Monday, May 12, 2014

B.Ed. Degree Ceremony

Some one hundred and thirty Orot Israel College graduates were recently awarded B.Ed. degrees and teaching certificates during a gala commencement ceremony at our Elkana campus. The graduates came from four different departments: Early Childhood Education, Special Education (two tracks), Dance, and Secondary Education.
98% of Orot's graduates work as teachers and educators in Israel and abroad, and a significant number have started graduate studies programs at various academic institutions.
The degree ceremony was held in the presence of Rav Professor Neria Guttel, President of Orot Israel College; Rav Chaim Saban, Orot’s vice president; Rav Chaim Fogel, chairman of the board of trustees; Professor Yisrael Rich, chairman of the academic council; Rav Dr. Moshe Rachimi, academic dean and head of the graduate school; Rav Eliezer Melamed, Rav of Har Bracha and Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivat Har Bracha; and the graduates’ families and friends.
A representative of the graduates addressed the attendees, and singer Yisrael Parnes, whose daughter was one of the degree recipients, entertained the crowd. To view pictures from the ceremony, click here.

He Who Teaches Torah to His Nation Israel

"והייתה המדינה מרגשת והיו שואלין להן להיכן תלכו, ואומרים לבית ה' שבשילה שמשם תצא תורה ומצוות."
Several weeks ago some forty religious preschool supervisors from across the country gathered in ancient Shilo, for a conference led by national supervisor Mrs. Esther Hatav. The list of speakers at the conference, which focused on teaching stories from the Torah to preschool children, included Rabbanit Dr. Lea Vizel, Orot Israel College’s dean of extramural studies; Mrs. Vered Yanai, lecturer and pedagogical coordinator of Orot’s early childhood education department; Mrs. Luzit Odesser, head of Orot’s early childhood education department; and Mrs. Becky Pinsky, (retired) supervisor of the Yerushalayim district.
The ganenet (preschool teacher) has the great privilege of planting the initial seed – the girsa d’yankuta (literally, the knowledge acquired during one’s childhood) – which will eventually blossom and grow into the child’s spiritual world. When the ganenet teaches Torah stories, she must construct an experiential world that is rich in knowledge and activities and that will serve as a strong foundation for developing faith, observing the mitzvot with love, and acquiring a national-religious worldview. This is a great privilege that comes with great responsibility.
The ganenet is faced with challenging questions. For instance, should she teach Chumash Breishit and some of Chumash Shmot according to the parshat hashavua (the weekly Torah portion) or chronologically? What is more important: enabling the child to take part in his family’s Shabbat table discussion about the parsha or learning slowly but in greater depth? Which prakim (chapters) should she teach, and which prakim should she skip? What is most appropriate for a child’s soul and developmental level? Should the lesson be based on the pshat (the simple meaning of the text)? How should the Midrash be taught? How does one encourage the child to identify with the Avot and Imahot and follow in their footsteps? How should ethical questions arising from the psukim be handled? These and other questions were addressed during the course of the conference.
First, Dr. Lea Vizel discussed the great responsibility inherent in teaching young children. She showed how Yoav ben Tzruyah’s teacher was sentenced to death, because he caused Yoav to misunderstand the commandment to wipe out Amalek’s memory. (See BT Bava Batra 21a.) Next, Mrs. Vered Yanai described Orot Israel College’s unique approach to teaching Tanach to young children, and Mrs. Luzit Odesser spoke about slow, in-depth learning versus learning according to the parshat hashavua. Finally, Mrs. Becky Pinsky recommended that the chavruta (study partner) model be adapted for preschool children.
All the participants agreed that the conference was a huge success, and that they look forward to future Education Ministry events for preschool teachers.

