Preview Continuing the Journey to Literacy
1.1 WHY IS TEACHING THE WALDORF CURRICULUM SUCH A STRUGGLE?
Throughout Waldorf teacher training, I had two questions: What exactly am I supposed to teach? How am I supposed to teach it?
Jennifer Militzer-Kopperl shares:
When I decided to become a Waldorf teacher, I had no background in Waldorf education. I had to learn everything from scratch in teacher training. Teacher training answered many of my questions but not these two. Oh, I learned a lot of details such as letter pictures in first grade, fables in second grade, and history in the upper grades, but these details never coalesced into a unified whole. What exactly was the Waldorf curriculum? Was it just the sum of these details? Or something else?
Nearing graduation, I felt a bit of unease. What exactly was I supposed to teach? How was I supposed to teach it? At the end of one of my classes, I asked for a photocopy of my instructor’s block plans. I intended to follow them exactly in the classroom rather than make my own.
Would I have plagiarized my instructor’s block plans? I never had to find out. Instead of taking a class, I ended up teaching remedial students at various Waldorf schools. However, within a year, I realized that my unspoken questions about the Waldorf curriculum were related to a bigger problem: every single one of my Waldorf students had a similar profile of academic weaknesses. Why was their spelling so bad? Why couldn’t they apply basic grammar? Why did every student miss the same reading comprehension question (i.e., the one that asked them to apply common knowledge rather than just regurgitate facts)? Why did every student struggle with fluency in arithmetic?
Like Rudolf Steiner before me, I was startled by how little these Waldorf students knew and how little they could do (Steiner 1998b, 404). It was one thing to see academic weaknesses in students whose IQs tested in the 70s and 80s, but I was seeing students whose IQs tested in the 120s. Something was clearly wrong.
The concerns I had led to the creation of my first book, The Roadmap to Literacy: A Guide to Teaching Language Arts in Waldorf Schools Grades 1 through 3. I coauthored this book with Janet Langley, a Waldorf mentor teacher who had seen the same problems that I had. We realized that Waldorf teachers needed more information to create an effective language arts curriculum, and our book would provide them a roadmap that they could follow to teach language arts skills. However, The Roadmap to Literacy only covered grades 1–3. It was clear that there needed to be a book to cover grades 4–8.
Continuing the Journey to Literacy is that book. To write this book, I read eleven lecture series by Rudolf Steiner, starting with The Foundations of Human Experience. I also read both volumes of Faculty Meetings with Rudolf Steiner. In the process, I took over 2,000 notes. In addition, I read other prominent works by Waldorf authorities including The Curriculum of the First Waldorf School by Caroline Von Heydebrand. The focus of my research is Steiner’s indications for language arts skills as well as answers to my questions about how Steiner envisioned the Waldorf curriculum. I include the results of my research in this book for four reasons:
- I want to share what I have discovered about the Waldorf curriculum. It is useful for trained Waldorf teachers as well as those without training to know what Steiner said (as opposed to the traditions that have grown up over the years).
- It will be necessary for English-speaking Waldorf teachers to innovate in order to teach language arts in English. All teachers and homeschool parents will need to keep the principles of Waldorf education front and center to be able to innovate in accordance with Steiner’s philosophy.
- The Waldorf curriculum is a unity. Language arts instruction transcends English blocks. In order to teach language arts in accordance with Steiner’s indications, it is necessary to consider the entire Waldorf curriculum.
- Steiner’s use of economy in teaching is more extensive than I had been taught. Steiner embedded aspects of language arts in the other subjects, so it is impossible to discuss them in isolation.
Continuing the Journey to Literacy answers the questions what exactly am I supposed to teach, and how am I supposed to teach it? It gives Waldorf teachers and homeschool parents in grades 4–8 the information they need to create their own Waldorf language arts curriculum, one that provides their students a solid foundation in reading, writing, spelling, and grammar skills while simultaneously teaching the subjects that make up the Waldorf curriculum in a way that is in alignment with Steiner’s indications. First, though, it is necessary to acknowledge five roadblocks up front. These five things make it challenging to teach a proper language arts curriculum in Waldorf schools.
