadayim)
(I am on my hands.)
Click here to see work by Naomi, Jonah, and Hanna.
Students in Kitah Gimmel picked an area of Native American culture they were interested in learning about and did extensive research. They turned their notes into paragraphs that they displayed at our Longhouse Celebration.
Click here to read work by Zack, Adina, Amelie, Joey, Renata, Ariel, and Jory.
The fifth graders wrote opinion essays about topics they feel strongly about.
Click here to read work by Eli G., Elijah L., Odelia, and Toby.