04 May Clear Routines Plus Interesting Work Makes for Engaged Students

Last week I was pleased to welcome a group of Israeli educators to Schechter Manhattan.  I took the group into a few classes to get a sense of how we go about Jewish education at our school.  We walked into the Gan classroom, a group of 10 adults and one of the visitors marveled, “They aren’t distracted by us?”  She pointed out to me what we could all see clearly, the Gan students were busy working together, and the visiting adults were not sufficiently interesting to the students for them turn away from their learning.  What makes Schechter Manhattan students so highly engaged in their school work? What makes Schechter Manhattan classrooms such focused spaces of learning?

Observing the Gan students work in סדנאות (sadnaot), workshop, reminded me that when students are given clear routines and interesting work to do they are often eager to do it.  When I walked in, the Gan students were in three groups, working at different stations. One group was writing their “weekend update”- a regular writing activity during which the students write about what they did over the weekend.  Each student had a writing notebook, with space for writing and an area for drawing to express their experiences. Each student was writing from his or her own perspective, tapping into their own interests. Having practiced this writing activity many times, the students knew just what to do and required very little teacher direction.

Another group was sitting on the floor, turning through a collection of books written by Eric Carle.  In preparation for an author study, the students were exploring Carle’s books, some reading to themselves, others passing books one to the other.  Since the students were able to explore the varied books, they could choose the book that caught their personal interest. Again, the students clearly knew just what to do and they were reading independently, without a teacher directing them.

The third group was sitting with a teacher, observing a collection of coral reef samples and viewing a video of coral in the ocean.  The students shared observations of what they saw, excitedly practicing the skills of observation and oral expression. Then the teacher brought out a collection of art and building materials.  The students continued with a conversation of how they might design and build their own coral reefs. As I walked away, they were beginning their designs.

The Gan teachers have skillfully developed classroom routines that students practice and master.  The routines allow students to work independently so that teachers can give attention to students as needed and so that different students can work on different areas of learning need at the same time in the classroom.  Well developed classroom routines build the foundation of the focused learning environment in the classroom. At the same time, the teachers design learning activities that are interesting and worthwhile, that connect to students’ interests and lives.  When given interesting things to learn and routines to help organize the learning, students dive in and do the work- happily. And when they are happily engrossed in their learning activities, Schechter Manhattan students keep at it, even when a group of potentially distracting visiting adults walks into their classroom.


Shabbat Shalom

Benjamin Mann

Author’s Chair

Each week we will feature the written work of our students. We hope that you will stop back next week and see what they are writing and thinking about.


We have been studying folktales in Kitah Aleph! Here is some writing on the characters which they will write more about in their own folktales!

My character is kind. My character might play with friends, say hello and meet new people. My character might say things like: “Are you ok?” “how can I help you?” “What do you need?”
Click here to view work by Adele

Trait #2: cool
My character is cool in the class. My character might say, “cool!” “peace!”
Click here to view work by Ezra

My character is polite. My character might do things for other people. My character might say, “Do you need help?”
Click here to view work by Emilia



The 3rd and 4th-grade students wrote poems from the perspective of the main character in their books.

Click here to view work by Amelie, Dex, Pemberley, Joey, Orli & Renata