Category Archives for Ask the Waldorf Guide Remedial Questions about Individual Students

14. Typing as a Modification for Severe Handwriting Difficulties

Question Fourteen: I understand that part of the reading process is a child reading his own writing before that of others, and the value of muscle memory in language arts learning. I wonder about a child who is discouraged by his handwriting. I wonder about the comparative benefit. For example, if a child still flips letters and numbers, is it neurologically beneficial to continue to hand write them incorrectly, or is it better to type them? If a child views looking at his own handwriting as a humiliating experience, does the muscle memory outweigh that? 

Handwriting is important at every stage of learning. Read The Roadmap to Literacy chapter 3.2 #1 Why Handwriting Matters (pages 100–101).  Also read the article “What’s Lost as Handwriting Fades” (https://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/03/science/whats-lost-as-handwriting-fades.html.) It is very important that students learn handwriting.

That said, handwriting should not be this much of a struggle. You are right to ask what to do, but you have the question framed in a way that will not yield a helpful answer. You ask, “Is it neurologically beneficial to continue to handwrite [flipped letters] or is it better to type them?” The answer is it is not beneficial to repeat mistakes—it only cements in incorrect habits. It is also bad to use typing to avoid the problem because typing would not fix the underlying issue. The solution is not to type but to deal with the underlying cause.  See the answers to questions 5 and 6 for information on how to remediate handwriting difficulties.

It is very important to deal with the underlying cause for many reasons. First, the underlying cause will most likely affect things other than handwriting. For example, untreated vision problems or sensory-motor issues will create new problems down the road. Second, using technology is a very poor substitute for handwriting as documented in the article given above. Third, using screens creates its own set of problems. Waldorf education has long known that television ruins students’ imaginations and prevents them from doing healthy things such as playing. All the objections to television apply to other screens (computer/phone/tablet).

In many ways, screens are worse than TV. Computers, phones, and tablets expose students to higher levels of electromagnetic pollution than television would because the students are in closer proximity to the screen. Furthermore, any Wi-Fi enabled device also exposes students to radiation. For example, two minutes on a cell phone call with a phone pressed to the head results in changes to the brain that take an hour to normalize. The long-term health effects of such exposure are only now being studied.  (See Roadmap to Literacy pages 544–545 for more information.)

There are other long-term considerations as well. Students should not use any screen that has blue light after dinner because blue light interferes with sleep, and poor sleep interferes with learning and health.  Using a computer that has Internet access is a major temptation for students. If the student needs the screen to write, how will the use of the screen impact his studies in the future? These are things to think about.

That said, there is a small subset of students who need to type because their handwriting problem is so severe. This subset of students is small. Offering typing as a modification should be the last resort, and it should be an option only if the occupational therapist (or another qualified professional) recommends it.  For these students, there is a really good solution: the Alphasmart Neo.

The Alphasmart Neo is a brand of portable, battery-powered, word-processing keyboards that are great for word processing. You can hook them up to a computer or printer to print off documents. They are discontinued, but they are available used on line for under $50.  They are incredibly durable, and they are a great educational tool to use when it is time for students to start typing their papers. You can buy models that do nothing but word processing and thus by-pass all the temptations available on a computer, from the Internet to all the fun color and font options available on Microsoft Word. If you want to avoid exposing your children to unnecessary radiation, get the Alphasmart Neo rather than the Alphasmart Neo 2. Simpler is better.

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13. Catching up on Academics

Question Thirteen: I am curious how to approach language arts remediation work with a 6th grader who is just beginning to take off with their reading abilities. Grammar and spelling were only lightly worked with in earlier grades due to the delayed reading and now we are grades past where these studies would have been introduced and worked with. I’m wondering how to approach this seemingly overwhelming backlog of studies. What would a developmentally appropriate pace look like for starting language arts (spelling, grammar) with an older student? I can see how some areas might move along at a faster pace with an older child, but how and where can the language arts lessons be consolidated and how to tie them in with the current year’s curriculum? What might this look like? And, are there any resources out there for inspiration in planning remedial language arts lessons for an older student?

(I actually purchased Roadmap to Literacy last summer, but have not had much time to spend with it. And was feeling overwhelmed initially by the scope of it and wondering how to translate it into lessons for a 6th grader.)

Thank you for your purchase of Roadmap!

Without knowing more about the reading abilities of the student, this is a hard question to answer. If I understand you correctly, the student is years behind in reading, spelling, and grammar, yet you want to attempt to do the Waldorf sixth-grade curriculum. The approach you would need to take would depend on the level of the student’s reading, spelling, and grammar skills. The Roadmap to Literacy has information that could help you assess the reading and spelling skills of your student, but it is geared for teaching grades 1–3, not remediating older students per se. You could use it to design the reading and spelling aspects of your curriculum, depending on your student’s level. It would be an excellent resource. However, you would need to spend time with it. (My co-author and I are planning to do a podcast with Jean to show everyone how to use the book. It is overwhelming to have a 600-page book, but it is much easier once you understand the layout and how to use it.)

