Month: January 2022

A Taste of Torah – Mishpatim

Written by: Rabbi Mordechai Raizman

Two for One

In this week’s Torah portion, Mishpatim, we find many detailed laws regarding moral and ethical behavior between our fellow human beings and ourselves. One of these mitzvos relates to the sensitivity that one has to have for orphans and widows.  The Torah states, “Every widow and orphan, one should not pain them.” In the next verse it continues, “Im aneh saaneh oso” (If one does pain him) G-d will listen to their cries. The Klei Yakar (commentator from the 1700’s) asks why the redundancy of aneh saaneh. Wouldn’t it be sufficient to say it once? Secondly, the word oso means him. Why is that said in a singular vein when we are referring to orphans in general? Wouldn’t it be better to say if one pains them?

The repetitive use of oso is teaching us a powerful lesson about the effects of our actions. One may think when one is being insensitive to the needs of an orphan or a widow it is only effecting that one person. G-d is telling us that He listens to their cries. We are affecting Him as well. G-d takes a special interest in those that are downtrodden and can be taken advantage of. He is hearing their pleas and cries. The Torah is stressing the effects that we are having on G-d as well. Therefore, mistreating those that are already in pain creates a double pain.

In every community we come across people in these situations. It is our obligation to heighten our sensitivity towards them to give them the strength to carry on.

A Taste of Torah – Parshas Yisro

Written by: Rabbi Avrohom S. Moller

The second commandment that Hashem gave us at Har Sinai is the prohibition of idolatry. The Torah refers to idols as אלהים אחרים, other gods. Rashi is bothered by this description since it implies that there are other deities aside from Hashem. If Hashem is the only deity, how could there be “other gods.” Rashi presents two possible meanings to the term אלהים אחרים.

  • It means “the gods of others,” deities that other people have taken for themselves.
  • It should be translated as “gods that are indifferent to their worshippers.” Since these gods have no power, they cannot and do not respond to those who worship them.

In today’s world, we think that the prohibition of idolatry is not much of an issue for us. Much of the world is monotheistic (or atheistic), but there are a few people around us who still bow to images of wood and stone. The truth is that idolatry is a stand-in for any vice or moral weakness that we embrace that detracts from our relationship with G-d. Our sages compare anger, deceit and arrogance to idolatry. These moral deficiencies disrupt our inner connection and dialogue with Hashem.

We can use Rashi’s explanations of the term אלהים אחרים to expand this idea. Many vices are the result of external influences. We follow other people’s bad behaviors. We seek to impress others. We think we deserve what others have and that makes us behave immorally. These are the “gods of others,” forces in our lives that we have engaged as a result of our interaction with others. The second part is true as well. These “gods” are indifferent to us when we seek to engage them . They are unproductive and self-destructive. We think they empower us and will get us ahead when, in fact, they set us back and destroy our lives.

We use the Torah as a guide for successful living. It helps us overcome the self-deceptive reasoning that ensnares and ruins us. When we take the view that the Torah is a moral work and not only a “book of laws,” we will have happy and successful lives.

The core ingredient for successful teaching

What do most, if not all, successful teachers have in common? They recognize and establish an effective classroom management plan that works for them and their students. Last week, a group of ATT teachers, ranging from veterans to newbies, completed Mrs. Aliza Rosenbaum’s two-part workshop on classroom management that works.

Mrs. Rosenbaum started her presentation discussing how teachers need to evaluate what’s working and what needs strengthening in their current classroom management plans. Next, she listed the top five management constructs and then discussed them in detail:

  1. Rules: Establish and teach classroom rules to communicate expectations for behavior.
  2. Routines: Build structure and establish routines to help guide students in a wide variety of situations.
  3. Praise: Reinforce positive behavior using praise and other means. 
  4. Misbehavior: Impose logical consequences consistently for misbehavior.
  5. Engagement:  Foster and maintain student engagement by teaching interesting lessons that include opportunities for active student participation.  

Establishing Classroom Rules:

A teacher needs to articulate a classroom’s core values and define for students what those values look and sound like in action. Mrs. Rosenbaum emphasized that modeling and practicing the rules are key to success. Teachers cannot assume that a one-time discussion will remain with most students long term.

