A writer is born at Evelina Elementary

A recent exhibition at Evelina de Rothschild Elementary School promotes reading and writing.

schoolgirl (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
"If you read a lot, you have no choice but to write well, since it helps with organization, transition and spelling," said Prof. Stephen Krashen, an authority on second-language acquisition and literacy, at last week's Reading Adventures International Conference held in Jerusalem and attended by librarians, teachers, readers and writers. Students and staff at Evelina de Rothschild Elementary School for Girls have shown that reading and writing are alive and well in a recent exhibition, to the delight of visiting students and their families, teachers and librarians. Each student from first to sixth grade wrote a book with a structured plot, illustrations and blurbs, bound in a handmade binding. The exhibition, in addition to stands representing each class, highlighted various aspects of reading and writing. Life-sized dolls of a writer, proofreader, printer and reader relaxing with the finished product were displayed on the stage. The art of illustrating and the tools of the sofer stam (scribe) were depicted. An interactive display invited the students to write a tale based on the first paragraph of a suspense story. Students also completed a questionnaire about their favorite book in the exhibition. Assistant principal Esther Breuer, the motivating force behind the impressive display, saw last year's Beauty and the Book exhibition at the Israel Museum, which had a section on bookbinding. "This inspired me to have the students learn the process of bookbinding, and create the jackets and bindings for their books." Breuer praised the teamwork of all teachers who channeled their creative talents to mount the exhibition. She also chose quotes of authors to accompany the displays. "The quotes are from the book Authors' Secrets by Dr. Miri Baruch, where writers provide insights about their work." "We try to give each one of our students the opportunity to express herself, including [through] a unique music program," explained principal Mordechai Kiel. "In our literacy program, the students learn about the importance of vocabulary as reflecting human beings. As the students learn to use texts and relate to them, they become enriched. The exhibition shows that each student has the ability to write." "Despite the fact that we are the People of the Book, today the Hebrew language is in need of 'deep plowing,'" he continued. "According to a recent article, Jerusalem tops the list in book publishing in Israel. It could be that this refers to the wonderful Torah scholarship books published here. But there is also special value in the written word on creative topics, despite competition from the digital world and the Internet." Writing books is a practical way to make the Hebrew-language curriculum come alive. "The process of writing and producing books is worth all of the Hebrew language lessons that we teach our students," exclaimed sixth-grade teacher Yocheved Levy. Dalia Cohen, responsible for the school's literacy program, guided the teachers at the beginning of the term. "We taught students about the structure of a story, relating to stories that we learned," said Levy. "During the weekly reading hour, the students read Dvora Omer's Dive On which provided a base to learn about structure. The students internalized that each story must have a hero who attains a goal. A problem must be solved. So that the story won't end after one page, we have to place obstacles in the way." The students learned to use dialogue, and included feelings and thoughts. Accurate punctuation was emphasized. They took their work seriously. "The girls came up with the ideas and were exceptionally creative. No two books from this class are alike. Once they started writing chapters, they couldn't wait to write the next chapter," Levy said. The students devoted time to their blurbs, rewriting them a few times while considering titles to attract readers to the book. The books reflect the genres of fiction, suspense, autobiography, and diaries. Fifth-grader Yael Greenberg's In the World of Shapes was based on the toys of her two younger sisters. "I wanted to write a book using real shapes," she explained. "The plot is about three shapes that make up drawings, but each drawing is made of one shape only. This becomes boring, until the final drawing uses all the shapes together. I included a magnetic board and small shapes so children can create pictures from them." Fourth-grader Mor Karabasi wrote about her family. Her book, Whoever Takes the Trouble on the Eve of Shabbat, Eats on Shabbat, is an enchanting tale with drawings about a donkey working hard all week as compared to a bird who relaxes. This book was in line with the theme chosen by the class: animal fables. An avid reader, she kept a diary in the past and is about to start another one. Sixth-grade teacher Riki Zucker gave an example of the writing process from Neta Asner's reflections on writing Lehitraot America, Shalom Yisrael. The book is an account of Neta's aliya from Maryland in 2004 and adjustment to Evelina. "When discussing her feelings about writing her book, Neta related that she was overcome with emotion as she typed the first page which describes her leaving America." Neta has also written stories in English: "When writing in Hebrew, I felt that the style was of higher quality. My Israeli-born mother helped me polish the Hebrew, and my sister drew the cover. I wrote the book with an Israeli audience in mind to inform them about the experiences of a newcomer. Americans can also learn from the book." Krashen, a professor emeritus at the University of Southern California, told librarians and teachers attending the conference that Free Voluntary Reading (FVR) or recreational reading, is the most powerful tool in language education. Study after study confirms that those who read more, read better, write better, have larger vocabularies and better control of complex grammatical structures. For the classroom, Krashen highly recommended Sustained Silent Reading (SSR), when students read their chosen material on a daily basis. "SSR works for the middle stage of readers. It provides a stimulus to inspire reading," he explained. "This exhibition disproves statements that children hardly read, or write mainly SMS messages," said Zucker. "As teachers, we will continue with the process of promoting reading and writing skills."