However, grammar would require a slightly different approach as the presentation in The Roadmap to Literacy is geared towards much younger students. Furthermore, The Roadmap to Literacy does not have the information you would need for designing a sixth-grade language arts curriculum as it covers language arts in grades 1–3. (I am currently writing the sequel to The Roadmap to Literacy. It has the language arts curriculum for Waldorf grades 4–8. I plan to have the sequel on the market some time in 2020.)

I would recommend starting with an academic assessment and then hiring someone to help you design a curriculum to help your student catch up. The weakness in language arts skills impact almost every aspect of the curriculum.  It will be necessary to modify the curriculum to bring it in line with the student’s skills in addition to building in additional skills practice to bring the language arts skills up to grade level.

Neither my co-author, Janet Langley, nor I are aware of any resources for inspiration in lesson planning for remedial language arts lessons for older students. Janet adds the following advice: “When faced with this scenario, each teacher has to come up with his/her own remediation depending on the needs of the student. For sure the parent here will need to do a lot of oral presentations and the student a lot of artistic assignments about those presentations until the student’s literacy skills catch up to the student’s grade level.”

Good luck.

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12. When to Intervene with Letter Flipping

Question Twelve: My question is really wondering how to determine if something is wrong and when to intervene. I have 10 year old twins, boy/girl and my daughter is far more skilled at language arts than my son, particularly the act of handwriting. My son still flips the occasional letter and number. He decided he wanted to write only in caps because it is harder to flip them. He is bothered by his writing and that is what is starting to concern me. I know girls are often more developed in this area than boys, at an earlier age.  However, I wonder by 10 if this should be starting to diminish.  I have zero problem with him going as slowly as he needs, conversely not wanting him to feel badly because he feels like he is behind.  So I guess I want to know the scope of normal for decent handwriting and when and how to intervene.

You are right to be concerned. It is normal for students to do mirror writing when they first learn their letters. It is also normal for students to flip an occasional numeral or letter before age 8 (around second grade). Afterwards, it is time to intervene.  Unfortunately, flipping letters is a bit like sneezing—there is more than one possible diagnosis. Here’s a short list of things that can cause a student to flip letters:

  • Irlen Syndrome (pages 540­ – 541 in Roadmap to Literacy)
  • Eye issues/Visual processing issues (ibid)
  • Poor visual memory:  the ability to recall a visual image
  • Poor visualization: the ability to create a mental image (See chapter 3.5 Symbol Imagery in The Roadmap to Literacy and page 550—Seeing Stars: Symbol Imagery for Phonological and Orthographic Processing)
  • Poor visual-motor integration:  the ability of the visual and muscular system to work together
  • Dyslexia (pages 553­-556 in Roadmap to Literacy)
  • Etc.

You can do a quick initial screening for common vision problems by using the subsection Problems with the Student’s Eyes in The Roadmap to Literacy (pages 540–541). It will give you a list of things to do to screen your child for common problems. Follow up with the appropriate professional, as directed in the book.

If that does not help with the problem, it is good to look at visual processing, visual motor, and dyslexia. It is also good to request an IEP with the child’s local public school, so you can get an assessment. (Note: The IEP assessment will not include vision therapy and Irlen Syndrome.)

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11. Remediating Handwriting Difficulties

How important is it that they write nice straight letters? We are trying different tricks to try to get him to write somewhat evenly. But I’m wondering what I should be looking for in his writing skills. He’s almost 8 but his fine motor skills are more like a late 6 yr. old. I want to go with where he’s at. Otherwise he gets really frustrated when he has to respect “lines” on a page. For now, we’ve been cutting strips of paper and he had to write within the strip. He really likes it. It’s just a lot of work… then I stick it to another piece of paper. It helps him keep the size of the letter consistent and write in a somewhat straight line. 

Another good question. Proper handwriting is important. It is important that the letters be straight, and it should not be this hard. Given the right tools, even 5-year-old children can write straight letters. The fact that it is hard suggests that something is amiss. There are several areas to consider:

Does the student have the right tools? The simplest cause of the problem could be the tools the student is using. A student should have a graphite pencil with an eraser and lined paper. Beginning students and those who struggle should use oversized paper with a dotted midline made for students in public-school kindergarten and first grade. (See pages 102–104 in The Roadmap to Literacy.)

Note: Lined Main Lesson book pages with dotted midlines for 1st and 2nd /3rd graders can be purchased from Raand Co. Here is the order information:

PT-GRU11411-WD-WIDE    wide ruling for 1st grade level

PT-GRU1411-WD-MED        medium ruling for 2nd grade level

Price  $29.69 for Sheets  200shts/pkg (They are perforated for binding into a book and are lined on one side, blank on the other)

Does the student have remedial problems? If the student is using the correct tools and is still struggling, it is necessary to look at common remedial problems. They include vision issues, eye-hand coordination, difficulties with pencil grip (occupational therapy).  It would be useful to investigate each of these areas and get appropriate help if needed.\

For more information about handwriting, go to OT Mom Learning Activities, especially:

It is important to get this problem resolved ASAP because Waldorf students should be able to compose their own main lesson book entries by the end of second grade/beginning of third grade. If the student struggles with the act of writing, it will be harder and more frustrating for him/her. For an overview on handwriting, consult chapter 3.2 Handwriting in The Roadmap to Literacy.

