Literacy, language and the love of learning: The art of storytelling in Waldorf Education”

Gartland 4-1-16 GPFF presentationWaldorf School of Atlanta Grade 2 Teacher, Joshua Gartland made a presentation at WSA’s 2016 Grandparents, Family & Friends Day.  His talk is enclosed below:

 

From the dawn of human evolution, when humanity first crept out of the shadows and into the warmth, protection and comfort of the fire, nothing has been more central to our existence than the STORY and storytelling. Outside of our basic essential needs of food and shelter, the STORY has from the very beginning been key to our survival and growth not only as individuals but as a species. It is, essentially, this ability to live into our imagination and enliven factual happenstance that separates us as human beings from the rest of the animal kingdom.

Imagine the very first humans huddled around the first selfmade fire. The orange and golden light flickering off the primitive men, women and children dressed in animal furs……each crackle sending Linden Tree Photography 2011 Lantern Walk 023sparks into the air and causing the watchers to jump out of their own skins ………eyes blazing, unable to see anything other than this magical, otherworldly godlike something dance before them. I can just imagine the one who happened to strike the sparks that ignited it recounting exactly how s/he had done it while everyone else gathered around to hear for themselves. And how quickly that story must have traveled! Compared to the speed with which news travels today, it was almost literally snail mail, but for back then it was lifechanging, of course…..magical and monumental…..the story must have spread like lightning. Furthermore, the story of that fire itself was most likely retold in numerous ways: a magical gift from the gods……the work of the devil…..clever thinking and creativity…….dumb luck?! The story of what happened that night told by 20 different tellers has at least 40 different versions…..for each telling requires at least one speaker and one listener. That’s the beauty of storytelling…..it is a true sharing from one person to another.

Anthropologists know that the story and storytelling is a universally human experience, crossing all borders of time and culture. However, with the advent of the technological revolutions and pure scientific thinking over the past few hundred years, STORY has slowly given way to purely analytical and mechanistic type of thinking. Analysis has become King and the story, more infantile or trivial. Story has been relegated to the water cooler, the sitcom and bitesized tweets while analytics has become the foundation on which our entire civilization runs.

Organizations and corporations have learned to use social media and networking to transform individuals into numbers and consumers into data points to be mined like precious metals. Ironically, it is the STORY these giants use to lure the fish to their ever widening nets of commerce.

But the story has not died. It lives in the human heart and slowly and surely culture has brought the story to the forefront again. The PODCAST, for instance, has brought the art of storytelling into the 21st century with the ability to share thoughts and feelings around the globe personally with the tapping of a few key strokes. Traveling showcases like the MOTH project tour the country town by town inviting audience members onstage to share…”true stories told live.” The newspaper has essentially gone out of print and dried up, but the BLOG has given each individual his/her very own freedom of the press to spread their own opinions, personalities and insights. The story, like a weed in the sidewalk, cannot be contained. Even in silence, the story finds a way through.

Waldorf has been using the art of storytelling consistently since its inception nearly 100 years ago. You might even say storytelling is the Heart of Waldorf Education. As the children move from our Kindergartens and through the grades we teachers share fairy tales, folktales,fables, myths and legends, biographies and historical epics. These stories are gathered from around the world and shared aloud, reviewed, retold, and passed onto parents, siblings and other relatives and friends. Like ripples spreading outward from a single pebble, an effective story can impact the lives and loves of millions.

In Waldorf schools, stories are brought for a multitude of reasons. Firstly, because as teachers we are responsible for filling the landscape of their ever widening lives. It is through story that children often encounter many things for the very first time, whether it is a choo-choo train chugging down the tracks…..three great big bears going for a walk in the woods…..a wolf looking for a tasty snack all dressed in red. Stories provide children the opportunity to imagine a world of possibilities, things beyond themselves and their backyard –  A world where anything is possible.

At school we are also responsible for teaching your children and that can begin by modeling. Children of a young age first learn by imitating and so it is the teacher’s duty to provide an example of fine speech. The rich stories at our disposal certainly provide exemplary material from which to draw upon.

Additionally, the elocution of such tales provide us as instructors an astonishingly keen tool for developing and enhancing a healthy and robust vocabulary. In the Kindergarten and First grades, Waldorf teachers share the Grimm’s Fairy Tales. What we do not do, however, is “dumb down” the story. Rather, we keep true to the original telling and language and any unfamiliar words are quickly learned by the children through the context of the story itself. These stories in particular are so very rich just as they are that I tend to cringe whenever I see/hear a retelling of it in a “wacky, zany” way…updated to meet our more modern culture. Firstly, our children are smarter than that and don’t need us to dumb down the story. And secondly, they deserve more than that. The stories are classics for a reason. Let’s share it with them.

