LehavinU’Lehaskil: A curriculum that trains our students to become independent readers of Tanach

By Tamar Nusbaum

Recently, I attended a two-day conference held at Brandies University, Learning to Read in Jewish Education, to discuss how we as educators can empower and equip our children with the tools necessary to become independent learners of Tanach. Attending this conference was a group of determined, top-notch, professional teachers and educators whose passion and dedication to Jewish education is exemplary. There was one goal in mind: How to facilitate training our students to become independent learners of Tanach.

The conference was framed by Stanford professor, Claude Goldenberg, and Dr. Ziva R. Hassenfeld of Brandeis University. They introduced a framework from literacy education that broke independent reading into five components: fluency, vocabulary, background knowledge, reading strategies, and engagement in text discussion. Following much group discussion, it became apparent that many of the teachers and educators feel overwhelmed by the task of building independent readers. Because developing fluency and vocabulary can often be a black box for Tanach teachers, having been given little direction and guidance, and being tasked with this goal year after year from kindergarten through high school with no clear benchmarks, teachers and educators develop a sense of hopelessness. They turn their focus to coverage, teaching reading strategies and engaging their students in discussion about Tanach, but allowing students to move between an English translation and the original Hebrew without ever gaining mastery of the Hebrew text. A lack of a clear scope and sequence, and an absence of supportive educational materials, have greatly compromised the teachers’ ability to effectively teach .It is daunting for a teacher to take an abstract list of skills and concretize it without support and a system in place.

To this end, a program called LehavinU’Lehaskil (To Understand and Discern) has been developed. It focuses on providing teachers a systematic approach to teach our students how to learn Tanach independently in the original Hebrew text. It empowers children by teaching them the skills needed to become confident, independent learners of Tanach, through decoding and translating words, phrases and verses from the Biblical text. This curriculum provides standards and assessments, and a clear, organized, systematic approach to teach the children skills, high frequency words and sharashim (verb roots). Workbooks, Teacher Editions, digital versions, and various manipulatives are used to slowly teach – step by step – all the skills needed so that all children – on any level – can achieve mastery of the language of Tanach. Incorporated into the relevant and timely lessons in the LehavinU’Lehaskil program are exercises which focus on new skills, reinforcement of old skills, daily routine, sharashim practice, and the “breaking down” of pesukim (verses) into its grammatical parts. This program is comprehensive, and addresses children of all backgrounds, who have different levels of knowledge.

The program is built on three main principals: Teach, Review, and Build.

Teach – The program provides a clear scope and sequence through user-friendly workbooks, manipulatives and hands on materials, which enables the teacher to teach the skills and words/sharashim in a simple and easy way.

Review – The program has a built-in system that consistently spirals back and reviews skills taught from the beginning of the program. A word-list with sharashim and high frequency words, flashcards and binders with student cards enable the students to build a word bank that transfers into all Judaic Studies subjects. LehavinU’Lehaskil enables the teacher and children to easily reinforce and review skills and subject matter, so that the children will retain their knowledge in a pressure-free, enjoyable environment, thereby enabling them to achieve mastery.

BuildLehavinU’Lehaskil presents lessons that build new skills on top of skills previously learned. Scaffolding limits the amount of redundancy, ensuring that the time allowance for learning Tanach may be maximized.

Data Driven Instruction – Formative and Summative assessments are built into the system. They are designed to assist the teacher in evaluating each student’s knowledge, level and progress, and in monitoring the effectivity of his/her own teaching methods in a non-pressured, user-friendly environment. Upon completion of the Summative assessments, a report is generated by LehavinU’Lehaskil, which records the average of the class and/or students, and helps specify strengths and weakness.

Experiential Experience – After completing the HachanaL’Chumash (Preparation for Chumash) workbook, all skills, words and sharashim are taught from the Chumash text itself. The children will be able to apply their knowledge and conceptual understanding to real-world experiences, with the teacher directing and facilitating learning. This allows the children to observe and feel that their previous study of skills and high frequency words/sharashim were purposeful, and serve to make their learning experience of Tanach a loving, meaningful one.

Teaching children from the original Biblical text is a key component toward enabling our students to become independent learners of Tanach.In theory, it might seem like a daunting task to teach fluency in Biblical Hebrew. However, when the skills are broken down clearly, and word/sharashim lists and exercises are available with a Teacher Edition that follows through on that specific methodology, the task at hand is approachable and doable. When the children learn skills from Biblical Hebrew, their ability to understand and retain their skill knowledge will increase greatly.

LehavinU’Lehaskil begins with a HachanaL’Chumash workbook. It is a preparatory workbook designed to familiarize the children with key skills and words used in Biblical Hebrew. Its goal is to provide the children with a familiarity and comfort level with the language, so that when they begin to study from inside the Chumash text there will be no “overload” or “frustration” (for both the teacher and student). Instead, the children will experience feelings of euphoria when they experience their ability to translate and understand much of the verses they are being taught.

The LehavinU’Lehaskil program does not dictate to teachers how to teach the text; it leaves room for every individual teacher, classroom, and school to make meaning of Chumash. It does help teachers to provide access to the biblical text and its content in a positive and effective way.

Over the course of the past few years the LehavinU’Lehaskil curriculum has made inroads in over 150 Day Schools across America. The program is presently being implemented in Australia, London and Panama City. It is a young program that has grown at a rate faster than imagined (which confirms the need for such a program). Requests have been coming in for the program to be translated into many foreign languages. LehavinU’Lehaskil is sponsored by the Consortium of Jewish Day Schools, a non-profit organization, which is dedicated to the empowerment, development, and improvement of Jewish day schools. The curriculum is available to all Jewish Day Schools, its teachers and its students. Teacher training and support is available.

In today’s world, it is crucial to provide our children with a solid Jewish education. It is crucial for them to systematically learn skills and build a word bank that will enable them to look at the original Biblical text with a comfort level and familiarity. Let us give the children the tools needed, so that they can realize that understanding the language of Tanach is attainable. Our day school students, and their parents who make so many sacrifices to give them a Jewish education, deserve the gift of becoming independent learners of Tanach independently. LehavinU’Lehaskilcan help teachers give their students this gift.

Mrs. Tamar Nusbaum is a seasoned educator with an expertise in curriculum development and classroom management. She has been teaching all grade levels for the past thirty years and specializes in structuring scope, sequences and strategies to utilize classroom time to maximize student learning opportunities. As the creator of the L’havinU’lehaskil Chumash curriculum, SeferYehoshua and Tefila workbooks, she possesses both the technical know how for curriculum development as well as the critical skills for classroom integration. Her pedagogic approach ensures that each individual child and the class as a whole are engaged in a process of learning and growth.

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