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10. Dyslexia and Language Arts Skills

My question is regarding older children with severe dyslexia. My oldest son is 15 and my youngest son is 11 (9th and 5th grades). My oldest also had auditory processing disorder which went undiagnosed. How do I help them with grammar and reading and spelling when they are atypical learners? I am using Ted Warren's grammar workbooks but would love any insight on teaching literacy to children with dyslexia. 

This is a hard question to answer. Without knowing the students’ current skills levels or more about their dyslexia, I cannot give any specific advice. I can, however, give you general advice, including the following:

  • Reading and Spelling: Assess your students to figure out which phase they are in: Emergent Phase, Phonemic Awareness Phase, Pattern Phase, Syllable Phase, or Latin/Greek Phase. Align your reading and spelling instruction to your students’ phases, not their grades. Use The Roadmap to Literacy chapter 6.2 What Phase are Your Students In? and the advice contained in Section Three chapters (The 15 Aspects of Language Arts). This advice applies to all students, not just those who are dyslexic.
  • For dyslexic students, everything depends on how you have treated the dyslexia to date and what the status is of the auditory processing disorder. Have the students been taught to read using a Lindamood Bell approach or an Orton Gillingham approach? If not, start there. (Lindamood Bell approaches can treat the auditory processing disorder.)
  • For dyslexic students, always check for Irlen Syndrome. It is a condition where students see distortions when they look at a page of text. It is very common in students diagnosed with dyslexia. See pages 540–541 in The Roadmap to Literacy for information about Irlen Syndrome, how to screen for it, and how to treat it. If students have been seeing distortions, they will not realize it. It will be much easier for them to work with literacy skills once the distortions are cleared up.
  • Grammar: When presented in an enlivening way, sentence diagramming can be a good way to learn basic grammar skills for both dyslexic and non-dyslexic students.

Sentence diagramming can be a kill joy, or it can be stimulating. Most people treat diagramming like taking medicine, but it should be more like building a model. To make it stimulating, give the students an image for the basic sentence diagram such as building a sentence house with different rooms for subject and the verb. (See page 289 The Roadmap to Literacy.) Have the students put the simple subject and the simple predicate in the correct room in the sentence house. Then build from that image to teach the rest of the parts of speech and how they relate to the simple subject and simple predicate. This approach has not been written yet. (In fact, it is on my to-do list for the sequel to Roadmap to Literacy. It is one of the few chapters I have yet to write.) However, if you are familiar with sentence diagramming and have a bit of creativity, you can flesh out the sentence house idea for yourself. Things can go in the basement or cellar (i.e., below the base line) or in the second story (above the base line). Middle school and high school students of mine have added their own imaginary twists to the sentence diagram (floating in the clouds, going to heaven, etc.). My experience has been that students become quite receptive to diagramming sentences and to grammar if they have an image for sentence diagramming and if you yourself are interested in the grammar of the sentence.

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9. When the Waldorf Approach to Reading is Not Working

Background Information: I want to share a bit of our experience to provide some context.

My kids are 9, 5 and 2. I have used Lavender's Blue Homeschool curriculum exclusively with my oldest. I myself did not learn to read fluently until about age 9/10 and this was a huge source of stress and shame for me in public school and within my family. I wanted to do things differently with my own child, so I fully embraced the Waldorf idea that children learn to read later and that it will click when the child is developmentally ready. BUT it just doesn't seem to be clicking with my nine-year-old. I first became concerned last spring, when at the end of second grade we pulled out her main lesson books and she was unable to read them. She could read some words but was completely flummoxed by others. So the ‘learn to read by writing' approach just didn't seem to work for her.

At the beginning of third grade (this past fall) I decided to stop waiting for it to click and bought All About Reading. It has helped a lot. She is reading some independently now and reads to her younger siblings. She is pretty reluctant to read to me and I think she senses my stress. She does read the All About Reading books to me and she finds it very helpful that there are practice phrases / words to read before reading the actual story so she goes into it more confidently. But she still makes a lot of mistakes and I think the key is that she is GUESSING and not SOUNDING OUT and I can't figure out how to help her break that habit. She will see a word and make a guess based on the first letter in the word and the context. She will put sounds into a word that aren't there. Like she can see the word “bake” and guess “brake” I'm struggling to think of other actual examples because it's almost midnight. 🙂 But there's a lot of swapping in letters that aren't there and leaving out letters that are there. I try to explain that she can sound out the letters but it just wasn't how she was initially taught and now I feel like I'm having to undo what I did with our Waldorf approach. I think I could be much more relaxed if I just understood what was going on in her brain when she swapped those sounds out / made those guesses.

