Teaching literature in a heritage language: The case of literature instruction in Hebrew for immigrant children

Submitted by: Ilana Elkad-Lehman
Abstract: Israel is an immigrant society. Every year, Jews who choose to live there – because of their religious beliefs, hardships or other reasons – arrive in Israel and become citizens. For them, Hebrew is a heritage language, despite the fact that only some of them know it from prayer books or from home. Immigrant children are entitled to study in a special language acquisition class (ulpan), to be tutored by a Hebrew teacher, to be given special tests, etc. Special Hebrew and literature curricula have been designed for them, and special classes have been opened for them in areas with large immigrant concentrations.
The present study is a phenomenological-narrative qualitative study (van Manen, 2014) focused on the stories of 19 literature teachers in special classes for immigrant high school students preparing for their matriculation exams. It is designed to learn about the unique experience of teaching literature in Hebrew to immigrant adolescents with limited mastery of the language.
The research questions are: What beliefs on teaching literature to immigrants are implied by the teachers’ narratives? How are these beliefs articulated in their pedagogical practice, and how are they unique?
The data were collected in open in-depth interviews, complemented by student paper samples and the researcher’s field diary. They were analyzed using both content and narrative analysis.
The findings show that the participants are expert in teaching literature, unlike studies on second language teaching (Paran, 2008). Some teach immigrants by choice, and some due to workplace constraints. All, however, attach importance to teaching literature precisely to the immigrant population, as a vehicle of emotional support, acquaintance with Israeli society and culture, ideological education, and social discourse – making literature instruction in Hebrew in this population unique compared to second-language literature instruction (Kramsch & Kramsch, 2000).
Beyond that, their approaches to conveying the text to students vary: works in Hebrew, in adapted Hebrew, in the students’ language, or synopsized. They also vary in terms of instruction methods, along the range from behaviorist to constructivist. Finally, the teachers disagree with regard to the curriculum and the literary corpus it includes.

Kramsch, C., & Kramsch, O. (2000). The avatars of literature in language study. The Modern Language Journal, 84(4), 553-573.‏
Paran, A. (2008). The role of literature in instructed foreign language learning and teaching: An evidence-based survey. Language Teaching, 41(4), 465-496.
van Manen, M. (2014). Phenomenology of practice: Meaning-giving methods in phenomenological research and writing. Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast Press.