Saturday, October 6, 2012

Second Grade Michaelmas Play

                                    Courage and Love Triumphant
                       A Michaelmas Play by Lori Ann Kran for the 2nd Grade

Characters: Chorus, Animals, Plants, Farmers, Children
Enter stage singing “Michael Radiant and Bright”

Chorus: In a lovely land not far from here
            There dwelt a community good and dear
            They cared for the animals, plants, and earth
            They cared for each other and were full of mirth.

Farmers: (begin Stomping with right foot in a circle 5x than pause with left hand raised,  
repeat next time left foot forward with right arm raised)

Yes we have the strength,
Yes we have the will,
Our beasts to tend,
Our earth to till!

(Stop, all face forward and sing)

SONG: We work each day
            LowE  G   A       B
            Making time for play
            LowE E  G    A     B
            With Michael’s courage
            E        DBA         B   G
            Our hearts we do nourish
            E     G       A    A  B D           

Animals: The children treat us delightfully!
             That’s why we leap so sprite-fully!

Plants: The farmer’s tend to us row by row
            With Sun and Rain we grow and grow!         

Farmers: (Same movement as above)
            Yes we have the strength,
            Yes we have the will,
            Our beasts to tend,
            Our earth to till!

(Stop, all face forward and sing)

SONG: We work each day…. (see above)

Farmers and Children: The earth we respect,
                                    We would never neglect,
                                    Archangel Michael, He is our guide,
                                    In love, truth, and justice by His example we abide.

Chorus: But Evil lurked not far away,
Up in the mountains the Dragon held sway.
On plants and animals he feasted and tore,
 When he saw people he let out a roar!
The humans he’d lift them to the Sun,
And then ravenously eat them, one by one!

Farmers: What are these shadows that dim the sky?
            That sulfurous cloud; it stings our eyes!
            The stench is quite strong
            The smell it is rotten!
            Oh what could it be? What have we forgotten?
             Look! There in the distance the dragon flies near.     (DRAGON ENTERS)
            His aim is to eat us, to create havoc and fear!
            Oh, who can protect us? Must we all perish?
            Must we lose the community we cherish?

Children: Our hearts tell us now: Call the Angel of the Lord,
            St. Michael please guide our actions and our swords!
We shan’t kill the Dragon, for killing’s not right,
We’ll conquer him with courage and kindness, not might!


SONG: “Unconquered Hero of the Skies…” author?)

Chorus: The Dragon approached devouring crops as he came,
            Searching for animals to eat just the same!

            The lambs they all bleated,
            The cows they all mooed,
            The chickens they squawked,
            And the doves cried, “coo coo!”

Farmers:  We pray Oh St. Michael,
Give us a sign,
We need your aid now,
From your realms so divine.

Children: Here are our swords,
Crafted with love,
Send us a miracle,
Oh Michael from above!

SONG: “Michael, Michael with your sword so bright!”
                B  B E    B B E       

Chorus: As the Dragon approached,
            The sky it did darken,
            The children all cried, “Michael we hearken!”
            Then from the heavens came a piercing bright light,
            Michael on his steed did swiftly alight!
            He gave every child the courage of knights,
            Blessed with nobility,
            They were ready to fight!
            The Dragon ambled forward,
            The scent of children he found,
            The children stood firmly,
            Protecting their ground.

Children: In Michael’s name we command you, “Be still!”
            The love in our hearts will transform you, “It will!”

Chorus: The Dragon slithered forward with fiery speed,
            But the children all stood there brave, yes indeed!
            Then suddenly from Heaven the meteors flew,              (THROW METEORS!)
            And transformed all the swords to sacred iron quite true!

Children: With our swords we transform you,
                Forever and anon,
                Your evil ways will forever be gone!

Chorus: We thank thee St. Michael,
            The Dragon’s evil has vanished!
            Now, once again, our community can cherish,
The love and the goodness we relied on in need,
We triumphed together in our Michaelic deed!

SONG: “Firmly on the Earth I Stand…” sung by the upper grades.

Monday, May 21, 2012

An Artistic Approach to Education

My third grade students made this banner as a gift for our school. It’s the culmination of a year’s work. We started at the end of 2nd grade when we planted a dye garden of indigo, zinnias, and marigolds.  Last fall we harvested the flowers and indigo leaves, created dye baths, and then dyed white wool roving: the blues are indigo, the yellows and browns are marigolds, and the pinks are zinnias. Finally, each child, using “treasures from nature” wove his or her own unique, circular peace flag.  Many flags created one whole gift.

I share this project with you because it is symbolic of a healthy and diverse class. Every student liked and disliked aspects of this project: some dug in the dirt with zest, others “oohed and ahhed” as the yellow colored indigo bath turned the wool blue once it hit the air, others enjoyed planning their designs and weaving, and still others loved writing and drawing about the experience. Noticing who connected with which aspect of the project is my research about how students learn.

The key to successful participation for all students in this year -long project, and indeed to every lesson I teach, is engaging my students’ heads, hearts, and hands. Well rounded students must be able to think critically, deeply, abstractly, and imaginatively; they must forge emotionally rich and heartfelt connections to the material; and finally, they must be expected to do excellent work, whether it’s preparing a garden, knitting a pair of socks, playing an instrument, or equally vital, writing an essay, learning math concepts, or observing and recording a scientific phenomenon.