I am now teaching my five-year-old the alphabet and the sounds they make because I'm concerned that the later, Waldorf approach was not the right path and I don't want to repeat that mistake. (We are using The Good and the Beautiful's Pre-K guide.) It's been very gentle and my five-year-old has responded well to it. I'm not sure how I feel about doing a total 180 with my second child …

Questions …

3A. How can you identify when your child needs more reading support and what that support needs to be? And how can you tell when you should just keep practicing and be patient?

3B. How can a non-reading expert suss out what's behind something like this swapping in and out of sounds?

3C. For those 20-30% of kids who need more thorough reading instruction, is there a Waldorf approach to this or is something like All About Reading a suitable strategy?

3D. Is starting earlier going to cause problems (thinking about my five-year-old now), or is it good preventative medicine when there may be a family history of reading not coming super easily?

3E. How can we support or rekindle a love of reading when reading is not coming easily or has been a source of stress?

3F. How can we support a child in trying books that stretch their capacities (i.e. when a kid is sticking to the super shallow end of early readers when more challenging books would be so much more engaging from a story perspective)?

3G. Is there a Waldorf methodology that uses phonics that I am not aware of? Or does it matter if reading instruction is ‘Waldorf' when extra help is needed?

I am grateful for all the information given in this question because this story will be useful for other homeschool parents, and the response will apply to many families. Thank you for the chance to address these questions. They are important. First, though, it is necessary to provide some background information and to counter some common misperceptions about Waldorf education. Then, I will address each question.

There are two large misperceptions contained in the background information, and it would help many homeschool parents if they were corrected:

  1. Misperception One: There is a Waldorf idea that children learn to read later, and it will click when the child is developmentally ready.

There are so many issues with this statement:

  • First, the Waldorf idea is not that children learn to read later but that they are taught to read later. There is a world of difference between those two ideas. Children can be taught to read at age 5 or 6. The Waldorf idea is to wait to teach reading until children are around age 7 so that they can finish key aspects of their physical development before asking them to focus on academic work. The goal of waiting is to promote healthy physical development throughout life.
  • Second, reading does not just click when the child is developmentally ready. Children learn to read when they are taught to read. Reading is not a natural part of child development—like learning to walk or talk. Reading requires education, and that instruction in reading skills literally changes the brain, enabling the student to read.
  • Third, by age seven, the child should be developmentally ready to be taught to read, meaning the child has completed key aspects of physical growth and now has forces freed to work on intellectual pursuits such as reading and math. If the student is not developmentally ready at age seven, it means something is off.

All of this is to say that it is a myth to expect reading to click when the child is developmentally ready.

That said, it can happen that a child has an impediment that stops him/her from being able to read once s/he has been taught basic reading skills. (To give just one example, the student’s eye tracking may be weak, making it hard for him/her to move from one letter, word, or line to the next.) Once that impediment is removed, it is not uncommon for students to make huge leaps in their reading ability because they can now apply the skills they have learned. It is also not uncommon for students to need to be retaught reading skills because the impediment prevented them from learning reading skills in the first place. What is uncommon is for a student to be a late bloomer—someone who reads later but who has learned all the skills and has no impediments.  When a student is having difficulty learning to read, it is more likely that there is a weakness in reading skills, a learning difficulty, or an impediment that is stopping the student from using what s/he has learned. You should always rule out all three before assuming a student is a late bloomer and needs more time.

  1. Misperception Two: The “learn to read by writing approach” can mean two different things. First, it can mean “learn to read by copying;” second, it can mean “learn to read by Kid Writing.” What is the difference?

Learning to read by copying means the student copies someone else’s sentences and then reads his/her own handwritten copy of those sentences. Learning to read by Kid Writing means the student composes his/her own sentences, uses whatever s/he knows about letters and sounds to invent spellings for the words, has an adult correct his/her misspellings, and then practices reading the corrected text (in either the adult’s handwriting or his/her own, if s/he recopies it).

Now that the terms are clear, which one is the Waldorf approach?

The correct answer is both. Steiner advocated students copying the sentences they were to read and reading their own handwritten copy, but a closer reading of Steiner’s indications also shows that he wanted students to write short little pieces on their own after they learned the alphabet. In other words, he was advocating Kid Writing.

This stands to reason: Just having students copy sentences and then practice reading them is not enough for many students to learn to read.  The full “learn to read by writing approach” requires a lot more effort on the students’ part than mere copying. When students Kid Write, they must remember everything they were taught about letters, sight words, phonics rules, etc. Their brains get a much more strenuous workout than when they copy. They literally forge the connections between the regions of their brain that make reading possible when they engage in Kid Writing. (See The Roadmap to Literacy chapter 3.13 Kid Writing for more information.)  It is possible to copy words with minimal engagement of the parts of the brain responsible for reading. While the students’ spelling looks much better when they copy than when they Kid Write, they are not learning as much.  They frequently cannot read back what they copied, especially after some time has passed.

