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by Rav-Hazzan Scott M. Sokol, PhD

I’ve spent the last two days immersed with colleagues from academia and the Jewish day school world at a unique conference titled “Inside Jewish Day Schools.” My own background is as an academic who now finds himself Head of School of a Jewish day school (MetroWest Jewish Day School in Framingham), so being able to confer with colleagues from both sides of the aisle has been a rare treat.

The first day looked at some big questions about the field including the demographics of our students and issues surrounding gender, race and economic privilege. These were interesting to me, but not so much as today’s topics, which were more content-related. I especially enjoyed the sessions this morning on Hebrew language instruction, and its motivations and methodologies within Jewish day schools. This is an area I myself have presented on at past conferences, and I continue to be fascinated by the many intricacies and nuances of Hebrew language instruction.

I was struck again after remarks by Dr. Scott Goldberg of Yeshiva University that literacy is an extremely important dimension of Hebrew language instruction, often neglected from serious consideration when planning our curricula and pedagogy. This neglect though is at our own peril, as Scott pointed out. A great deal of research has shown that children who struggle in literacy end up evidencing very high degrees of social and academic difficulties throughout their lives. This is equally true in Hebrew for day school students as it is in English. Given all that we now know about reading acquisition, it is critical that we provide proper literacy training to our Hebrew teachers, many of whom find themselves qualified for teaching Hebrew merely because they happen to be native speakers (i.e., Israeli). We can and need to do much better than that by our early Hebrew readers.

Rav-Hazzan Scott M. Sokol, PhD is the Head of School at MetroWest Jewish Day School

To learn more about the conference, click here.