By Alanna Berman
Photos Courtesy Ner Tamid
Walk through the hallways at Ner Tamid’s Sam S Bloom Learning Center while Hebrew school is in session, and you will hear a few things that are uncommon in Hebrew education: excitement. Laughter. Joy. All from students who are understanding Hebrew and really succeeding in their study.
“Human beings are driven by meaning; by engaging in something in a meaningful way and finding patterns and playing games, we see that learning is actually really fun,” Liat Levitt, director of education at Ner Tamid says.
“The program that we are using, “Hebrew Today” focuses on free speech and the main idea behind it is Sheltered Initiation Language Learning or the SILLy method.”
Designed by UC San Diego professor Zev bar-Lev, the program focuses on creative, spontaneous Hebrew speaking and reading. Using targeted vocabulary words taught with puzzles, games, associations, skip reading and skip listening students are able to gain confidence in their Hebrew skills from their first lesson.
“Teaching by sight words, we are able to get an association with the Hebrew letters before the students even know the names of these letters, and then we can ask them what sound the letters might make based on the words they have already learned,” Levitt says.
This is the first year that Ner Tamid has implemented the new teaching style, and Levitt says the students have really responded to this new teaching style.
“There is nothing more frustrating as an educator to watch as someone is continually being turned off, and in the prior method of teaching Hebrew, it was very discouraging to the students, so of course they were disengaged; but with this program, many of the students are now saying that they love Hebrew school.”
Each year of the five year program covers about 36 Hebrew vocabulary words.
“By the time students graduate, they have a 136 word vocabulary in Hebrew, and these are words that they can actually use in simple conversations and to read from the Torah,” Levitt says.
Levitt, who comes from a camp education background, is fluent in Hebrew. She spent a year living in Israel, where she participated in a leadership training course for teachers. She says that time taught her that if the teacher is not engaged and excited about what they are teaching, the students won’t be either.
“We have to find ways to engage ourselves first, and then figure out how to make learning fun for the students,” she says.
In Ner Tamid’s classrooms, she often uses her guitar as a tool to encourage student participation, and many students begin to shout Hebrew in these sessions, empowered by the playful environment of the school.
“It’s fun, it’s engaging and it’s meaningful,” Levitt says of the program.
“Our kids connect with the prayers and the Torah portions in a much more meaningful way, because now they can understand what they are doing.”
To learn more, visit sambloomlearningcenter.com.