This chapter covers the following topics:
- Roadblock One: It is Difficult to Determine Steiner’s Advice
- Roadblock Two: Sacred Nothings
- Roadblock Three: Teaching Skills in Subject Blocks
- Roadblock Four: English is Not German
- Roadblock Five: The Curriculum is a Unified Whole
- A Solution: Continuing the Journey to Literacy
Waldorf education is based on the indications of an Austrian philosopher and social reformer named Rudolf Steiner. The main roadblock to teaching an effective language arts curriculum in Waldorf schools is that Waldorf education is based on Steiner’s indications, and those indications are difficult to interpret. There are numerous reasons why. It is useful to consider them because they have created multiple challenges that are addressed later in the book. They include the following points:
- The Founding of the First Waldorf School
- The Publication of Steiner’s Lectures
- The Use of Compilation Sets
- Steiner’s Indications Must Be Read in Context
- Steiner’s Style
The Founding of the First Waldorf School
The first Waldorf school was opened in Stuttgart, Germany in September 1919. Its gestation period was both more than a decade and less than a year. This paradox still affects Waldorf education to this day.
Rudolf Steiner started lecturing about education in 1906 and 1907, and the first Waldorf school was founded in 1919. On May 14, 1906, Steiner outlined the foundation of an education based on human development in the lecture “Teaching from a Foundation of Spiritual Insight.” Major tenets of Waldorf education are present in this lecture, including the following:
- The human being is comprised of several aspects (see chapter 1.2 #1).
- Education is concerned with three stages of human development relating to the maturity of these aspects (see chapter 1.2 #2).
- Education should promote healthy development (see chapter 2.2 #5).
- Education encompasses the development of soul capacities, namely thinking, feeling, and willing (see chapter 2.3 #4).
Over the next few years, Steiner gave additional lectures about education, but nothing came of educational reform at that time.
The founding of the first Waldorf school happened in a short amount of time. In 1918 in the aftermath of World War One, Steiner stated that change would not be possible unless a sufficient number of people received an education that developed the whole human being. Emil Molt, the Director of the Waldorf Astoria Cigarette Company, decided to take up Steiner’s call to create such an education for the children of his factory workers. In early 1919, Molt discussed the idea with the Minister of Education and with Rudolf Steiner, and these discussions led to the opening of the first Waldorf school that fall (Steiner 1996c, 321).
Why was the school founded so quickly? There were two reasons. First, World War One (1914–1918) had decimated Europe. Germans had watched their world and society succumb to chaos. Steiner states it succinctly: the population had been “jolted into action by abysmal, cataclysmic conditions, such as Germany experienced in 1919” (Steiner 2003, 297). They needed a revolution in education, and they needed it immediately. Second, the chaos had created an opening for educational reform. Under normal circumstances, the government bureaucracy would have overseen the formation of a new school, but circumstances were not normal. This situation made it possible to start a new educational venture.
Steiner discusses the situation in Soul Economy. He states:
The Waldorf school is an indirect result of the total collapse of society all over Central Europe in 1919. This general collapse embraced every area of society—the economic, sociopolitical, and spiritual life of all people…. Roughly halfway through 1919, there was a general and complete awareness of it….
…During the first half of 1919, the people of Germany were ready for a serious reassessment of the general situation. At the time, however, a Waldorf school had not yet begun, but it was the time when I gave lectures on social and educational issues, which addressed what I have been describing during this conference (though only in rough outline). Some people saw sense in what was said, and this led to founding the Waldorf school….
…If the catastrophic conditions of 1919 had not hit the people of Central Europe so hard—though this ill fortune was really a stroke of good luck in terms of beginning the Waldorf school—if that terrible situation had not opened people’s eyes, there would be no Waldorf school in Central Europe….
…It was yet another stroke of good luck for the Waldorf school in Stuttgart that it was begun just before the new Republican National Assembly passed a law forbidding the opening of independent schools…. It was established just in time. (294–301)
Educational reform was not the only item on Steiner’s agenda in 1919. During the first half of 1919, Steiner had his hands full with a larger project: the threefold social order, or an idea for balancing three aspects of society—business, government, and culture. Waldorf education was supposed to be one piece in that larger plan. The threefold social order was supposed to help support Waldorf education and help society avoid the revolutionary impulses causing havoc in other countries.
However, it was not to be. By the summer, it was clear that the situation would have to be much different than planned. In the words of E.A. Karl Stockmeyer:
About the 4th July 1919, Steiner stated in a conversation that since it had not been possible to institute the Movement of the Threefold Social Order the possibilities of reforming education should now be made use of.
