12 Oct Walking Through Schechter Manhattan

One of the best parts of my role as Head of School is the regular opportunity to pop into the classrooms at Schechter Manhattan.  This past Monday morning I walked through the Schechter Manhattan classrooms and saw students engaged deeply in all sorts of learning.

As I walked into the Gan, the students were singing Naomi Shemer’s Alef Bet Song, making their way through the first letters of the Hebrew alphabet.  Shortly after, Nadav the Hebrew teacher joined the class with Bentzi, the Hebrew speaking turtle puppet.  Bentzi led the students through a Hebrew speaking activity, introducing themselves to each other and asking each other’s names.  Students with varying levels of Hebrew language experiences all participated as they began to build a classroom culture where speaking Hebrew is a regular part of their school life.  I also noted the education student from Stern College, who was in the classroom observing and learning about teaching. (We frequently have pre-service teachers from schools of education who intern with and observe our excellent teachers at work.)

The first grade students were starting tfilah by reciting Havdalah, the blessings separating the end of shabbat from the coming work week.  The students marked their transition from the rest of their weekend to the week ahead by sharing things they did on shabbat.  One student shared that guests came to her home and another shared visiting with family. The students then recited the blessings together and participated in the powerful sensory experience of smelling the besamim, fragrant havdalah spices, thereby experiencing Jewish ritual together in community

Second grade students were learning and practicing Hebrew cursive writing.  They were working independently, chatting and helping each other as they worked.  The classroom was marked by a tone of focused energy and students busy with interesting learning activities.  As most students worked, one of the teachers was in conference with a student, reading in Hebrew together with her.  Classrooms with strong instructional routines afford such opportunities for students to get personal attention.

The third graders were also in a workshop mode when I walked into their classroom.  Most students were writing, composing and editing “I Am From” poems, while others were reading independently.  Like in the second grade, the students were busy at work so teachers were available to check in with individual students, give them feedback, and help them move on to the next learning challenge.

The fourth and fifth grade students were playing a game in small groups from the Second Step social and emotional learning curriculum.  The students were listing things they would bring on a trip, one student at a time.  The trick was that the items needed to be in alphabetical order and each time a student added an item to the list she or he had to also list all of the prior items.  The game is active listening practice, during which students need to pay attention to and hear what others are contributing, even as they are thinking about what they will add next to the conversation.  Practice in a fun and structured game builds the skills needed for active listening when engaging in classroom discourse and interactions with others throughout their lives.

When I stepped into the sixth grade Humanities class, the students were in pairs, huddled over dictionaries.  They were working to find the differences and similarities between semantically related words: myth, fable, legend, lore, etc.  The room was filled with the buzz of conversation, and as I leaned into to listen to some of the pairs it was clear that the students were thinking about the nuances of the words and also figuring out what they could glean from the details in the dictionary entries.  In addition to building their vocabulary and their collaborative skills they were preparing for their upcoming study of Greek mythology.

The seventh grade classroom was also filled with the buzz of student discussion.  They were studying Torah in chevruta, learning pairs.  They were leaning over the text of Exodus chapter 32, the story of the golden calf, reading each verse in Hebrew and using resources, such as a vocabulary list and guiding questions, to work together to figure out what the text means.  The chevruta study is also practice of perspective-taking, as students hold the text, their ideas about what it means and their partner’s ideas in their head at the same time.

The eighth grade math class was in a lively discussion of correlation coefficients as they looked at various data sets plotted on graphs.  They hypothesized what different correlations might look like and offered real-world examples. The conversation made clear that these students see how math applies to their lives.

I saw so much in a short time and felt so proud of our skilled teaching faculty and our committed and hard working students.  I am pleased to invite you to join me on a walk through the Schechter Manhattan classrooms, so that you can also see Schechter Manhattan in action.  Click here for the list of dates and times and to RSVP.  I believe that you will find the approach to teaching and learning and Jewish community building as powerful as I do.

Benjamin Mann