This pedagogy, that addresses students’ head, heart, hands, requires an artistic approach to education. By this I mean that lessons must be planned to meet the specific needs of individual students, as well as the whole class. Indeed, for success, teachers must know their students well. Lesson plans must be enlivened and cannot be dictated by the state. Teachers must have autonomy in the classroom.

So the big idea is incorporating the thinking head, the feeling heart, and the creating hands into every lesson. Here are the small details from 2 math lessons.

Let’s look at number patterns and geometry. All students must memorize their multiplication and division tables. Children memorize math facts quickly and joyfully when they get to move, feel, and finally, solve them. Engaging the whole body, or “getting the math facts into their bones” is an effective tool for memorization.  Teach students to march, clap, sing, and skip the tables. Tell math stories with rich visual imagery to help students calculate problems in their heads. Lastly, have them sit down and solve problems with pencil and paper.

Every day, my students experience math through movement, they solve problems in their heads, and they write out the math problems with pencil and paper. Even in 2nd and 3rd grade we connect math patterns to geometry. Once they’ve memorized, for example, the 4s table, I gather 10 students into a circle and have everyone hold onto a long piece of string.  If every fourth child holds the string, a pentagram is formed. When every second child holds the string, a pentagon is formed. Notice the geometry in number patterns! Later in the week, I ask students to draw what they experienced with their whole bodies.  They inscribe a pentagram, in a pentagon, in a circle, first freehand, without tools. We revisit this exercise in 6th grade geometry, and striving for precision, students construct the forms using a compass and ruler.

How can fractions be taught more concretely and artistically? When introducing fractions in 4th grade, it’s imperative to start with the whole number and see what happens when we divide. I might ask my students to stand as one whole class of 25 and then tell them to divide into 5 equal parts, reminding them that fractions are division problems. A tasty way to demonstrate a whole divided into parts is by baking and eating pizzas and pies. 16 slices in the whole, 8 eaten, ½ left.

Once students have grasped the idea of parts of the whole, it’s exciting to connect fractions to musical notation. All Waldorf students learn to play flute in first grade by watching and playing along with their teacher. But for 4th grade fractions, I’ll do something different. Rather than teaching them a new song in the old way, I’ll have written musical notation on the chalkboard in 4/4 time. I relate the value of the musical notes to fractions: the quarter note gets 1 of 4 beats, the half note gets 2 of 4 beats, the dotted half note gets three of 4 beats, and the whole note gets 4 of 4 beats!  Students are learning about fractions and relating them to music; they are connecting abstract dots on a page to the fingering they already know so well. They are emotionally engaged with the new song. A concrete, yet heartfelt understanding of fractions, satisfied bellies and a new song learned are the results of this lesson.

So I’ve given two small, detailed examples, to highlight one big idea. Engaging the thinking head, the feeling heart, and the working hands into all aspects of the curriculum allows the full human being to learn. Students who have spent the first 8 years of their education actively engaged in heartfelt thinking move on to high school, college, and the world ready to work compassionately and thoughtfully for the greater good.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Spiritual Teachings and Responsibilty in Waldorf Education

Grand-friend Day at the Cincinnati Waldorf School 2011.

Good Morning. I’m Lori Kran, grade 2 teacher and College Chair. I’d like to take a few minutes to highlight an aspect of Waldorf education that some of you may take for granted and some of you may have never considered before. If I spark any thoughts, please catch me sometime today, email me, or call me, to discuss this topic, as I’d love to get your perspective.

As Waldorf teachers, we have the freedom to weave spiritual and religious teachings and philosophies into our daily lessons. We tell the stories of virtuous and courageous people, we sing the spirituals of the oppressed and newly liberated, and we recite the poetry of geniuses connecting with the divine. The literature, music, and poetry that your children learn is rich in allegory, steeped in the cultures of the world. However, with that freedom comes tremendous responsibility. Following, I’ll highlight a particular aspect of Waldorf education: the Festivals we celebrate throughout the year. I’ll point out what I believe are the valuable, deeper lessons and messages that your children are experiencing in celebrating these festivals.

Our festivals

In late September, we celebrate the festival of Michaelmas. St Michael is the legendary archangel who bravely conquers the dragon who has been wreaking havoc on the community. Students sing songs, teachers tell stories, and the second grade performs a play focusing on Michael’s courage to transform the symbolic, evil dragon into goodness. The deeper message is to resist our tendency to draw inward as the days grow shorter and instead to cultivate love and courage in the face of apathy and fear.

In mid November, we celebrate Lantern Walk: aka Martinmas. Martin was a Roman soldier who defied the Roman Emperor and Army to help a poor, beggar man who was starving and freezing. Martin risked his livelihood as well as his freedom to actively show love and compassion for another human being. Our students make lanterns to symbolize an inner light of moral certainty and goodness. In celebrating St Martin’s story students learn the deeper message that even in the face of danger one must have the rectitude to stand firm and take the right action.

Our school celebrates Winter Garden right around the time of the Winter Solstice. Teachers lay a spiral of evergreen and decorate it with representations of the four kingdoms: mineral, plant, animal, and human. It is dark and peaceful, volunteers play music and sing songs both secular and from many religious traditions. Students and adults quietly walk the spiral, admiring the treasures along the way. An angel stands in the middle holding a candle, offering light at the darkest time of the year. The deeper message is to remember to take time for self-reflection, to reignite your essential spark on the shortest day and longest night of the year.

