Project Based Learning in Hebrew: Teaching a Second Language Class in a Public High School in Chicago

March 2018

Ilana Shapira who holds an MA in Applied Linguistics, is the creator and director of IVRIKAL, an innovative platform for teaching “Hebrew as a second language.” Ilana has over twenty years of experience in Jewish education in North America; as an educator, an administrator, a teacher-trainer in “Hebrew as a Second Language”, and as an innovator in the development of Hebrew teaching curricula.

Teaching heterogeneous classes is challenging. More so when the subject is learning a second or foreign language. In these classes, teachers need to adjust teaching goals, teaching materials, and assignments—all to the various proficiency levels in the new language.

PBL (project-based learning) can be a successful method of facing the challenges of learning a second/foreign language. PBL is also an excellent approach to teaching students 21st-century skills; e.g. locating and processing massive amounts of relevant information, collaborating on assignments, and effectively presenting the project findings.

What is PBL? Project Based Learning is learning which takes place during the process of searching for an answer or solution to a complex “real life” issue. The learning concludes with a product and its presentation to an audience.

An example of integrating PBL in Hebrew language class is a PBL model offered by IVRIKAL, which was implemented at the Deerfield High School.

Deerfield High School is a highly-rated public high school in the suburbs of Chicago, Illinois. The Hebrew class was a combined class for grades 11 and 12. Student proficiency varied from novice to intermediate and advanced levels. Some students had a Jewish day school background, some were heritage learners (students of Israeli parents) and some began their Hebrew studies in Grade 9.

IVRIKAL, is an online based membership platform, for teaching Hebrew as an additional language. The platform developed by Ilana Shapira represents a holistic solution to teaching Hebrew as an additional language. The program integrates authentic materials, technology, and 21st-century teaching methods.

IVRIKAL materials are presented by using central themes, each theme includes a number of topics, in three proficiency levels (Beginners, Intermediate and Advanced). The teaching materials are tailored to each specific level, including their goals and “can do” lists that are based on ACTFL (American Council of the Teaching of Foreign Languages) guidelines and includes: grammar, “can do” lists, links to digital tools, assignments and games, scripts of the videos, vocabulary lists, teachers’ corner and an optional step-by-step PBL model.

The PBL project that took place in Deerfield high school was part of IVRIKAL’S first-year pilot under Shapira’s guidance. The school chose to teach the Education Theme that includes the following topics: (a) learning subjects, (b) special schools, (c) teachers and (d) students’ and school’s vision.

The PBL assignment given to the students was to create a website for the school of their dreams which would reflect its nature and values. The students were to decide: In what way the school will be unique? What subjects will the school offer? What will be the requirements? What will be the expectations of the students regarding the teachers? Will there be special acceptance requirements? What will be the school vision?

Upon completion of learning each of the topics of the theme, students then worked in pairs on developing the pages of “their ideal school” website. They were to address the issues about which they had learned in each topic and apply the vocabulary and the grammatical concepts which they had learned.

At the end of the semester, students presented their website in Hebrew in front of a panel of 4 guest educators from the community, explaining the rationale behind their choices. The panel then was to select the best website from all those presented.

Yaffa Berman, Hebrew Instructor at Deerfield High summarized the proect:

“The combination of teaching IVRIKAL materials with PBL assists the teacher in teaching a heterogeneous class. Students were motivated as it was a “real life” assignment that gave them the opportunity to express themselves: Since I had both four and five level honors students combined in one class, this was very helpful. I divided the students into pairs according to their proficiency level… This was a gradual process of one page at a time until the entire website was ready to present… My students liked this way of learning which promoted working at their own pace, creativity, and freedom to run with ideas. There was always a support and help from Ilana Shapira whenever needed.”

Binnie Swislow of The iCenter said:
”Ivrikal is a Project Based Learning tool that maximizes the use of authentic language materials and creative suggestions about how to use the materials… Ivrikal's success was enjoyed not only by the students and teachers but was recognized as a ‘highly professional tool to use for the study of the Hebrew language’ by the Deerfield High School administration.”

Currently, IVRIKAL offers membership to five learning themes (an additional four are in development): acquaintance, home, family, education and time--with an option of adding PBL projects, guidance, and online or on-site workshops.

Get more information at the Ivrikal website.

Updated: Mar. 14, 2018