Now that those misperceptions are addressed, let’s take a look at the questions:

3A. How can you identify when your child needs more reading support and what that support needs to be? And how can you tell when you should just keep practicing and be patient?

This is an easy question to answer but a harder question to do: assess.

A key part of teaching is assessment. Reading skills include many things, including: alphabet knowledge, sight words, decoding (sounding out words), phonemic awareness, etc. When you are teaching reading skills, you should assess in all areas to see which skills your student has mastered, which areas s/he is still working on, and which areas s/he needs more instruction in. The results of the assessment can be broken down into three categories:

  • Independent (or Benchmark): The student demonstrates mastery of the skill. Don’t teach or practice this skill any more. Move on to the next skill. S/he can do this on his/her own.
  • Instructional (or Strategic): The student has the idea but needs more practice to master the skill. Give him/her more practice and then reassess. S/he is in the process of learning, but s/he cannot do this completely on his/her own yet.
  • Frustration (or Intensive): The student does not have the idea. S/he needs intensive instruction to get the idea and then lots of follow-up practice. S/he cannot do this on his/her own.

You compare the results of the assessment against charts that show how much students are expected to learn to determine what you should do next. You can literally see which areas the student is weak in (the instructional and frustration areas), and you use this information to tailor your lessons to these weak areas. If the student shows minimum progress upon follow-up assessment despite all the extra practice you are doing, then you need to get support.

Assessment

One way to assess is to use the advice in The Roadmap to Literacy Section Six: Assessment and Remediation. Read chapter 6.1 Introduction to Assessment. It will teach you an overview of assessments so you can decide what you need to do to assess your student. You can then jump into assessments. Chapter 6.2 will teach you how to assess your student’s phase. Chapters 6.3–6.5 will offer advice on different assessment tools you can purchase to do the assessing yourself and how to interpret them. (Note: All the assessments recommended can be done without a formal background in reading instruction and assessment.)

Another way is to hire a reading expert to do the assessing for you and to offer advice. This is highly recommended if you feel overwhelmed or stressed.

Remediation

One way to determine how to seek remediation is to use The Roadmap to Literacy chapter 6.6 Working with Remedial Issues. It talks you through the process of getting extra help. It offers steps you should follow, in order, to determine how to get help if your student is struggling.

It is highly recommended that you read this chapter and start working with the advice contained in it if your student is age 9 or older and is struggling. It is not necessary to read the entire book to start working with the advice in chapter 6.6 Working with Remedial Issues. It would, however, help!

3B. How can a non-reading expert suss out what's behind something like this swapping in and out of sounds?

You will need to assess.

The most likely culprit is a weakness in phonemic awareness. Phonemic awareness is the ability to hear sounds in words and manipulate them. It includes many different subskills, including the ability to blend separate sounds into a word, which is a key skill for sounding out words.

Education is required for phonemic awareness to develop fully. Non-dyslexic children start to develop phonemic awareness in preschool, when they learn to rhyme; however, all students need practice in phonemic awareness skills so they can learn to read and spell.  There is a whole chapter on phonemic awareness and how to teach it in The Roadmap to Literacy. It’s chapter 3.3: Phonological and Phonemic Awareness. Because a weakness in phonemic awareness is also key to dyslexia, read the subsection “What about Dyslexia?” in chapter 6.6 #9.

In order to confirm a weakness in phonemic awareness and to figure out which areas are weak, it is necessary to assess. There are easy ways for you to assess phonemic awareness, and they are covered in The Roadmap to Literacy. However, it is unusual for phonemic awareness to be the only weak reading skill. If phonemic awareness is weak, usually other reading skills are weak too because phonemic awareness is so foundational to reading and spelling.

Read chapter 6.1 Introduction to Assessment. Then consult chapters 6.3–6.5 to get information on different assessments you should do in grades 1–3. When assessing a reading problem, it is necessary to look at all reading skills, not just phonemic awareness. For the student described above, I would recommend starting with the table 6.3.3: Recommended Schedule for Assessments Created by Educational Testing Groups in 1st Grade: CORE Reading Assessments and Words Their Way. Use the column for spring to get a basic snapshot of beginning reading skills. The table is found on page 513.

However, assessing reading skills may not be enough. Do not discount vision issues (e.g., the need for glasses, vision therapy, or the presence of Irlen Syndrome). For many students, vision issues and weaknesses in phonemic awareness co-exist. In dyslexic students, the odds are almost 50-50 that there will be a vision issue on top of the phonemic awareness problem. Both would need to be addressed.  See pages 540–541 for information on basic vision problems and how to screen your student for them.

All these assessments can be done by homeschool parents. Doing the initial assessments yourself will help you figure out which things you can handle at home and which things require outside support.  However, if you feel overwhelmed, consult an expert to do the assessing for you.