A decisive change of outer circumstances thus became evident. No longer could the Waldorf School be looked upon as part of the threefold social order which was intended to support and to carry it. It became clear that the school …would have to fight for its own existence and recognition within the general social background of the post-war years. This fact should be borne in mind when the development of Waldorf Education is studied. And it was in this situation that the Free Waldorf School, based on Steiner’s curriculum, was finally opened in autumn 1919. (5–6)
Steiner presented the curriculum for Waldorf education in a two-week intensive training for the first Waldorf faculty right before the school opened its doors to students. The training ran from August 20, 1919 to September 6, 1919, and it concluded with Steiner’s three curriculum lectures, given on September 6, 1919. That same month, the school year began. There were several unintended consequences:
- The first Waldorf teachers were largely untrained. While Steiner had a picture of educational reform that went back over a decade, the first Waldorf faculty had the concepts for less than a month before they had to start teaching the students. As a result, they did not always follow Steiner’s indications when they created their curriculum for each grade (see chapter 3.1 #3).
- Furthermore, Steiner had not finished describing his ideas for educational reform or describing human development. He continued to give multiple lecture series on the theoretical aspects of education based on human development while the first Waldorf faculty was busy creating the actual Waldorf curriculum taught in the classroom. The first faculty did not always have access to this additional information. Sometimes a split opened between the theoretical foundation of Waldorf as articulated by Steiner and actual practice as articulated by the teachers (see chapter 1.2 #5).
- Steiner’s Waldorf curriculum is just a broad outline with a few very specific indications. At one point in the curriculum lectures, Steiner says that it is only possible to give general guidelines and that the details must be left to each teacher’s independent initiative (Steiner 1997a, 202). Later he says that “the time has been so short that, for the rest, I must simply appeal to the understanding and devotion you will bring to your work” (2000, 189). Nearing the end, he states, “It would be great if we could stay here for three years giving lectures on education and providing examples of all the things you will have to figure out how to do yourselves out of your own inventiveness, but that can’t be. We will have to be content with what has already been presented” (1997a, 195–196). As a result, it is necessary for teachers to fill in the blanks to complete the curriculum (see section four for material to complete the grammar curriculum).
- The first Waldorf teachers had to make up their curricula for each grade on the fly, right before they had to teach it, a tradition which all too often continues to this day (see chapter 6.1 #1).
The founding of the first Waldorf school was simultaneously the culmination of a well thought out plan and a rush job. Rudolf Steiner had the big picture idea for educational reform for 10 years, but the first Waldorf faculty had his curriculum indications for less than a month before they had to start teaching.
To this day, Steiner’s initial lectures to the first Waldorf faculty form the backbone of the Waldorf curriculum. However, that curriculum was incomplete in 1919, and it remains incomplete now. The incomplete nature of that curriculum has made it necessary for Waldorf teachers to improvise and innovate, and the results can be positive or negative (see chapter 1.1 #2).
The Publication of Steiner’s Lectures
The layout of Steiner’s lectures also makes it hard to determine Steiner’s intent.
Steiner’s training was a unified whole, but when it was published, it was broken down into three or four different books. Steiner gave theoretical lectures about the anthroposophical understanding of the human being as a basis for a pedagogy first thing in the morning. These lectures became the lecture series Foundations of Human Experience (formerly The Study of Man). He gave lectures about specific methods in the middle part of the day. They became the lecture cycle Practical Advice to Teachers. He did seminar exercises with the teachers in the afternoon and early evening. They became the lecture cycle Discussions with Teachers. On the very last day of the two-week training, he gave three lectures about the curriculum. They became the curriculum lectures. Sometimes they are included at the end of Discussions with Teachers; other times they are published separately.
All these lectures form a unified whole. For example, Steiner moves from theory (Foundations) directly to methodology (Practical Advice) and refers to what he said earlier in the day. However, in their published form, these connections are severed because what he said earlier in the day is contained in a different book. As a result, methodology is largely divorced from theory and vice versa.
Worse, the three curriculum lectures are often sidelined. They are either published separately or are tacked on to the end of Discussions with Teachers. Waldorf teacher training sometimes focuses on the first three lecture series at the expense of the curriculum lectures. It is a pity because the curriculum lectures are the culmination and embodiment of the ideas Steiner presented earlier in the two weeks. They represent a curriculum that changes based on the development of the students, and they show how the subjects are supposed to change over time. Steiner outlines the entire Waldorf curriculum grades 1–8 in these three lectures.
