Core Values & Philosophy
Freedom to Fail
Students learn best in an environment that allows room for engagement and discovery. One of the primary tasks of an instructor is to foster an environment where students have the freedom to fail. Typical perceptions of classroom performance and success often lead to hesitancy to speak up or ask questions. In our classes, students are given credit for diligence and self-correcting their work rather than for getting everything correct. Since people learn to read at different rates, students are also assessed on the basis of time spent rather than volume completed. In short, student success is enhanced by a freedom to engage and an opportunity to learn from one's mistakes. Read more
Stated another way, students need to be given a new standard to measure success. Too often language learning is inhibited by a fear of appearing ignorant. Instructors have the opportunity to create a climate where success is measured by the student’s process of learning rather than on the student’s ability to produce the final answer. Quizzes and exams are necessary and provide accountability, but homework assignments and classroom experiences should invite participation, encourage trial and error, and provide the opportunity to learn. Some of the methods we have employed to intentionally cultivate this environment include:
Encouraging community learning
Every class consists of an oral component; everyone reads, everyone tries, and everyone occasionally fails. We also laugh, a lot, because everyone can relate to failing. A solid community in the classroom can provide the security needed for a student to risk failure in order to learn. Outside of class, students are encouraged to work on assignments in groups where they can benefit from one another’s strengths and where they can both celebrate and commiserate, depending on the day’s task.
Modeling the freedom to engage ideas and to make mistakes
As instructors we make mistakes. We think through things aloud with our students. We learn as we teach.
Adjusting grading criteria
Rather than viewing assignments or translations based on quantity completed or accuracy on the first attempt at the exercise, student success is based on devoting a set amount of weekly time to a task and self-correcting that assignment. (This is explained in more detail in the Learning Biblical Hebrew Workbook, pages viii–x and 79–80.) Requiring students to consult the answer key allows immediate feedback and provides answers to questions they may not be able to express. Requiring the work to be self-corrected without penalty for initial errors removes the temptation to shortcut the learning process just to look smart.
Making space to think aloud
Although we require students to come prepared with written translations, in class we usually have them read and translate the passage directly from the Hebrew rather than read the translation they prepared in advance.
Retention increases when students understand why things happen. Learning Biblical Hebrew attempts to explain the predictable (though sometimes quirky) tendencies of the Hebrew language. Students learn to recognize forms based on their continuity with the rest of the language. Beginning students benefit greatly from concepts that are typically thought of as advanced if introduced in a manner appropriate to their skill level and reinforced throughout the learning process. These concepts provide a framework of understanding that reduces the need for rote memorization, aids retention, and frees students to focus on the text and its meaning. Read more
Traditional approaches tend to rely heavily on rote memorization of paradigms. Besides being intimidating and difficult to retain over long periods of time, the memorization of multiple paradigms often suggests to students that the forms they will encounter in the biblical text will align with the exact forms they have learned. Because most of what occurs in the text involves subtle variation from the memorized paradigms, most students never move beyond the stage of relying on helps to read. This grammar focuses instead on introducing the students to patterns and tendencies of the language as well as the effects of its historical development. Beginning students should not expect to master everything in the first year. While carefully defining the few elements that must be memorized, instructors should guide students to understand the relationship between Hebrew sounds and syllables that can help them predict or explain subtle variations from the expected form. (Note: Many of the concepts may be new to the instructor as well. As an instructor who has taught through this material for ten years, I [Becky] still have aha moments where a concept becomes clearer or I see a link in the behavior of the language that I had not grasped before. Not only is this okay, but it helps students to see me engage in the learning process.)
Extensive Exposure to Biblical Text
Students learn Hebrew so they can read the biblical text, and they learn best when they can read continuous Hebrew text as early as possible. The interplay between learned grammar, narrative context, and repeated exposure to terms and forms reinforces learning. Further, a carefully crafted narrative can promote a sense of familiarity with grammar before the student formally studies it, and it can reinforce elements they are currently learning. We find that the students who continue to use Hebrew long after they leave the classroom are those who read a lot of Hebrew text. Read more
One of the things we are most proud of is the graded reader in the Learning Biblical Hebrew Workbook. Students begin translating lengthy selections from a modified version of the Joseph narrative by the third week of class. Each chapter of this graded reader incorporates newly learned material and only the vocabulary that the students have learned. By the end of the first semester, the story of Joseph is taken straight from the biblical text. The books of Ruth and Jonah (or just Ruth in courses with limited class hours) are translated during the second half of the grammar. The texts for these translation assignments are taken straight from the biblical text and have been glossed to provide vocabulary and grammatical features not yet covered. The text of Esther is also provided as additional reading material. (For fuller introductions, see the Learning Biblical Hebrew Workbook, pages 79–80 and 195–96.)
A focus on written texts should never diminish the importance of oral reading. Reading aloud trains the mind to move beyond the mechanics of pronunciation and recognition of forms so readers can focus on comprehension as they read. It also engages more of the senses in the learning experience and helps those who tend toward auditory learning. A hidden advantage of the practice of reading every text aloud is that it prompts classroom engagement even from the quietest students. Read more
This approach is a bit different than conversational models. In our program, we focus the majority of the class time on reading the biblical text and allow the oral component to come through that way. We have made the Hebrew text of the Joseph reader, as well as Ruth, Jonah, and Esther available in audio format so that students can listen as they read. We have found that the traditional approach with the addition of oral reading best prepares our students to translate and engage the texts we study after three semesters in our program (texts like Ecclesiastes, Isaiah, and Job). Thus, we maintain an emphasis on oral reading in the classroom.