Establishing Routines:

When planning routines, consider creating specific sets of rules and procedures surrounding specific activities:

  • Greeting students at the start of class.
  • Supply organization.
  • Middle of class needs (bathroom breaks, sharpening pencils, missing supplies).
  • Work protocols (independent, partner, group), transitions (consider non-verbal cues), and end of class closure.

Mrs. Rosenbaum also stressed that when a teacher introduces, models, and practices rules and routines, it is important to consider the beliefs the teacher conveys about him/herself, one’s stance and tone of voice, pacing, involvement of students in practicing, visuals, and tools to be used.

Praise students using a 4:1 ratio of praise to corrective statements:

Teachers need to notice and comment on what is happening in the classroom. Statements should be objective and can be nonverbal (hand-signals). Remember to create a growth mindset by praising process, not product as well as praising effort, not ability. Some examples include: I love the way… I noticed that…

Remember, praise helps decrease student misbehavior.

Misbehavior:

Before misbehavior happens, anticipate what might come up. Consider using cues to get behaviors on track – nonverbal cues, proximity, redirection, private reminders, on-the-spot objective corrections, when-then statement. Mrs. Rosenbaum shared a handout with 30 logical classroom consequence ideas including ideas for:

  • Restorative justice that requires a student to make amends after wrongdoing -if “you break it, you fix it” – clean a mess, apologize after hurting someone’s feelings, hold a “practice academy” for correcting behavior, have students write an action plan for themselves
  • Loss of rewards after inappropriate behavior – loss of a privilege, cannot join a fun activity
  • Logical consequences like moving a child’s seat, call to parents

Ideas for student engagement:

Mrs. Rosenbaum concluded her workshop series stressing the importance of student engagement stating that  research shows that when students are physically, emotionally, and mentally engaged in their learning, they will be less likely to disrupt the learning and will achieve better learning outcomes. She provided examples to increase student engagement:

  • “White boards up” – this gets every student involved. All students respond on a small personal whiteboard at the same time.
  • Calling sticks – popsicle sticks with student names are used to encourage calling on each and every student in the classroom.
  • Spinning wheel – containing  student names. Teacher spins the wheel to identify student who will respond.
  • Active listening notes
  • Turn and talk to your neighbor
  • Give one/get one – involve students by have them approach another student and request a response on their chart. Students in turn offer their own response to share.
  • Station rotation activities
  • Movement activities

Mrs. Rosenbaum’s last thoughts contained words of encouragement suggesting instituting one new strategy and being consistent in making a positive change in one’s practice. The participants left excited to return to their classrooms with practical steps to make the classroom experience even better for every student.

A Taste of Torah – Parshas Beshalach

Written by: Rabbi Mordechai Raizman

Seeing the Future

In the beginning of this week’s Torah portion the verse states, “Vachamushim olu Bnei Yisroel maeretz Mitzrayim.Rashi quotes a Midrash in one interpretation that explains the word vachamushim to mean that only one-fifth of the Jewish people went out of Mitzrayim (Egypt), while the other four-fifths died in the plague of darkness. Rav Shimon Schwab (20th century Gadol) asks, “How do we understand this interpretation? The great celebration of our exodus from Egypt is marred by the death of the majority of the people?”

Rav Schwab suggests the following understanding. Perhaps Rashi is explaining to us the effects of individuals exponentially over time. Perhaps not all four-fifths died then, but a minority of people died at that time. Taking those individuals and looking at what could have potentially come from them over time, we get a much more significant number equal to the four-fifths of the Jews at that time.

The Midrash is teaching us to look at the future and realize what potential one individual may have. I heard a story from a great talmid chacham years ago that relays this message very well.

There was a snowstorm one day and only two other boys and he showed up for class. The Rebbe started teaching and was raising his voice and acting out the lesson as if there were a full class of boys in the room. After the lesson, this student asked his Rebbe, “Why did you have to strain yourself today and teach as if there was a full class since there were only three of us in the room?”

The Rebbe responded, “You are mistaken. Each one of you represents hundreds if not thousands of people. The lessons you learned today will be imparted to your families for generations as well as all with whom you come in contact. There were thousands of people in the room today. How could I teach with any less enthusiasm?”

The Midrash is teaching us an important lesson. Don’t underestimate the potential effect of one individual. Each person interacts on a daily basis with many people, family, friends, co-workers, etc. Let us make the most from all of our interactions in creating a Kiddush Hashem wherever we go.