The three curriculum lectures form the skeleton of the Waldorf curriculum and show how the subjects relate to each other. Lack of familiarity with the curriculum lectures has resulted in many problems in teaching the subjects that make up Waldorf education.
The Use of Compilation Sets
After this initial two-week training, Steiner went on to give additional lectures about education. In these lectures, he expands upon his initial thoughts. However, Steiner’s advice appears in numerous lecture series and in no particular order.
To make it easier for teachers to find all of Steiner’s advice on various subjects, some editors have organized Steiner’s advice in compilation sets. The most well-known set is Stockmeyer’s Rudolf Steiner’s Curriculum for Waldorf Schools, but another useful compilation set is Teaching Language Arts in the Waldorf School: A Compendium of Excerpts from the Foundations of Waldorf Education Series by Roberto Trostli.
There are pros and cons to these compilation sets. On the plus side, they make it easy to review all of Steiner’s advice on a given topic, which is very useful. However, when Steiner’s indications are quoted out of context, it is hard to see the connections between various parts of the curriculum. Furthermore, an idea taken out of context can take on a life of its own (see next point). Finally, compilation sets limit the curriculum. For example, when Stockmeyer summarizes Steiner’s indications for teaching German in Rudolf Steiner’s Curriculum for Waldorf Schools, he put them in a chapter called “German (the Mother Tongue).” When he organized the indications, he put them in the following categories:
Stories and reading matter for the lower classes (see chapter 3.1 and chapter 3.2)
Speech and Grammar (see chapter 3.14 and chapter 3.15)
Writing and Reading (see chapters 3.6–3.10 and chapter 3.2)
Punctuation (see chapter 3.15 and section four)
Style and Figuration—Metrics and Poetics (see chapter 3.16 and chapter 3.14)
Essay Writing—Fundamentals (see chapter 3.7)
Curriculum Indications for Each Class (see subsection entitled Steiner’s Indications in all chapters in section three)
Note that these points do not represent all 17 aspects of language arts covered in section three. This result is completely unintentional. Stockmeyer is only attempting to organize Steiner’s indications. However, with any attempt to bring organization, the frame defines what is covered. By limiting the topics to the ones above, the language arts curriculum has often been diminished. (Note: The same complaint can be applied to Continuing the Journey to Literacy or any other book that uses categories to organize the material.)
Compilation sets are a gift, but they should be used as the starting point of research.
Steiner’s Indications Must Be Read in Context
All indications should be read in context. When one of Steiner’s indications is taken out of context, it can imply something different than what Steiner was saying. Sometimes an indication taken out of context implies the exact opposite of what Steiner intends. There are several examples in Continuing the Journey to Literacy:
- The age when Waldorf students are expected to read—see “Sacred Nothing: When Students Should Learn to Read” in chapter 3.2 #11.
- Whether to teach grammar terms—see “Background Information: Steiner is Not Opposed to Teaching Grammatical Terms” in chapter 3.15 #11.
- The real meaning of teaching “Wish, Wonder, Surprise”—see chapter 5.2 #5.
For this reason, it is important for teachers working with a compilation set to go back to the original lecture and read the passage in context.
Steiner’s style of lecturing also makes it hard to understand what he is saying. There are eight points.
Steiner goes out of his way not to state fixed educational principles. Steiner uses this practice because he intends teachers to be free to teach the curriculum in the way they see fit. He does not want to be too prescriptive or to imply that there is only one right way to teach something. He also states that he does not want to create a series of abstract educational principles (Steiner 2003, 125). However, it is useful for beginning teachers to have access to concrete educational principles and for Waldorf teachers to be able to state aspects of their methodology. In addition, it is necessary for experienced teachers (and the author of this book) to keep the principles front and center because it is necessary to go beyond Steiner’s indications to create a language arts curriculum for grades 4–8 in English-speaking Waldorf schools. The principles help keep innovations in line with the spirit of what Steiner said. For these reasons, some of Steiner’s main educational principles are discussed in section two (see chapter 2.3).
Steiner describes things (i.e., characterizes them) rather than defining them. In Practical Advice to Teachers, Steiner says he tries to characterize by depicting subjects from various viewpoints (42). This practice is in line with his advice to teachers to characterize rather than define (Steiner 1996c, 154) (see chapter 2.3 #11). However, this practice makes it very difficult to communicate ideas when definitions and sometimes even terms are lacking. In order to make it easier to communicate Steiner’s ideas, some terms and definitions have been created for this book. They name important aspects of Waldorf education that Steiner only characterizes.
