Daf Kesher

Students at the Center: A Walk Through Schechter Manhattan Classrooms

Every school day I take a few minutes to walk through the classrooms at Schechter Manhattan. It is such a great experience to move through the grades of our school and see the learning taking place. I am moved by what I see, students across the school engaged in the hard work and the joy of learning. Of course, I also see teachers at work, but what is most prominent in my travels through the classrooms is how consistently the students stand out as the center of the action.

Here are some examples of what I have seen: I saw Gan students designing and creating artwork using electric circuits to power small lights. 6th and 7th Grade students helped them with the technical aspects as the younger students worked to bring  their artistic visions to life. I saw 4th graders jumping up and down to bring up their heart rate and then standing quietly as they tried to count their pulse. Every student in the room was engaged in figuring out the connection between their movement and the count of pulses on their wrists. I saw 8th grade students studying in hevruta, partnerships, as they read and interpreted the text of the laws of repentance from Rambam’s Mishne Torah. The partners used tools such as vocabulary lists and mostly each other’s support to figure out the meaning of the Hebrew text together.

In all of these cases there were teachers integrally involved in setting up and facilitating the learning process. But, the students, not the teachers, stood out as the primary workers. This is by design.  At Schechter Manhattan we believe that people learn best when given the opportunity to engage directly with phenomenon in the world, texts, questions, problems, and ideas and then figure out what they mean for themselves. And as such we design learning activities that afford our students just that opportunity.

This student centered approach to teaching and learning is based on constructivist learning theory, pioneered by psychologists such as Jean Piaget and Lev Vygotsky. George Ganon Jr. and Michelle Collay’s book Designing for Learning: Six Elements in Constructivist Classrooms lays out a framework for teachers to implement constructivist classrooms, which is not an easy thing to do. For many years we have used excerpts from the book during our new teacher orientation, as we bring new faculty members into the culture of teaching and learning at Schechter Manhattan. Planning instruction of this sort is complicated. Teachers consider the learning situations, student groupings, materials, connections to prior learning, questions, ways to exhibit knowledge, and opportunities for reflection that will best support students on their journeys of discovery. So even though I observe students doing the work of learning, I know the teachers do a tremendous amount to facilitate that learning.

As Ganon Jr. and Collay put it, in a constructivist classroom “the student creates knowledge instead of consuming information.” That is what I see when I walk through the Schechter Manhattan classrooms, students creating knowledge and figuring things out together. I am proud to lead a school that so consistently actualizes its educational ideals and I feel blessed to be able to see it all in action each day.

Benjamin Mann

Author’s Chair



Kitah Gan wrote about things they do over the weekend.

MY HOME IS PRPARD FOR שבת. ELECCHISATEE CANNOT BE USD ON שבת. (My home is prepared for Shabbat. Electricity cannot be used on Shabbat)



I WENT TO CHOTHE BRThdAY (I went to a chocolate birthday).



Kitah Bet wrote about their “just right reading spots.”
What did you like about your “just right” reading spot?
that it is quit. I am not deistactid (distracted). it is peacefol.

How could it be better?
it coeld not be beter.

What did you like about your “just right” reading spot?
it was konfy (comfy), nobody was dashakting (distracting) me.

How could it be better? 
With nobad in the room, wieter, to be taler


What did you like about your “just right” reading spot?
that it was no crawdid (crowded).

How could it be better? 
It is good.

Kitah Zayin reflected on what they read over the summer.

The first book that I read this summer was The 68 rooms by Marianne Malone. This was definitely one of my favorite books due to the fact that I loved the setting and plot.

This book became very interesting for me when I looked at the setting. The two main characters shrunk down, because of a magic key, so that they could adventure through the Thorne Rooms. The Thorne Rooms are different miniature rooms that represent countries in different time periods. When the two main characters shrink down they sneak into the corridor behind the rooms, and when they enter the rooms they find out that there is a whole world behind each room representing the country and time period of the room that they’re in. Only the two main characters could see these “new worlds” and it struck me when they went into France two years or so before the French Revolution. The two main characters knew that the French Revolution was coming, but the people that they met, did not. An example of this is that the two main characters were in France, and they warned a girl about the French Revolution. They later found out that they had changed the past and saved this girl. This really made me stop reading and think about what had happened.

This idea was definitely a concept that had me thinking about what it would be like if something similar could happen in real life. I loved how the two main characters adventured through different countries and time periods. I wonder what it would be like if I could time-travel and visit places in the world from different time periods. I had an amazing time reading this book and I learned some history while reading it.

–Benjamin Z.