I know many of you who read my blog homeschool and have been patiently waiting for a review of this extensive book (606 pages in oversized paperback form) and wondering if it is worth your money to buy this as a literacy guide for your homeschool. Others of you are wondering if it is only good for a school setting, and still others of you are wondering if it is true enough to anthroposophic education indications for you to want to use it. I will attempt to share my perspective on this work, and hope it will help you in your discernment as the expert teacher in your homeschool or school setting.
The format, as mentioned above, is 606 pages in oversized paperback form. It is heavy and not the easiest thing to carry around in a basket for portability and reading on the go, but it certainly has so much information to share. The book is essentially divided into six sections and 15 appendices, along with a glossary and bibliography. The bibliography includes some of the most up to date studies on the teaching of language arts, and cross references topics through varying mainstream and Waldorf literature. One thing I appreciated about this was it is simple to find sections you want to read and not feel as if you have to read it from beginning to end (although that is what I did). I think this book would be a great book study amongst homeschool teaching parents or among lower elementary faculty staff at a school.
The first section involves background information regarding teaching reading, and begins with an experience many of us can relate to in our own teaching – once the letters are introduced in first grade, the sounds mastered, CVC words tackled, and the silent (“wizard”) E who can change words — what does one teach? The authors mention that in their experience, Waldorf Schools are losing students due to lack of concrete language arts teaching and that up to 30-50 percent of students are being recommended for remedial work in the language arts. This section talks about the stages of learning the English language and its three layers, which is very different from Rudolf Steiner’s native German. It also gives background as to the historical development of the English language and how students recapitulate this historical development as they learn to read and write in English through the development of writing, phonological awareness, the first alphabet, the development of written conventions, and the development of reading. It also looks at “The Roadmap to Literacy” way of learning to write and read – the phases include emergent, phonemic awareness, pattern, syllable phase, Latin/Greek phase. These are not grade correlations, but phases students go through in learning and each phase is broken into thirds. This may seem overly complicated to some of you who have children who just picked up writing, spelling, and reading effortlessly, but I can assure you as a homeschooling parent whose children may not be picking up these things so readily, these phases can help identify what you can and should be doing in academic practice in order to help your child move forward with reading.
Section Two is regarding Waldorf methodologies in language arts instruction and includes sections on the teacher and student as authors, the developmental approach of hands, heart, and head; school readiness; teaching from the image; working with stories; the literature curriculum; inhale and exhale – the role of breathing in a lesson; from the whole to the parts; using the power of sleep; working with the temperaments; the four fold human being; eurythmy and form drawing; home visits and working with the spiritual world. This is the section that really will help those worried that this book may be too much or not true enough to Steiner’s indications. As a physical therapist, I would have liked a more extensive and remedial kind of section regarding school readiness, but I also feel this is covered in many separate available resources. There is an introduction to the “Sacred Nothings” of Waldorf Education – did Steiner really say that, or is this a tradition that has been developed in the Waldorf Schools? Does it serve the student in front of us? There is a section on main lesson blocks/main lessons versus practice blocks, which is something I feel nearly NO Waldorf curriculum on the market makes distinction or provides nearly enough in terms of WHAT specifically to practice, again, especially for those students really needing direct instruction. As a homeschooling mother, when I first read this section about practice, I felt a little intimidated as I have a limited amount of time to work with each child after main lesson period, but as I got past that feeling it also stirred in me once again this idea of combinbing main lessons and combining practice sessions. It helped ignite some ideas in me as to how I would want to structure something differently in my own homeschool and in general how to pay better attention to practice.
Section Three covers fifteen aspects of language arts, including teaching the alphabet and the sounds of the alphabet, long and short vowel sounds, points of articulation, the sound of the letter “a”, the archetypal vowels and the eurythmy gestures, and when and how to introduce lower case letters. Then it goes through BLOCK by BLOCK for first grade as to what exactly to teach in terms of letters, images, when you can teach two consonants at a time, how to introduce vowels, and fun games for practice. This will not be an open and go thing for those of you searching though – you will still need to pick the images and stories, but it will provide a scope and sequence for teaching. There is a section on handwriting and include when to switch to pencils, whether or not to use lined paper, how to teach handwriting and how to practice (and how to help struggling students). The third and fourth part of this section works on encoding and decoding, how to segment and manipulate phonemes, and therefore this covers a large part of Section Three. Many of the techniques employed here and in the spelling section are ones I see employed in Orton-Gillingham type programs, but I think that is actually a good thing for those students needing specific instruction. Many homeschoolers have found themselves having to teach main lesson work and use an OG type program for their struggling student because none of the resources on the Waldorf market were specific enough for instruction.
