Saturday, October 6, 2012
Monday, May 21, 2012
Wednesday, April 27, 2011
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.
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
- 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.
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
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.
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.
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 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
“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.”
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.
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!
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 anappreciation 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.
Sunday, November 21, 2010
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.
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
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!