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