All posts by Jennifer Militzer-Kopperl

Reading Material for Third Grade

I have been using the Jakob Streit books to introduce variations of Old Testament stories. I am working through And There Was Light. I am planning to use Journey to the Promised Land and We Will Build a Temple for Language Arts blocks after the holidays. 

Since I last wrote, I am wondering if it is better to use And It Came to Pass to have my daughter practice reading and do a picture and story summary based on those stories rather than me telling a story from the Jakob Streit books. I don't know how And It Came to Pass compares to the reading level in The Secret Pet as per the next paragraph. I am not familiar with And It Came to Pass and would love your input?

After reading Set 1 from Shelley Davidow, I had my daughter start the books I borrowed from the Rudolf Steiner College Canada. She was able to get through Lazy Jack; however, Sylvain and Jocasa was too hard for her. So, we switched to The Secret Pet chapter book by Shelley Davidow. It is going much better as my daughter uses what was taught in Set 1. My daughter is able to read with a few challenges; however, is gaining confidence and building her decoding skills. 

I'd like to weigh in on your question about whether to have your daughter read or listen to Old Testament stories in third grade. It is a good one, and it can be approached from two angles: 1) academic; and 2) developmental.

Academic

Based on your description, your daughter is probably at the beginning of the Pattern Phase. (You would need to assess to confirm.) If so, her reading should be to practice basic skills (i.e., decoding and sight word skills), not to learn new academic content. If she is reading Davidow's The Secret Pet, she should continue books at that level with an emphasis on improving her basic skills. It is only when she cracks the code that you can expect her to read academic material and work with it. Again, this would argue for telling Old Testament stories as you have been doing.

Developmental

Steiner intended the Old Testament stories to be told by the class teacher. They are part of his storytelling curriculum. He was very clear that these stories could not simply be read–they were to be told as stories. Therefore, I would continue to tell the stories, as you had been doing. 

However, Steiner did have a caveat that some Old Testament stories could be read by the students after the teacher has told them. If you wanted to try it as an experiment, it might be worth your while. However, it would need to be in addition to (not instead of) having the student read The Secret Pet and other leveled booksOtherwise, it would slow down her progress in reading.

Good luck!

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Handwriting Part Two

Thank you, Jennifer, your response was very helpful. I actually wasn't thinking of telling a whole story for the writing of each letter, but more like the descriptions you included for the letter M: “We start at the top of its first peak, which touches the sky and draw a straight line down to the earth.” I suppose I will need to get creative in connecting the formation of the letter with its anchor picture, or maybe I can just describe the formation as I see it? (My creativity feels like it's at an all-time low these days.)

Let’s see if I can help provide some additional advice: 

You don't connect the description to the anchor picture but to the letter formation chart and whatever elements you used to describe the three zones on the paper with dotted midlines (e.g., sky, ground, below ground). (See figure 3.2.10 on page 120 for another image.)  It is just a coincidence that the anchor picture for M mountain happens to coincide with the image for the dotted midline! : )

So, for the capital letter S, you might say you start up high up, swoop up to touch the sky, blow to the left, then to the right, come back to the center land on the ground, and then swoop up to the left. Thus, the key elements to use in the image are the sky and ground. You would use the same for all the other letters. Each letter will be described based on these three zones made by the dotted midline.

Thus, the description of the formation of letters requires no need for a teacher to create new imaginations or images–just an ability to use the letter formation chart and describe how to make each line in relation to, say, sky, ground, and below ground. Keep it simple–the goal is for the student to realize that there are three zones on the paper, and s/he has to use these three zones to write a letter.  Once the student has that idea, the image has served its purpose. (Ironically, if you keep changing the image for each letter, it could take the student longer to learn handwriting–and tax your creativity and lead to long hours of lesson planning in the process.)

It can be even easier. Once students get the idea that there are three zones, some children do not need/want this description of how to form the letters. They just want to see the diagram of the letter and try forming it themselves. (That is how I was when I was learning the alphabet–by the middle of the school year, I tuned my teacher out while she described how to write a letter. I just wanted to see the diagram and try forming the letters myself. Occasionally I made mistakes and my teacher helped me correct them by describing what I did wrong and then describing how to form the letter correctly while pointing to examples of each. Then, her descriptions were much appreciated because I needed them!) 

Once your child gets the idea that there are three zones, you can forego the descriptive element for some or all letters–or even challenge him or her to provide the description! (Some students love that–others dislike it.)

Play around with it a little bit. See what works best for you and your child. And please let me know if I can provide further information.

Good luck!

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Handwriting Part One

I am a homeschooling mom who is teaching first grade (yikes!) beginning this year. I am relying on The Roadmap to Literacy to help me plan my lessons and teach the material. I am wondering how to teach the proper way to write the letters, because I am not sure that how I write them is the “right” way. 

I read the Englishland container story intro but is there more (for all the letters?). If not, can you recommend a good resource for teaching formation of the letters?

I understand you have two questions: 1) You would like more information on proper letter formation so you can see if you are teaching correct letter formation; and 2) You would like additional resources for introducing the right way to print each letter (e.g., stories).

These are good questions.

Proper Letter Formation

A good letter formation chart should enable you to confirm that you are forming each letter correctly. 

An easy way to check your handwriting is to get a letter formation chart that shows the proper way to form each letter and then compare your printing against it. For example, in The Roadmap to Literacy, several scripts are recommended, including D'Nealian. I do not know which script you have selected, but I have attached a link that shows letter formation charts for D'Nealian printing (for both right-handed and left-handed writers). Just use the link below and scroll down. 

https://cdn.thisreadingmama.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/DHWC-TRM.pdf

As you scroll down through this link, you fill find several letter formation charts–one for right-handed students and one for left-handed. Use the letter formation chart to determine whether you are forming the letters correctly (i.e., make sure you form each line in a letter in the order and direction indicated). If you are not forming the letter correctly, be sure to correct your printing before you teach your child to print it. Once you have done so, you should be good to go.

Additional Resources for Teaching Letter Formation

There are many free and low-cost resources available online, depending on which font you have decided to teach. I have included a good resource for D'Nealian in the link above. However, I don't think this is what you are looking for. It sounds as if you would like a story from Englishland for each letter of the alphabet. If so, let me attempt to dissuade you. 

When you teach handwriting, you need only do the story from Englishland for the original introduction of handwriting. Then, for subsequent letters, you can show your child how to form the letters (with a little description based on the language from the story) followed immediately by a handout with a visual aid showing the letter and the little arrows indicating which line to form first, second, third and in which direction (see the handouts in the link above). That is all you need do. Follow up with lots of practice that involves handwriting such as Kid Writing, symbol imagery exercises, spelling, letter dictation, etc. 

There are many reasons not to give a story for each letter's formation:

1. Balance Memory and Imagination: The main reason is the need to balance memory and imagination. Steiner claims that having too much of one or the other is unhealthy for the students. This is a topic I discussed at length in the sequel, Continuing the Journey to Literacy (Militzer-Kopperl 2020, 81-84). Consult the sequel for a full discussion.