3C. For those 20-30% of kids who need more thorough reading instruction, is there a Waldorf approach to this or is something like All About Reading a suitable strategy?

Funny you should ask—The Roadmap to Literacy is a Waldorf approach that provides thorough reading instruction! It does require you to understand the concepts and make your own curriculum because that is an essential component of Waldorf education.

I think what you are asking is for a scripted approach, such as All About Reading. That I cannot answer because I haven’t looked at the curricula available. I can say this: Waldorf was created by a German speaker for German-speaking students. Therefore, Steiner’s indications are not adequate for teaching English because English is a different language (see Section One in The Roadmap to Literacy). It is OK to choose a curriculum that is “not Waldorf” to teach your child to read because, to my knowledge, Roadmap is the first reading curriculum that is both Waldorf and that is geared towards the English language (rather than based exclusively on Steiner’s indications, which are for German).

Roadmap asks a lot of its readers—it asks them to be Waldorf teachers. It asks them to make their own curriculum based on best practices for reading instruction in English and based on Steiner’s indications. All Waldorf teachers need to do that. Homeschool parents can do that too—but they can also choose to follow a scripted curriculum, which is less demanding. However, making your own curriculum is particularly suited for homeschool parents because it allows them to customize the curriculum for their student.

If you do use a scripted curriculum, I highly recommend that you read passages in The Roadmap to Literacy to understand what you are doing and why. Teaching is a profession. Homeschoolers who engage in it should have a certain level of knowledge about what they are doing and why.

I will talk to my co-author, Janet Langley, to see about doing a podcast or an article to give more advice to homeschool parents and Waldorf teachers. We have planned to do a podcast on how to use the book The Roadmap to Literacy. It might make sense to do a separate podcase (or follow-up article) on how to use the book to supplement a scripted curriculum. TBD.

3D. Is starting earlier going to cause problems (thinking about my five-year-old now), or is it good preventative medicine when there may be a family history of reading not coming super easily?

This is an important question. The answer is—it depends.

Since there is a family history of reading difficulties, I would consult a specialist and get your son tested for dyslexia. If he has dyslexia, starting early is the best thing you could do. The brain is more plastic at a young age (Read chapter 1.2 Cracking the Code: Reading and the Brain in The Roadmap to Literacy. Then read about dyslexia on pages 553–556.) Also, if a child struggles with rhyming at age 5 or 6, get the child tested for dyslexia. Difficulty rhyming is a red flag.

However, starting academics early is contraindicated in Waldorf education. The idea is to give students time to complete key aspects of physical development before starting academic work. It is also true that it is easier for (non-dyslexic) students to learn to read at age 7 than at age 5.

For dyslexics, an earlier start is appropriate—but it should be the right start. Dyslexics need specific types of training to address their weakness in phonemic awareness. Appropriate instruction includes Orton Gillingham approaches or Lindamood Bell (LiPS—Lindamood Phoneme Sequencing).

3E. How can we support or rekindle a love of reading when reading is not coming easily or has been a source of stress?

Figure out what is making learning to read so stressful. Fix the underlying problem(s). Then reteach reading skills. Have your student practice. Once the child can read, reading can then become a joy.

In the meantime, support a love of reading by doing the following: Read to your child every day from age-appropriate books such as Charlotte’s Web, not beginning readers with limited vocabulary and easy words. Talk about the books you read to your child. Discuss the stories and what the two of you think will happen next. Keep the joy alive while you figure out what is making learning to read so stressful. Also, let your child see you reading and enjoying books.

3F. How can we support a child in trying books that stretch their capacities (i.e. when a kid is sticking to the super shallow end of early readers when more challenging books would be so much more engaging from a story perspective)?

First, make sure you know what your child’s capacities are. Then, help your child read books that are in the zone of proximal development. These are books that stretch his/her capacities just enough. S/he can almost read them by herself, but s/he needs a little help. Let him/her read easier books when s/he reads by herself. These are books that s/he can read independently, that require no help from you. Be sure you avoid the frustration books—these are books that are just too hard, even with your help. Read these books to your child, but do not expect him/her to read them—yet.

When you are teaching your child, you choose the books your child will read with you. You can thus make sure you are stretching his/her capacities by always helping him/her read books that are in the zone of proximal development. When s/he reads to herself for fun, s/he should choose easier books that s/he can read by herself.  As his/her capacities grow and s/he gains confidence, s/he will start to branch out into harder books.

3G. Is there a Waldorf methodology that uses phonics that I am not aware of? Or does it matter if reading instruction is ‘Waldorf' when extra help is needed?

The Roadmap to Literacy is a Waldorf methodology that uses phonics. It is completely in alignment with Steiner’s indications and with the requirements of the English language. To my knowledge, it is the only Waldorf reading methodology to do so. However, if extra help is needed because the student is dyslexic, all students should use an approach geared towards dyslexic students such as Lindamood Bell’s LiPS or an Orton Gillingham approach.