Note: This use of definitions is entirely in line with Steiner’s indications. In The Renewal of Education Steiner states, “Definitions exist only so that we can, in a sense, begin with them and so that the child [student] can communicate understandably with the teacher” (2001, 224). In Continuing the Journey to Literacy, terms and definitions are created so the author can communicate with the readers. (See chapter 1.2 #2 for some examples.)
Steiner’s organization can be challenging. Steiner often states the point at the very end of the lecture rather than at the beginning. In this way, he builds up to his thesis. The structure of his entire two-week training for the first Waldorf faculty is organized using the same principle: he builds up to his thesis (i.e., the curriculum) and presents it last. This organizational strategy works fine if Steiner’s material is read from start to finish in the order he presented it. However, when it is split up into three of four different books, the thesis becomes opaque. For this reason, Steiner’s curriculum is compiled and presented in organized tables in Continuing the Journey to Literacy (see tables 1.3.2–1.3.4).
Steiner often digresses. Steiner begins by presenting broad topics and then shifts to expounding on one or more very specific, related details (often for pages at a time) before resuming the discussion of the broad topics. These shifts make it harder to understand the broad topics. It is necessary to consult multiple sources to get a fuller picture of his broad topics.
Steiner bounces from one topic to another in a stream-of-conscious fashion. When he lectures, Steiner does not categorize what he is talking about or put it into a clear order. Continuing the Journey to Literacy has compiled many of Steiner’s indications and put them into categories in section two to highlight some of the principles, methods, and words of advice Steiner offers in his lectures so teachers can apply these ideas to the teaching of language arts in grades 4–8. It does the same for Steiner’s indication in teaching language arts, which are presented in section three.
Steiner does not give equal treatment to equal topics. Steiner talks at great length about some topics and hardly at all about others. It gives the impression that some topics are more important than others. See “Sacred Nothing: Two Natural Science Blocks (Zoology) in Fourth Grade” in chapter 2.4 #3.
Steiner uses hyperbole: Steiner frequently uses hyperbole in his lectures. It shows up in two areas: 1) hooks to get the listeners’ attention; and 2) counterarguments to support his position when engaging in polemics in a speech. If you take the hyperbole out of context and/or do not compare a statement with the rest of Steiner’s indications, it can give a false impression. For an example of hyperbole in polemics, see “Sacred Nothing: When Students Should Learn to Read” in chapter 3.2 #11. For an example of hyperbole used as a hook, consider that Steiner has numerous “golden rules” for educators. See chapter 2.3 #8, 2.3 #14, and 2.3 #20.
Steiner sometimes contradicts himself. Steiner sometimes makes contradictory claims or gives contradictory advice. It is useful to consider Steiner’s words in their fullest context in order to understand what he means. Steiner spoke to different audiences at different times, and no single lecture contains his full view on a subject. Comparing lectures sometimes resolves contradictions (for example, see chapter 2.3 #20: Do Not Tire the Students). For an example of a contradiction, see “Background Information” in chapter 2.3 #7.
As a result of these seven points, it is imperative to read Steiner in context. Pulling a quotation out of context creates misunderstandings and perpetuates Waldorf myths (sacred nothings).
The final reason it is hard to understand Steiner’s indications is anthroposophy.
Anthroposophy is the movement Steiner created to explore spiritual (i.e., nonmaterial) truths in a scientific way. Anthroposophy is a vast philosophy, and it includes many different topics, including agriculture and social reform. Emil Molt, the founder of the first Waldorf school, was a student of anthroposophy, and a lecture on anthroposophy inspired him to start the first Waldorf school.
Waldorf education has an interesting relationship to anthroposophy. The results of Steiner’s spiritual scientific research infuse Waldorf education. Steiner refers to Waldorf education as applied anthroposophy or practical anthroposophy, and for good reason: the word anthroposophy means the wisdom of man, and Waldorf education is based on Steiner’s understanding of the human being. However, Steiner did not want any aspects of anthroposophy taught to the students. Furthermore, he did not want to create a parochial school (Steiner 1996c, 31). Waldorf education is applied anthroposophy purposefully removed from its sectarian elements.