Telling stories by heart is also a key to Waldorf storytelling. When a story is known so well that the teller can actively engage with their audience, look into their eyes, the sharing becomes that much more powerful. A visceral connection is made allowing the story to delve even deeper into the listener. If I were up here simple reading this, unable to connect with you the audience at all, it would have a completely different feeling. But because I am able to glance back and forth I can relate to you, a fellow human being and create a connection….a bond. This bond is real and palpable. Experiencing this bond can be a powerful experience and an especially important skill for any child as they learn how to be a healthy human being and part of a family, community and world later in life.

AnotheIMG_3468r fascinating aspect to this art of storytelling has to do with something I mentioned early on and the 20 different versions of the first fire. The more specific the visual I give you, the less freedom you have in making it your own. If I read to you a picture book, even as wonderful and as charming as they can be, the pictures will be the only pictures each and every one of you will see and keep and hold onto. However, if I simply tell you the story, I allow you the gift of making, creating and imagining your own pictures. The skill of imagination is something we have begun to lose in our culture. And when creative thinking is so very important in a world with so many problems, how are we to dream up solutions when our imaginations are filled with other people’s pictures…if we do not have the ability to create our own?

Finally, I should say that here at the Waldorf School of Atlanta, we don’t just tell stories for the reasons I’ve already mentioned, nor just for the pleasure of it. Instead we understand that the STORY is the very best medium for presenting the academic material we are responsible for handing over to your children. As I mentioned the Fairy Tales in KG and First Grade are wonderfully imaginative and fantastical stories set in a very real and yet magical world where good overcomes evil. What a perfect way of introducing both numbers and letters to a child! In Grade Two we bring Legends of Saints and Good, Kind, Strong People to inspire the children. To balance this uprightness we also bring folktales and fables from around the world with clever and tricky animals…perfect for children trying to find their way in the world. In Grade Three we bring a Creation Story through the Old Testament… story that has Adam and Eve cast out of paradise and into a world where they must learn to care for themselves….much like themselves as they grow into older children and slowly move step by step away from the nurturing nest of home. In 4th grade the Norse Mythology that bookends the creation story with the story of Ragnarok and the end of the Norse world. In 5th grade we tell of myths of the ancient worlds of Mesopotamia, Egypt, and Greece. In grade 6, Rome…grade 7 the Renaissance, and in grade 8, REVOLUTION, as they come full circle back to their roots and are finally ready to move onto high school. An amazing curriculum of stories that meets each child at their own stage of development in order to prepare them for not only the academic challenges in front of them, but the trials by which they must eventually test their humanity.

In closing, I’d like to bring to you a quote from one of my favorite story characters of all time who said, “If there ever comes a day when we can’t be together, keep me in your heart, I’ll stay there forever.” Winnie certainly knew what he was talking about.

 

 To learn more about the Waldorf School of Atlanta, visit us online or in person!  

Waldorf School of Atlanta Pedagogical Overviews

jim mcclurkin

Waldorf School of Atlanta teacher – Jim McClurkin

This essay was written by Jim McClurkin, a teacher at WSA since 1999.

Pedagogical Overviews

The Waldorf School of Atlanta provides a proven educational program that nurtures students along a continuous developmental path that results in young adults who are confident, poised and have a strong inner focus for life and work.

Early Childhood (Explore Early Childhood)

Our Waldorf preschool and kindergartens nurture a sense of wonder and curiosity in the young child, while encouraging reverence and joy for the goodness of life. The warmth and beauty of the classrooms and the mixed age groupings provide an opportunity for children to play and learn in a home-like atmosphere. The 3-year olds (participating in a 4 hour/day program) and the 4-year olds are engaged according to their age and abilities, while imitating the mood, gestures and work of the classroom teachers (and their older friends). The 5 and 6-year olds develop the independence and sense of responsibility necessary to become leaders in the class. In the loving and creative atmosphere of the kindergarten, these young children acquire the confidence and discipline they will need for the challenging academic work of grade school. The kindergarten experience is rich in storytelling, puppetry, song, poetry, cooking, and artistic activities. Crafts, handwork, games, and regular outdoor play encourage the healthy growth of the child’s body. Toys, art materials, and classroom aesthetics emphasize natural, simple materials, encouraging the child’s imagination. Through play, each child learns a broad range of cognitive, social, and linguistic skills. As in all Waldorf classes, parents are encouraged to minimize exposure to television, videos, and other media that might hinder the free and harmonious growth of the child.

