Innovation in Our Hebrew Language Curriculum

Innovation in Our Hebrew Language Curriculum

January 12, 2024

Yasmine Merri, our Jewish Studies Curriculum Designer, has been hard at work on redesigning our Hebrew language curriculum. This has included ongoing professional development — along with other Bialik faculty — with Hebrew at the Center, an organization “committed to raising the bar in Hebrew teaching and learning.” Yasmine is highly skilled in the craft of teaching Hebrew as a second language and we are proud to share the article below, published by Hebrew at the Center, where they describe the innovative work that she has been doing at Bialik.

Professional Development for Hebrew Language Instruction: The Long Game

Recent Member Highlights have focused on new (first year) members of Hebrew at the Center, but this week, we point the spotlight on Bialik Hebrew Day School of Toronto, a large early childhood through 8th grade school with whom Hebrew at the Center has enjoyed a three-year relationship through membership and additional educational services. By focusing in on just one specific curriculum development project of just one member of Bialik’s large Hebrew language faculty, Member Highlight readers will more fully grasp the intentional model of professional development (PD) over time, from large group PD to small group learning, to one-on-one coaching.

Yasmine Merri, born and raised in the Haifa area, is a veteran teacher at the Bialik Hebrew Day School. In addition to engaging in professional development offered through universities and other professional develop (PD) providers, over several years, Yasmine participated in various webinars, as well as small group curriculum development projects with Hebrew at the Center. As Hebrew at the Center Members who have added some additional educational services, Yasmine had also participated in some small-group coaching with Hebrew at the Center’s coach, Meirav Levy in the past. Yasmine thought she – and ultimately the Hebrew department and its students – would benefit from a more intensive coaching experience between Yasmine and Meirav to develop a 4th grade complete unit of study, from beginning to end.

Before beginning this unit development, Yasmine had participated in curriculum development with her peers and Hebrew at the Center coaches, including Meirav. Yasmine was already familiar with Hebrew at the Center’s templates for Hebrew language curriculum development, available in HATC’s Members-Only Member Zone. Yasmine recognized Meirav as a systematic and organized thinker and approachable person who showed respect for the scope and sequence already in place at Bialik, and for the experience and humanity of its teaching faculty. Now, in the third year of working with Hebrew at the Center, Yasmine was ready and eager to get to work one-on-one with Meirav as her expert “guide-on-the-side,” who would not think of this as a one-unit project, but would truly help Yasmine grow, experiment, learn from mistakes, try again, extend, and internalize all of the disparate elements of becoming an embedded expert in Hebrew curriculum development for Bialik.

What does “beginning to end unit development” entail? Systematic, customized curricular development begins with a deep understanding of students’ prior knowledge and the development of the school and department’s high level goals before defining more granular objectives for a grade and unit. It entails taking the time for overall design before beginning to develop lessons and activities.

Although Meirav had already been coaching at Bialik for several years, she reviewed Bialik’s scope and sequence documents, this time through the lens of how the new 4th grade unit would fit in, build upon, and complement the overall objectives of the school. It took five coaching sessions over the course of time between Yasmine and Meirav to undergo high-level planning and design for the new fourth grade unit. During that time, many practical and creative ideas surfaced on the micro level on how to implement the high-level plan, so these ideas for activities were documented and put aside, so as to be accessible after the curriculum design phase, during the actual lesson plan writing stage.

As of now the design phase has concluded. Yasmine is currently working on writing lessons, activities, and formative and summative assessments of students’ attainment of knowledge and skills in reading, oral understanding, writing, and speaking. Yasmine is consulting with her fellow teachers and her direct supervisor, and when ready, coaching with Meirav will resume, which will also involve final editing.

Adi Barel, Associate Director of Jewish Studies, who oversees Hebrew language teaching and learning at Bialik, is clear that the right way to achieve proficiency is by creating in-house curriculum, based on Bialik’s goals, resources, and everything that comes before and after. The right people to develop that curriculum are Bialik’s own teachers, and to do so properly, they need scaffolding and professional support. During this, the third year of working with Hebrew at the Center, those who were most actively engaged in the previous two years of professional development were given the opportunity to work one-on-one with a Hebrew at the Center coach, to take the theory and experimentation of the past two years and to develop new units for Bialik. Yasmine is one of those ambitious members of the Hebrew faculty. Says Adi, “Yasmine paved her own way.” Yasmine previously completed a Master’s Degree at Middlebury College’s Hebrew language school, where on a theoretical level, she internalized what the proficiency approach to language learning should be. Back at Bialik, Yasmine expressed interest in taking on more responsibility and leadership. This year, Yasmine’s career took a mighty step forward when she became a full-time curriculum developer for Bialik. It took years for the school to get to a place of readiness to embrace the proficiency approach, and all along the way, Yasmine was preparing to be a leader of that change. Hebrew at the Center, and Meirav Levy in particular, are honored to participate in bridging the theoretical concepts to the practical underpinnings of the proficiency approach, for Yasime Merri and for other members of Bialik’s Hebrew language faculty.

For more information about Bialik Hebrew Day School’s intentional approach to Hebrew language professional development, curriculum development, and proficiency approach, reach out to Adi Barel, Associate Director of Jewish Studies. For more information about educational services provided by Hebrew at the Center, reach out to Dr. Cindy Dolgin, Director of Membership and Data.

Thanks to Hebrew at the Center for permission to publish this article on our blog. Read the article on the Hebrew at the Center website.