The Anatomy of An Evaluation | Rabbi Dovid Abenson

Dear Rabbi Abenson,

We enjoy reading your articles.

Our son is 14. He is in a religious school in London, England. He has a deep understanding of what he learns but struggles to learn ‘inside’ and as a consequence is put in a class with ‘lower achievers’.

He is getting increasingly frustrated and demotivated by this.

When he was younger we did have him assessed by an educational psychologist for dyslexic tendencies and I attach a copy of that report.

Our son is a lovely boy with good middos who is serious about his learning and it is hard to see him demotivated by the situation at school.

Wondering whether you could give us any advice and possibly offer some help?

Gut Erev Shabbos,

Family T

Dear T Family,

Sadly your situation is not unusual. In fact, in Jewish schools all over the world, Hebrew reading is suffering. Even Israeli children are not immune from this. I recently evaluated a 12 year old boy in Eretz Yisroel who, although fluent in spoken Hebrew, did not know the alef beis.

Effortless reading is necessary to enable a reader to focus his attention on understanding, remembering, appreciating, and enjoying what he is reading.

Hebrew readers cannot be content with syllable reading. Whole word reading is essential. That means, recognizing a whole word together with its pronunciation and meaning. This requires a large memory bank of whole words. When reading without nekudos, a “whole word bank” obviates the need to work through every possible permutation of letters with vowels.

When you read a Hebrew word you need to look at it five times:

1. To determine the identity of each and every letter and vowel.

2. To combine the letters and vowels to form a word

3. To isolate the root letters of the word  

4. To re-analyze the word to determine the identity of prefixes, middle fixes, and suffixes

5. To re-combine the letters to determine the exact meaning of the word.

A regular Hebrew word contains much more information than an English word, Sometimes one word of Hebrew equals the meaning of an entire English sentence. A small inaccuracy can lead to a major misunderstanding. Hence you need to have a far higher level of visual/ recognition/ processing skills to master Hebrew reading than is required for English.

The trouble with Hebrew reading is not an isolated educational problem. It often leads to disaffection with the Torah world and children leaving the true path of Torah and mitzvos. That is why it is crucial for schools to address this problem.

When students come to me for an evaluation, I first assess their abilities in the following foundation skills which are crucial to Torah Learning.

  Identification of letters

  Recognition of vowels

  Determining reading style; whole word vs. syllable reading

  Translation skill accuracy

  Dikduk efficiency

  Comprehension ability

  Textual skills in Chumash/Rashi and Gemara level in translation and comprehension

I then look at peripheral issues that will impact their ability to learn, noting any deficiencies.

    Level of visual perception

    Convergence deficiencies

    Accurate eye-tracking ability

    Accommodation ( refocusing )

    Imaging ( geo-rotation )

    Multi-tasking ability

    Learning style (conceptual vs detail-focused)

    ADD /ADHD behavior

    Dyslexia

With regard to learning style, a right-brain dominant person needs to attain a high level of reading efficiency because his natural tendency is not to pay attention to details. Therefore, if his reading is not fluent and if it does not come easily, he will shy away from reading and relating to the words. A super-fastperson needs to attain a far higher level of efficiency than a regular reader.

With regard to visual problems, a convergence deficiency puts stress on the reading process because the brain is continually trying to force the eyes to work together to produce a single fused image from the two images formed by each eye. If the brain is not successful, then in addition to the stress, the reader will suffer further because he will see a double, superimposed image. Poor ocular motility will put stress on the reading process because the reader finds it difficult to swivel his eyeballs. If one has difficulty refocusing, learning will be stressful if a student must frequently look up to the teacher and then back to his book and then to the board. Each time the visual system has trouble re-focussing which causes extra strain and distraction.

Someone who has poor multitasking abilities will become overwhelmed by the regular classroom situation in which students typically need to listen to the teacher, look at the book, look at the board, think their own thoughts, and process much background noise.

Poor imaging and geo-rotation inhibit a student’s ability to harness the power of imagination. They will find it hard to enjoy the vividness of a text, comprehend and remember what they are reading, and build a picture of the structure of a logical argument (crucial for learning Gemara).      

Once deficiencies are identified, I can work with the client to address them and help them acquire the missing skills, sometimes in just a few sessions. Sessions can be done through Zoom/Skype so no traveling is necessary. Once the missing skills are acquired there is no further impediment to becoming a happy, successful learner.

If screening reveals an impediment in vision skills, multitasking, visual integration, or imaging, it is usually better to attend these before embarking on a remedial reading program, else they will continue to impede learning.

Sometimes, if the reading skills are very poor, it might be advisable to commence a schedule of reading improvements immediately, while at the same time attending to the other underlying deficiencies.

Sometimes it is not possible to attend to the other needs, e.g. due to a lack of professional help. Then we begin work on reading improvements, taking advantage of whatever skills the student has. Often they will learn to compensate for their other deficiencies.

Please don’t hesitate to contact me to discuss it further or book in for an evaluation

Waiting to hear from you

Yours sincerely

Post-script

Evaluation of the 14-year-old boy revealed poor letter recognition. He interchanged several letters, consequently he only really managed syllable reading. This resulted in poor translation skills. Without whole-word reading, he failed to see the shorashim (roots) of words. Without shorashim he had no understanding of dikduk (grammar). Without shorashim or dikduk he could not properly read or comprehend Rashi. I explained to the boy’s father that he should hold off on any gemara learning until we address the missing foundational skills, after which learning should be a much happier and more successful process.

After the evaluation, I asked the boy if he had any questions. He asked, “why did my school never teach me these things?” It’s an excellent question, one that I address in my forthcoming sefer which is being published by Feldheim publishers. There I describe in detail how this crisis came about and the strategies and methods for fixing the problem. I apologize, you will just have to wait, it is coming out shortly.

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For more information please contact

Rabbi Dovid Abenson

Evaluations / Upgrading / Training

Tel. 15147393629

Cell/Whatsapp 15149935300

Email: [email protected]

                                               Website: HYPERLINK “http://shaarhatalmud.com/”ShaarHatalmud.com

.Reserve your copy of Rabbi Abenson’s new Sefer coming out soon HERE.

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