Hebrew is the language of the Jewish people, reflects and embodies our identity, and is essential for authentic learning of our heritage. The study of Hebrew facilitates access to traditional Jewish texts and prayers, while also connecting our students to the culture and literature of the modern State of Israel. Hebrew is thus an important cultural link between our students at Rockwern Academy with the land, the people, and the Torah of Israel, both in the past and in the present. At Rockwern Academy, Hebrew is therefore taught both as a modern, living language and as the historic language of prayer, Torah, rabbinic texts, and commentaries.
Judaic Studies is well integrated into the Hebrew (Tal Am) program, and Rockwern utilizes an Ivrit B’Ivrit immersion program in which Hebrew is taught primarily in Hebrew. Rockwern Hebrew teachers participate in Tal Am professional development but finding other such opportunities for our teachers is a challenge. At Rockwern Academy, Hebrew instruction is learner-centered in that it is focused on the child and his/her learning style.
In learning Hebrew, the goals for students at Rockwern Academy are as follows:
- Identify with K’lal Yisrael.
- Participate in t’fillah (prayer service), study of Tanach, and study of rabbinic literature.
- Comprehend Torah, Tanach and rabbinic literature in their original forms.
- Feel a strong identity to their Jewish heritage through becoming literate with the Hebrew language.
- Develop a facility in learning world language structures (conjugations, sentence structures, etc.) that will enable them to learn more readily other world languages in the future.
Hebrew language instruction at all grade levels is taught using a multi-modal or communicative approach. This creates a visual and oral Hebrew immersion environment in the classroom which is comprised of interactive posters, music, library books, games, and media for dramatization and activity.
Under this approach, teaching the language is focused on the needs of the student. This approach is derived from the following premises:
- The learner acquires language significantly through listening, reading, talking, and writing when exposed to natural context.
- Language acquisition develops from stage to stage as a result of perfecting skills in understanding and expression.
- In the early stages, the most effective language acquisition is done through a combination of absorption and production skills: comprehension and expression.
- The learner develops interests and curiosity about using their new language skills.
- The more advanced the learner, the more emphasis on the systematic structure of the language.
- Most of the language acquisition occurs in situations where speaking and reading are required.
- The advanced stages of language learning allow the student to use the language in a variety of contexts, and it is enhanced by the motivation of success.
- Learner awareness of learning processes in the field of language acquisition contributes to the success and progress of language acquisition.
- The goal of teaching Hebrew as a second language is to ensure that at the end of the process, the student will have a high degree of proficiency with Hebrew over a broad range of uses.
ECEC and Kindergarten
Rockwern Academy’s Early Childhood Education Center (ECEC) and kindergarten Hebrew curriculum is the key that opens the students’ hearts to the knowledge of being Jewish, the devotion to Israel, and the love of Hebrew.
ECEC and kindergarten students learn Hebrew through Jewish songs and Torah stories which center around Shabbat, Jewish holidays, Jewish values, and Israel. This integrated curriculum lays the foundation for the Tal Am program that follows in first through fifth grades. The Hebrew curriculum is a teacher-created program and is experiential in its focus. More specifically, during our Hebrew classes, the children learn about the Jewish months, the Jewish holidays and festivals, Hebrew songs, and Hebrew vocabulary. Shabbat is also celebrated each Friday during Hebrew class.
Our time together consists of learning about standard subject areas combined with seasonal lessons. As part of the regular Hebrew curriculum, students learn such concepts as how to describe the weather, how to introduce themselves using their Hebrew names, colors, numbers, family members, clothing, and basic prayers. An example of seasonal instruction is learning traditions specific to holidays in the season in which they arise, such as Sukkot in the fall and Hanukkah in the winter.
The ECEC and kindergarten curricula emphasize the acquisition of Jewish concepts and values. This approach to Hebrew language and literature creates a visual and aural environment in the classroom that is continued through the grades. Specific focus and activities include Hebrew language acquisition, focus on the seasonal holidays, tikkun olam (repairing the world), prayers, Israel, Macabbia, Shema Pillowcase Program, Passover seder, Jewish identity, and Chaverim (Emissaries) from Israel.
Elementary School (Grades 1 – 5)
Students in first through fifth grades use the Tal Am Hebrew curriculum. Created under the auspices of the Bronfman Jewish Education Center in Montreal, Canada, the Tal Am curriculum is developmentally based and founded on the principles of communicative-heritage language acquisition. It activates learning in all frames of mind by utilizing a wide range of activities for all modes of communication and integrates Hebrew language acquisition, the development of Jewish concepts and values, reading and writing skills. The Tal Am program is closely integrated with the Judaic Studies curriculum in a number of ways, such as studying the parashat hashavua (the Torah portion of the week) and the Jewish holidays. Beginning in second grade, Biblical language acquisition is added to this knowledge base.
In addition, Tal Am has an Everyday Life Track which acquaints the children with the students of a Virtual Class, which serves as a model for their own class. It also deals with their everyday lives in the classroom, at home and outdoors as Jewish children, and develops the learning skills common to all other content areas.
Beginning in fourth grade, two Hebrew classes are offered at each grade. One is an at-grade level course, and one is an above-grade level course. It is an ongoing staffing and curricular challenge to effectively meet the needs of students who come to Rockwern Academy already fluent in Hebrew or, conversely, possess little or no Hebrew knowledge. Currently we address this through scheduling teacher assistant time which is devoted to working with these students in the classroom, or by bringing in Hebrew speakers from outside the school to provide more individualized instruction.
Middle School (Grades 6 – 8)
Middle School students at Rockwern Academy use a teacher-created Hebrew curriculum which draws upon diverse Hebrew texts and supplementary resources. Its main goals are:
- Strengthening/expanding spoken (conversational) Hebrew
- Advancement of fluency in Hebrew reading and writing
- Expanded understanding of more sophisticated Hebrew grammar
In the middle school, students study various types of Hebrew poetry from the Torah, Psalms, piyutim, medieval, and modern periods. Students also write their own poetry in free verse and haiku form.
The Middle School Hebrew Language Program is taught according to the principles of ulpan-based learning. This intensive, active, speaking approach was developed in Israel to help new immigrants develop essential communication skills in Hebrew. The ulpan language principles are conversation focused, using basic building blocks and conversational units to develop comfort and fluency with everyday spoken language. Students’ participation is active. They engage in dialogues with the teacher and with each other on a daily basis.
Concomitantly, our middle school Hebrew program emphasizes strengthening our students’ knowledge of more advanced Hebrew grammar, including increased proficiency with conjugating verbs in all tenses (past, present and future). Conversation is the core of the studies, supplemented by grammar highlights which are pointed out through the dialogues, and explained once the students are comfortable with the usage. While the main emphasis is active speech, listening skills are developed through such activities as stories, songs and news broadcasts. Reading and writing skills are developed through reading and responding to newspaper articles, short stories and poetry.
In years when Rockwern Academy has an 8th grade class, we have historically had an active relationship with our sister school in Netanya. This involves Skyping, joint study, emailing, and an exchange visit between the two schools during the 8th grade trip to Israel.