So much of learning seems to be repetition and review, but at Yeshiva Ketana of Long Island students do not simply repeat the same topics year after year. Instead, they revisit an idea in order to strengthen and build upon their prior understanding: they are taught new insights from the perspective of their ever-growing knowledge base and the curriculum is presented in a manner that uses their own thinking processes to expand their learning experiences.
Consider circle time in the Yeshiva’s nursery classroom. The Morah is teaching the children a song about Noach and the teivah and using the opportunity for a brief review on animals. “What does a sheep say? What does it eat? What comes from sheep? How is a sheep similar to a cow?” With each question, all hands shoot up.
By Kindergarten, the students are again in a circle and singing about Noach and the teivah. Once again, all hands are up, but the Morah’s questions are different, adjusted to the students’ developing cognitive skills. “Hmm…if you were Noach in the teivah, and there was a mabul outside, what would the animals need to survive? What would you, Noach, need to think about to help them live through the flood? The students are asked to think about what they already know about the things animals needs to live. Though they are only 4 years old, they are learning that they have the ability to be responsible for their own learning. When the Morah asked “If you were inside of the teivah, how would you be able to see the animals so that you would be able to feed them? What would you need?” She was able to introduce the concept of the tzohar, the unique gem illuminated the inside of the teivah. Once they have drawn from their own knowledge base, the Morah provided the class with additional knowledge.
By First Grade, the Rebbe reviews the students’ knowledge of the teivah: the tzohar, the animals, what Noach was busy with al pi hateva in order to keep the animals alive. Then, the Rebbe begins to explore the various nissim of the teivah. Now that the students understand what the animals need and some of the natural challenges of taking care of them, they are ready to begin processing the nissim. The Rebbe explains that Noach never slept in order to be able to accommodate the needs of the various animals. Though most first graders do not look forward to bed time, they certainly underrstand that everyone has to sleep in order to be healthy and stay alive.
By Third Grade, the students are ready to explore the psukim about Noach—how he was an “ish tamim” but only “b’dorosav” --and to discuss the concept of being good relative to one’s generation. This sparks a discussion about how those around us influence our behavior. The students begin to realize that the issues of how they treat one another or whether they are part of a cohesive class unit are partially up to them. When a student comes to the realization that his behavior has a large effect on the larger group, that student is himself changed. The students begin to understand that the words of the meforshim are not only speaking about Noach, they are speaking about themselves.
By Fifth Grade, the talmidim are immersed in a deep discussion about the lion that bit Noach when he was late for feeding time. The talmidim discuss why it was that Noach had to suffer when he was doing HaShem’s work. The students begin to grapple with the difficult issues of bitachon, reward and punishment and the differences between olam habah and olam hazeh.
By Seventh Grade, the students are collating what they have learned throughout the years. This time they are revisiting Noach with their gemaras open. They and their Rebbe are involved in a class wide conversation concerning the various amoraic opinions about Noach and his challenges. They have learned a great deal about Noach during their prior years in YKLI and now they are using the text to support and expand upon what they have already learned. Now, they are able to learn the texts for themselves and they are the ones that are parsing different pesukim and connecting them to their prior knowledge. This becomes even more meaningful when they reflect on Noach’s experiences, learn from them, and connect the lessons to their own personal experiences and challenges.
In this way, Yeshiva Ketana of Long Island has its own teivah--- a multi-tiered model of Torah learning. What the students learn in the Early Childhood Department, is different from what they learn in the Elementary School, and different yet again from what they learn in their Junior High School Classes. Each has its own process and at each level, the students are focusing on what Noach experienced, provided, and learned. At YKLI each level of our teivah has taught the students to think and add knowledge around the themes of growth, achdus, and chessed.
As the talmidim grow, they learn the same Torah, but on the next level.