Ulpan Offered by Azrieli’s Institute for University-School Partnership Helps Teachers Strengthen their Hebrew Instructional Skills
“Let’s come up with a sentence that uses this phrase,” said instructor Rivka Weiner, in Hebrew, to the group of students in her Ulpan (a Hebrew term for an intensive Hebrew language course). “‘As the result of this’, that occurred. Anyone?”
Rabbi Enan Francis, principal of Southern Connecticut Hebrew Academy, raised his hand. “I came to the Ulpan. As the result of this, I can teach my students in Hebrew.”
Francis is one of 15 teachers, graduate students and administrators participating in a summer course for Judaic studies instructors to strengthen their Hebrew instructional skills. Offered June 28 – Aug. 5 by Yeshiva Univeristy’s Institute for University-School Partnership, a division of the Azrieli Graduate School for Jewish Education and Administration, the Ulpan includes a wide range of Jewish denominations and communities, from Aliza Geller, a graduate student in the Jewish Theological Seminary’s William Davidson Graduate School of Jewish Education, to Stefanie Wisselman of the Hillel School of Tampa, Fl.
“Many day schools have a mandate to graduate fluent Hebrew speakers, but lack enough Judaic personnel with the skills to support ongoing immersion in the language,” explained Dr. Scott Goldberg, director of the Institute and expert in second language acquisition. “This program begins to answer this need for well-trained Judaic studies teachers who can support Hebrew language development and Jewish learning with the necessary social understanding of American youth.”
The Ulpan builds confidence and familiarity with Hebrew by engaging teachers in an immersive three-part program. In the mornings, Weiner, who also teaches at Stern College for Women and is a doctoral candidate at Azrieli, instructs participants in language and introduces new classroom methodologies with a heavy emphasis on innovative technology—all in Hebrew. Participants put their learning into practice by modeling lessons for Deganit Ronen, associate principal of Judaic studies at SAR Academy, and Anne Gordon, adjunct instructor of Judaic studies at Yeshiva College, and receive a solid grounding in dikduk [grammar] from Dr. Moshe Sokolow, associate dean of Azrieli.
“We have to connect to the teachers who are challenged by the Hebrew language and show them how to connect to their own students,” said Weiner. She sees interactive technology as a valuable cross-cultural tool. By employing pictures, video and audio clips and creating her own computer games online, Weiner demonstrates how teachers can create an immersive Hebrew experience for students even if their own language skills are still developing.
The Ulpan includes not only teachers already in the field, but also Azrieli students. “Azrieli has a tradition of professional and academic excellence in preparing mehanhim [religious studies teachers],” said Dean David Schnall. “Our goal is to promote their facility in Hebrew for conversation and understanding, but also as a platform for Jewish learning. We hope not just to advance fluency among teachers, but to build their capacity to instruct and inspire students for whom Hebrew is very likely a second language. We are proud to offer this program and we look forward to extending it further as needs dictate and resources permit.”
For Francis, who drives four hours each day to attend, the Ulpan is worth the commute. “Our goal this year is to create a meaningful, Hebrew-speaking environment in our classrooms,” he said. “The Ulpan produces a culture of Hebrew speakers, from those [teachers] who could barely make conversation to those who possess a whole lexicon of Hebrew vocabulary from advanced degrees and study in Israel, but have no idea how to put words together.”
The program’s response has been so enthusiastic that the institute plans to offer the Ulpan again next summer and is considering an alternative version during the year.
To visit the Ulpan’s blog, which features exercises and links to audio and video clips used in class, go to http://www.milim-israel.blogspot.com.