All Waldorf students who speak English should learn phonics, not just those who need extra help. The approach Steiner articulated for Waldorf education is for the German language, a language that is much more phonetically regular than English. Phonics rules are how we English-speakers teach our students to handle the irregularities in the language. See chapter 1.3 Why is English So Complicated in The Roadmap to Literacy.

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8. Why Does My Child Skip the Small Function Words When Reading?

My 4th grader exhibits a lot of dyslexic characteristics. Starting in the second grade we added in an Orton Gillingham inspired reading curriculum and she is currently able to read books near or on grade level for the most part. The most important improvement for me is that she now loves to read, snuggling up on the couch to read chapter after chapter.

However, while she can read nearly any word, when she reads out loud she still will miss function words (especially “a” and “the”) and word endings ( -s, -ed,..). She also regularly mixes up a with the and closely spelled function words where-there, when-then, and so on. Any suggestions on where we go from here? I require her to read out loud to me still and I try to gently point out that she should give the missed words another look, but I feel like there must be a more effective way to help. We have tried using notecards and fingers for tracking, but that doesn’t really seem to help much. I just recently finished reading the Gift of Dyslexia and will try the methods suggested (making words with clay), but I’d love any suggestions you have.

Thank you for addressing the core problem in second grade. Your student knows how to read (i.e., decode and recognize sight words). You are well on your way to remediating the reading problem. However, something is still off, and you are right to be concerned. What you are describing is not uncommon and could have multiple causes. Pull out a copy of The Roadmap to Literacy. Go to pages 540 and 541. Read about problems with the student’s eyes, particularly eye tracking and Irlen Syndrome. Use the advice on these two pages to screen for both of those first—and follow up with a specialist as needed. Both issues are more common than you might think, and both can usually be remediated quite successfully. However, making clay words as suggested in The Gift of Dyslexia will not help remediate either condition. If you rule out both conditions, it would not hurt to try the suggestions in The Gift of Dyslexia, but I wouldn’t start there.

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7. Writing Projects for Grades 6 and 7

How many writing projects per year should I expect for a 6th/7th grader and how long should the writing be?

Good question. Define “writing projects!” Do you mean all writing projects, or the ones done in addition to the regular writing that is part of the Waldorf curriculum?

Regular Writing in the Waldorf Curriculum

A student in 6th/7th grade should be writing all his/her main lesson book entries him/herself. This means no copying material composed by the teacher or anyone else, except for a poem or two every now and then. In main lesson blocks in English, history, geography, and natural science, the student should be composing written summaries of the material s/he learned. These summaries will range from a 1–2 paragraphs to 1–2 pages in length, depending on the topic. Use your discretion to determine the appropriate length for each summary.

Students in sixth grade start studying physics. They will need to learn to write a lab report for the physics experiments done in class. In seventh grade, chemistry is added to the curriculum, so there will be lab reports in both blocks. These lab reports are the equivalent of the written summaries students compose in the humanities blocks—they serve as a record of what the student is learning, and all the composing should be done by the student once the parent teaches the student how to write written summaries (see the Four Steps to Teaching Composition on pages 320–323 in The Roadmap to Literacy).

Additional Writing Projects

In addition to these written summaries for main lesson book entries, there are other writing projects:

  1. Reports: Students should be working on reports. There should be one book report per English block. There should be one research project in each history block, the geography block, and the natural science block (e.g., mineralogy). This project usually involves the student doing some research on a topic not covered in class and writing a report. The length of the report varies, but 1–3 pages is typical.
  2. Other Writing in English Blocks:
    1. Business letters: They should be studying business composition (business letters) in both 6th and 7th
    2. Compositions/Essays about Literature: In 7th grade, they also start studying literature more formally and beginning to write compositions and essays about the books and poems they are reading. The number and length of such assignments varies based on the skills you are teaching in the block (for example, students are also studying grammar, spelling, etc.). These essays take the place of written summaries. They are more formalized.

To summarize, there should be lots of writing (both regular writing and additional writing projects) in all blocks, excepting math blocks. The students should spend a considerable chunk of each main lesson class composing material based on what they are learning. Only some of that material will be recopied into the main lesson book, but everything that goes into the book should be the students’ own writing.

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6. How Do You Know When There is a Remedial Reading Problem?

With the “later timetable” for reading in the Waldorf approach, how do we know when there’s a problem and we need to seek extra help?

This is a very important question. If there is a reading problem and you wait, the problem will be harder to remediate.  If there isn’t a problem, you have put your student through extra stress (and your household through extra expense and/or hassle) for nothing.

There are three caveats that should be mentioned up front:

When to Seek Help Immediately

1.       If your student is in fourth grade or beyond and cannot read at grade level, take your child for extra help immediately. The curriculum switches from teaching reading and math skills in grades 1–3 to teaching subjects in grades 4–8. You should no longer be teaching the students how to read; instead, they should be reading to learn. Steiner promised the educational authorities of his day that the students would be caught up with their public-school peers at the end of third grade, sixth grade, and again at eighth grade. These are good parameters to follow.