2. Avoid Story Indigestion: Another reason is story indigestion. Waldorf contains a lot of stories. Too many stories over the course of the week leads to story indigestion. Janet alluded to this concern in The Roadmap to Literacy (Langley and Militzer-Kopperl, 473). Avoiding overloading your child with unnecessary stories. Save the stories for the initial introduction of a topic.

3. Stories are Only for the Initial Introduction of Handwriting: Finally, a story for printing every letter of the alphabet is overkill. Once students get the idea, it is not necessary to keep giving them stories to introduce handwriting. They are ready to move on. Some students prefer to teach themselves how to write each letter by looking at the diagram on the handout. Others prefer to have you describe each stroke. Using both approaches is good for a class, but since you are homeschooling, you can see which approach your child prefers and tailor your instruction accordingly. (If your child prefers both approaches, use both. It will provide a bit of redundancy which can prove reassuring for melancholic students and/or those who are unsure of themselves.)  

Conclusion

After the initial introduction of handwriting from the story Englishland, students should have the general idea–especially if you use the original language of the story in your description of how to form subsequent letters. The three above-mentioned reasons are why it is good to do a story for the original introduction of handwriting but not for how to print each letter of the alphabet.

If you child is still struggling with learning to print letters in the middle of first grade, please let me know. That would be a red flag for one or more possible remedial issues. Some of the handouts Janet provided from Brain Gym could then prove especially beneficial, depending on what is going on. In addition, students may have immaturities in their hands that might make it difficult to hold a pencil. (See my website “Renewal of Literacy” for a video showing some exercises to do. https://renewalofliteracy.com/videos/#FreeVideos.)

If you give more information, I would be happy to provide more specific guidance. Thank you for your questions. I hope this information helps.

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Differentiated Instruction

I'm wondering whether you might be able to direct me to any literature that shows that Steiner actually did support the idea of differentiation of instruction in the classroom…? 

Yes, Steiner did support differentiated instruction, but you have to read the literature very carefully because he and the other teachers at the first Waldorf school did not use technical terms but rather described what they were doing. Hence, there is no indication where Steiner mentions “differentiated instruction,” but he does approve of students doing different things in the same classroom at the same time–in fact, he says it is a pedagogical goal and then states: “Actually, we should see it as an ideal that we could teach mathematics in one corner, French in another, astronomy and eurythmy in the others, so that the children have to pay more attention to their own work.” (Faculty Meetings with Rudolf Steiner Volume 2 page 465, which comes from the faculty meeting on Tuesday, December 5, 1922).

You can see that Steiner loves using hyperbole to make his point! If it is good to have four different subjects taught in the same room at the same time (!), Waldorf teachers can rest assured that it is desirable to meet with a group of struggling students to work on basic literacy skills like phonemic/phonological awareness and phonics rules while the more advanced students do an independent assignment such as copying a final draft of a writing assignment, reading a passage silently and answering questions, etc. Furthermore, teachers can rest assured that it is desirable to give students different spelling words based on their phase of literacy and to pull aside the students who need more direct instruction while the rest of the class does a separate assignment. All students must develop the capacity to focus on their own work and do their own thing regardless of what the other students are doing. It's a pedagogical goal of Waldorf education. 

Steiner would be spinning in his grave if he knew that teachers were insisting that students always do the same thing. He wanted Waldorf education to develop capacities in students (such as phonemic awareness and symbol imagery and the ability to focus on their work even when other students were doing something else). Insisting that students always do the same thing is to treat elementary-school children as if they were still in Kindergarten, something that violates Steiner's teachings about child development. 

Conclusion

This is one of the biggest problems Waldorf education has: it is so hard to understand what Steiner said. However, a lot of his work is fairly aligned with best practices–it just needs to be organized and explained. I did so in the book Continuing the Journey to Literacy and I also did so in The Roadmap to Literacy: Renewal of Literacy Edition (which should be coming out in 2022). When teachers understand how education should develop capacities, much of it is straightforward and aligns fairly well with modern research. Kids do need to be taught the capacity of phonemic awareness, and it is often necessary to differentiate instruction. Teachers should make use of every minute in the classroom. 

All the dross that has accumulated over the last 100 years has sent teachers in the wrong directions. I hope that my books (and future courses) will provide a better understanding of what Steiner said so that teachers can give up the practices that are harming students academically and take on best practices. Ironically, best practices align much more closely with Steiner's indications than most teachers realize. 

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Morphology and Etymology in the Steiner Waldorf Curriculum

Both morphology and etymology refer to the meaning inherent in language; however, only one is an important aspect of language arts in the Steiner Waldorf grades curriculum.

Morphology is an aspect of grammar—it shows how words are build out of out of units of meaning (I.e., morphemes). Etymology is the study of the origin of words and how the meaning of words changes over time.

Morphology is an important aspect of language arts instruction for all English-speaking students grades 4-8, whereas etymology is not. The proper study of etymology is in university, and only for students majoring in English or linguistics. That said, there are a few instances where etymology should be brought into the Steiner Waldorf curriculum grades 4-8.

Morphology

A morpheme is the smallest unit of meaning in language—such as the morpheme un in the word unhappy. Morphology considers these units of meaning—specifically how to build words or take words apart. For example:

PrefixesSuffixesRoot Word
anti- (against)-ly (adverb marker)govern
circum- (around)-ment (noun marker)navigate
 -er (one who) 

Therefore:

  • the word baker means one who bakes (bake + -er)
  • the word circumnavigate means navigate around (circum- + navigate)
  • the word government means the noun form of govern*

*The last example shows how the study of morphology can aid spelling. Students can more easily remember the silent N in the word government when they realize the morphemes that make up the word: govern + ment.

In addition, there are Latin and Greek roots that can combine with prefixes and suffixes.

Greek Roots/MeaningLatin Stems/Meaning
chron/timeaud/hear
dent/teethbene/well
hydra/waterpat/father

These roots and stems are combined with prefixes and suffixes to create new words such as

dentist, chronology, audience, etc.

Etymology

In contrast, etymology is the study of the origin or words and how the meanings of words change over time. Here are some examples of etymology:

The Study of the Origin of Words

The following is the etymology of the word audience:

late 14c., “the act or state of hearing, action or condition of listening,” from Old French audience, from Latin audentia “a hearing, listening,”

from audientum (nominative audiens), present participle of audire “to hear,” from PIE compound *au-dh- “to perceive physically, grasp,” from root *au- “to perceive.”

Meaning “formal hearing or reception, opportunity of being heard” also is from late 14c.; that of “persons within hearing range, assembly of listeners” is from early 15c. (a member of one might be an audient, 1610s). French audience retains only the older senses. Sense transferred by 1855 to “readers of a book,” by 1946 to “viewers of television programs.” Audience-participation (adj.) is recorded by 1938 in reference to radio.

(https://www.etymonline.com/word/audience)

The etymology of the word audience is the full explanation of how the Latin root aud found its way into one specific word, and how the subsequent usage of that word changed over time.

This type of etymology is too much information for students in the grades.

Origin of Words

For a non-technical example of the origin of words, consider the word salary:

The word “salary” comes from the Latin salarium, meaning “salt money.”

