Hebrew Language Proficiency Project Aims to Improve Hebrew Education by Focusing on Teachers

Oct. 06, 2015

Source: Jewish Journal


For years, many graduates of Jewish day schools around the world — and their parents — have expressed disappointment in their level of Hebrew proficiency despite years of Jewish education. To help solve that problem — and in the process afford Hebrew educators the same respect and status that tends to be given to other educators — Builders of Jewish Education (BJE) in Los Angeles has partnered with Hebrew at the Center (HATC), a Massachusetts-based nonprofit. Dedicated to professionalizing Hebrew language instruction, we launched a multi-year program for L.A. day schools known as the Hebrew Language Proficiency Project, which, since 2011, has had an impact on 2,000 students, 65 teachers, and 27 Hebrew coordinators and lead teachers.


The problem, in many cases, is few Hebrew teachers receive degrees or training in how to actually teach a second language. Most schools employ Israelis or near-fluent Hebrew speakers who, having different careers in the past, found positions teaching Hebrew upon moving to the United States or a new community.

The goal of this project has been to develop leadership in the day schools, maximize the students’ acquisition of Hebrew and their passion for it, and elevate the status of the language and the teachers in the community.

HATC’s approach is based on years of research and the experience of Vardit Ringvald, director of the School of Hebrew at Middlebury College and co-founder of HATC, who has worked in many different settings where Hebrew was being taught. Through in-service work with educators on assessment-based, second-language teaching and learning strategies, HATC has been partnering with schools, camps, educational networks and agencies to provide systematic, professional development programs throughout North America and in Israel since 2007.


By developing school-based leaders among those already working in the field, there is the potential to create a ripple effect within a school among existing and future staff. The goal is to position schools to maintain a level of excellence even after HATC is no longer working with them.


Using research conducted for the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL), schools can set expectations as to what level of fluency students can achieve in the four language skills: speaking, listening, writing and reading. ACTFL also has provided well-articulated levels of proficiency that help guide teachers in setting student learning goals and can be assessed using tools that are available in the field for evaluating student progress, confidence and accomplishment among students and teachers.


The results are exciting. In the words of Tamar Raff, director of Jewish studies at Valley Beth Shalom’s day school, a Cohort One participant: “We are moving the emphasis from Hebrew knowledge to Hebrew proficiency, from what students know to what students can do.”

Read more at the Jewish Journal

Updated: Oct. 15, 2015