A Taste of Torah – Parshas Bo

Written by: Rabbi Avrohom S. Moller

Throughout the narrative of יציאת מצרים – the exodus out of Egypt, the Torah says that Pharaoh’s heart was hardened or heavy. This metaphor is understood to mean that he was being obstinate, and he was being foolishly brave in opposing Hashem’s demand that he free the Jewish people.

Rav Sholom Schwadron, the Jerusalem Maggid asks why the Torah doesn’t describe Pharaoh as having no heart at all. After all, he wasn’t displaying any good judgment and seemed to be acting with no thought or emotion.

Reb Sholom quotes the Mesilas Yesharim – (Path of the Righteous, a mid-16th century ethical work by R. Moshe C. Luzzato) that explains that Pharaoh and his behavior are an allegory for the Yetzer Harah, the evil inclination, which drives us incessantly and wants us to be so immersed in our daily affairs that we don’t reflect on our spiritual state at all. This makes us vulnerable to all sorts of mistakes and bad choices.

Pharaoh also had moments where he acknowledged Hashem’s power over nature and that he could not challenge Hashem’s wisdom and power. Those occasions were few and short in duration. He immediately returned to his stubborn behavior and refused to follow through on those short bursts of clear thinking. This is described as having a hard heart. He was capable of thinking and seeing the truth; he wasn’t able to act on that truth. His desire for power and control dissipated any impression he had from those short moments of insight.

When we read about Pharaoh and his behavior, we are supposed to look at ourselves and think whether we don’t display similar behavior. Sometimes, we feel overwhelmed by life and we crave control. This may lead us to ignore Hashem and his Torah. These parshiyos help us refocus on what a hard heart can do to us and reminds us that we have the benefit of learning from Pharaoh’s lessons.

Why Play Is Necessary – Especially the Good Old Fashioned Kind!

The world keeps on changing, and its effects are everywhere.  A perfect example of this is how play has changed in recent years for our youngest children. Early childhood educators are now seeing a generation of children who do not have the same skill set as previous generations when entering preschool. So, what can be done to offset the new concept of play?

This week’s workshop was given by Mrs. Sherra Bloomenkranz, a registered and license occupational therapist. She explored this issue in depth and provided a toolbox of strategies to supplement what is now considered play. Her presentation consisted of answering three questions:

  1. What caused the change in play?
  2. What are the skill areas of concern?
  3. What are valuable games for the classroom that will build up children developmentally and neurologically?

Major causes of recent changes in how kids play and their effects:

  • Safety concerns are one cause of changes in kids’ play patterns. These include putting babies to sleep on their sides/backs instead of their stomachs and the removal of certain climbing apparatus at the park playgrounds. Both have caused the lack of muscle-building experiences that were once a mainstay of child development.
  • Technology is an obvious dramatic change to kids’ daily lives. Many children sit for longer periods of time watching a video or playing with a device. Teachers today tend to spend more time demonstrating, causing a lack of first-hand experiences for the child.

Skill areas of concern:

Body and space – awareness of one’s body and limbs in the surrounding space is a key skill for young children. These skills are associated with vision. Teachers today need to add the dimension of vision to help kids progress out of the two-dimensional world and create a larger picture of a child’s world. This is easy to do in kindergarten and early grades. For example, give a child directions to get papers from a back shelf in the room but do not point. Let the child figure out what to do or ask you questions about the instructions.

Figure/ground perception – the ability to differentiate an object from its background. Children who struggle with this skill often have trouble learning to read, particularly as their books feature an increasing number of words on each page. It’s also hard for them to scan text for relevant information. An activity to help children is to let the child experience a mess so he/she can differentiate objects into groups.

Time and space continuum – The universe can be viewed as having three space dimensions — up/down, left/right, forward/backward — and one time dimension. This four-dimensional space is referred to as the space-time continuum. Children do struggle with the concepts of time and space. Due to digital clocks, children lose the concept of time passing. They often confuse “yesterday” with “a long time ago.” Analog clocks show the passage of time more visually than digital clocks. In addition, children cannot sit long enough to finish a project/skill and be proficient at the project/skill. Mastery takes time to achieve. Because children are used to instant gratification today, they lose the concept of the time and space continuum. Making things that are layered is a phenomenal way to learn about space. Glue items on top of other items to give an added-up dimension (instead of the two-dimensional simpler framework). Often, it is about the process, not the finished product.

