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OG as a Method of Teaching Hebrew Decoding to Students with Dyslexia and other Language Learning Disabilities 



The area of Jewish Special Education often suffers from the gap between knowledge and practice; thus, many children with learning disabilities at times remain underserved. The purpose of this research was to address the specifics of teaching Hebrew reading to students with dyslexia and other Language Learning Disabilities. This methodology presents the summary of studies in this area of special education, addresses different reading methodologies, analyzes the unique features of Hebrew and specific aspects of Hebrew reading acquisition, and presents an instructional methodology based on findings and research in this area both in Israel and United States.


The number of children with learning disabilities In United States has grown tremendously within the past 30-35 years. Research on learning disabilities that was mandated by the United States Congress and National Institutes of Health, reported that reading disabilities, such as dyslexia, are the most common and prevalent of all known learning disabilities and affect at least one out of every five children in the United States (Statement of Learning Disabilities Association, 2004). In addition, some researchers (Catts, Fey & Tomblin, 1997; Catts & Kamhi, 1999) indicate that there are many poor readers, perhaps as many as 50 percent, that are not diagnosed with dyslexia, and nevertheless they share many common language impairments. These children are identified as Language–Learning Disabled (LLD), may have limitations in vocabulary, morphology, syntax, and/or text-level processing. They also have significant problems learning to read, including difficulties in word recognition and reading comprehension. 

Jewish educators today are blessed with lots of teaching materials of good quality from a large number of publishers. However, the resources for teaching Hebrew reading are often not oriented towards the specific needs of children with reading learning disabilities and, as a result, Jewish educators face many challenges in teaching this essential skill.  This creates the need for an effective Hebrew reading methodology, that will provide Jewish educators step - by - step instructions and techniques that are based on the latest findings and research in this specific area. The instruction should be different from the methodologies used to teach dyslexic children reading in their native language (which would be reading for comprehension). 

During my training workshop, I analyze the vast body of research related to general reading instruction, as well as the studies that were conducted in this area in the field of special education. I examine the most important processes involved in reading, such as the role of phonemic awareness, the role of sound-symbol correspondence, visual perception and discrimination. I also address different reading methodologies that are used for teaching English reading to dyslexic children and compare it to the methodologies developed and used in Israel. In order to develop the most appropriate reading methodology, I list and analyze the unique features of Hebrew language, which might complicate decoding process in Diaspora and the difficulties it might present to a dyslexic child. The research is based on the findings in both Israel and United States. And finally, I present an instructional teaching methodology that I have developed on the basis of these findings. This methodology takes the LLD learner through the process of synchronization between the audible and written symbols (e.g., Hebrew letters and vowels). This multi – sensory approach is presented in a certain sequence that helps the student to develop awareness of the Hebrew word components, perform the connection between the sounds and whole word and, finally, read the Hebrew word.


Theoretical framework

 Research (NIH 1994; Liberman, et al, 1981; Feitelson, 1976) has repeatedly demonstrated that the root cause of reading failure is lack of phonemic awareness. If a child lacks this skill, he or she will have difficulty learning the relationship between letters and the sounds they represent in words. In addition, such children will have problems applying the letter/sound correspondences to sounding out unknown words. Therefore, it is essential that phonemic awareness skills can and must be directly and explicitly taught to children who lack this ability. Phonemic awareness must exist before letters are introduced. Otherwise, the phonics instruction will not make sense to the dyslexic child. The next important step is phoneme/grapheme correspondence that teaches which sounds are represented by which letter(s), and how to blend those letters into single-syllable words. 

While the research on English reading demonstrates that phonological awareness is the main factor in reading success, it has been shown to be far less significant than visual skills as a predictor of acquiring Hebrew reading proficiency (Share & Levin, 1999).  Studies conducted in Israel (Ben-Dror, Bentin & Frost, 1995; Feitelson, 1981); revealed that the amount of developmental dyslexics in Israel who experience difficulties in phonology is relatively low and defined the visual short term memory as a major factor for decoding speed. Since Hebrew reading depends so heavily on visual processing, researchers suggested that all beginning Hebrew reading programs should include activities that develop visual skills. An Israeli researcher Dina Feitelson, (1967) reports that the best approach to teaching Hebrew reading is combination of deductive analysis of the syllables with synthetic drill. As opposed to traditional phonetic decoding, where the reader has to connect the sounds with the printed image and then combine them into words, the synthetic approach requires students to focus on individual syllables, drilling them as individual units. This process leads to awareness of how consonants and vowels are blended together and shows the way the orthography communicates these relationships. Scattered data on the reading process for both normal and disabled readers suggests that Semitic morphology and its corollary – a primarily consonantal orthography, have a special significance in learning to read and write in Hebrew (Share and Levin, 1999, p. 26).

Unfortunately, there is almost no research focusing on teaching Hebrew as a second language to dyslexia children. Some learning disabilities are addressed in the article Why Jonathan can’t read by Orna Lenchner and Rivka Dori, where they point out that learning disabled children are most likely to interfere with their learning to decode Hebrew and analyze the effects of some peculiarities of the Hebrew letters.

There is also an implication that people with dyslexia have a larger right-hemisphere in their brains than those of normal readers. That may be one reason people with dyslexia often have significant strengths in areas controlled by the right side of the brain, such as artistic, musical talent, creative problem solving skills, and intuitive people skills (Davis, 1994). Other researches (Kavanaugh and Venezky, 1981; Davis, 1994) have shown that dyslexic individuals who utilize all of their senses when they learn are better able to store and retrieve the information. 

Dina Maiben (2003) points out that it is difficult to draw any conclusions about teaching Hebrew decoding or the second language reading programs of Diaspora schools based on the methods that are designed to teach students to read a language that they already know (Maiben, 2003, p. 497). Therefore, the Jewish educators should not rely on the strategies that their students have acquired for decoding English and should be aware of the unique qualities of the Hebrew language in order to provide students with the most appropriate reading strategies (Maiben, 2009). 


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