We celebrate Springtime with our May Day Festival. Wearing flower crowns and gaily colored ribbons we dance and sing around the maypole. We rejoice at the rebirth of Nature and we revel in her fecundity. The deeper message is to remember to take time to notice, revere, honor, and care for our Mother Earth.

When we teachers prepare our students for these festivals, foremost in our minds is how to model gratitude, reverence, respect, care, and love for other people, animals, and the earth. We want our students to carry the impulse to do good deeds at home, at school, and indeed in the world each and every day. We want to empower them to take action now, to feel responsible and capable of transformation.

Fundamental to Waldorf education is the teachers’ freedom to teach their students verses, poetry, and songs with these types of spiritual references. The freedom to teach this material comes with the responsibility to model inner thoughtfulness accompanied by outer actions of goodness. For example, every day at snack and lunchtime we sing a blessing for our meals. We teachers model reverence and thankfulness for our food and for those who provided us with our food. My class’s snack and lunch blessing ends with “blessings on our lunch, the whole wide world, including all of us.” It is at that moment, that I have the responsibility to attach meaning to my actions and words, to model for my students inner contemplation, love, gratitude, respect, and reverence for the entire world and also for each individual. It is a freedom and responsibility that I, and my colleagues, take very seriously.

Monday, November 22, 2010

The Waldorf Approach to Academics in the Grade School

The Waldorf Approach to Academics in the Grade School
- A Presentation at the Cincinnati Waldorf School on November 16, 2010
by Lori Ann Kran, PhD

Waldorf education brings academic rigor and artistic beauty to every subject at the developmentally appropriate time. A central aim of Waldorf education is to graduate students who do not settle for conventional solutions to the questions that face humanity. Indeed, we aim to cultivate heartfelt thinkers who make change in the world. If you’ve heard me speak before you know I talk about how Waldorf education cultivates Renaissance young men and women: students who have artistic, academic, and athletic skills. But actually I’ve rethought this, because the Renaissance was not a golden era for most people.

So, rather than hearken back to the past for a model of a well-rounded student, actually I ask you tonight to consider this Waldorf or Steiner educational model, because a central aspect of Waldorf education is the social deed. Indeed, we must cultivate graduates whose hearts and arms are able to enfold the entire world. A big Eurythmy embrace, a Buh for the world.

We want our graduates to ask, “What do I do with my academic brilliance, my artistic beauty, my physical prowess, and my social conscience? I reach out into the world and do the good!” If young people, in large numbers, are intolerant of injustice and suffering, and know how to think and take action, we have profound, radical, and revolutionary change.

How many saw “Waiting For Superman”? In one scene there is a cartoon picture of students in a row with the “good teacher” opening their skulls and filling their brains with information, lots of facts. Although viewers disagree, my impression was that the director equated quality education with filling up an empty brain. In sharp contrast, the Waldorf philosophy is not to cram information in, but to draw information out, to draw out the individuality of each student. We do this when we provide a nurturing, rich, enjoyable classroom atmosphere for students. We do this when we teach subject matter when children are developmentally ready to understand it. If children are secure and confident then they are open to learning. If children have hindrances to learning, be they emotional or physical, then it is the teachers’ and parents’ responsibility to remove the obstacles/hindrances by employing every strategy from nutrition to extra lesson work and curative Eurythmy to academic tutoring.

Children learn in many ways and Waldorf pedagogy embraces a multidisciplinary approach to academics that includes kinesthetic, auditory, and visual learning. In grade school, from the age of 7-14, students learn best when their feeling or emotional lives are engaged.
We know that the right side of the brain houses artistic and communication skills and the left side of the brain houses scientific and language skills. Well, if there is no communication between the 2 sides of the brain then we have people who possibly act without feeling. We may have people in power making cold, calculated, emotionless decisions. Waldorf education strives to connect thinking to feelings and emotions so that we have actions/will/volition that are compassionate, that do the best for the most people. Waldorf education cultivates heart-felt thinking.

To reiterate, the Waldorf approach to academics is to use the developmental insights of Rudolf Steiner to more fully educate the whole student and to cultivate a love for learning, and an intellectual curiosity that embraces problem solving for the betterment of the world.

Let’s get to the specific examples.

Language Arts: The language arts curriculum follows the development of human consciousness from a pre-literate time as demonstrated most profoundly in the fairy tales, through the mythical literature of many cultures to recorded history.

Goals of
Language Arts Curriculum:
1. Exposure to classic literature, mythology, and world history
2. Listening and comprehension
3. Penmanship
4. Composition5. Reading and comprehension

How we teach: The content of the
Language Arts curriculum (including nature stories, fairy tales, mythology,history, human geography) is brought through the art of storytelling. Teachers memorize stories, biographies, and historical events and tell them to the class using rich prose, thoughtful intonation, and clear enunciation. We reach students through this heart-felt connection to the story. Whether it’s second grade Martin who risks defying the Roman army by cutting in half his army-issued, elite red cape to give to a poor man, or the story of Galileo who faces imprisonment by the Church for being true to his knowledge of Astronomy, students remember the story because it connects to their emotional life.