In ancient times, salt was used for many important things and was often referred to as “white gold.” It could be used as an antiseptic to treat wounds — In Romance languages one can recognize a connection between sal/sale, meaning “salt,” and salud/saude/salute, meaning “health”) — and to preserve food, and also as a method of payment in Greece and Rome.

As far back as the Egyptian Empire, laborers were paid with salt that they could use to preserve their food. The Roman Empire continued using this form of payment and it took on the name “salary” for “that which was given to workers at the end of the working month,” which adds a new dimension to the notion of a company’s solvency. (https://www.babbel.com/en/magazine/an-introduction-to-etymology-eight-great- word-origins)

This type of etymology would be appropriate for the grades, but as part of a history block rather than an aspect of language arts.

How the Meaning of a Word Changes over Time

Consider the word awful. It used to mean full of awe, as in an awful (awe-full) God. Now it means terrible, horrible, no good, very bad. Today, if you were to tell someone their god is awful, it would be taken as an insult, not a compliment.

This type of etymology could be appropriate for the grades, but as an aside, not as a major topic of study.

Morphology & Etymology in the Steiner Waldorf Curriculum

In grades 4-8, it is imperative that children study morphology but not etymology.

Morphology is a critical aspect of language arts: it is one of the 17 aspects of language arts that should be taught in English blocks in grades 4-8. Morphology is important for the study of vocabulary, spelling, and grammar. It becomes even more important in the Latin/Greek phase, which is usually taught in grades 7-8, after the students have mastered the syllable phase.

Students then consider the Latin and Greek roots/stems inherent in advanced English vocabulary to determine a word’s meaning and its spelling.

In contrast, etymology is not an important aspect of language arts during the grades. It is not something a teacher would teach in English blocks per se—the study of etymology in English belongs in university. However, aspects of etymology can find their way into English blocks. For example, it is good to discuss the origin of words briefly when teaching students to use a dictionary. Furthermore, aspects of etymology can enliven the study of history.

Steiner’s Advice for Working with Morphology and Etymology

Steiner does not give indications for morphology because his advice is for German, not English. This aspect of language arts is specific to English. For a full discussion of how to work with morphology in the grades, consult the book Continuing the Journey to Literacy Chapter 3.17: Morphology (Militzer-Kopperl 2020, 502-514).

Steiner does not discuss etymology per se, but he does give an example of how to work with etymology in history in Practical Advice to Teachers. He says:

We must not allow ourselves to think pedantically: “Now I am teaching geography, and now I am teaching history. I need not bother about anything else.” When we explain to the children that the word sofa came from the Orient during the Crusades, we shall see to it that we then include in the history lesson a description of the way sofas are manufactured. . . .

. . . If a teacher suddenly tells children, to their delight, about the manufacture of sofas in the middle of a history lesson, leading perhaps to a discussion of Oriental carpet patterns and presented in a way that gives then a real view of the subject, such children will have better digestion than children who are taught French lessons followed by geometry. The child will actually be physically more healthy. Thus we can well structure our lessons in this inwardly healthy way. (2000, 162)

Steiner is showing how teachers can use the etymology of the word sofa to enliven a history lesson by connecting one subject to another. For more about connecting subjects to each other, consult Continuing the Journey to Literacy chapter 2.3 #10 (Militzer-Kopperl 2020, 87-88).

Conclusion

Morphology and etymology are similar in that they both consider the meaning of words; however, only morphology is an important aspect of language arts instruction for grades 4-8. That does not mean that the Steiner Waldorf curriculum does not contain examples of etymology. The origin of words can be used to enliven history blocks and connect one subject to another.

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Question J: Request for Examples of Steiner’s Storytelling Curriculum for Fifth Grade: Scenes from Medieval History.

Question: I am teaching 5th grade this year. I have a question about the Storytelling Curriculum. I need a couple of examples of what is meant by Stories and Scenes from Medieval History. Are you meaning telling them Beowulf? Canterbury Tales? A story from the life of Eleanor of Aquitaine? Joan of Arc? I need a little direction to fuel my imagination and research.

Your question about storytelling in fifth grade is a good one. There are lots of ways you could cover scenes from Medieval history in fifth grade storytelling, and every suggestion you offered was a good possibility. However, there are more possibilities that are worth considering.

My advice would be as follows: Go to page 900 of Continuing the Journey to Literacy and use Appendix 7: Summer Preparation Forms Grades 4-6. Use it as a brainstorming tool to find possible material for your storytelling curriculum in grade 5. As you fill out the tables, you will briefly consider the history curriculum in grade 6–medieval history. The tables look at the following topics:

1. How Medieval History Impacts the Present (How it is important in students' lives today) (e.g., tell a scene from the Black Death and plagues or a story that features the Black Death)

2. Major Historical Figures (e.g., tell part of the biography of Joan of Arc) 

3. Major Wars (e.g., tell a story from the Hundred Years War)

4. Literary Works (e.g., tell one of the tales from Canterbury Tales)

Once you have the tables filled out, you will have a list of possibly story topics to tell in fifth grade. My advice would be to choose a mix–some fiction and some historical. Pick material you love, material that would speak to your class, and material that would allow you to introduce medieval history in sixth grade. 

Based on what you have said, it sounds like you have some good ideas for tables 2 and 4 (i.e., a story from the life of Elanor of Aquitaine and something from Canterbury Tales). That's great. Also consider stories from tables 1 and 3 (e.g., how medieval history impacts the present and major wars). Look at All About History magazineit has some fun magazines at https://www.historyanswers.co.uk/category/medieval-renaissance/. They are incredibly user friendly and provide aspects of the history in a narrative form. You can easily find possible topics for storytelling in these magazines. You would just pick one or more narrative story/ies about one of these topics to tell in fifth grade.

I hope this helps. If you have follow-up questions, please let me know.

Good luck!

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Question I: I would like to use DIBELS to assess reading skills but have many questions about DIBELS.

1. If you do the DIBELS assessment, does that mean that you would not test for some of the benchmarks in The Roadmap to Literacy? For instance, do you assess the Roadmap reading list as well as, or instead of, Word Reading Fluency in DIBELS? Doing both might mean a lot of formal assessment for students, depending on how it was delivered. What is most important, DIBELS or The Roadmap to Literacy’s benchmarks or both? I guess teacher designed assessment is the bulk of the job anyway, with DIBELS or similar, just helping teachers to standardize their observations and making sure they are not missing anything.    

You are correct–if you use DIBELS, you will not do all the benchmark assessments in Roadmap. When there is overlap, you would choose which assessment to use. It does not matter which you pick. Use the one you are most comfortable with (or the one mandating by the school). You are also correct that informal assessment is the bulk of assessment with DIBELS or similar helping teachers to standardize their observations, make sure they didn't miss anything, and provide an easy way to communicate with parents/colleagues/other schools/regulatory boards.

2. Under what circumstances would you NOT do one of the DIBELS standardized tests. For instance, there is a lot of controversy (or so I hear) about use of nonsense words in standardized tests. In the assessment schedule I drafted, I had only used some of the DIBELS range. When would this be appropriate, if at all?

