The Ivriyon summer institute prepares day school educators to teach Judaic subjects in Hebrew engagingly and effectively. The four-week, full-time immersion program of the William Davidson Graduate School of Jewish Education at the Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) was developed by the Department of Hebrew Language at JTS, and is supported by AVI CHAI.
The program has demonstrated success in improving teachers’ Hebrew language skills, with participants jumping on average 1.5 levels in oral proficiency according to the American Council of Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) rating system. We spoke with three participants in this summer’s program for their qualitative insights on what the program has to offer.
Elianna Mitnick, a teacher at SAR High School who teaches 11th and 12th grade Tanakh, said she appreciated the focus on conversational Hebrew. “The goal is to use it more in class, which you can’t do until you’re comfortable yourself.”
“The program has been fantastic,” she continued. “My favorite part is the morning. We begin with an hour of chimum, warmup, inspired by a question, like your favorite childhood memory or place you love to be. It gets us sharing with each other and asking questions. After that, there’s an hour of grammar, which is about creating a good sentence structure and why things work the way they work. When I leave the building, I find myself speaking in Hebrew. For the first time in my life, I have to turn off my Hebrew to turn on my English!”
Another component to the program which Mitnick enjoys is daily model lessons, which participants present to each other. “It’s the opportunity to sit and be a student again and hear people teach things. It’s been a very enjoyable experience thus far.”
Becky Katz, a teacher at Yeshivat Noam in New Jersey, appreciated the opportunity for sharing models of effective teaching. “It’s good practice for teaching Ivrit B’Ivrit [Jewish studies in Hebrew]. We’re learning skills from each other as we are observing how others are teaching. It’s not just about Hebrew, it’s about improving your teaching.”
Katz also valued the range of experiences offered by the program. “We’ll watch a movie, go on trips, or visit a restaurant and speak in Hebrew. The program had an art teacher speak on how to incorporate art into teaching. We’re doing everything in Hebrew, which is enriching beyond just ‘let’s talk in Hebrew.’ They’re finding ways to teach us – in Hebrew — a variety of things related to education.”
She added that the facilitators excel at making the language component exciting. “They are creative and make things fun. By making it cool to be speaking in Hebrew all day, you feel comfortable and welcome. They create a natural atmosphere for you to practice in. It’s beautiful that the program has people from Toronto and Arizona coming in from out of town and able to experience this.”
Katz – whose school principal is also a graduate of Ivriyon and recommended the program to her – expects the Ivriyon experience to inform her work with middle school Ivrit benchmarking and also lead to more Hebrew in her classroom. “I’ve gained a lot, to be able to think through the grammar and verb tenses before I speak. For the first time I understand the logic of the seven binyanim (verb structures) in Hebrew!”
Phreddy Nosanwisch is a student at the Davidson School pursuing a Master’s in Jewish Education. He is relatively new to learning Hebrew. “This had everything I could have wanted: more Hebrew, and time focusing on pedagogic skills. One of the important parts is learning from seasoned educators – amazing classmates who have all been in the field a few or many years. The opportunity to get feedback from my classmates on lesson plans and watch what they do has been a tremendous experience. I see all the different ways I can apply that in my classroom in the future.”
He continued, “In order to be a good teacher, one has to really identify with students about what’s it like to sit there and have to work so hard to understand, what’s it like to see something new? This program has given me the opportunity to be in the position of a student who is struggling, who doesn’t always understand what is going on, who is working really hard. I hope that will stay in my kishkas and help me understand what an amazing thing it is for kids to show up every day and put themselves in the posture of learning.”
Miriam Meir, Program Director of Ivriyon, says putting teachers in the place of their students is intentional. “It’s an experiential program. The teachers create with each other what we ultimately hope they will create in their classrooms. Teachers are the best students – they love to learn and they’re great about jumping right in to the water. It’s something that’s actually quite hard to do.”
She believes that it’s this experiential teaching component that makes Ivriyon a successful model for the professional development of Hebrew teachers. “At the heart of Ivriyon are the model lessons. That’s why teachers come out of Iviryon and say yes, I feel ready now to teach in Hebrew. It’s something I learned myself when I was learning to be a teacher of Hebrew language, studying at Hebrew University’s program to train teachers of Hebrew as a second language. We had to teach, everything was hands on. What is crucial for such a training program is that it be hands on and involve lots of practice teaching.”
Meir added that the importance of teachers being able to teach in Hebrew is to bridge the gap to see the relevance of Hebrew to Torah classes and Torah to Hebrew classes. “Teaching B’Ivrit helps students function on a higher level—to see Hebrew as more than a code that needs to be translated—so they can access Hebrew texts from any period. Teachers speaking Hebrew is a bridge to this higher level in which students function both in modern Hebrew in their language classes and can understand historical texts in Torah classes studies. Importantly, the questions teachers ask make it possible for students to understand texts would otherwise be beyond their grasp. Ivriyon enables teachers to make connections and create a holistic world for students to obtain the goal of learning Hebrew, the language of the Jewish people.”
For more information on Ivriyon, visit http://www.jtsa.edu/ivriyon-summer-institute.