From Vision to Action

Orot Israel College’s English Department Head Speaks at Hemed Conference

Recently, the Education Ministry’s Religious Education Administration (Hemed) and Rav Uriel Ovadia, the supervisor for secondary education, organized a day-long seminar on improving English instruction. As part of the seminar, which was geared for principals and English teachers from the southern, central, and Tel Aviv districts, Dr. Vitela Arzi, head of Orot Israel College’s English department, gave a lecture entitled, “English Instruction as an Interdisciplinary Experience in Israel’s Religious Public Schools.”
Dr. Arzi called upon the Religious Education Administration and the school principals to formulate a vision which will make English-language instruction a high priority and to rely on this vision when defining goals, guiding, and leading, in cooperation with parents and teachers and with their creative input.
According to Dr. Arzi, low English scores in Israeli religious public schools can be attributed to two factors: First, in general, Israel suffers from a significant shortage of qualified English teachers in every sector. Second, religious students in particular may be exposed to negative attitudes about studying English, which is often perceived as a manifestation of an ideological world antithetical to religious educational values. The result is a “vicious cycle,” whereby religious public school graduates are reluctant to train as English teachers even when they possess the necessary skills. Thus, the religious educational system’s primary objective must be to break this “vicious cycle.”
Dr. Arzi noted that a foreign language can be acquired in one of two different ways: structured, direct learning in a formal classroom setting and unstructured, “random” learning in an informal or recreational setting. As she demonstrated, recent empirical studies have proven that long-term exposure to television and movies – as well as to popular music and computer games – improves English language skills and vocabulary. Recognizing the significance of informal, “random” learning can shed light on the achievement gaps between students in the religious public school system and students in the general public school system, because religious students are not exposed to the same degree of informal learning as their peers in the general school system. Therefore, religious public schools must find suitable alternatives and increase their efforts to narrow the gaps – while working to recruit qualified teachers.
In addition, Dr. Arzi explained that due to the Internet revolution, educators must treat English as a second language rather than as a foreign language and adopt the learning tools used to teach a second language. Thus, educators must ensure that English is “present” and accessible throughout the school and during many different activities and that the entire faculty be involved in the effort. For instance, teachers can develop Jewish-themed learning centers which incorporate English-language activities, put out printed or online English school newspapers, organize English-language recess-time activities, initiate English writing competitions, and produce English-language school plays. Furthermore, school principals should provide their students with English texts and invest in English libraries.
During the course of her talk, Dr. Arzi presented examples of various successful Orot Israel College initiatives which implement these ideas. She added that one need not be concerned that this approach will hurt Hebrew-language skills or vocabulary, because research has shown that language skills are not only transferred from the mother tongue to the second language but also vice versa. Improving literacy – by reading and writing in English – has a positive effect on Hebrew literacy as well.
In conclusion, Dr. Arzi called upon the Religious Education Administration and the school principals to formulate a vision which will make English-language instruction a high priority and to rely on this vision when defining goals, guiding, and leading, in cooperation with parents and teachers and with their creative input.

Room for Hope: A Special Education Seminar

By Dr. Avia Guttman ,
Special Education Department, Elkana Campus

On Wednesday, 10 Adar II 5774 (March 12, 2014), Orot Israel College’s Special Education Department organized a one-day seminar designed to meet the needs of Orot’s special education students and to help prepare them for their chosen careers. The seminar’s primary message was that in spite of the many challenges and difficulties faced by special needs children, there is room for hope. With the support of their families and their special education teachers, these children can develop and progress according to their unique abilities and talents.
Rav Dr. Moshe Rachimi, Orot’s academic dean, greeted the participants, citing the words from Tehilim, "עולם חסד יבנה" (literally, “a world of loving kindness will be built” - Tehilim 89:3), Dr. Rachimi extolled Orot’s special education students who do their field work in schools and preschools and described their important contributions.
Mrs. Tzippy Meshulam of the Lomdim L’Hatzliach “toolbox” company spoke about learning strategies and showed how they can be used to help students with learning disabilities. After introducing her eight books about reading comprehension, written expression, and more, she gave each Orot student a laminated sheet with many of her helpful tips and suggestions. All of her books are available for the students’ use at Orot’s state-of-the-art pedagogic center.
Next, Dr. Michal Schreiber-Divon discussed dating and protection. She said that the Orot students – as future teachers – must be aware of the fact that special needs children also undergo puberty and experience physiological and psychological changes which affect their sexuality. Dr. Schreiber-Divon addressed this issue with a great deal of modesty and discretion. During the course of her talk, she screened a number of related videos, which helped the Orot students gain a better appreciation of this sensitive topic.
Finally, students were treated to a moving, delightful play entitled “An Angel with Down’s Syndrome,” which tells the story of Dekel, a young man with Down’s syndrome, and his brother Ofer. When the performance was over, Dr. Avia Guttman, head of Orot’s special education department, observed, “I saw many students with ‘crying-laughing’ eyes – eyes with both laughter and tears together.” Following the play, Ofer spoke to the audience, and he and Dekel patiently answered the students’ numerous questions.
Special thanks to Orot Israel College’s administration and staff, the various speakers, and of course our dear students for ensuring that the seminar was a huge success.