You would not do one of the DIBELS standardized tests if the student misses too many prompts on a related DIBELS subtest–the DIBELS subtests themselves will tell you to quit and not do other related subtests when students miss a certain number of prompts. The reason is, it is unlikely that the students would be able to do the related subtests, and there is no reason to use more time (and/or stress the student) by testing further.

There is a controversy about nonsense words in the Waldorf movement. The argument goes like this: students have a fixed visual memory for words. We should not use their capacities on nonsense words. This argument is made by people who are NOT experts in literacy and is based on a serious misunderstanding of how literacy (and the brain) work. Written English is a phonetic language, which means it is a code–a letter represents a sound and vice versa. Learning the code changes the students' brains and builds new capacities–the capacity to sound out words both real and nonsensical. The purest test of students' knowledge of the code/ new capacities (i.e., decoding and encoding skills) is nonsense words because students HAVE no visual memory for these words. The test is thus pure code knowledge/pure decoding capacity.

People who make this mistake think English is like Chinese, where each word is a random pictograph. If written English words were pictographs, nonsense words WOULD tax students' visual memories for words and drain their capacities. Fortunately, it is not. Students learn the code and can read–decode–any word. Teachers need to know how this capacity is developing if they are to help students achieve the skills they need to become literate in English.

As for your assessment schedule, some DIBELS is better than no DIBELS, but all DIBELS is better than some DIBELS. That said, you have to get your teachers to buy in. You know your colleagues. Decide how far you wish to push and how fast. Perhaps it would be better to start small and build over the years? Perhaps it would be better to push for the full DIBLES from the get-go? Perhaps it would be best to make the nonsense words optional but provide recommendations for those willing to do it? Perhaps it would be best to educate people in the importance of nonsense words? There are lots of options.

In the meantime, if people have questions about nonsense words, I am happy to answer them.

3. In Australia, we are heading toward the end of the school year so may only be able to manage the tests for the end of the year. Which would of course mean we do not have any data to compare it with. We MIGHT be able to get a start on assessment this term (‘middle' assessments) and then again next term (‘end' assessments) but the time between the tests would only be something like 8 weeks. Is that worth it or fair?

It would be fine to do the end of the school year only OR both the middle and the end. However, you would use the results in different ways. Let me explain. Assessments can be used for lots of different reasons, including progress monitoring, benchmark, outcomes assessments, etc. Because there would only be two months between the “middle” and “end” of the school year, you would then use the middle assessment for progress monitoring (i.e., how much did the students gain in the last two months of school) as opposed to using the middle assessment for benchmark assessment (are the students on track to be caught up with their public school peers by the end of class 3) Under either scenario, you would only use the end assessment for benchmark. It does not matter which you choose because you would be doing more assessments next year. As long as the end assessment is done, you and the teachers would have data to work with. The teachers would know which students need a little more help and which need extensive instruction and practice to be at benchmark.

4. It would certainly be worthwhile to see what running the tests looks like in the classroom and start some data gathering for next year. Would you do a whole heap of different tests with one student, then move on to the next student? Or would you break it up a bit. I am thinking about staffing the testing by someone who is not the class teacher. Or perhaps sharing the role so teachers can build confidence in administering the test? Deciding on where to go next with each child/class will be the crucial next step.

You would do all the one-on-one assessments with one student in one sitting. If you use DIBELS, it will not take very long. The subtests are short.

It would be good to include the class teacher to build confidence in all aspects of the test. Many teachers believe testing harms the students. This is based on a false reading of Steiner's indications. Steiner took umbrage with final exams because they are stressful for some students–and now Steiner School teachers sometimes overgeneralize that indication to all assessments.

The most important thing is deciding how to apply the testing data to help each student learn. That argues for including the class teachers as much as possible because if they cannot interpret the testing data, they will not use it to inform their teaching.

5. It is quite hard to work out which assessment tool is the best. Are different literacy assessment tools pretty much comparable? What is it that one looks for in a standardized assessment tool? I have a teacher at my school that keeps name dropping various programs, perhaps as though DIBELS is inferior. It is difficult to compare different programs when they are not accessible!

Do not sweat it too much–many literacy assessment tools overlap to a greater or lesser extent. Choose the assessment that will meet your needs. For example, why are you doing the assessment? I believe you once said that you wanted it to inform instruction and lead to better outcomes for students. DIBELS is a wonderful choice to meet these objectives because it is accessible, quick, and easy to administer, and there is support material to help teachers use the data to inform classroom instruction. (Check out the book I've DIBEL'd, Now What?) 

Good luck! I will be posting an article with amended DIBELS recommendations for Steiner Schools 1–3 soon.

Jennifer

1. If you do the DIBELS assessment, does that mean that you would not test for some of the benchmarks in The Roadmap to Literacy? For instance, do you assess the Roadmap reading list as well as, or instead of, Word Reading Fluency in DIBELS? Doing both might mean a lot of formal assessment for students, depending on how it was delivered. What is most important, DIBELS or The Roadmap to Literacy’s benchmarks or both? I guess teacher designed assessment is the bulk of the job anyway, with DIBELS or similar, just helping teachers to standardize their observations and making sure they are not missing anything.    

You are correct–if you use DIBELS, you will not do all the benchmark assessments in Roadmap. When there is overlap, you would choose which assessment to use. It does not matter which you pick. Use the one you are most comfortable with (or the one mandating by the school). You are also correct that informal assessment is the bulk of assessment with DIBELS or similar helping teachers to standardize their observations, make sure they didn't miss anything, and provide an easy way to communicate with parents/colleagues/other schools/regulatory boards.

2. Under what circumstances would you NOT do one of the DIBELS standardized tests. For instance, there is a lot of controversy (or so I hear) about use of nonsense words in standardized tests. In the assessment schedule I drafted, I had only used some of the DIBELS range. When would this be appropriate, if at all?

You would not do one of the DIBELS standardized tests if the student misses too many prompts on a related DIBELS subtest–the DIBELS subtests themselves will tell you to quit and not do other related subtests when students miss a certain number of prompts. The reason is, it is unlikely that the students would be able to do the related subtests, and there is no reason to use more time (and/or stress the student) by testing further.

There is a controversy about nonsense words in the Waldorf movement. The argument goes like this: students have a fixed visual memory for words. We should not use their capacities on nonsense words. This argument is made by people who are NOT experts in literacy and is based on a serious misunderstanding of how literacy (and the brain) work. Written English is a phonetic language, which means it is a code–a letter represents a sound and vice versa. Learning the code changes the students' brains and builds new capacities–the capacity to sound out words both real and nonsensical. The purest test of students' knowledge of the code/ new capacities (i.e., decoding and encoding skills) is nonsense words because students HAVE no visual memory for these words. The test is thus pure code knowledge/pure decoding capacity.

People who make this mistake think English is like Chinese, where each word is a random pictograph. If written English words were pictographs, nonsense words WOULD tax students' visual memories for words and drain their capacities. Fortunately, it is not. Students learn the code and can read–decode–any word. Teachers need to know how this capacity is developing if they are to help students achieve the skills they need to become literate in English.

