Hebrew University Project for Teaching English Benefits High Schools in Periphery

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[img_assist|nid=654|title=HU Teaching English Project|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=320|height=217]Hebrew U. Project for Teaching English Benefits High Schools in Periphery

 

February 24, 2009 - Ten high schools in Israel’s periphery are reaping the benefits of a Hebrew University-led project that provides state-of-the-art English-language learning centers and innovative teaching methods. The English Language Centers (ELC) project, headed by the Hebrew University’s National Council of Jewish Women’s (NCJW) Research Institute for Innovation in Education, is supported by the Clore Foundation and is conducted in conjunction with the British Council and Israel’s Ministry of Education.

“The ability to communicate in English is an important skill in many non-English speaking countries. Indeed in Israel, it is essential for advancement in both the working world and in education,” says ELC project director Prof. Elite Olshtain of the NCJW Institute. “English is a compulsory school subject from 4th-12th grades — every high-school graduate must pass the English ‘bagrut’ matriculation exam at one of the three levels. It can be particularly challenging for high-school students from the periphery and lower socio-economic levels, many of whom have less exposure to native English-speakers and little opportunity to practice their English.”

In 2006, 10 schools — from over 100 that applied — were selected to participate in the ELC project. Its first stage involved workshops and intensive training for the teachers as well as the physical design of the centers, with an interior designer working closely with the teachers. Most of the ELC rooms were completed during 2007 and students started using them in December 2008.

Each center comprises approximately 10 student computer terminals, a portable workstation for the teacher and a multimedia center that includes an interactive white board. The area itself is painted in relaxing colors and is tailored to the needs of each particular school, with teachers easily able to adapt it to different learning set-ups such as small groups, pairs, individuals or the entire class. A reading corner, an area for the teacher to prepare and store their materials and student lockers further reinforce the students’ sense that studying English is important.

The teamwork and training that the ELC teachers undergo are crucial to the success of the project, says Olshtain. Indeed, for two years, some 70 teachers from the 10 schools met regularly to develop work plans, become familiar with the new technology and learn to become “learning managers” in their new environments. Mentors from both the NCJW Research Institute and the British Council continue to work with each school on a regular basis.

While each ELC’s primary educational objective is to improve academic achievement, it also seeks to boost students’ feelings of success and self-accomplishment. “The ELCs encourage students to become independent learners by combining their knowledge of English with computer skills and with strategies for accessing information,” says Olshtain. “The learning experience in such a cutting-edge environment empowers the learners and raises not just their confidence in English, but their self-esteem in general.”

The 10 ELCs are up and running in schools throughout the country — in Kiryat Shmona, Tzfat, Acre, Kiryat Yam, Netanya, Bat Yam, Kfar Hassidim, Kiryat Gat, Kseife and Beersheva. Each school decides which grades — from junior high to high — uses the ELC. Olshtain encourages other teachers to visit the schools to observe lessons and share the experiences of those teachers involved in the project. “We hope,” she says “that these schools will become models of change for learning environments in Israel’s high schools.”

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