Grade One (Explore Grade One)

First Grade is the commencement of formal schooling marked by the child’s awakening capacities of memory and thinking. The seven-year-old retains a feeling of oneness with the world, and is more able to bring broad awareness than focused concentration to learning situations. Much learning therefore involves the presentation of an image to the child, ensuring her understanding through her own mental picturing. This leads to a pictorial approach in the teaching of all subjects. The rhythm of working together as a class is established during this year, and the students are introduced to all areas of school life. The students are eager to learn together and take their place within the large whole. As new habits are formed, a foundation is being laid for healthy social interaction. Through the teacher’s authority and presence, a sense of reverence, respect, and wonder permeates the mood in the classroom. Throughout the first grade year, the academic tasks of reading, writing and arithmetic are embedded in the rich world of fairy tales. The archetypal pictures found within the fairy tales engage the child’s fantasy in the subject matter that they encounter throughout the year. Through these richly crafted stories, the children are introduced to speaking, writing, reading, and mathematics. All skills are reinforced with practice involving rhythmical movement, recitation and music. Bookwork is illustrated with pictures that reinforce the concepts being developed. Each lesson aims to incorporate a three-fold structure, which fosters the development of the children’s feelings, thinking abilities, and will forces.

Grade Two (Explore Grade Two)

In Grade Two, the familiar routines and observances of the previous year are maintained. This strengthens the rhythm of the class working together, and builds confidence and a sense of belonging in the children. The students continue to learn best when pictorial thought content is presented. Much time is spent consolidating all that was first learned in Grade One. Students continue to familiarize themselves with the fundamentals of arithmetic and language arts, and they also develop a wide range of skills in gross and fine motor movements such as jump rope, knitting, and flute playing. The children’s thinking is thus balanced and reinforced by their experience in physical and artistic activity. While in Grade One a mood of wholeness develops in the children, in Grade Two this mood can differentiate into contrasts, with a reverential mood on the one hand, and a temptation for mischief on the other. During this year, the children develop greater interest in the unique qualities of one another and become curious about individual differences. To meet this growing social awareness, teachers introduce stories where contrasting human qualities are portrayed. Wonder tales and legends of Saints from around the world show lofty striving and highlight noble human qualities, while animal fables and trickster tales satisfy the child’s interest in mischief. While the morals of these tales are never explicitly stated, the students derive direction and form from the images they are given.

Grade Three (Explore Grade Three)

Grade Three is marked by the physiological, psychological, and cognitive changes taking place during the ninth year. The child’s walk is firmer and more balanced, and the constitution is substantially stronger. Growth begins to focus more on the limbs and metabolism, and there is an increase in the breadth of the trunk. At the same time, a significant step in self-awareness occurs during this year. The children are developing a strong sense of being separate from their surroundings, perhaps for the first time. A feeling of being alone can contrast with a sense of wonder at seeing the world in a new way. These mixed feelings often lead to confusion and insecurity as questions of purpose and identity begin to emerge. There is a longing for increased independence and autonomy as the child moves into this new phase of childhood. They have a tendency to criticize and question authority as they seek to define themselves as individuals. The images from Hebrew stories, with their laws and guidance, foster inner security during this unsettled period. Practical activities such as farming and house building help ground the children in the physical world. When the whole group works together on these activities, feelings of separateness can be transformed into feelings of responsibility for the whole. With their new interest in the practical, material world, the children can now apply the skills learned in the first two grades to a wide range of everyday situations like measuring, weighing, and cooking.

Grade Four (Explore Grade Four)

In Grade Four, the transition from early childhood is complete. The children emerge with greater awareness, expressed in new confidence and great vigor. They want to experience the world from an individual standpoint, to find their particular place in the world. They develop a sense of where they are in relation to their environment, in both a social and geographical sense. The fourth grade student is eager to learn more about their world, and they embrace new challenges with curiosity and enthusiasm. During the fourth grade year, students are challenged to extend themselves in every aspect of their work. Their growing interest in concrete knowledge is met through natural science, in a study of the animal kingdom in relation to the human being. The children also take up a thorough study of their surroundings in a Local Geography block, in which mapmaking skills are developed. Norse stories, meanwhile, present the children with images of diverse, strong-willed personalities all contributing to the social whole. Throughout this year, students are encouraged to take greater responsibility for their own learning. They complete several independent projects, and give their first formal presentations to the class.