As for your assessment schedule, some DIBELS is better than no DIBELS, but all DIBELS is better than some DIBELS. That said, you have to get your teachers to buy in. You know your colleagues. Decide how far you wish to push and how fast. Perhaps it would be better to start small and build over the years? Perhaps it would be better to push for the full DIBLES from the get-go? Perhaps it would be best to make the nonsense words optional but provide recommendations for those willing to do it? Perhaps it would be best to educate people in the importance of nonsense words? There are lots of options.

In the meantime, if people have questions about nonsense words, I am happy to answer them.

3. In Australia, we are heading toward the end of the school year so may only be able to manage the tests for the end of the year. Which would of course mean we do not have any data to compare it with. We MIGHT be able to get a start on assessment this term (‘middle' assessments) and then again next term (‘end' assessments) but the time between the tests would only be something like 8 weeks. Is that worth it or fair?

It would be fine to do the end of the school year only OR both the middle and the end. However, you would use the results in different ways. Let me explain. Assessments can be used for lots of different reasons, including progress monitoring, benchmark, outcomes assessments, etc. Because there would only be two months between the “middle” and “end” of the school year, you would then use the middle assessment for progress monitoring (i.e., how much did the students gain in the last two months of school) as opposed to using the middle assessment for benchmark assessment (are the students on track to be caught up with their public school peers by the end of class 3) Under either scenario, you would only use the end assessment for benchmark. It does not matter which you choose because you would be doing more assessments next year. As long as the end assessment is done, you and the teachers would have data to work with. The teachers would know which students need a little more help and which need extensive instruction and practice to be at benchmark.

4. It would certainly be worthwhile to see what running the tests looks like in the classroom and start some data gathering for next year. Would you do a whole heap of different tests with one student, then move on to the next student? Or would you break it up a bit. I am thinking about staffing the testing by someone who is not the class teacher. Or perhaps sharing the role so teachers can build confidence in administering the test? Deciding on where to go next with each child/class will be the crucial next step.

You would do all the one-on-one assessments with one student in one sitting. If you use DIBELS, it will not take very long. The subtests are short.

It would be good to include the class teacher to build confidence in all aspects of the test. Many teachers believe testing harms the students. This is based on a false reading of Steiner's indications. Steiner took umbrage with final exams because they are stressful for some students–and now Steiner School teachers sometimes overgeneralize that indication to all assessments.

The most important thing is deciding how to apply the testing data to help each student learn. That argues for including the class teachers as much as possible because if they cannot interpret the testing data, they will not use it to inform their teaching.

5. It is quite hard to work out which assessment tool is the best. Are different literacy assessment tools pretty much comparable? What is it that one looks for in a standardized assessment tool? I have a teacher at my school that keeps name dropping various programs, perhaps as though DIBELS is inferior. It is difficult to compare different programs when they are not accessible!

Do not sweat it too much–many literacy assessment tools overlap to a greater or lesser extent. Choose the assessment that will meet your needs. For example, why are you doing the assessment? I believe you once said that you wanted it to inform instruction and lead to better outcomes for students. DIBELS is a wonderful choice to meet these objectives because it is accessible, quick, and easy to administer, and there is support material to help teachers use the data to inform classroom instruction. (Check out the book I've DIBEL'd, Now What?) 

Good luck! See my article “DIBELS Recommendations for Steiner Schools.”

Jennifer

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Question H: What is your opinion on teaching the Vimala method of cursive writing to students?

Vimala is less a handwriting program than a path for soul development. This is the essence of why it is not a good choice in the classroom. Vimala causes problems in both the academic curriculum and the child-development curriculum.

Academic Curriculum: Vimala is Not Good Handwriting 

The purpose of handwriting is to facilitate written communication. When choosing a handwriting program, there are two areas to consider: 1) ease of writing; and 2) ease of reading. While the shapes of Vimala letters are not difficult to learn to form, some of them are very difficult to read. When children write Vimala, it makes their developing writing look even messier than usual. The lowercase letter G looks like it is not completely formed, even when written correctly. Vimala has letters of odd sizes, such as the lowercase letter T, which looks like an uppercase T. People who use Vimala look like they cannot capitalize properly. You can tell that that is not the case when confronted with perfectly formed Vimala written by an adult, but with students, Vimala just contributes to an aura of bad handwriting and error, particularly if the students already struggle to capitalize correctly. 

Child-Development Curriculum: Vimala is Developmentally Inappropriate 

It is very desirable for adults to take up their own development, such as by changing their handwriting. It is not desirable for teachers to take their students through such a path of self-development. Students are not developmentally ready to take up their development in this way until they come of age. Students should be working on the development of their etheric body and then astral bodies after puberty. Steiner is very clear on the developmental stages and ages. Only after this work is done are people ready to take up their development in freedom.

Teachers who bring Vimala are doing something very much against the spirit of Steiner's indications re: child development. Everything at the right time. Teachers must tread very carefully in this realm. 

Form drawing is a better approach for the child-development curriculum. Steiner made form drawing for students. It helps the students work on the levels they are developmentally ready for. Adults who wish to take the practice of Form Drawing further are invited to consult Laura Embrey-Stein's work on Form Drawing for adults. She is quick to tell teachers never to bring adult form drawing into the classroom–students are not developmentally ready for it. Instead, Laura gives form drawing exercises that are developmentally appropriate for different ages/grades. She recognizes the power inherent in Form Drawing and uses it to work in tandem with child development. 

Conclusion

In a nutshell, that is what is wrong with Vimala–it is for adults, not students. 

My recommendation is to teach the students a standard cursive font such as D'Nealian, Handwriting without Tears, Zaner Bloser, etc. That way, everyone can read their handwriting because it is standard. If students wish to take up their development through handwriting when they come of age, they are then free to do so. They can use Vimala as a path of development when they are of an age to make those decisions for themselves.

If you want to help your students, a better path is to teach an academically robust Waldorf curriculum instead of Vimala. The Waldorf curriculum works on both the academic curriculum and the child-development curriculum. (Consult my book Continuing the Journey to Literacy for more information about how to make an academically robust Waldorf curriculum.) The Waldorf curriculum will help the students develop in a way that is healthy. Vimala won't–not until the students come of age and not unless they freely make the decision to take up their development. Such a path is fine for adults to take, but it is inappropriate for children. 

For another view of why Vimala is not a good choice, go to The Parenting Passageway: https://theparentingpassageway.com/2013/01/27/cursive-writing/. While I do not agree with everything stated in this post, it is worth considering because there is a lot of wisdom in it, and it will help you flesh out this topic and consider it from different angles. 

No one has full possession of the truth. If you look at the issue from multiple perspectives, you will be able to make a well-informed choice. Good luck and thank you for asking!

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Question G: A Roadmap Reader Asks to Play Devil’s Advocate Part Two

Note: These questions were submitted by the same Waldorf teacher who submitted Question F. She had been encountering resistance when using Roadmap in her school. She asked if she could continue to play devil’s advocate and submit the objections she encountered when defending her use of Roadmap in the classroom.