There are sub-sections on symbol imagery and sight words, along with ideas for benchmarks in a school classroom. There is a section on concept imagery and how to work with comprehension, including steps to sequential retelling, factual recall, HOTS questions, free renderings, curriculum connections for those in third grade and up. I think these are things that many homeschooling parents do naturally, but again, are often in short supply in any Waldorf curriculum on the market. The last sections involve spelling, diction, and grammar. The grammar section is very extensive, including fifty-two pages or so. Vocabulary and “kid writing” (often seen in mainstream sources but I have never seen mentioned in Waldorf resources) is also covered. Composition writing for grades two and three are also covered. The last section covers reading – everything from teaching reading (choral, guided, class reading) in the different phases of language arts development, how to differentiate instruction for those in a classroom, how to create an independent reading program, when and how to do book reports, how to practice, and how to assess your student.
Section Four covers phonics rules, and includes a lot of information for students who are struggling and how to help them. Thirty three phonics rules are covered by the end of third grade, with the idea that prefixes and suffixes will be taughts in grades four through six.
Section Five is the planning section and covers how to create block rotations, how to select curriculum materials, how to make block plans, how to make daily lesson plans. If I was just starting to plan, I might turn and read this section first. Then the section is broken up by grade (grades 1-3_ and offers examples of main lesson blocks, daily lesson plans, how to create nature stories and more. I personally find it hard to read and decipher other’s lesson plans, but I think this section could be very helpful to many homeschooling parents who would like to see a layout.
Section Six involves assessment and remediation. This includes informal assessments (homeschoolers are very familiar with this!), progress monitoring assessments, outcome assessments, and diagnostic assessments. Interpreting percentiles and information about standardized tests are also included. There are benchmarks included in the book, which in general I think move faster than most of us do in a home environment, but I am not sure this pace or scope isn’t something to think about in our teaching. This beauty of homeschooling is that we can look at the child in front of us and adjust as to what we feel is right for our student.
This section does talks about the student who is slow to learn to read and how many of these students need help in critical early learning skills. This is a hard one for homeschoolers, as many of us have had children who read late and did fine (but many of us also had children who read late and were NOT doing fine and ended up with visual convergence issues that were unidentified, or dyslexia or other challenges that impacted learning). It would be my hope that if a parent teacher was exploring this book due to a child having difficulties learning how to read, that this would provide them some basis as to when to intervene and how. There are assessments for first, second, and third grade printed right in this book. One of the last sections is working with remedial issues and includes such things as remediating environmental factors, reflexes, physical and psychological capabilities, sensory -cognitive functions and more. It also talks about the remedial therapies used in Waldorf Schools, including the extra lesson, therapeutic eurythmy, pedagogical stories, and child study. There is an entire section on dyslexia and suggests if identified early, intensive work is needed to build phonemic awareness and intensive, structured daily phonic teaching is needed and that this instruction should begin as soon as possible. It also talks about Irlen Syndrome. This is so refreshing to read about in a text geared toward Waldorf Schools, considering the number of emails I field regarding the Waldorf School setting and how dyslexia is approached.
The appendices provide block plan templates that are detailed down to what skills are typically practiced in each block of first through third grade, what days to tell a story and what work to follow, and suggestions for practice sessions that should be taking place outside of main lessons. It also has an appendix of sight words and listings of books for each grade and resources for the teacher, including form drawing.
A homeschooling parent might love this book if he or she has a child struggling with writing and reading, or if the homeschooling parent would like more guidance with what to teach after the intital introduction of phonetic sounds, word families, and sight words. It will challenge you on your Sacred Nothings; I don’t think it will contradict anything you have read of Rudolf Steiner’s educational works which is important to all of us as homeschoolers as many of us study Steiner directly. I think this book is an important one that proves we can address the archtypal path of reading and writing within a Waldorf context, but also addresses some clear ideas about scope, sequence, and skill progression that is often missing from other resources and also includes up to date information regarding some of the challenges to reading and writing that might not be as typical.
It is a lot to read and digest; however you can skip around in the book and refer to different sections. There is a suggested “how to use this book” section in the beginning as well that may be helpful. The ideas for skill development are there, but it still may not be what some homeschooling mothers want in terms of “use this story to teach this phonics rule.” You will still have planning to do , just like a Waldorf teacher in a school setting in order to implement this book, but you should understand more about why and what you are doing and how to do it! The bibliography of works and studies cited is fourteen pages long and many of the citations are current, which is encouraging to see.
I think as a Waldorf homeschooling community, if we would like to see more targeted resources regarding specific language arts and mathematics skill progression, we should support more works from our experienced teachers. I suggest you get a copy of this book and look at it and think about ordering it for your own teacher library.