For those with no background in anthroposophy, it can be difficult to understand what Steiner is saying, and his advice often appears esoteric. Therefore, it is sometimes necessary to offer some background information about anthroposophy by way of explanation (see chapter 1.2 #1). Information about anthroposophy in general, however, is outside the scope of this book. This book’s objective is to present a comprehensive and academically rigorous language arts curriculum for English. Information about anthroposophy is only offered to provide background information on a need-to-know basis.
In summary, there are many reasons why it is hard to understand Steiner’s indications. That fact has caused a second roadblock: sacred nothings.
2. Roadblock Two: Sacred Nothings
The opaque nature of Steiner’s advice coupled with teachers’ freedom (see chapter 2.7) created the second roadblock: sacred nothings.
Sacred Nothings are Waldorf educational practices that have sprung up over the years that are of questionable value and that are considered sacrosanct. These practices have been called both Waldorf myths and sacred nothings by Christof Wiechert, former Director of the Pedagogical Section of the Anthroposophical Society from 2001–2010. They often prevent teachers from delivering the Waldorf curriculum and/or teaching academic skills.
Sacred nothings are a prominent part of Continuing the Journey to Literacy. They are even more ubiquitous in grades 4–8 than they are in grades 1–3. They include multiple blocks of study that have largely supplanted the language arts curriculum in the upper grades (see chapter 2.4 #3). These blocks must be dealt with to create time in the schedule to teach language arts.
Sacred nothings are covered in more depth in chapter 2.1 and are addressed as they come up in the book.
3. Roadblock Three: Teaching Skills in Subject Blocks
The third roadblock is the Waldorf schedule. It works well for subjects but less well for skills.
Difference between Skills and Subjects
Skills are very different from subjects. Skills refer to academic abilities that students develop through repeated practice (e.g., multiplication facts and handwriting). Subjects refer to topics students study (e.g., history and physics). Skills require repeated practice, but subjects do not. However, the study of subjects requires a minimum level of proficiency in related skills. For example, to study history, students need to have certain levels of proficiency in skills such as reading, writing, spelling, etc. Language arts, however, feature both subjects and skills. For example, literature is a subject, but spelling is a skill.
There are two important points to keep in mind when teaching skills. First, students must practice skills until they become abilities. Practice is the key to building skills such as spelling, grammar, etc. Without practice, students may understand a concept but not know how to use it. For example, they understand that a verb is an action word but are unable to underline all the verbs in a passage (see “Do Not Make Learning Grammar Terminology the End Point of the Grammar Lesson” in Chapter 3.15 #11). Second, skills are not static but keep progressing over the years. For example, once students learn to read, they have to build their fluency with higher and higher levels of text in each passing grade. Students need ongoing practice to meet these fluency goals. For example, starting in third grade on, they should read at least a total of 30 minutes a day from books/texts at an appropriate level. Daily practice is the key to developing reading fluency skills, just as it is the key for developing all skills. Ongoing practice is as critical as the initial introduction.
The Block System
The way the Waldorf school day is set up makes it challenging to teach skills. Most school schedules feature classes that are taught daily or every other day. The Waldorf schedule uses blocks of study or blocks. Blocks work well for subjects but less well for skills.
The block system is scheduled as follows: For three or four weeks, students focus on one subject for two hours a day. Waldorf teachers bring poems, music, artistic activities, stories, and assignments related to the subject of study. At the end of the block, the subject matter changes. The block system allows the teacher and students to delve deeply into a subject and then set it aside (or put it to sleep) for at least a month before taking it up in a new way.
Block study is an effective approach to teaching subjects such as history, science, and geography. In fifth grade, it works well to teach history in two separate blocks at different times in the year. Students do not need to practice subjects like history to study them successfully. However, blocks do not work well when it comes to learning foundational language arts skills such as spelling. Learning a skill requires a different approach.
The germ of this idea is already present among some Waldorf educators. The editors of The Educational Tasks and Content of the Steiner Waldorf Curriculum state:
Steiner Waldorf [School] differentiates between skills needing regular practice (foreign languages, music, maths, spelling, etc.) and the introduction of new content. New experiences or teaching content are often best introduced after a period during which the assimilation of previously taught material can occur. Acquiring new skills and practicing them until they become ability are two different processes requiring different rhythms. (Avison and Rawson 2014, 31)
Yes, there needs to be a different rhythm for skills. Furthermore, add reading, writing, and grammar to the top of Avison and Rawson’s list of skills that require regular practice.