We assess listening and comprehension in many ways. Throughout the grades students are expected to be able to retell the story verbally. Teachers assess sequencing of the story, use of illustrative verbs, nouns, adjectives, sentence structure, and grammar. Student initiated short skits, perhaps getting the silks out as quick costumes, also serve as comprehension indicators.

Students are also asked to demonstrate comprehension through composition and illustration.Once the story has been told the first day and reviewed the next day, the teacher, the teacher and the class, a small group of students, and finally, individual students will retell the story through writing paragraphs, essays, or poems. Thus with oral retelling, illustrations, and writing students are sharpening their memory forces, exercising their capacity for mental images.

Handwriting/penmanship: The obvious goals for handwriting are to develop beauty and fluidity. Yet, Stephen Graham, Professor of Special Education and Literacy at Vanderbilt University, wrote, “In dozens of studies, researchers…have found that, done right, early handwriting instruction improves students’ writing. Not just its legibility, but its quantity and quality.

Of all the knowledge and skills that are required to write (to compose), handwriting is the one that places the earliest constraints on writing development (composition). If children cannot form letters—or cannot form them with reasonable legibility and speed—they cannot translate the language in their minds into written text. Struggling with handwriting can lead to a self-fulfilling prophecy in which
students avoid writing, come to think of themselves as not being able to write, and fall further and further behind their peers.

Just as young readers must learn to decode fluently so they can focus oncomprehension, young writers must develop fluent, legible handwriting (and must master other transcription skills like spelling) so they can focus on generating and organizing ideas.” (American Educator, Winter 2009-10, page 20)

We know that main stream educators are
allowing their students to rely more and more on word processing and perhaps see penmanship as archaic and unnecessary.
Waldorf teachers, in contrast, continue to value penmanship and it’s satisfying to see the research catch up with our practice.

Form drawing, (see example image) which is unique to Waldorf education, plays a key role in developing beautiful handwriting, because it
develops eye-hand coordination, spatial orientation to the page, ability to move from left to right fluidly and gracefully across a page.

Composition: Learning to write well begins in the early grades and culminates in the abilities of eighth graders to write essays, reports, poetry, and fiction. Up until seventh grade writing assignments focus on how precisely a story can be retold. Waldorf pedagogy moves from teaching the mechanics of writing to the exercise of creative imagination. Creative prose and poetry happens in seventh grade because it is at this age that the student’s emotional/soul life awakens to truly allow for independent creativethinking.

Reading/comprehension: To ask if Waldorf education delays learning to read is really not a productive question. And while some Waldorf educators say yes, I say no, we don’t delay, but we do take a different tact in our academic approach to reading. My advice to parents of young children: immerse your children in beautiful, classic literature. Sit your baby, your first grader, your fifth grader, your adult child on your lap, or next to you and tell them stories, read to them: luxuriate in the art of storytelling and the art of reading aloud.

Waldorf teachers know that reading arises from the written word. In the early grades, teachers will write beloved and memorized poems and verses on the chalkboard. Then a student who can read will say, “Hey, that says “Yellow the bracken,” and then the emerging re
ader will look at those letters and words and with the poem in mind begin to track word for word,

“Yellow the bracken, golden the sheaves, rosy the apples, crimson the leaves, mist on the hillside, clouds gray and white, autumn good morning, summer good night.”

They have now read their first lines of poetry. A far cry from “See Spot run.”

Those black squiggly lines on a white page that we call letters are human inventions that will be learned when the child’s brain is developmentally prepared to do so. Can we push it? Sure. But if we do push children to learn decoding over comprehension, will we continue to hear that Waldorf students become life long lovers of reading and develop solid comprehension skills? No. Waldorf teachers emphasize listening and comprehension skills over decoding in the early grades. Having said that, it is also Waldorf teachers’ and parents’ responsibility to make sure that their children do not have any hindrances to learning to read when they are developmentally ready. And this is why your teachers know if your child is reversing letters and numbers in the early grades, if they can track from left to right, if they can identify where one word begins and ends.

Again, Waldorf teachers emphasize comprehension of the material over decoding in the early grades. This is why our students enjoy Brian Jacques, Tolkien, CS Lewis, and Shakespeare. Yet teachers also teach phonics and the whole language approach to reading. We teach rules about vowel sounds, and make sure every student knows the consonant blends, and spelling rules, etc. For most children decoding, or learning to read, will happen when they are developmentally ready. But if there is a hindrance, a red flag, teachers make sure those children get the remedial help they need.

From Arithmetic (mechanics of number) to Mathematics (grasping insight into what is solvable).

Goals of the Mathematics Curriculum

1. Quality of number: from first grade to 6th grade compass and straight edge to platonic solids
2. Fundamentals of calculation: from 4 process of the early grades to Business math to order of operations
3. Abstraction of numerical calculation: AKA Algebra

The academic approach to arithmetic, particularly in the lower grades, is to enable children to come to a profound understanding of number through the rhythmic movement of their hands and feet, or their rhythmic gross motor system. We teach the children exercises that bring their whole bodies into movement. Next, we move to small motor activities, in particular writing numbers and solving problems on paper, and mental math, solving number problems in their heads. A great way to combine both gross motor movement and mental math is the following exercise: Stand up and face left or right by alternate rows. I’ll say a problem, you shout the answer, I say “go” and you move. If it’s subtraction of division step backwards, if it’s multiplication or addition, move forward.

