A Guest Post: Main Lesson Structure

Main Lesson Structure – A Guest Post by Meredith Floyd-Preston from A Waldorf Journey

(Thanks so much to Meredith Floyd-Preston from A Waldorf Journey for sharing with us her thoughts about the structure of main lesson. Meredith is a long-time Waldorf teacher and the host of a brand new Waldorf podcast that you can find on her blog or on iTunes. Please make sure you check out the link at the bottom of the post for a free offer for Parenting Passageway readers. Thank you, dear Meredith, for being in this space today. – Carrie)

Rudolf Steiner, the founder of Waldorf Education, is often said to have indicated that all of the learning a child needs to experience in a day can happen in the first two hours of the morning. Anything outside of that precious, sacred two hour main lesson is bonus, enrichment content.

Now, I’m not sure how my subject teacher colleagues would feel about this statement, but for those of us who teach main lesson, it could bring a little anxiety and some big questions.

  • How can I make sure that I am making the most of those two hours every day?
  • What are all of the things that need to fit into that time block?
  • What activities and experiences will ensure that my students are primed and ready to receive and engage with my lessons?

I’ve spent my 10 years as a class teacher trying to answer these questions and I’ve come to a few conclusions about how to structure main lesson to make the most of it. Thanks to some great mentoring and a lot of trial and error experience, I feel like I’ve settled in on a rhythm that works really well for me and my students.

Here’s what it comes down to …

  • Warm Up and Wake Up
  • Review and Deepen
  • The New and Exciting Content
  • Write, Draw and Beautify Bookwork

Warm-Up

During the warm up, your task is to get your students ready to engage with the lesson that is to come. When they first begin the day, your students are facing many barriers to engaging with the lesson. If you teach at a school, your students are coming from different parts of town, houses, family dynamics and morning commute situations. One goal of the warm-up is get all of these different students coming from their varied circumstances all onboard the same ship, ready to set sail into the morning’s lesson.

There are many different ways to think about this warm-up, but it helps me to think about the 3-fold nature of the human being and the activities that will wake up my students’ heads, hearts and hands. Here are some examples.

  • Hands – rhythmic movement activities, relay races, jumprope, a morning walk, obstacle courses, outdoor play
  • Heart – social interaction time, singing, recorder-playing, poetry
  • Head – quick thinking work, mental math, memorization quizzes, times table work, beanbag parts of speech game

Review

Often the review comes in the form of a discussion about the previous day’s material. The idea of the review is to refresh the material from the day before to see how it has grown and changed in the students’ sleep life. You know those little epiphanies you have when you wake up in the morning after sleeping on something that happened the day before? That happens for your students, too. Coming back to the material from the day before is how you can make use of and solidify the ideas that came in the new content from the day before.

Most teachers look for ways to spice up this daily review so students don’t become tired of the idea of reliving content from the day before. Reviewing the content with dramatic reenactments, specific questions, pop quizzes, creative drawings, or poetry-writing are all ways you can make the review a little more interesting than just orally rehashing the story from the day before.

One other suggestion – I have found it useful to save a little nugget of new information to share during the review. I’ve noticed that when I casually mention some additional detail from the story that I didn’t share the day before, a little spark of interest lights up in my students and they’re much more engaged than they were before.

Though the traditional model positions the review right after the warm-up, many teachers are now experimenting with doing the review after the new content when possible. The idea here is that the new content is the part of the lesson that the students are most engaged and interested in. It is the reason they come to school and it is the part of the lesson that they most look forward to. If we can bring that to them earlier in our lesson we’ll have more engaged and interested students.

New Content

As mentioned above, from a certain perspective, the new content is what the lesson is all about. This is the curriculum material that you put your heart and soul into preparing and it is what your students most look forward to. In the lower grades it is often the story content that inspires the imagination of your students. In the upper grades it is the new thinking content that your students’ intellectual minds grapple with.

Whatever the age of your student, this content is a gift that is given directly from teacher to student, without the interference of a textbook or other reference material. Take the time to learn the content and make it your own, so you can deliver it to your students in a living way.

Traditionally, the new content is delivered at the end of main lesson, and I can imagine this model working well in 1st or 2nd grade. But any older than that, I recommend bringing the new content as soon as it realistically makes sense. If the new material doesn’t need the lead-in of the review, you can even bring it right after the warm-up. There have certainly been times when my excitement about the new content has inspired me to bring it to my students right away

Bookwork

During the bookwork portion of the main lesson, the students take the material they have learned and put it into crystallized form. They bring the rich imaginative experience of the content into final physical form. In the upper grades, it can be a very satisfying experience to live into the content one more time in this very will-oriented way. Younger students appreciate the opportunity to engage with the content in a more tangible, active way.

I encourage you to think creatively about these four parts of the main lesson. With an understanding of the purpose behind each component, you can freely craft lessons that guide your students through the process best. You can imagine each component making up one half hour of your morning lesson, but use your powers of observation to determine if that structure makes sense for your students. Generally, younger students need a longer warm-up, older students need more new content time. Observe your students and plan accordingly.

I’m all about encouraging and empowering teachers and homeschooling parents to craft lessons that speak specifically to their own students. There is no secret sauce when it comes to Waldorf Education. As long as you understand child development and observe your students, you have everything you need to create your own lessons.

To help teachers and parents feel confident about planning their own curriculum, I have created a free 3-part video series about planning curriculum. To receive a link to the first free video, head over to my blog and subscribe using the form in sidebar. You’ll receive a link to the first video, as well as my Ultimate Guide to Chalkboard Drawing.

I hope these little videos, along with Carrie’s fantastic posts here at Parenting Passageway, can inspire you to create a Waldorf curriculum that is uniquely suited to your individual students.

About Meredith

Meredith Floyd-Preston is a mother of 3 teenagers and a trained and experienced Waldorf class teacher who blogs about her experience at A Waldorf Journey. Her new podcast A Waldorf Journey Podcast is a resource for supporting teachers and homeschooling parents with their teaching.

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