Self-Paced Hebrew

At OTRS, we are focused on helping all of our students find success whenever they walk into our building. It's right there, in the last sentence of our mission statement: "We strive to make Jewish learning accessible and engaging for each student and teach them how to be Jewish at every age and stage of their lives."

That's why we are proud to continue with the Self-Paced Hebrew program with our students in 2nd-7th grade. Each Tuesday afternoon, our students participate in this unique program that meets them where they are and allows them to learn in small groups at the pace that best meets their needs. Below are the answers to some of the questions you may have about this program.

Let's start from the beginning. What is the self-paced Hebrew program?

Our Self-Paced Hebrew Program is designed to meet students where they are and allow them learn at their own pace. Working in small groups with a teacher on a specific skill or prayer, they will learn at their own speed until they have mastered it. Once they've achieved that accomplishment, they'll move on to the next step. And that's the key to why do this - we want kids to have that feeling of accomplishment. We want them to have confidence in their ability to work with Hebrew.

Let’s say my child is in the 4th grade. Don't all 4th graders at OTRS know the same amount of Hebrew? Why not just keep them all learning together in the same classroom?

Many of our students are in about the same place, in terms of Hebrew and prayer skills, as their classmates. But not all of them. Some of our students started OTRS a little later than their peers. Some are regular participants in Shabbat morning programs and have a familiarity with more prayers than other students in their grade. Some of our students have special learning needs or just need a little more time to work with Hebrew. Some students find Hebrew comes easily and they are looking for more challenges. What makes a self-paced program work for everyone is that everyone gets what they need.

So how do you determine what my child needs? 

Over the last 4 weeks we have assessed every student in the 2nd-7th grade. We'll combine that assessment with what else we know about your child (for example: does he/she have an IEP?) and use all of that data to decide where they should begin their journey in our Self-Paced Hebrew Program during the 2018-19 school year.


Ok, so you're going to assess my child and figure out where they start. Then what? What does this program actually look like?

Our Self-Paced Hebrew Program begins on Tuesday, October 9th. Students will check in and head over to the table they've been assigned. They'll be joined by a few more students and a teacher, plus our madrichim (teen assistants) will be on hand to help. For about half the afternoon, they'll work in small groups or one-on-one with their teacher and madrich on the specific skill or prayer they are studying. We'll have two sessions of Self-Paced Hebrew each afternoon, one for students in 2nd-4th grade and one for students in 5th-7th grade. When they're not in Self-Paced Hebrew, students will be in their classrooms.

Our 7th grade students are actually beginning a new chapter this year, which builds on everything they've learned over the last 3 years of Self-Paced Hebrew. They'll be focusing their learning on leading both the Torah and Shacharit services and they'll be working not just with prayers they've been studying but with choreography, silent prayer, and what it means to be a leader in our congregation.

Who are the other students at the table? And who is the teacher? Is it my child's classroom teacher?

This program is multi-aged, but the age range is small, because we limit each session to just three grades. Many of our students find themselves sitting with children in the same grade but not all of them. As for the teacher, all of our classroom teachers participatie in the program but not necessarily with their own students. For example, when the 3rd grade is in the program, their teachers is there too but they won't be exclusively working with 3rd graders. When the 3rd grade leaves, so do their teachers. We also have several other teachers, who teach both sessions of Self-Paced Hebrew.

What does it mean for my child to master a skill? And how do they demonstrate it?

When your child's self-paced Hebrew teacher feels they are ready, we assess their mastery of whatever they've been working on. Can they read a series of consonants and vowels with fluency? Can they chant the prayer they've been studying with confidence and accuracy? Mastery looks different depending on what they are focusing on but we'll be sure they know what their goals are.

What if they are struggling a little? What if they get stuck?

This is where the small groups are key. If your child is struggling, our teachers figure out why and adapt the learning until it clicks. Maybe they need a little more one-on-one. Maybe we need to make things more active or use music or a few more games to help it all stick. Because there aren't 20 kids all working on the same thing at the same time, our teachers have the chance to make sure your child gets what he/she needs.

How many levels should my child get through in a school year? How many prayers should they master? What's the magic number?

Every child moves at their own pace. So we don't have a magic number. We have a list of of Hebrew skills and prayers we want our OTRS students to feel comfortable with. Most get through that list over several years. Some move faster. Some move slower. Some focus on a smaller number and some need more to keep them challenged and engaged. All of that is ok.

Ok, I think I get it. But what does this mean for the time my child isn't in Self-Paced Hebrew on Tuesdays. And what about Sundays?

In our classrooms, we've got a lot of learning to do. Our OTRS curriculum includes Torah, history, holidays, lifecycle, ethics, Israel....you get the picture. As part of that learning, our teachers  explore the meaning, history, and choreography of prayer. This exploration reinforce everything happening in Self-Paced Hebrew. In addition, we sing Hebrew songs in music, use Hebrew words throughout our study of Judaics, and experience prayer in all of our holiday celebrations. Hebrew is a priority in our curriculum throughout the grades.

We've got a way to help you understand our approach with just two Hebrew words: Keva and Kavanah. Keva is often described as the structure of prayer, the mechanics. Kavanah is the intention or thought behind prayer. In the Self-Paced Hebrew Program, we focus on Keva. In our classrooms, we give our attention to Kavanah.