3x4=12 forward
divided by 2=6 backward
plus 10=16 forward
subtract 9=5 backward
Let’s make this more difficult, although many of my second graders can do it!
5+995=1,000 / 2=500-250=250-200=50/10=5 forward!

Other activities include partners for clapping the times tables, circle of 10numbers, 0-9, each child on a number, move the times tables and find 2’s creates a pentagon and 4’s a pentagram, odd numbers create circle: pentagram inscribed in a pentagon inscribed in a circle. Here on the right is a photo of my 2nd Grade in pentagram formation.

As with every academic topic in Waldorf education, we also bring arithmetic concepts through story. This is not superfluous; it is fundamental to how we teach academics. We are engaging the heart, the emotional, the soul life of the children. We are re-awakening them. They remember the story of the four process characters (Picture of the gnomes) from first grade and they associate their personalities with the function. Adeline Addition loves to count methodically, every item in every row. Her brother Timmy Times, however, loves to count every item in one row, then count the number of rows and more
quickly than Addie, he’s got the answer. Teachers do the same with place value (Image of 2nd grade mainlesson book on right): they tell their class a story that reaches them and helps them to understand the concept. This year I told my class about Onely, Tenly, Hunny, Thously, siblings who live by a cave of gems. Only Onely can go into the cave. He collects nine gems and when he gets the tenth, he hands them to sister Tenly, who bags each group of 10 gems into yellow sacks. Soon as Tenly has 10 sacks of ten she gives them to Hunny who keeps 100 gems in osage orange buckets. Soon as he has 10 buckets of 100 he hands them to sister Thously who deals with wheelbarrows of 1,000 gems.

This story is the vehicle to move quickly into the beauty of number. Take 1,035. Who is resting? Hunny, What’s Tenly have to do to rest and give work to Hunny? Tenly needs 7 more sacks of ten, or 70, so that Hunny has 100, and Tenly rests. Soon the students transition to referring to place values as ones, tens, hundreds, thousands, and beyond, but they have this imaginative picture as the anchor. Now my class has dictations in numbers in the 10 thousands. I ask how many numbers in ten thousands, (5), do you hear that anyone is resting in the number 21,400? Yes, ones and tens.

Along the same lines, math concepts in third grade are brought through the practical work of
cooking and gardening. (Picture of Turner Farm on right.) When children work with recipes they are asked to make numbers concrete and consequential. There is a big difference between 1 tsp of salt and 10 tsp of salt!

What if we need to double a recipe that has 1 ½ cups of flour? Students work with fractions before they’ve even been formally introduced. And it’s in 4th grade that fractions are introduced. Teachers bring the concept in an emotionally satisfying way. One whole pizza divided into 12 parts. One whole Belgian waffle divides into 4 parts. One whole apple divided into 2, and by the way see the cosmic 5 pointed star from first grade study of quality of number. Another wonderful way to work with fractions is through musical notation. If the signature is 4/4 then the whole note gets 4 beats, the ½ note gets 2 beats, the ¼ note gets 1 and a dotted ½ note gets 3 beats.

In sixth grade business math students learn how to balance a checkbook, they learn about profit, credit and debit, and simple and compoundinterest. Most classes learn these concepts by running a class business and they have a lot of fun buying and selling,
advertising, running sales and dealing with losses. An effective way to move the students’ hearts and minds outward into the wider world is to introduce the idea of microcredit and the empowerment of people, in particular of poor women, throughout the world. I gave a brief biography of Mohammed Yunus and his work with helping Bangladeshi women get loans to start businesses and thereby take control of their lives. Once again these approaches to the academics of business math are not extra, or nice, or superfluous. They enable students to make heartfelt connections to the academic subject and it makes working with the math fun and meaningful.

Finally, along with Algebra in eighth grade students learn about the five Platonic solids. They learn which are composed ofequilateral triangles, squares, pentagons, the number of faces and vertices, and of course students draw them, create them out of paper, and mold them out of clay. (Image of platonic solids.)

Goals of the Science Curriculum
1. Reverence for and stewardship of Nature
2. Percept to Concept: observe the phenomena before you
3. Introduction to Science subject areas (Zoology, Botany, Geology, Astronomy, Physics, Chemistry, Anatomy)

Science is approached uniquely in Waldorf schools with an emphasis on observation of the phenomena before you. Teacher asks the students to begin with their perceptions: “What do they perceive, see?” before moving to concepts or conclusions. This naturally segues into an
appreciation and respect for nature and this is cultivated through field trips such as canoeing, skiing, caving, rock climbing, camping, and culminates in the 8th grade trip where students survive, and actually thrive, in the wilderness for a week. As the 8th grader goes into the world they become natural stewards of the earth.

What is the academic approach to science in grades one and two? We begin with the pure experience of the natural world: nature walks, playing in streams, mud, piles of leaves, and snow. Students build houses, forts, fairy homes with logs, leaves, mud, and snow. We make a conscious effort to connect children to nature, to make them comfortable in nature, and to love nature.

