By Susan Morrel

Susan Morrel, RJE, MARE, is the Director of Field Experiences at Hebrew College in Newton Centre, Massachusetts and a Jewish education coach and consultant in the Greater Boston area. This article first appeared in the ARJE Achshav newsletter and is reprinted with author's permission.

Decoding Hebrew is a challenge for many students. Students with language-based learning disabilities have increased struggles, as well as those students for whom learning a second language is difficult due to innate learning differences and language skills.

As a consultant working with congregations on effective pedagogical tools for teaching Hebrew, including my work at Gateways: Access to Jewish Education, an institution that provides special education services, expertise, and support, it has become clear that there are several practices to Hebrew instruction that can help students with diverse learning needs (i.e. all students!) attain the skills needed to decode Hebrew. Some students may require changes to standard materials, and others may not, yet everyone benefits from their implementation. 

Here are just a few:

1.    Size and Font - Larger font size and easier to read fonts are scaffolds for success in Hebrew decoding. Just like in English, some fonts in Hebrew are easier to read than others. Avoid geometric fonts that students will see as shapes, and whenever possible, skip using fancier fonts.  At Gateways, we have found that Frank Ruhl (available in Davka) is an easier to read font. Enlarging the font size is another effective tool, especially for new and struggling readers. Enlarging the font size makes the differences between look-alike letters more noticeable and is helpful to all learners. These scaffolds can be removed in incremental steps as students are ready.

2.    Standardized mnemonics -  It is not uncommon to find different mnemonics being used in different grades of the same school. For example, in one grade the teacher says, “Bet has a belly button.” While in another grade the teacher says, “Bet has a wide base” or “Bet has a ball.”  Using a common mnemonic language is essential for students for long term retention.  The same concept applies for breaking up words into syllables. What language do you use in teaching the rules for pronouncing the shva? A common language and model of instruction is of critical importance.  

3.    Increased focus/limiting distractions - Some students may be distracted by the amount of text and pictures on a page.  By having students point with their finger or use a pencil or yad, they will be more focused. In addition, the teacher is able to assess who is able to follow along and who is not. Using a blank piece of paper to block out lines the student is not reading will also help them with tracking and focus. For those students who need additional tools, a “word window” will block out everything else on the pages except for the word or phrase they are working on. Create your own word window by cutting a rectangular hole in a piece of heavy stock paper: