Manual Balance in Teaching (Foundations of Waldorf Education, 11)

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Then, in first grade, letters are introduced along with the varied sounds of each as students become familiar with the basic phonological and morphological arrangements of letter-sound relationships. This progression of literacy skills in the Waldorf curriculum aligns with a fundamental connection between printed letters and speech sounds that are developed in the brain by practice with associating the visual information of speech with the mental representations of printed letters 9.

Additional research suggests that there is an interactive relationship between phonemic awareness and early reading skills such as those where students develop reading skills from personal experiences and oral language The Waldorf early grades curriculum is rich in phonological awareness and emphasizes holistic literacy skills along with informal print writing to give students a stronger basis for formal print reading.

Current research supports the idea that teachers can improve reading skills by having students write about what they are reading, teaching them writing skills, and increasing how much they write In the Waldorf first grade classroom, writing the letters of the alphabet emerges from daily imaginative stories thus giving students a meaningful basis for linking printed letters with sounds as in the early relationships to humans with hieroglyphics. Students write simple words that they know, and gradually the skill of writing words and recognizing word families is used to build simple sentences.

The beginning skill of associating sounds with letters guides students to sound out and read basic words, and emphasis on the morphology of words such as the meanings that come from prefixes and suffixes gives students access to meaning as they attempt to sound out words in more complex texts. The emphasis on students writing letters, words, and phrases that they know increases confidence and this propels them deeper into literacy learning.

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All of this deep, elaborate learning and processing leads to better memory retention. Students process the shapes of letters and words least deeply, the sounds of letters and words more deeply, and the meanings of words most deeply In addition, research supports the Waldorf approach of integrating movement skills with visual skills which link action and perception to enhance letter recognition and knowledge to prepare children for visual reading tasks Indeed, current trends of emphasis on academic tasks in non-Waldorf early childhood classrooms preschool through grade one are not well supported by research or by early childhood experts Furthermore, recent research indicates that early reading gains dissipate by the end of first grade In fact, current brain-based evidence supports a generous balance between play and academic work in early childhood and highlights the harm that can be done when academics are emphasized 15 or when reading is expected too soon 16 , or earlier than when the brain is truly ready to read, which is around seven to nine years old 2.

Waldorf early childhood classrooms are largely play-based, and these activities further strengthen the foundation for literacy learning as well as executive function development. Current research is uncovering the crucial functions that play and social-emotional learning have in preparing children to engage with literacy.

In the Waldorf approach, play is essential to the social, emotional, behavioral, and cognitive development of children when they engage and interact with the world around them through self-initiated, imaginative and playful experiences. In an academic sense, play helps children adjust to the school setting, thereby fostering school engagement. Thus, early education policies that primarily emphasize literacy instruction are missing an important opportunity to increase their effectiveness by including attention to the development of executive functioning skills.

Indeed, there is also evidence that emerging executive function skills contribute to early reading and math achievement during the pre-kindergarten years and into kindergarten The emphasis on warmth and loving relationships in the Waldorf early childhood classrooms and in the grades in which class teachers remain with their students for eight years are consistent with these findings. As teachers and students develop strong relationships in the grades, literacy learning continues with beautiful speech recitation, many modes of writing, drama experiences 20 , several public speaking experiences in school-wide assemblies and presentations, and other artistic experiences that further enhance literacy learning.

Even with all the above-mentioned modes of learning, it is possible that a minority of children will still struggle with reading. While most Waldorf students are reading by third grade, Waldorf schools screen for reading difficulties early, regularly, and informally so as not to trigger anxiety in students or parents.

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Teachers take an active role in developing individualized intervention activities and assist struggling readers to focus on and improve reading skills, all in the context of lessons that ground students in the purpose of and engagement with reading. In summary, the unique philosophy of Waldorf literacy learning includes careful development of movement, listening and speaking, and play and imagination.

All of this forms a mindfully tended, fertile ground for literacy learning and all future learning. In this context, Waldorf students build a rich fund of literacy knowledge that includes a strong vocabulary and the ability to focus attention on stories while listening or reading. In addition, students develop the ability to attend to the structure and details of information while reading to gain the most meaning from texts and to leverage that knowledge when writing both academically and creatively.

Literacy development in Waldorf schools cultivates awareness, appreciation, and skill in both the spoken and written word, following a developmentally sound approach that helps to ensure that students claim a love of literature, language and writing as part of their birthright. August 10, Rudolf Steiner Archive. Accessed 11 April Literacy Through Movement: An organizational approach. Journal of Physical Education, Recreation and Dance, 72 1 , Emotionality and learning stories: Documenting how we learn what we feel.

Canadian Journal of Environmental Education, 21 , The relationship between listening and reading comprehension of different types of text at increasing grade levels. Reading Psychology, 26 1 , The role of word recognition, oral reading fluency and listening comprehension in the simple view of reading: A study in an intermediate depth orthography.

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  6. Reading and Writing, 30 , Research to practice: Phonemic awareness in kindergarten and first grade. Teaching Exceptional Children, 34 4 , Integration of letters and speech sounds in the human brain.

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    Neuron , 43, — Developmental steps in learning to read: A longitudinal study in kindergarten and first grade. Reading Research Quarterly , 38 3 , Writing to read: Evidence for how writing can improve reading. Education Week 29 , 5. London, UK: Psychology Press. Learning letters with the whole body: Visuomotor versus visual teaching in kindergarten. After introducing me to each of his teachers, Gary walked me past the primary tools of the Waldorf day: the recorders every student learns to play, the numerous paintings and art projects, and a pile of "main lesson books" -- lengthy creative reports by students on their studies in each academic subject, which they must generate every few weeks.

    Later, during an English class, I noticed a fifteen-year-old I'll call Robert waving his hand desperately.

    The Anthroposophical Basis of Waldorf Education

    A small boy with an angelic walnut-brown face, Robert had been expelled from his previous school for smoking marijuana; soon after his arrival at Mathews, he jumped out the probation officer's window and ran away. On the day I visited, Robert sat attentive throughout a two-hour class. When the teacher finally called on him, he flawlessly recited six lines memorized from The Merchant of Venice. In the early days, Evelyn Arcuri, the teacher, said later, when she asked the students to return their materials, "they would just toss stuff at me. Now there's better control. They're more engaged.

    One twelve-year-old boy sat with me after school, regaling me, in enthusiastic detail, with a creative mixture of Greek and Roman history. The boy could barely read, but he'd been inspired by the oral storytelling that Waldorf teachers emphasize. These roughnecks even like Waldorf's focus on art. Thomas, an outgoing and restless seventeen-year-old, had found that when he was forced to draw pictures of stories he had read or heard, "you get more visual ideas of what you're doing.

    Mikkelsen and her teachers attribute these changes to the battery of skills they learned at Rudolf Steiner College , a small private school near Sacramento that serves as the West Coast teacher-training center for Waldorf schools. Much of what teachers learn there is how to reach children through all their senses. Child-development experts have long advocated a multisensory approach to learning -- as a way both to deeply imprint lessons in a youngster and to accommodate the different learning styles that are bound to exist among diverse students, particularly those with learning difficulties.

    Yet few education systems in this country have the history with these methods that Waldorf schools do.

    You can't lecture to them. Independent study doesn't work. They need constant support and a lot of socializing. Otherwise, it's another bunch of elitist B. Several years later an outside evaluator dropped by the Mathews School. After his visit he told Mikkelsen that the effectiveness of her program for juvenile offenders couldn't be fairly judged, because it was clear that she did not have truly problem kids.

    John Cobb, the local probation manager, has a similar impression.

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    The main lesson books at Mathews and other Waldorf schools illustrate Waldorf's unusual mixture of teaching techniques. The books are filled with students' careful records of field trips and classroom experiments; impressions of the teachers' regular oral presentations; and, in more advanced classes, syntheses of what the students have read in primary sources.

    Waldorf teachers avoid textbooks, considering their digested information a poor substitute for original material. The texts were neatly handwritten, with fountain pens. They were also often accompanied by detailed drawings and poetry, some of which the students had written themselves.

    Playfulness is encouraged in these books, because Waldorf teachers believe that imaginative wonderings can be just as educational as objective facts and conclusions, if not more so. This notion, that imagination is the heart of learning, animates the entire arc of Waldorf teaching. When that concept is coupled with the schools' other fundamental goal, to give youngsters a sense of ethics, the result is a pedagogy that stands even further apart from today's system of education, with its growing emphasis on national performance standards in subjects such as mathematics, science, and reading and its increasing rigor in standardized testing -- to say nothing of the campaign to fill classrooms with computers.

    This is not to suggest that Waldorf schools have a monopoly on contrarian ideas; Quaker and other religious schools teach ethics too. And various alternative private schools have been practicing innovative approaches to learning for years. Obviously, some Waldorf practices will resemble those in many of these schools. But that makes the Waldorf method all the more intriguing, because the daily experiences of one creative education system ought to tell us something about the challenges and possibilities for other schools, both alternative and traditional.

    It is odd, actually, that the public knows so little about Waldorf schools, because they've been operating in this country since and have collected quite a few famous followers Waldorf parents have included Paul Newman, Joe Namath, John DeLorean, and Mikhail Baryshnikov; graduates include Victor Navasky, the publisher of The Nation, and Ken Chenault, the president of American Express. During the past twenty-five years in particular, Waldorf schools have proliferated vigorously; roughly now operate in the United States, and worldwide. Waldorf schools are quite possibly the world's fastest-growing independent school system; David Alsop, the chairman of the Association of Waldorf Schools of North America, calls them the world's "best-kept education secret.

    The secret is getting out. In the past decade a dozen public schools have adopted Waldorf methods, in an effort to enliven classrooms that many educators see as having become sterile job factories.

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    Unfortunately, some of the Waldorf methods have caused trouble of their own, both in public schools and in private Waldorf classrooms.