Objection One: In Class 1 children should write only things they know by heart (like verses and songs). Kid writing makes no sense.

Not true. Look at what Steiner in “First Lecture on the Curriculum:”  “If we proceed rationally, we will get far enough in the first grade [class 1] so that the children will be able to write simple things that we say to them or that they compose themselves” (Steiner 1997, 184). By the end of class 1, students should be able to compose simple things by themselves.

Objection Two: Class 1 children are not ready for academic learning. Waldorf schools have a very unique vision of child development that differs from any other views. They are in a dreamy state, not yet ready for formal learning really.

Not true. Let’s review Steiner’s ideas about child development, which show that the students are ready for academic learning during the second seven years, which begins with the change of teeth (age 6). Those who hold this belief are confusing the first seven years with the second seven years. This mistake is common, and its origin is a difficulty in translating Steiner’s indications from German to English.

The following material comes directly from my book Continuing the Journey to Literacy:

The Waldorf curriculum is based on human development as understood through anthroposophy. Therefore, it is necessary to present some key terms as a prerequisite for considering the Waldorf curriculum.

Steiner often refers to four aspects of the human being or the four-fold human being. The Waldorf curriculum is structured around the development and maturation of these four aspects:

  1. Physical body refers to the part of the human that is perceptible to the eye. It provides a vehicle for interaction with the physical world through action and the senses and also through breathing and the digestion of The growth of this body dominates the child for approximately the first seven years (birth through the change of teeth around age six).
  2. Etheric body, or life body, refers to the element that provides the warmth, growth, and healing capacity in a living physical It is the blueprint for the physical body. Without it, the physical body is a corpse and returns to its natural elements. It also is the home for habits, memory, character, conscience, and the temperament(Steiner 1996b, 55). The growth of this body dominates the child for approximately the second seven years, or the change of teeth up until puberty. [Note: The exact age of puberty varies considerably. Steiner states, “The development of the ether body occurs in the period from the seventh until the sixteenth year in boys, and until the fourteenth year in girls.” (1996b, 58).] While the etheric body is present before the change of teeth, its focus is the growth and development of the physical body. The etheric body is freed at the time of the change of teeth, and that is why formal academic education begins at the change of teeth in Waldorf schools (1996b, 54).
  3. Astral body refers to the sentient part of the human being and the aspect governed by sensations, desires, likes, and dislikes. It is the seat of feelings and the ability to discern or judge (Steiner 1996b, 55). This aspect carries reason (Steiner 2001, 184). The growth of this body dominates the teenager for approximately the third seven years. Steiner says, “The time between the fourteenth and the twentieth or twenty-second years is when the faculty of critical intellect develops” (1996b, 55).
  4. Ego(or I-being) refers to the distinct individuality of each person. The growth of this body dominates a young adult for approximately the fourth seven years.

Steiner’s entire curriculum is structured around the four-fold development of the human being.

Note: Steiner uses both years and ages when discussing child development in his lectures. This fact creates confusion. The first year is from birth to the first birthday, the second year is from the first birthday to the second birthday, or age 1, etc. Table 1.2.1 shows the relationship between ages and years.

Table 1.2.1: Comparison of Ages and Years

Ages: 

0

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

Years:      

Year 1

Year 2

Year 3

Year 4

Year 5

Year 6

Year 7

 

In Steiner’s First Lecture on the Curriculum, there is an indication where the translator, Katherine E. Creeger, interjects the following note by way of explanation:

The German translates literally as “in their eighth or ninth year” and is sometimes mistranslated in English as “eight or nine years old”; thus references to beginning school in “the seventh year” can be taken to mean that “children shouldn’t go to school until they are seven.” What Steiner said, however, was “in the seventh year of their life—that is, “six-going-on-seven.” –TRANS. (Steiner 1997, 186)

Also note that what is important in Steiner’s paradigm is not the exact years or ages but child development. The seven-year periods are approximations that roughly correspond to the change of teeth and puberty.

These two distinctions are important for delineating the three stage of child development.  (Militzer-Kopperl 2020, 13–14)

As you can see, under Steiner’s view of child development, the sign that students are ready for academic instruction is the beginning of the change of teeth, which is the sign that the etheric forces are freed. This happens during the seventh year, or age six. At this time, students need to be met by a teacher and begin formal academic learning.

Keeping class 1 students in a dreamy state treats them as if they are overgrown kindergartners and ignores the reality of child development. It should be anathema to an educational system based on the needs of the growing human being. However, due to difficulties translating German to English, an error has slipped into Waldorf teacher training. There is no shame in making this mistake. After, even professional translators have made it and perpetuated the confusion! Fixing the mistake just requires an acknowledgement that ages and years are not the same.

Objection Three: Recall and one drawing of the story, together with songs and recitation, is all students need in Class 1.

This curriculum is more in line with the first seven years of development and treats class 1 students like Kindergartners. The students are ready for academic work at the change of teeth (age 6, the seventh year—see objection two). Waldorf students should get academics in class 1.

Steiner wants the students to be caught up with their peers in public schools by the end of class 3. How will the children get caught up if the class 1 teacher does not teach academics? They would then be two full years behind their peers in a public-school system. 

Objection Four: Working with CVC words (consonant vowel consonant words such as dog, hip, man, lug) makes no sense. That's a list of words and a dry and mental activity.

Yup–it sure is a dry and mental activity, which is why we Waldorf teachers teach it through feeling and image. Steiner is clear that these fixed concepts are just as necessary to the children's healthy development as the living ones. 

Objection Five: Teaching consonant teams make no sense in Class 1. It's too advanced teaching, mental, the children don't need it

Teaching consonant teams makes total sense in class 1. Consonant teams are essentially letters of the alphabet. They appear in the most common words: THE, WHAT, SHE, etc. They also appear in one of the most common suffixes: -ing.  If you want students to make the association between letters and sounds and realize that writing is a code, they need to understand why the T in the word THE does not make the sound /t/, etc. A child who can learn that the letter S has the sound /s/ can learn that the letters SH have the sound /sh/. It’s the same skill with two letters instead of one.

Objection Six: There is no need to distinguish subjects and skills. 

Steiner did not make the distinction between subjects and skills. That's one of the reasons why Janet Langley and I wrote Roadmap. Steiner was a reformer, but there's room (and need) for improvement. Otherwise, the great ideas he had will be less effective than they could be, and Waldorf will remain the laughingstock of the educational world because our students struggle to read and spell. 

Objection Seven: Not all resources that say they are Waldorf are necessarily Waldorf.

Too true! Sadly, the resources we are thinking of probably do not match!

Roadmap is more true to Waldorf than anything on the market. It is the results of applied spiritual science. Too many current Waldorf practices are just dogma and vestiges of romanticism. People sometimes treat anthroposophy as if it were a religion rather than a science. Roadmap and the sequel look at what Steiner actually said and then pick up where his work left off. They are applied spiritual science, which means they will contradict some of the fixed traditions that have grown up over the years (i.e., sacred nothings).

Objection Eight: All children are exceptional in one way or another and it is better not to categorize children that way.

