Our Stories

What Distinguishes MILTON’s Hebrew Program?

March 15, 2018 by Shoshana Sfarzada (Faculty and Staff)

Over the past several years, we have worked in partnership with families to incorporate changes and produce an effective, engaging, and rich Hebrew program. We are happy to report that MILTON’s Hebrew students have outperformed national averages in second language acquisition. Our Hebrew education program utilizes best practices and is informed by the latest research in second language acquisition and pedagogy. The program is designed to express our school’s principles and philosophy. Students’ needs and interests are at the center of everything we do at MILTON so the design behind our Hebrew language curriculum focuses on student-centered activities, project-based learning, and choice. Our evolving curriculum connects to students’ developmental stages and their environment. We consider myriad factors in designing a Hebrew program that engages students in meaningful and authentic ways.

Language Acquisition vs. Learning

Linguists distinguish between “language acquisition” and “language learning.” Language acquisition occurs through a subconscious process during which children are unaware of grammatical rules. This happens especially when they acquire their first language. They repeat what is said to them and get a feel for what is and what is not correct. In order to acquire a language, they need a source of natural communication, which is usually the mother, the father, or the caregiver. Language learning, on the other hand, is the result of direct instruction in the rules of language. Language learning is not an age-appropriate activity for very young children, because learning presupposes that learners have a conscious knowledge of the new language and can talk about that knowledge. They usually have a basic knowledge of the grammar.

At MILTON, we strive to create a Hebrew curriculum that emphasizes language acquisition over language learning. We aim to create an environment saturated with the Hebrew language and Israeli culture. Our students are enveloped in activities designed to engage students with the language and to create compelling situations for them to respond and actively use the language in a natural way.

As Dr. Stephen Krashen, a prominent linguist, theorist, and researcher on second language acquisition says,

Language acquisition does not require extensive use of conscious grammatical rules, and does not require tedious drill… Acquisition requires meaningful interaction in the target language – natural communication – in which speakers are concerned not with the form of their utterances but with the messages they are conveying and understanding.

Curricular Design and Highlights

When we design curricular units for students, we create “High-Interest Units” to engage children by relating to the students’ developmental stage and connecting to their environment and world. We focus on student-centered activities and projects, where students are offered choices in selecting activities and projects of interest. In these cases, the students focus on a similar goal, but the assignment is designed with variation to allow students to choose something that interests them. For example, in a unit on celebrations, the children decided what kind of celebration they wished to explore and write about – such as birthday parties, holidays, bar or bat mitzvahs etc. In other units, the students pick the medium through which they present their ideas, such as video, PowerPoint, a poster, 3D design, or something else entirely. Throughout, the students are challenged to problem-solve while using the Hebrew language. We use only authentic materials and texts designed and intended for Israeli children.

Unit plans follow the most recent information from cutting-edge research to ensure our students experience language acquisition, not rote learning. The curriculum is dynamic and adaptive due to our assessment-based approach. For example, we broke up a unit on Cities to be taught over two grades, adding units that are more consistent with student areas of interest, and avoiding repetition of themes over the grades.
Chart showing Hebrew units for Grades 2-6.

Transitions from Year to Year

We take several steps in order to ease the transition for our students from year to year, especially from the Early Childhood program to the Elementary School Hebrew curriculum. We give assessments at the beginning and toward the end of the year to identify students who may need additional support at each transition point. We plan new thematic units that will build on students’ previous knowledge while also expanding into new topics. These include hands-on activities that focus on common childhood themes both in the United States and in Israel. Throughout, Hebrew support specialists work with students in small groups and individually to ensure that every student receives the support they need.


The goal of homework assignments in the Hebrew department is to keep students immersed in the language outside of school, in order to increase the ease and speed of language acquisition. To this end, we try to keep homework brief, easy, and fun. This means that homework on a given day does not always connect with the topic or lesson given in class that day. Instructions are given in both Hebrew and English, and assignments are posted on Google Classroom as well as given to the students to keep in their planners. Important work, such as end-of-unit assignments, is shared with parents as well.

Independent Reading

Research shows that reading is the most significant factor in processing a new language. Read more or view a TED Talk by Dr. Stephen Krashen on the topic. However, it presents a challenge due to the gap between students’ developmental and cognitive stages and their level of proficiency in the language. That is to say, a book that is at an appropriate reading level for a given student may be too childish in content or themes to keep that student’s interest. In order to overcome this challenge, teachers work hard to match books with each and every student. Students share their independent reading in class and recommend books to their classmates. When a book becomes popular with students because one of their peers recommended it, the students often compete over who gets to read it next!


ACTFL's levels of language proficiency.The results are hard to argue with. The American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) describes eleven levels of language proficiency, from “novice low” to “distinguished”:

These levels correspond to the levels described by the AVANT Assessment, the Hebrew language assessment we use at MILTON (learn more). This chart shows how these levels correspond to each other in the context of expected levels of proficiency for children in different ages and for the different areas of language: listening, reading, speaking, and writing:


Chart showing proficiency targets for K-12 students learning languages such as Hebrew.
In the charts below, see how MILTON students in all grades compare to the national average in the level of proficiency in Hebrew:

Chart showing a comparison of Hebrew proficiency by grade levels in the United States.Chart showing MILTON students' levels of proficiency.

Conclusion: Important Facts about MILTON’s Hebrew Program

  • MILTON students outperformed national averages in second language acquisition.
  • Our Hebrew education program utilizes best practices and is informed by the latest research in second language acquisition and pedagogy.
  • The program is designed to deeply and effectively express our school’s principles and philosophy.
  • Students’ needs and interests are at the center of everything we do at MILTON. Our commitment to our children is at the forefront of the design behind our Hebrew language curriculum.
  • Our program evolves as new research emerges and as student needs, interests, and assessments dictate. We are always working to improve the program.
  • We have made great strides over the past several years and we are grateful for our partnership with families. Thank you. We will continue to work with you to gather feedback, implement your input, and incorporate changes in order to produce an effective, engaging, and rich Hebrew program.