Noga Niv serves as Teaching Hebrew as a Second Language activities coordinator and Educational & Pedagogic Online Seminars organizer at MOFET International.
The MOFET International Online Conference – "Teaching Hebrew as an Additional Language to Diverse Populations in Israel and around the World", took place on Sunday and Monday, June 10 and 11, 2015. The conference focused on issues concerning teaching Hebrew as an additional language to diverse populations in Israel and around the world as well as on the challenges these issues pose to teachers, teacher educators, researchers, educators, and policy makers.
The Background to the Conference
In Israel, there is an increasing need for teaching Hebrew as a media language and a language of culture for groups of new immigrants, minorities, and labor migrants. Each group possesses its own characteristics as well as ways of teaching that are derived from the difference in language of origin, goals for studying the language, and age of the learners. The changing needs led to the creation of innovative and diverse tools, technological tools, and the integration of fields such as music, movement, literature, journalism, games, and so on.
Outside of Israel, the situation is different. Mastery of the Hebrew language in the Jewish communities is on the decline for various reasons, among them a change in the priorities of the communities and a shortage of professional teachers. Recently, in the USA, some public elementary schools elected to teach Hebrew as a Second Language to all of their pupils, but there are only a few of them at the moment. Hebrew is offered at academic institutions, mainly in specific departments that require knowledge of the language. However, it competes with other languages such as Chinese and Spanish, in which there is also a shortage of professional teaching staff.
From Theory to Practice...
It is this reality that gave rise to the conference topics, which focused on six fields:
- Aims, approaches, achievements, difficulties, and mutual influences in teaching Hebrew as a second language in Israel
- Aims, approaches, achievements, difficulties, and mutual influences in teaching Hebrew as an additional language around the world
- Language policy with regard to teaching Hebrew as an additional language in Israel and around the world;
- Psychological and social aspects of teaching Hebrew as an additional language in Israel and around the world;
- Practical aspects of teaching Hebrew as an additional language in Israel and around the world: curricula, didactic tools, and technological means;
- Evaluation and measurement in teaching Hebrew as an additional language in Israel and around the world.
The conference offered 62 presentations, including lectures, workshops, and short presentations. The lecturers presented research findings, innovative pedagogical ideas, advanced tools for teaching, and mixed media for improving studies of the language. The presenters and participants were given ample opportunity to describe their personal experience during both the presentations and the open conversations in the conference's "café".
The presentations related to a variety of issues, including:
- What kind of Hebrew is studied in the schools and ulpanim?
- Direct teaching of grammar rules in Hebrew lessons abroad – merit or limitation;
- Research on language teaching and teaching Hebrew as an Additional Language;
- Journals dealing with teaching Hebrew as an Additional Language – Hed Ha'ulpan Hehadash and similar periodicals;
- Between two languages – language, society and culture as they are reflected in immigrant children's talk in kindergarten;
- Changes in the training of Arab teachers of Hebrew as a Second Language in the Arab schools;
- Practical application of the Blended Classroom and Flipped Classroom approach to teaching Hebrew.
Three hundred participants from Israel and 14 other countries registered for and participated in the conference; approximately 70 of them gave lectures, workshops, and short presentations, while others participated as active listeners; the instruction and guidance provided by MOFET's experts was professional and patient and permitted all of the registrants, many of whom lacked sufficient IT skills, to achieve a good level of IT proficiency, and enabled them all to lecture and participate actively.
The conference was accompanied from the outset by a website that developed gradually in accordance with the stages of preparation. It was built and designed by The MOFET Institute's Development Team and contained all the conference information in an available and accessible manner. The participants were invited to peruse the conference program, devise individual programs, seek information about colleagues, visit an online exhibition and a gallery of short presentations, utilize the database of articles and applications that had been prepared for them, and take a break to enjoy relaxing in-between activities.
At an online conference, it is important to offer activities and possibilities of establishing communication among participants and of building a community of stakeholders. The participants in the presentations were invited to take an active part, inquire, comment, contribute, and even write to one another by means of chat boxes. The result was that during every lecture and presentation, there were between 30 and 100 interested participants who listened, spoke, and chatted to correspond with one another. Each day, specific times were allocated for "café meetups in which participants all over the world engaged in free conversation.
A full list of the participants and their email addresses can be found on the website for the purpose of facilitating continued discourse among participants regarding various topics in the field of teaching Hebrew.
And What Now?
We are continuing to stay in touch with the professional community that formed around the conference and to "recruit" additional members. We are offering follow-up activities such as the International Online Forum of Hebrew Teachers, which has been operating very successfully for several years, the , that will be held during the forthcoming academic year (2015-2016).
The conference was extremely successful. The participants sent positive and even enthusiastic reactions via written feedback and a feedback questionnaire that was prepared specifically for this purpose. The feedback attests, beyond any doubt, to the fact that the conference was interesting, enlightening, informative, and very relevant to and useful for the educational work of the participants.
Examples of Feedback (translated from Ivrit):
"A big thank-you to the conference organizers. Although I was very nervous about the word 'online', the moment I began, everything just flowed. I learned a great deal and now it's time to internalize and apply. I'm sorry about one thing: Why didn't I force all the teachers in our department to participate in the conference? I will use the presentations and the recorded lectures in our teachers' meetings."
- "Kudos for a wonderful conference!"
- "Everything worked perfectly; the lectures were interesting, clear, enriching, and inspiring. My friends and I had a great time."
- "As a Hebrew teacher in the Diaspora, I've never had such a challenging and fruitful experience as this. I await the continuation with bated breath and thank all of you for all the work you invested in this conference."
- "I enjoyed many lectures, even those that were not directly connected to Hebrew teaching. I had fun going back to the classroom, recalling courses I studied in the 'Hebrew Language' Department, and enjoying all the abundance. Thanks very much to The MOFET Institute, which organized an important conference such as this. It really left me wanting more..."
- "I feel that tomorrow I'll return to my classes, enriched with a great deal of new knowledge and with amazing and refreshing materials for teaching the Hebrew language. What fun for my pupils!"