In first and second grade nature story blocks are common. Last year and this year I decided to give my students a strong foundation in the qualities of animals who live inand by ponds, in meadows, in the forest, and, more specifically, in the winter forests of Maine.The life cycle, habits, and habitats of every animal are scientifically accurate. My approach, however, is to tell a story, for example, about Betty and Bobby Squirrel, who collect nuts for the winter, who create a warm and cozy bed for themselves, who care for their babies in spring. Children love these stories and so they remember the truth. I have tapped into their emotional lives and anchored the facts for future reference.

Third grade is a year of doing activities and our science curriculum addresses this particularly through cooking and gardening. Each week students experience the science of cooking firsthand. They transform ingredientslike barley, rice, wheat berries, carrots, onions, into delicious foods using recipes from around the world. (See image of Barley poem.) Ms. Kelley ‘s class bakes their own birthday cakes and my last third grade baked bread every Friday, not only because it is delicious, but because this is our “thinking, feeling, and doing” approach to the science of nutrition and healthy eating, to an experience of the transformation of ingredients from our mother earth into foods that sustain our lives.

Skipping to sixth grade, the science curriculum is a study in contrasts, in duality. The juxtaposition of Astronomy and Geology (Image from Astronomy mail lesson book) is a perfect example. On the onehand, unaided or naked eye Astronomy draws the student’s gaze upwards to the heavens. Many teachers study Astronomy in the Winter to capture the majesty and grandeur in the crisp, clear night sky. Students keep “moon journals” and watch the constellations move through the sky. The desire to make logical, concrete sense of the cosmos is enhanced with an immersion into the mystery and wonder of the heavens through poetry, drawing, and painting. George MacDonald’s classic novel, The Princess and Curdie, begins with an incredible description of the mountain. My second grade is hearing the novel now during reading time. I’ll bring it back in 6th grade to introduce Geology. Why?: Because these are the heart connections that re-enliven education.

Whereas Astronomy has the soaring through the skies, Geology directs the students’ attention to the earth and even below the earth into its deepest, hottest, core. In Geology students begin to“read the earth.” (Image from Geology main lesson book.) They come to understand how rain, a seemingly harmless force, can and will bore enormous holes in rocks. They wonder at how coal will, under intense pressure, become a brilliant diamond. They go caving and see mineral formations that dazzle the eye and perhaps see species of animals that have adapted to cave life over million of years.

A final example, in 6th grade Physics one experience involved piling my whole class into a room that was pitch black, every window, nook and cranny had been covered with black paper. We experienced complete darkness. In 8th grade Anatomy we discussed how the eye works and students drew an artistic diagram of the eye. On our 8th grade trip we entered a cave that no one had explored before. When we turned off our flashlights we again experienced complete darkness. Experiences like this can’t be described: they need to be lived. And that’s how we teach academics in Waldorf schools: we experience and do, we discuss and argue, we conclude and document.

Thank you.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Musings on the Benefits of Waldorf Education for Young Women

My daughter wrote this paper for a class about gender and power at American University. I've posted it here because she notes that her experience of gender relations during her years at the Cincinnati Waldorf School were profoundly different to what she experienced after Waldorf. Enjoy!

Margaret Kran-Annexstein
Gender Expectations and Social Institutions Essay
October 8, 2010

When anyone asks me about my elementary school, the first thing I tell him or her is that every student at the Cincinnati Waldorf School learns how to bake bread, sew stuffed elephants, knit socks, crochet bags, carve wooden bowls, plant flowers, play the violin, build wooden bridges on forest paths, sing, dance, act, and play together regardless of gender. Looking back on my elementary school experience, I see that my teachers had us fighting gender norms since the first day of preschool. When I left Waldorf after seventh grade and moved on to middle and high school, I was shocked at the difference between my experience at Waldorf and my new environment at Walnut Hills High School where the institutions of gender and (hetero)sexuality began to interpellate me in a way I had not experienced at the Waldorf School. Due to this contrast in my educational environments I have been able to observe first-hand the effects of gendering and analyze many of them as I was experiencing them.

The first way I noticed this was through my relationships with boys. Many of my new girl friends in the eighth grade seemed to view boys only in the sense that they were potential boyfriends. Meanwhile, I was considered awkward and immature because I was friends with a lot of boys but never expressed interest in them in a romantic sense. My childhood and pre-teen years were spent playing with boys and so by the time I got to Walnut Hills in eighth grade I did not understand the juvenile, giggly, heterosexuality that was being pushed on me. In fact, unlike many people who simply assume their heterosexuality because “heterosexual behavior and language are integrated and normalized within school culture to such degree that they have become natural, and often considered the ‘neutral,’ school environment or culture” (Miceli 345), I was cognizant of the fact that I did not know for sure that I was heterosexual until my freshman year of college. This could also be largely due to the fact that my parents were open with me about sexuality and assured me that they would be completely supportive of any sexual preference I expressed.