In grades 1–3, the blocks are skills blocks that alternate between language arts skills and math skills; however, in fourth grade, the blocks change to subject blocks. Students begin studying subjects such as history, geography, natural science, etc. This change makes it challenging to schedule time to teach and have students practice language arts skills in grades 4–8. The solution to this problem is discussed in Chapter 2.4: The Waldorf Schedule.
4. Roadblock Four: English Is Not German
The fourth roadblock is that it is difficult to apply Steiner’s advice for teaching language arts to English.
The first Waldorf school was in Stuttgart; consequently, Steiner’s advice on education was given in German for German-speaking teachers and German-speaking students. As a result, Steiner’s advice on language arts instruction is a poor fit for English-speaking teachers and students. First, it often does not apply at all because of differences in the languages (see chapter 1.4 #1). Furthermore, it is missing key information that English-speaking teachers need to know to teach grammar, spelling, and vocabulary to English-speaking students. As a result, it is necessary for teachers to innovate responsibly in order to make language arts lessons for English. Too often teachers do not have the time and/or expertise to do the job well. Specific advice for different aspects of language arts is given in section three.
The fifth and final roadblock is that the Waldorf curriculum is a unified whole.
Steiner set up the subject blocks for main lesson in such a way that one subject informs another subject. As a result, changes made to the English blocks affect the other subjects, and the other subjects affect English. Very soon in the process of writing this book it became apparent that it would be impossible to address the language arts curriculum in isolation because every subject is interconnected with every other subject. To address language arts, it is necessary is to address the entire curriculum.
6. A Solution: Continuing the Journey to Literacy
A solution to these five roadblocks is Continuing the Journey to Literacy. It picks up the development of literacy skill in fourth grade where The Roadmap to Literacy leaves off and articulates a language arts curriculum for Waldorf schools grades 4–8.
Continuing the Journey to Literacy’s approach is based on three things: Rudolf Steiner’s Waldorf curriculum, the phases of literacy articulated in The Roadmap to Literacy, and the teacher’s inner work. Its goal is to give teachers all the tools they need to create an academically rigorous and developmentally appropriate language arts curriculum so that students can go to high school with the skills and knowledge they need to be successful. The information in this book is based on many things, including information the author culled from 12+ lecture series by Rudolf Steiner (condensed into 2000+ notes), 14 years of work with struggling students from various Waldorf schools and homeschools, and a bit of common sense.
Continuing the Journey to Literacy is laid out as follows:
Section 1: Essential Background Information
Section 2: Waldorf Methodologies
Section 3: The 17 Aspects of Language Arts
Section 4: Grammar
Section 5: The Subject Blocks
Section 6: Lesson Planning, Assessment, and Remediation
The goal of Continuing the Journey to Literacy is for students to graduate from eighth grade with the language arts skills necessary to do well in any school, a goal shared by Rudolf Steiner. He states:
In my letter to the authorities, I stated that, on completion of the third school year, our students would have reached the same standards of basic education as those achieved in other schools and thus would be able to change schools without difficulty….
Similarly, I said that our teaching between the end of the ninth and twelfth years—from the end of class three to the end of class six—is intended to achieve standards comparable with those of other schools and that our students would be able to enter seventh grade in another school without falling behind.
…And if a student needs to leave our school at the age of fourteen, there should be no problems when entering a high school or any other school leading to a university entrance examination. (Steiner 2003, 126–127)
Continuing the Journey to Literacy can be broken down into chunks. You should read sections 1–2 in their entirety before using the rest of the book as a resource book. Once you have done so, you will know how best to use the book to plan and teach your curriculum, and you will be able to speak knowledgably to current and prospective parents about your language arts curriculum across grades 4–8.
Note: Rebinding this book into several smaller books will make it easier to work with. Take Continuing the Journey to Literacy to an office store and have it spiral-bound into four books: Sections 1–2, Section 3, Section 4, and Sections 5–6. That way you can have the book open to multiple pages at the same time, you can leave Section 1–2 and Section 5–6 on your bookshelf as reference books, and it will be easier to transport section three and section four to and from work.
Following the approach outlined in Continuing the Journey to Literacy will save you hours of pouring over teaching materials because it answers those ubiquitous questions: What exactly am I supposed to teach, and how am I supposed to teach it? You are holding in your hands an overview of the entire Waldorf curriculum grades 4–8 so that you have everything you need to know to create a Waldorf language arts curriculum for English-speaking students in grades 4–8. Language arts skills are ubiquitous and there will be aspects to teach in every block.