Curriculum » #OnwardHebrew



The JECC's Curriculum Department has been involved in a number of initiatives to shift the decades old model of teaching Hebrew in part-time settings (e.g., congregational, supplementary). To learn why we keep having so many issues in our children's Hebrew learning AND to see potential solutions, click on the video, below:


Based on the Hebrew education research and hands-on-work of Dr. Lifsa Schacter, the JECC's Curriculum Department director, Nachama Skolnik Moskowitz has come to recommend the following THREE recommendations:

1) Increased focus on Hebrew language, specifically using Hebrew Through Movement in 10-20 minute increments each time the students are in attendance.  While admittedly, HTM is a lot of fun, the power of HTM is to open our students to the meaning of Jewish prayers, blessings and rituals.  

  • What does this look like?  Check out the Hebrew Through Movement Overview Video:  
2) Increased focus on recitation of Hebrew prayers, blessings and songs.  Children don't learn to read in their mother tongue until they have spent 5 or 6 years gaining a very rich vocabulary and sense of grammatical principles.  Fluent English readers are able to self-correct because they have a sense how words and grammar are supposed to sound.  Thus, it's not "cheating" for our students to use what they know of a prayer or blessing to help them decode during classroom practice or an actual service.  Helping our children gain the sounds of Hebrew before they learn to decode letters and vowel signs assists in their work with printed Hebrew. We call this "sound-to-print!".  
  • What does this look like?  More time in t'fillah and Hebrew song sessions!
    • Check out the T'fillah resources in the #OnwardHebrew website.
    • Check out the JEC's "I'm Gonna Stand Up" website (for 5th-ish graders) with a combined focus of connecting students to the meaning behind the blessings of the evening Amidah (hmm, stand up!) AND aural help with fluent recitation.
    • Check also the JEC's "I Left with Moses" website for 4th - 7th graders. It not only focuses on a big idea related to the seder ("in every generation we have to see ourselves as if we left Egypt"), it also offers interesting ways for students to practice some of the basic Hebrew needed for the seder.
    • Finally, check the JEC's "I'm Coming Clean" website for 4th - 6th graders. It focuses on age-appropriate t'shuvah at the High Holidays and includes a page to help practice some Hebrew prayers.  There's a special page for parents, too!
  • What is the philosophy behind this way of learning? Check out this page on the #OnwardHebrew website, starting with the "Disrupting Hebrew School" blogpost.
3) Teaching Hebrew language in age-appropriate and accesible ways. This includes via Hebrew Through Movement and Jewish Life Vocabulary. Both are at the core of #OnwardHebrew. 
4) Teaching Hebrew decoding AFTER children have  built the sounds of Hebrew, generally 5th or 6th grade. Do we really need to be spending 4-5 years drilling our students on Hebrew letters and the decoding of prayers and rituals?  If we had the time to focused learning on other, more compelling content, might we keep them beyond Bar/Bat Mitzvah? Might our time be better used on Hebrew language learning and t'fillah?  Yes, yes, and yes! Admittedly, this is the hardest #OnwardHebrew recommendation for educators and parents to wrap their heads around, but quite a few educational programs have pulled decoding out of 2nd, 3rd and 4th grade and relocated it in an upper grade.
  • Check out the resources on the #OnwardHebrew website including this blog post, "Why might you wait to teach decoding?" and the "Disrupting Hebrew School: This New Approach is Transforming Jewish Education" blog on the Jewish Federations of North America website.
  • How can one teach Hebrew decoding in an upper grade?  A decade ago, the JEC created a one-on-one learning approach called, "Let's Learn Hebrew Side-by-Side." It was designed for use by upper elementary learners, includes many of the words many children already know, thus complementing sound-to-print learning (holidays, Hebrew Through Movement, Jewish Life Vocabulary and prayers/blessings). Because of the age and motivation of the students, as well as the learning approach, children learn to decode the alef-bet in 12-15 hours. ShalomLearning recently updated the technology, offering the opportunity for children to work side-by-side (literally) with their learning facilitator or work virtually at a distance. For further information on the updated version and/or to register learners, contact ShalomLearning at 301-660-3800 or [email protected]
To learn more about #OnwardHebrew, check out the website The email for the initiative is [email protected]
And what else? The JEC created jPrayer - a collection of Hebrew materials for students that learn to decode in 3rd or 4th grade. These all include a focus on meaning, integration of Hebrew Through Movement (for those that incorporate it), and "FlashMob" decoding practice.  
And what is the "FlashMob?" Rather than a teacher working with an entire class on decoding, a group of trained teens flashes into a classroom and works one-on-one or one-on-two with students using a lesson that complements current learning. Then, 15 minutes later, they flash out again! An orientation guide for Flashmobbers is available for free download from the jPrayer Homepage of the JEC's jPrayer site. In addition, the Flashmobbers have specific lessons embedded on the specific prayer/blessing pages on the jPrayer website.
Materials include:
  • Curriculum guides for teaching the Sh'ma and its Blessings, plus the Kiddush. This year of learning starts with a 7 week Alef-Bet review, also on the linked page.
  • Curriculum guides for teaching the Amidah, plus V'ahavta. This year of learning starts with a 4 week Alef-Bet review, also on the linked page. Also integrated this year is the JEC's website, "I'm Gonna Stand Up" - a set of Gold and Silver challenges on the blessings of the Amidah.
  • Tiny Tap apps for each of the blessings/prayers taught (scroll to the bottom of each blessing page).