Steiner categorizes the children in this way all the time. He also shows why it is necessary and good to do so.

Steiner acknowledges some children are potential geniuses while others are not so bright. The following quotation is from The Child’s Changing Consciousness:

If they [teachers] can make a firm resolve to stand in the school as selflessly as possible, to obliterate not only their own sympathies and antipathies, but also their personal ambitions, in order to dedicate themselves to whatever comes from the students, then they will properly educate potential geniuses as well as the less-bright pupils. (Steiner 1996a, 141)

It is necessary to categorize the children in this way so that teachers know how to meet the needs of the bright students as well as the struggling students. In Discussions with Teachers, Steiner says the following:

First you must very carefully ascertain the worthiness of the self-assertiveness of the pupils who are more gifted and therefore more capable. You must not allow their greater talent to develop into ambitious egoism, but help them to use their gifts to help the other children. You can get the smart children like this to do something with their special powers that will help the others, so that they do not work just for themselves, but for the other children as well. If they are better at arithmetic, have them do the problem first, and let the others learn from them. Their greater ability is channeled properly when they hear from the teacher the consequence of a line of thought that could be expressed in this way: John is a good boy. Look how much he can do. Such people are a great help to others, and I’m very pleased with all of you that you learned so much from John. (78–79)

The heart of this indication is in socializing the more advanced students to using their genius to help others rather than develop a big head around their own advanced abilities. 

In conclusion, this belief does not come from Steiner. Some children are simply more or less capable. We have to educate them all. It is easier to do so if we can speak plainly about their aptitudes and take steps to work with all the students.

Conclusion

These objections show that there are many beliefs that are entrenched in the Waldorf movement that are impeding necessary reforms. It would be a good idea to root more of these beliefs out and address them openly.

 

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Question F: A Roadmap Reader Asks to Play Devil’s Advocate Part One

Note: These questions were submitted by a Waldorf teacher who encountered resistance when using Roadmap in her school. She asked if she could play devil’s advocate. I responded to the request as follows:

I want to take a stab at answering your questions: I like straight answers, so I'll shoot from the hip. I may seem a little glib–that's the point. Read these answers as if they were humorous answers in an education magazine or an advice column. They are meant to be slightly humorous and tongue-in-cheek. I hope the style does not offend!

1. Why is it so needed that we teach some phonic rules straight in Class 1—why can't vowel teams be delayed till Class 2?

Vowel teams CAN wait until Class 2!  Teach to your class's phase, not to its grade (in this case, Class!). Some classes will be ready at the end of first grade–others won't. It doesn't matter which, as long as you teach to the phase of the average student in the class (and work with small groups of students who are behind to help them catch up). 

1.5 I meant consonant teams but ended up writing vowel teams. I was told that teaching consonant teams make no sense in Class 1. It's too advanced teaching, mental, the children don't need it.

Teaching consonant teams makes total sense in class 1 because they are essentially letters of the alphabet and they appear in the most common words: THE, WHAT, SHE, etc. They also appear in one of the most common suffixes: -ing.  If you want students to make the association between letters and sounds and realize that writing is a code, they need to understand why the T in the word THE does not make the sound /t/, etc. 

I can’t tell you how many second grade Waldorf students I have assessed who do not realize that consonant teams (consonant digraphs) exist—and this was in February of second grade! These students try to sound out words by saying one sound for every letter. The word shop becomes s-hop. They do not have the basic tools they need to figure out the code. Some parents choose to take their students to the public Waldorf schools (charter schools) or their local public schools because the children are failing to learn to read. Colleagues from several of these schools have expressed exasperation to me with the number of students coming from Waldorf schools who need remedial reading instruction. This situation is part of what inspired me to write The Roadmap to Literacy (Langley and Militzer-Kopperl, 2018).

2. Does it make sense the idea of not to correct spelling for the sake of not stopping children from wanting to write and if it does, until when?

It makes sense if you are the parent of said child and the child is writing at home for fun. 

If you are the teacher and the child is writing in school, do your job. Correct away! Not to do so is to be derelict in duty. (How are the kids going to learn to spell better if no one points out their mistakes and makes them fix them?)

That said, be tactful. If you have a melancholic student, be even more tactful.

You don't need to correct every spelling error in every bit of student writing. Figure out which assignments need to have every spelling error fixed (e.g., main lesson book entries or final drafts of Kid Writing) and which do not. Some assignments can just be for fun, and spelling may not be corrected per se.

3. Why not delaying kid writing until the summer term in Class 1? (I was really asked this.)

Short answer: ‘Cuz Steiner said so. Read First Lecture on the Curriculum. Steiner says, “If we proceed rationally, we will get far enough in the first grade so that the children will be able to write simple things that we say to them or that they compose themselves.”

For teachers who are not satisfied acting out of Steiner's authority (which should be all Waldorf teachers), it is because Kid Writing is an excellent way to develop phonemic awareness and letter recognition. It practices spelling of sight words and encoding. It builds the neural capacities children need for decoding. It is fun for the children (once they get over their hang ups and perfectionism). It allows them to see the benefit of learning these tricky and/or boring letters. It is a way to practice every literacy skill you have taught them. It goes from the Whole to the Parts. I could go on . . .

4. When you use graphite pencils to write you are overseeing the importance of the artistic element in writing or not necessarily so?

I don't know what this means, but I'll take a stab at it. 

You use graphite pencils because they allow the students to form their letters beautifully and with ease. They also allow for erasing. 

You do not use colored pencils because they do not. Colored pencils require more pressure, which leads to writer's cramp. Their tips dull faster, which makes the letters harder to form and forces the children to write larger than they would if they used graphite. Students cannot erase their answers.

You don't use crayons because crayons are right out. They are for coloring.

(If you rephrase this question, I'll expand upon this answer.)

4a. Where can you apply the artistic/aesthetic element in handwriting apart from a beautiful letter formation when writing with graphite?

Nowhere. Apart from beautiful letter formation (which includes spacing, height, shape, straight line, etc.), there is no further artistic/aesthetic element when writing with graphite.

However, this is as it should be. There is no further need for an artistic/aesthetic element in handwriting because language itself is the artistic element. You don’t need to ask students to jazz up their handwriting to bring an artistic element into writing a composition into their main lesson books—that artistic element is already there in the language. The artistic element is found in the students’ growing mastery of style, vocabulary, sentence structure, and use of literary elements such as alliteration and assonance, simile and metaphor, etc.

The beauty comes from the language itself, not the form of the writing on the page. Handwriting in main lesson books should be largely a utilitarian thing. The students should use their neatest printing or cursive, but that’s it.

The exceptions include the following:

  1. When you are teaching medieval decorative manuscripts such as The Book of Kells, then it would be appropriate to ask the students to decorate their main lesson books as the monks used to do and to create elaborate forms for certain letters.
  2. If you choose to teach calligraphy, then you can ask the students to copy a poem or some other work using a special font in calligraphy. (Note: As a rule of thumb, lessons in calligraphy should not be scheduled in main lesson—main lesson classes are for academic work.)

The whole idea that students need to decorate their main lesson books is a sacred nothing that I address in depth in Continuing the Journey to Literacy.

