Book Review: Dynamics of Teaching and Learning Modern Hebrew as an Additional Language: Using Hebrew as a Means of Instruction and Acquisition. Author: Yona Gilead

February, 2019

Source: Journal of Jewish Education, 85:1, 79-82


In a field where teaching methods do not generally stem from published studies but rather from years of experiential knowledge of best practices shared among teachers, Yona Gilead’s Dynamics of Teaching and Learning Modern Hebrew as an Additional Language is groundbreaking first for the mere fact that it is one of the only empirical research pieces published in a mainstream venue that maps and records the Hebrew classroom routine at a micro level. Gilead situates a typical Australian beginner-level university class into well-established educational theory and methods, moving beyond what she terms “praxis-based knowledge,” and this makes the volume a seminal text for Hebrew educators and language acquisition researchers. No previous study has focused on a methodical analysis of theories and teaching strategies that are employed in the minute-to-minute interactions within the lesson, and then positioned that Hebrew lesson within mainstream pedagogy research.

The book is divided into seven chapters and specifically focuses on the curricula and methods developed by the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Rothberg International School for Overseas Students (RIS) and the textbook of the class, The New Hebrew from Scratch (2000/2007). Unlike the RIS program in which students study Hebrew as a second language in Israel for an intensive 25 hours per week, this beginner course merited four credit hours over a 13-week semester. The study included 10 students and one RIS-trained teacher. The book begins with an introduction to the challenges of teaching Hebrew as an additional language, an overview of past studies of Hebrew teaching and a call for further research and professionalization of the field. Additionally, it outlines the teaching methods of RIS. The guiding research questions are as follows: 1. What is the teaching and learning context, and the typical pattern of classroom dynamic interactions which contribute to students’ success in one Hebrew language program? and 2. What implications can be drawn from the analysis of one beginner-level Modern Hebrew program to other language programs?

Gilead concludes the book with a number of findings related to her two guiding questions. Informing RIS’s programs are a number of themes and routines that can be applied in other language programs and that place them within the tradition of language education research. Her major findings include as follows: a.) a grammar-focused classroom with a textbook, materials, activities, and teaching goals based around grammatical concepts and goals; b.) a consistent structure and organization of each lesson; c.) use of Hebrew to teach Hebrew and for examples, patterns and routines; d.) a comfortable atmosphere conducive to learning and; e.) pushing students to the outer limits of their zones of proximal development (ZPD) through scaffolding. She ends with a number of recommendations and applications for other language programs with a particular emphasis on tiftuf (early sensitization of concepts that are reinforced and layered later on), employing various levels of scaffolding and mid-lesson interviews as learning tools.

The book provides the necessary, foundational, and until now missing work of mapping the intricacies of dialogic interaction in the Hebrew language class and is essential reading for burgeoning and veteran practitioners and pedagogy scholars. The book theorizes the praxis-based RIS curriculum and approach, noted among practitioners but, until now, never articulated in a mainstream education publication. Gilead’s focus on student and teacher experiences and inclusion of their voices is critical in understanding both the dynamics in the classroom and the process of language learning.

Read the entire review at JJE.

Updated: May. 15, 2019