Category Archives for Ask the Waldorf Guide Technical Questions about Roadmap

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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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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Question E: Are Steiner Educators Trained in Explicit Analytic Phonics Instruction?

Would it be accurate that Steiner educators from your experience are trained in the use of whole-class, explicit analytic phonics instruction but that this is introduced after they have developed skills around rhyme, alliteration, syllables, onset/rime and compound words with the children? 

In my experience, it is difficult to generalize other than to say that most Steiner educators are using a variant of Whole Language–which may or may not include aspects from other approaches. Most Waldorf teachers realize that the Whole Language they have is inadequate and do additional research to figure out what else to teach and how to teach it.

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Question D: Do Steiner Schools Use an Analytic Phonic Approach?

And so perhaps literacy learning in Steiner schools uses an analytic phonic approach..? What are your thoughts around this?

There is no single approach in Steiner schools. Waldorf teachers in the English-speaking world are frantically trying to add in the missing material to Steiner's indications so that they can teach reading and spelling in English. They tend to use whatever they can get their hands on, but not necessarily. A minority limit themselves to Steiner's indications and don't teach anything beyond the alphabet and copying passages from the board before using them as reading material, for example. Most supplement the curriculum Steiner gave because they realize there is more to teach. They just don't realize why.

Steiner spoke German. He advised German-speaking teachers. This fact has consequences. German is much more phonetic than English. Consequently, there is not much to be found in Steiner's indications re: literacy approaches that applies to English. However, Steiner's indications are really the main thing that holds the Steiner schools' educational approaches together. Everything else comes from the individual teacher and whatever training s/he had–Waldorf or otherwise. Thus, it is hard to speak about what approach the Steiner schools use because after teaching the alphabet, Steiner schools' teaching approaches diverge to accommodate the fact that teachers have to supplement what Steiner said in order to teach literacy in English. As a result, commonality is lost.

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Question C: Does Steiner Education Use Strict Whole Language Approaches?

I acknowledge that some literacy specialists have criticised the Steiner Education approach to literacy development as using ‘whole-language’ or ‘blended-literacy’. But from what I can tell by my limited observation of Steiner classrooms, this isn’t exactly the case. To me, there seems to be some explicit teaching around syllables, onset/rime and compound words, followed by some phoneme segmentation and blending.

Every Waldorf teacher is doing it differently. Steiner Education is based on Steiner's advice for teaching literacy in German, which is much more phonetic than English. Steiner Education as articulated by Steiner is more “whole language;” however, a careful reading of Steiner shows that Steiner was open to using elements of all educational approaches to reading available in his day. He did not want teachers to get fixed on there being only one right way. That point has largely been lost in Steiner Education. It now identifies itself as “whole language.” Teachers who use other approaches often do so on the sly–or in addition to whole language. Remember, Waldorf teachers enjoy more autonomy in how they teach than their public school teachers do.

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Question B: Is Roadmap Based on a Particular Evidence-Based Approach?

Do you refer to a particular evidence-based approach to reading in your book?

Not per se. Roadmap outlines an entirely new approach–one that borrows from many streams rather than declaring allegiance to phonics or whole language or any one particular evidence-based approach. The underlying research that supports Roadmap is based on material from Bear et al, which is the foundation for many different evidence-based approaches to reading. However, Roadmap is something new.

I developed my own approach to teaching reading because I was not satisfied with the current evidence-based approaches. Too many of them are too fixed and do not help students at different stages of education (and concomitant levels of brain development). They also do not recognize that all reading approaches contain one or more useful features. It is by looking at how the brain develops literacy–both through today's research and through the lens of how humanity develops literacy over the ages–that I found some useful clues as to what is an optimal approach to teaching writing and reading. Once I had my framework, I then brought in aspects from many different evidence-based approaches to literacy–including aspects from Lindamood Bell (which is my background), Orton Gillingham, and others.

Roadmap is a new approach to teaching literacy. It is based on modern research and on Steiner's indications. (Paradoxically, it is more in alignment with Steiner's indications than most things done in Waldorf classrooms in Steiner Schools.)  It is truly a hybrid of many approaches–which is what Steiner had wanted. Trying to classify things is very much against the spirit of Steiner's indications–and yet, it has to be done. Classifying things helps us figure out what is and is not happening in the classroom–and allows us to figure out how to improve the education.

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