The other way that the importance of boys as future boyfriends was emphasized in middle and high school was through the weight placed on looking pretty for them. Through this I was hailed by norms of gender in addition to norms of heterosexuality. Up until eighth grade, I never even thought about make up as something that I would wear when I got older because I did not see the utility, but when I got to Walnut Hills, I started to feel uncomfortable being the only girl who did not try to “better her appearance” by applying mascara and eyeliner and concealer. I began to spend hours sitting on my friends’ beds as they poked my face with brushes in preparation for a night of wandering around my neighborhood with the local “skater boys.” None of the boys were encouraged to dress up or “look pretty”, their worth was determined by their skateboard skills; and while I wished I could be valued for something like that too, it was a rare occasion that they would let any girl even try to skate with them. This taught me that the “key to proper femininity [is] … most importantly the acceptance of the compulsion to strive for a standard of feminine beauty set by what heterosexual men desire in women” (Miceli 346). This was especially strange to me because as a child I saw painting my toenails as simply a bonding experience for my Grandma and me and did not really understand its meaning as a “beautifying” technique. I even helped her paint my little brother’s toenails just because he wanted to be like me. However, despite this conditioning and training on how to “properly” do gender, as I matured I gained confidence in my rejection of societal gender norms, in some forms at least, and to this day refuse to wear makeup.

This difference in appearance expectations was not the only dividing factor I encountered for the first time when I left Waldorf. I came to realize that certain activities were designated as “boy” activities and “girl” activities. As I said before, at Waldorf all students were expected to knit and it just so happened that the best knitter in my class was a boy. While in high school I learned that not many boys knit, in elementary school this boy was praised by the entire class as well as the teachers for his speed and neat rows. Additionally, I was one of the best football and soccer players in my seventh grade class and often got picked first or second in our co-ed games during recess.

Naturally, male-dominated gym class came as a shock to me after experiencing a world where gender was not a separating factor in sports. I entered my first day of gym anticipating a tedious requirement but also hoping that I could enjoy myself during the scrimmages. Unfortunately, the gym teacher immediately separated the class into two sections: the boys plus two of the girls’ basketball teams’ star players, and the girls (it seemed that no un-athletic boy could be nearly as bad as the best of the recreationally athletic girls). This separation emphasized what I would have quickly realized anyway: that it was “uncool” for girls to try at sports unless they were especially gifted. Therefore, even though I remembered all the fun I had had playing sports during recess at Waldorf, I stood around with the rest of the girls’ section, talking and occasionally tapping a ball if it rolled within three feet of me. I realize now that this idea that girls do not want to play sports was only perpetuated by the teacher’s role in separating the boys from the girls, spending most of his time coaching the boys and ignoring the girls, and taking away the athletically involved girls who could have motivated the rest of us to at least try. Thus, with very little instruction and no motivation, I learned essentially nothing in gym class.

This is not to say that had there been the option for any girl to switch sections and play with the boys, any of us would have taken it. As Myra Sadker and David Sadker point out in “Missing in Interaction”, much of the separation that takes place between boys and girls is self-determined, but when teachers set the precedent of assuming none of the girls would be willing or able to play with the boys, girls tend to leave themselves out and take what is left over from the boys, whether that be a playing space or a teacher’s attention (Sadker and Sadker 336).

Gym was not the only class in my high school that held different expectations for boys and girls. Sadker and Sadker argue that overall, boys get more attention in the classroom. This is because low-achieving or misbehaving boys get negative, reprimanding attention and high-achieving boys get positive, praising attention for being better students the boys who act out. Meanwhile, both low and high achieving girls get forgotten unless they demand attention, and even then they get reprimanded for calling out more often than boys do because teachers tend to expect better behavior of girls. As they get forgotten and scolded, they lose self-esteem, become less and less aggressive and therefore get forgotten even more often (Sadker and Sadker 333).

This phenomenon was clearly exemplified in my eleventh grade English class and my twelfth grade Calculus class. My English class had two groups of boys: the ones who sat in the back of the class and drew a collage of penises on the wall (yes, in eleventh grade), and those who tried and were quite excellent writers. My teacher for this class would often scold the boys in the back for talking during class and would sometimes send them out of the room, however, the group of girls who sat together and chatted through most days were rarely noticed. At the same time, this teacher was thrilled by two boys who were great students and consistently had them read their essays aloud for the class. It was an extremely rare occurrence that a hard-working girl was called upon to read her essays in class. As one of the girls who tried in this class but rarely received recognition (despite my frequently raised hand) I never really thought of myself as a “good writer.” Not just my teacher, but also many others have created environments where “girls are ‘Okay’d’ and boys gain clear feedback” (Sadker and Sadker). Perhaps I can attribute some of my current academic insecurities to being overlooked in eleventh grade English class as well as in other classes where teachers may have unknowingly ignored my abilities or neglected my weaknesses as a student.

As I began to realize that my presence was not really on my teacher’s radar I began to pay less attention in English and occasionally talk and call out with the boys in the corner. While the class (even the teacher sometimes) laughed at their jokes, my calling out was not deemed appropriate because, unfortunately and perhaps subconsciously on the teacher’s part, situations with shouting are “open invitation[s] for male dominance” (Sadker and Sadker 332). Interestingly, my comments were only noticed because they were in the context of the poorly behaved boys, the chatting group of girls were still ignored.