Muscle strength and eye-hand coordination – Children are constantly exploring their bodies and their world. They are holding different things today and using different muscles to hold them which do not require the same muscle effort and strength. This has led to weakness in hands, less endurance when writing, and difficulty pulling up socks/pants. Also, many manipulatives have been removed from early childhood environments due to choking hazards. Try to build up muscles with allowable manipulatives.

Motor skills – Goal-oriented play activity in early childhood improves motor skills. Children need intrinsic muscle development. This can be accomplished with wrist play, movement of rattles, bells, hand muscles and finger muscles. This affects later writing endurance, the transition from writing large letters to writing smaller letters, typing, and sewing.

Texture experience – Learning through touch and texture is also very important due to the fact that it strengthens a child’s motor skills. For instance, gripping, holding, squeezing, stacking, poking, pouring or scooping will help children strengthen the muscles in their body and also helps them to develop stronger hand-eye coordination. Children need to experience the differences in textures and “smoosh” the textures in their hands. Good items to use are play dough, sand tables, shaving cream, slime, and water tables.

Left/right dominance, crossing the midline – Crossing the midline happens when a child moves his/her hand or foot across this line to work on the opposite side of his/her body. Before crossing the midline happens, a child will typically use only one side of their body at a time. For example, they’ll use their left hand only to play with a block on their left side. Activities that provide opportunities for children to cross the midline reinforce the pathways between the brain’s hemispheres and allow for the fundamentals of fine motor skills, such as the development of their dominant hand, as well as enhancing a child’s coordination and learning.  Teachers should encourage these skills which are needed for tracking in reading and language.

Valuable games for the classroom that will build up children developmentally and neurologically

Board games – Break the game down as to what skills it can teach your students, i.e., physical, visual, and social. For example, the materials and game pieces require skills – card sequences, higher level visual skills, nicely picking one card, shuffling the deck, making neat piles, one-on-one counting as a piece is moved on the board, waiting one’s turn, giving others a chance to move their pieces, noting that someone wins and someone does not win, using groups of four vs. groups of two.

Using different media to help kids today learn through play:

Liquid glue – Squirt a little onto a “Pringles” cap or paper. Let the child pick up the item to be glued, dip it into the glue, and actually glue the item. This is great for fine motor skill practice. It develops the pincer and pincer refinement. Put the pieces to be glued on the opposite side of where the child is sitting so he/she needs to cross the midline to get them. Mix glitter with glue and then use a paint brush to paint with it. When it dries, one just sees the glitter.

Glue sticks can help with refining the pencil grip skill.

Crayons – Broken crayons foster the tripod grasp and build up muscles.

Q tips with watercolors – This is a great way to teach letter writing. A box outlined with a crayon helps force the child to stay within a waxed boundary. One can also use strips of paper or a label to create a boundary.

Erasable pens in many colors – These are great for children who have sensory issues with pencils.

Activities with hands closed and grasping.

Activities for addressing dysregulation – Some children are missing physical movement and act out behaviorally. Provide physical movement for them.

Visual games – Require students to follow multi-step or vague directions where they need to put pieces together so they can think about the clues needed to create the big picture. Ask students to tell you about what they did in camp or use imagination games. Help students by letting them play with shopping carts – go “shopping” and do chores as they role-play to be adults. For example, I Spy especially requires them to leave their seats to find things.

Mrs. Bloomenkranz concluded her session by answering questions including:

  • What is the role of fidgets and poppits in class today? These are mindless tools created by our current environment so children can sit and attend. If they are used quietly and are nondisruptive, a teacher can decide if they are allowable in the classroom. They do not really foster a missing skill.
  • How can a teacher help parents prioritize play time for their children?
  • The opportunity to play is not equal to signing up a child for soccer class. Parents should foster independence and self-initiation (self-starting skill) for their children to play.
  • Also, stop rescuing children. Help them to figure out a situation for themselves – do not provide them with step-by-step answers.
  • A set of pencils with 36 colors is not more therapeutic than 5 stubby markers.

Teachers walked away with an understanding that basic play skills in early childhood lay the groundwork for the developmental skills children need in their school experience. Furthermore, their role as educators is even more critical in this new environment, since children are missing skills now more than ever before.