5. Is there any chance that the spelling of children who were never taught spelling actively or strategically will in fact improve by magic from Class 4 onwards?

It is possible but not probable. I see two ways:

  1. If the children have phenomenal symbol imagery and read a lot, their spelling will improve. It wouldn't necessarily occur from Class 4 onwards. You'd probably see signs of it by Class 3 if it were going to happen organically.
  2. If the children are hit on the head (e.g., horrible traffic accident or concussion) and develop savant-like abilities in symbol imagery, then yes, their spelling will improve.

The better way to develop spelling is to teach the children the spelling of common sight words and to teach them to encode using phonics rules. It is also healthier. Steiner is clear that fixed concepts are useful for the children's development. (Concepts can be fixed or living. Both are necessary.) Spelling, grammar, and math facts are some of the fixed concepts Waldorf schools could be doing a better job teaching. They also would help with child development. Teaching these fixed concepts is truly win-win. The kids learn more, and it helps with their development.

If teachers also teach symbol imagery skills while they teach sight words and phonics rules, it'd speed up the process immeasurably for most of the students. 

5a. Would you say more about fixed concepts?

Certainly. The following comes from my book Continuing the Journey to Literacy:

Concepts that can change and grow are living concepts. These concepts are characterized. Teachers should not give students a fixed definition of a living concept, but instead work with characterization so the concept can change over time. In The Foundations of Human Experience, Steiner says, “You must teach the children concepts that can evolve throughout their lives…. continual defining is the death of living instruction” (1996, 153–154).

However, some concepts are fixed. Fixed concepts do not change. Fixed concepts are defined. They remain the same throughout life. It is just as important to work with these concepts. Steiner says, “When you teach children, you must carefully differentiate between concepts that are flexible and those (and they do exist) that do not need to change. The latter concepts can give children a kind of framework in their souls” (1996, 154). (Militzer-Kopperl 2020, 87).

Fixed concepts include spelling rules, phonics rules, the multiplication table, etc. Living concepts include what a lion is, etc. It is necessary to work with both types of concepts in the classroom.

6. Is assessment so necessary in lower grades?

Yes!  You can't (necessarily) tell which sensory-cognitive functions the children have just by observing the students and their work (i.e., informal assessment).

You should assess three times a year to make sure everything is progressing as it should. These assessment are in addition to the observing you do in class. Use the results to inform your teaching. If you do both, you can get 95% of your students to grade-level. If you don't assess, some of them will fall through the cracks. 

For example, children with good symbol imagery look like above-average readers in grades 1-2. They will fool you into thinking they have developed phonemic awareness when they have not. In grades 3-5, these precocious readers often stop progressing, get frustrated, and struggle. If they are lucky, someone will assess, spot the problem(s), provide remedial education, and get them back into the game before their self esteem plummets, and they give up on education because reading is too hard.

Does my advice contradict what Steiner said? Absolutely. However, Steiner was not right in this instance. It is common knowledge in the world of remedial education: you can't tell just be looking. That's why you assess. Assessment is like looking with a microscope–it allows you to see what cannot be observed with the naked eye.

6a. Was it because times were different back then and they could do without assessment? Or he simply didn’t have time to consider the topic/talk about it? Or was he really against it?

That’s a good question. I’m not sure. The following is just my opinion:

Steiner frequently uses hyperbole, especially when he is denouncing something. Steiner denounced final examinations because they are stressful for students. He included all examination in the crossfire. The following comes from my book, Continuing the Journey to Literacy:

Final Exams

Steiner is not in favor of final exams. He makes some blanket statements about all exams in his condemnation of final exams. (For more about Steiner’s use of blanket statements, see Steiner’s Style in chapter 1.1 #1):

  • “It is best and most in line with the ideal of education to let the congested learning that precedes final examinations fall by the wayside—that is, drop final examinations all together…. As teachers, we might ask ourselves why we should test children at all, because we have them in front of us and know very well what they do or do not know” (1996c, 203).
  • “Ideally we should have no examinations at all. The final exams are a compromise with the authorities. Prior to puberty, dread of examinations can become the driving impulse of the whole physiological and psychological constitution of the child. The best thing would be to get rid of all examinations” (1997a, 25–26). (Militzer-Kopperl 2020, 801)

From context, it is apparent that Steiner’s objection with exams is centered around the harm certain types of examinations can inflict upon students (e.g., cramming is not healthy; dread of final examinations is not healthy, etc.). Does this mean Steiner was truly against ALL examinations? Or is this just an example of hyperbole?

On a certain level, what does it matter? Even if Steiner is truly against all assessments, would he be right? I would argue that assessment is necessary for teachers to know how well or poorly their students are learning and is a necessary part of a healthy education.

It is common knowledge in the world of remedial education: you can't tell just be looking. That is why you assess. Assessment is like looking with a microscope–it allows you to see what cannot be observed with the naked eye.

7. In tracking progress do we really need to use a specific rubric or the use of this will “kill” the overall view that a teacher should have over his/her student and so narrative evaluation is the thing to rely on?

Use the right tool for the right job. Some things work better with rubrics, and some with narrative evaluation. Decide which sheds more light on the matter. (Note: If your objective is to hide poor results, use the narrative!) The best approach is often both/and. Use a rubric to make the results clear (e.g., below average), but then use narrative to paint a full picture. Table 1.1.1 is from Continuing the Journey to Literacy. It illustrates the point.

Table 1.1.1: A Sample of a Balanced Report for Spelling Skills

Leticia Hernandez

Date

Spelling: Grade C-

The spelling program consisted of weekly spelling words designed to review grade-appropriate spelling principles.

Benchmark: Students can spell grade-level words in context using the following strategies:

 

 

Exceeds

Benchmark

Meets

Benchmark

Below Benchmark

Well Below Benchmark

Memorizing weekly spelling words

 

X

 

 

Recalling correct spelling from weekly spelling lists 

 

 

X

 

Encoding unfamiliar words with spelling principles / phonics rules

 

 

 

X

 

Leticia has shown much personal growth in spelling this past year. She now studies hard for her weekly spelling tests and makes a good effort to memorize the words. However, she is not yet able to remember the spellings consistently when she is composing. Furthermore, she cannot apply the spelling principles to words she has not memorized.

Note how either the rubric or the narrative alone would have painted a false picture–either too pessimistic or too optimistic. It is only by providing both that you can give the full truth.

8. Finally and on a totally different note, I would love to hear your views on teaching Norse Myths in Grade 4. In a nutshell, why is it questionable?

In a nutshell–it is not at all what Steiner recommends, and his recommendation is, well, better! I cover this topic in exhaustive depth in Continuing the Journey to Literacy. I show Steiner's recommendation for Class 4, explain where Norse mythology comes from, and show options–including teaching Steiner's indication, Norse mythology, or both! There is so much to say on this topic, I’ll direct you to Continuing the Journey to Literacy.

Thank you for the questions! This blog was fun to write! I hope I did not offend. I just meant to have some fun after a long, exhausting week.

It didn’t offend and I’ve loved the fun tone!

 

 

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