My twelfth grade Calculus class posed a different situation because of the stereotype that boys are better in math than girls. A group of three girls had the highest grades in the class, however, whenever the teacher called on someone to explain a concept to the rest of the students, it was consistently one of two boys. On the other hand, it was widely accepted for girls to ask questions in this class in order to have difficult subjects clarified, whereas boys, no matter how intelligent, were less often taken seriously. One boy in the class was a self-promoting “class clown”: he rarely did his homework and frequently told jokes. Unfortunately, if he ever had a question about the material, he would rarely ask it because of his “cool” appearance as a class clown that did not care about math. If he ever tried, the teacher would make a joke and brush off his questions, assuming he was not being sincere. This boy ended up failing the course. Thus, this teacher saw most boys as a dominating force in math and humor, causing girls to go unacknowledged and struggling boys, who already felt insecure and feared losing their sense of control, to go untaught.

The only time I can remember the boys in my class at Waldorf seeing themselves as more “macho” and powerful than the girls, as those in my segregated high school gym class or male-dominated calculus class must have (at least subconsciously), was an incident during the massive cicada arrival that happens every seventeen years. A boy intended to scare the girls by throwing a ball into a tree, causing the cicadas to swarm out of the tree in a huge cloud. I recall thinking, even as a sixth grader, that it was stupid for this boy to assume that girls would be upset by the insects. Other than that, I was relatively unaware of hegemonic gender roles and only experienced gender difference when a new girl in my class flaunted the fact that she wore a bra, which evoked teasing from the boys regarding her developing body and confusion from me because I, even as a seventh grader, had never anticipated wearing one myself.

Many of these differences between my childhood and adolescence and my understanding of them can be accounted for by my privileged status. First of all, the Waldorf School, which is a great institution for allowing me that freedom from tight, excessive gender norms as a child, is a private school. Thus, my classmates and I were privileged to be able to attend it and enjoy learning in ways we would not have been able to in most public schools due to standards and the different trainings teachers go through for Waldorf or mainstream schools. This privilege of a private school also speaks to my privilege in a family that wanted to spend their money on that education for me and that supported me through my own discoveries of gender and sexuality. I realize that as I moved on to high school and connected with students from all over Cincinnati who had attended less progressive elementary schools than mine, I began learning with girls who were used to being overlooked in the classroom, something I had never experienced and therefore did not accept. Although I may not have realized it then, every time I wildly waved my hand in the air to answer a question, I was defying the “passivity” (Sadker and Sadker 332) that is expected of young women in our society.

Works Cited
Miceli, Melinda S. "Schools and the Social Control of Sexuality." Ed. Tracy E. Ore. The Social Construction of Difference and Inequality: Race, Class, Gender, and Sexuality. Boston: McGraw-Hill Higher Education, 2009. 344-353.
Sadker, Myra, and David Sadker. "Missing in Interaction." Ed. Tracy E. Ore. The Social Construction of Difference and Inequality: Race, Class, Gender, and Sexuality. Boston: McGraw-Hill Higher Education, 2009. 331-342.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

How Waldorf Education Cultivates Deep Reading in the Age of the Internet

by Lori Ann Kran

Last week NPR’s Audie Cornish quoted Google CEO Eric Schmidt after he made headlines by lamenting the decline of deep reading. Mr. Schmidt explained that all of his colleagues spend all of their time in short form - short message, short communication. Reading and research have become the instant search, instant news, instant messaging.

Cornish interviewed Maryanne Wolf, Director of the Center for Reading and Language Research and a professor of child development at Tufts University.
Dr. Wolf is also worried about the loss of deep reading.

According to WOLF, “Deep reading refers to a whole continuum of processes that include some of the most important things about thinking and how we connect thought to what we read - critical analysis, analogical reasoning, how we infer from the text, how we take in another's perspective.” In the Internet Age both Wolf and Schmidt worry that today’s children may not learn to cultivate the processes necessary to develop deep reading. Remember reading is a human invention, it must be cultivated and nurtured over many years, indeed over a lifetime.

Herein, once again, lies the beauty of Waldorf Education. Every Waldorf teacher, from Early Childhood through 8th grade, tells stories that engage the students’ hearts and minds. The stories are complex, full of detail, and students learn to listen deeply, carefully. Students learn to retell stories often as artfully as the teacher. Their minds are working. They are sequencing, learning a rich vocabulary, learning the art of storytelling.

In the early grades students begin to learn to read the poems, verses, rhymes, even entire plays that they’ve memorized. They see this material in print, are able to follow the words, and WOW it dawns on them that they are readers. This is how children start to learn how to think and connect their thoughts and begin to read. This is exactly where the deep reading process starts forming. It is our task, then, as teachers and parents, to cultivate this emerging skill in our children. We do this by reading wonderful literature to them, and by modeling, taking the time to relax and read ourselves. So, I’m of the opinion that all reading is good reading. But in my last class cycle I made the distinction with my students between “candy” reading and “classic” reading. Candy was perhaps for free time, but the classics were essential. Deep reading is strengthened when the story line, the character development, invite the reader to ponder, to slow down, to analyze, to compare and contrast, to empathize. Classics encourage the reader to luxuriate in the word, the language. This is deep reading. This is why our 7th and 8th graders love to read Shakespeare and Steinbeck and understand Chaucer. It’s why our 3rd and 4th graders love CS Lewis, EB White, and Brian Jacques. Why are our youngest students so eager to learn to read? Because they hear incredible stories, classic literature: they know the world of reading awaits them. Their imaginations are engaged, and they can’t wait to sink their hearts and minds and eyes into a good book.

So, I hope someone tweets that deep reading is alive at the CWS!