2.       If your family has a history of dyslexia and the student is your biological child, seek extra help immediately if the student struggles to rhyme words in Kindergarten, as this is a major indicator of dyslexia. The student’s brain is very open to change at this age, but the window closes rapidly. The sooner you address the problem, the easier it will be for your child to learn.

3.       If your child shows any physical signs of distress while doing academic work, seek help immediately. It should not be physical challenging for a student to look at a page of text, hold a pencil and learn to write letters, or do any other academic task. If your child shows signs of physical difficulty, including fatiguing easily despite adequate food, water, and sleep, seek help.

For more information, see chapter 6.6 Working with Remedial Issues in The Roadmap to Literacy.

If these three situations do not apply, then follow these suggestions:

  • Make sure you are following a solid, sequential curriculum such as the one in The Roadmap to Literacy or other quality reading programs. If you are and your child is making progress, as shown by the assessments you are using, there is nothing to be concerned about. (If you are not using assessments, you can find some in the books Assessing Reading Multiple Measures For Kindergarten through Twelfth Grade edited by Linda Diamond and Words Their Way: Word Study for Phonics, Vocabulary, and Spelling Instruction by Bear et al.)
  • Use The Roadmap to Literacy to assess your child’s phase (see chapter 6.2: What Phase are Your Students In?). Continue to assess using formal and informal methods over the course of the year (see section six: Assessment). If you see that your student is making the expected progress moving through the phases, assume that everything is fine (unless you see signs of physical difficulty, as discussed above).

The reality is, most students can be taught to read at ages 5 and 6. Waldorf waits until they are older not because they cannot be taught at that young age but because they should not be. Children benefit from a chance to complete certain aspects of development before beginning school. They should be ready for academic work around age 7. If you are using a quality curriculum, teaching your student to read and spell should not be difficult. If you see something is amiss and it is not your teaching, you should check it out. While there are late bloomers and dreamy students, they tend to be the exception rather than the rule. It is important to do due diligence before assuming you have one on your hands. The longer you wait to remediate, the harder it will be to do so—for everyone, but most especially your child.

There is an entire chapter in The Roadmap to Literacy dedicated to this topic: Chapter 6.6 Working with Remedial Issues. It provides a useful template to follow if you have concerns that there is a problem and you need to seek extra help. It will take you through the steps and help you find the help you and your child need.

Good luck!

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5. Incorporating Speech Pathologist Assignments into Main Lesson

How do I weave together main lesson block work and outside “assignments” from a speech pathologist?

Good question. First, determine whether you should weave main lesson block work together with assignments from the speech pathologist or if they are better kept separate.  Everything depends on the nature of the assignments, and the time that should be spent on them.

Recall that language arts main lesson blocks feature a certain archetype, one variation of which is shown below:

Main Lesson Archetype from The Roadmap to Literacy by Langley and Militzer-Kopperl (page 56)

Main Lesson Archetype for a two-hour main lesson class grades 1–3

·        Opening: 12-15 minutes

·        Skills Practice: 20–40 minutes*

·        Introduction and/or Review: 10–25 minutes

·        Bookwork: 15–35 minutes*

·        Story: 15–20 minutes

*Transition activities between segments: 3–5 minutes

Speech assignments from the speech pathologist could be scheduled in the Opening segment, Skills Practice segment, or the Transition Activities between segments.

Opening segment should open the school day. It warms up the students for the language arts instruction that is coming. It usually features some speech work (reciting a poem, singing, and/or saying a tongue twister, etc.). It also should take no more than 15 minutes. If a speech exercise fits the parameters, it would be very appropriate to schedule it in the Skill Practice segment.

Skills Practice segment features exercises to teach the students language arts skills. It features practice of sight words, exercises and games to develop phonemic awareness (or the ability to hear all the sounds in words and manipulate those sounds), etc. If a speech assignment fits these parameters, include it in this segment.

The transition activities are times to give the students a quick break and to help them move to the next segment of the lesson. If the student has been sitting, include active exercises. If the student has been active, include activities that will help him/her quiet down. If you have a short speech assignment, it could be scheduled here, if it fits the bill.

The content of speech assignments can sometimes be woven into main lesson content.  For example, tongue twisters could be the basis for Memory Reading if the student is in first grade and is practicing reading from familiar texts such as tongue twisters, poems, and song lyrics. However, if the assigned speech work does not fit into the main lesson, do not try to incorporate it. Instead, schedule the speech assignment in a different part of the day. It could be done in a Practice Class after main lesson or it could be done before or after school.

Whenever the speech assignments are scheduled, make sure your student practices regularly. The work you do is highly important for the teaching of language arts skills, particularly encoding (spelling) and beginning reading.

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