About three years ago, when she was told she would have to learn a whole new teaching method for her
class, Petah Tikva school teacher Bruria Brayman was skeptical. She was worried
about how effective this new approach would be and how it was going to affect
the slower learners in her class.
Today, she speaks of the change with
great passion. “I could sell it to anyone, it works!” she said,
“The kids love to read, and they write a lot; I couldn’t believe
it at first!”
The teaching model in question was invented at Columbia
University’s Teachers College in New York 20 years ago and was originally
designed for New York City’s public schools, starting with some in Harlem. Its
goal is to improve literacy by focusing on reading and writing as the necessary
basic elements to a child’s education.
The model was then expanded
nationally in the US and is today adopted by various schools internationally,
including in Jordan at Queen Rania’s schools.
The Israeli Center for
Educational Innovation (ICEI), in partnership with Teachers College, the
Education Ministry and local governments, brought the system to Israel five
years ago, and it is now operating in 18 schools in six different cities:
Netanya, Petah Tikva, Bat Yam, Tel Aviv, Or Yehuda, Rishon Lezion and Kfar
Its focus is to promote literacy and bridge the significant gaps
that exist between children from different schools in Israel, a problem that was
recently apparent when the results of the national Meitzav exams became public
just weeks ago.
The ICEI, which has decided to focus on elementary
schools with a high concentration of Ethiopian pupils, appointed a literacy
coach in each school to oversee the implementation of the program.
a year, teachers and literacy coaches from the 18 schools gather for training,
generally conducted by a representative of Teachers College from New York, like
coach Shanna Schwartz, who was leading the instruction this week at Yigal Alon
Elementary School in Netanya.
“Don’t ask the child about the book he
read, ask him what he is doing to be a strong reader. We need to focus on the
reader, not the specific book,” Schwartz told the room full of teachers and
school officials who took notes as she spoke on Monday morning. Later, she went
into a classroom and demonstrated the method on the children in an hour-long
lesson that the teachers could observe.
Each classroom participating in
the curriculum is equipped with items that facilitate the model, such as the
teacher’s desk shaped in a half-circle, which makes it easier for the teacher to
gather with small groups within the class. Each class also has an assembly area
where the children gather with the instructor for class discussions, one of the
model’s predominant activities.
The classrooms also each host a library
of 600 to 1,000 books categorized into colored baskets, by reading
The children, who are told what number reading level corresponds
to them, select stories accordingly.
“We believe that children will learn
to read by reading and by discussing and writing about a text,” Schwartz
“Not all reading work is about the word level, we believe that it’s
about thought. We’re balancing working on thinking about text, using the print
in text, and also on reading with fluency and expression – it is all part of
communication,” she added.
Don Futterman, head of the ICEI said the
program will allow teachers to give children “a love of reading and writing”
through individualized instruction.
“This is a program designed to change
school cultures, to turn around underachieving schools and make them schools of
success and high expectationsm,” Futterman told The Jerusalem Post. “We try to
improve teaching – because I think that’s really the key.”
that while the center targets schools with Ethiopian children because of its
original commitment to this community, the program is not specifically developed
for them; it is “actually one of the few programs that works with immigrants and
high-poverty areas, and at the same time can help highflying kids advance
without holding them back.”
To involve parents, who are often illiterate,
the schools also employ a mediator who is in charge of linking the school with
the students’ families.
“These disadvantaged parents are often considered
as a burden to be managed rather than a partner to really help their kids learn.
I think they have to be partners, because most of the kids’ lives are actually
outside of school, so they need that reinforcement at home,” Futterman
When implementing the American system in Israel, adjustments had to
be made in order to fit the local culture and language, but Schwartz said the
core of the model remained the same: “Methodology, and how humans learn, is not
really that different whether you are a child or an adult, and it’s not really
that different in different cultures. Comprehension is comprehension, and
understanding a book is like understanding a human being,” she told the Post.
“It’s been exciting to see that what we talk about to children in New York City
or Ohio is not really that different than what we talk to children about in
Paris or in Netanya.”
School teacher Odelia Golkerove, who attended the
training at Yigal Alon on Monday, said that since implementing the teaching
method, she has noticed quite a change in her classroom.
“I feel that I
enter the classroom ready, with a precise plan for the day, and I’m more
focused,” she said.
“I can also maximize my time in the class. Before, I
used to have to move in the classroom frantically, and everyone used to pull me
from every direction. Now, when they know what the routine is, they are more
independent. This way, I am more calm, more available to give them personal
attention,” Golkerove added.
She said she also noticed that her pupils
strongly enjoyed reading and writing: Some have even asked their parents for
books as birthday gifts, and others have started writing in a personal
“In the age of iPhones and computers, that is a really amazing
thing to me,” Golkerove said.
The ICEI today hopes to expand the program
to more municipalities across the country and eventually to middle schools as
“Ideally, the Ministry of Education adopts this as the lead
program,” Futterman said. “It changes teaching, it changes children’s
He added, “I wish my kids had learned to read and write this way,