Grade Five (Explore Grade Five)

In the first four years of school there is a strong emphasis on form, both of the class as a whole, and of each child’s habits. In the next four years, there is a subtle and gradual shift in emphasis toward content, in lessons and in the world at large. This shift in emphasis, of course, follows the child’s own lead, responding to his or her changing consciousness. By age eleven, children reach a kind of balance and regular alternation between their awareness of the world and of their own inner lives. There is balance, too, in their mental, emotional, and physical growth. The fifth grade curriculum seeks to extend the children both outwardly and inwardly. Outwardly, in terms of space, they expand their horizons of the earth and the plants that cover it. In terms of time, they experience five civilizations spanning thousands of years. Inwardly, they extend their awareness of the math processes they perform, and also of the words they speak and the sentences they write. As their intellectual faculties become stronger, students are able to approach their cognitive work in a more realistic and reasoning manner. By the fifth grade, students have generally attained a certain ease and grace of physical movement intrinsic to their age. The celebration of their unique abilities at this time culminates in their participation in a Greek Olympiad, a pentathlon event with other regional Waldorf schools.

Grade Six (Explore Grade Six)

The twelfth year is the gateway to pre-adolescence and idealism, and although the sixth grader is increasingly able to experience internal logic, their sense impressions can often be clouded by emotion and whimsy. Throughout this year, students are encouraged to develop strong powers of observation, and precision and accuracy in their thinking. As they awaken to the intricacies of human thought and action, they readily embrace the biographies of individuals from ancient Rome and the Middle Ages. In order to ground students in the surrounding world while fostering their fascination with the unknown, sixth graders are provided with their first formal study of natural phenomena. Mineralogy, geography, and physics lessons provide opportunity for in-depth encounters with the physical world while strengthening powers of sense-observation. In addition to being grounded by the lawfulness of the earth, students are also encouraged to develop expansiveness in their imaginative thinking. Astronomy draws students towards the heavens and provides opportunities for them to explore the mysteries of the cosmos. In an effort to recreate the experience of early astronomers, Astronomy is taught exclusively through observation of the unaided eye.

Grade Seven (Explore Grade Seven)

As students move into adolescence, they need increased opportunity to feel the strength of their own initiative. The grade seven curriculum serves to ground the students, to inspire them to venture out toward the unknown, and to offer an introduction to their quest in life. Through their own engagement and striving in the world, students are able to develop strong feelings of sympathy and antipathy in relation to their surroundings. These feelings help shape their own perceptions and allow them to stand on their own with increased confidence. Through the exploration of an unknown world, the seventh grade curriculum challenges the thought process of the young adolescent, leading them to discovery, understanding, and discernment. They learn, as the explorers did, that going one’s own way means leaving behind the security and stability of familiar territory.

Grade Eight (Explore Grade Eight)

A Waldorf eighth grade experiences a gradual but significant shift from the presentation of a subject solely from the teacher to the class, to the mutual consideration of a subject by teacher and class together. A sense of community develops in which speaking becomes more thoughtful and listening more attentive. With the awakening capacity for logical thinking and free, independent judgment, the eighth grader now wants to be in the world more than ever before. They want to do, to discover, to know, and to find relevance in their studies by finding connections with the outside world. Throughout this year, the students continue to expand their sense of place in the world. They plunge into the Age of Revolution, and embark on a study of noteworthy individuals who have found the courage to follow their passions in revolt against the status quo. In addition to their continued inquiry into scientific phenomena and experimentation, students study the lives and struggles of scientists and inventors who first discovered chemical and electrical laws. These studies ground students in the human aspect of scientific thought, while providing a picture of the profound effects of modern technology upon society and culture. The eighth grade year marks the students’ final year with their Class Teacher, and culminates in the completion of their Waldorf grade school experience. Given the huge step these students are about to take in the world, the curriculum is designed to inspire passion and highlight the incredible potential of the human mind and soul. It is our hope that our students will graduate with compelling questions that will continue to fuel their love of learning for years to come.

Childhood First.

 

AUTUMN MIDDLE SCHOOL MAIN LESSONS at the Waldorf School of Atlanta

Adolescence is an expansive age. Throughout the autumn middle school students have been asked to extend themselves both in the variety and the depth of their studies. The approach of the holiday break is a time for culminating all the efforts made over the previous months, and the main lessons reflect that.

drawing in ml book

The sixth grade, for example, has just finished a writing block with a special focus on dialogue and style. One way of developing your own style is by experiencing someone else’s. Each student set the stage for a scene, drawn from history or other familiar subjects. The composition was then collected and typed up without naming the author. This was passed on to a second student who developed the rising tension. Following that, it was passed on to a third student, who wrote the climax. To supplement the element of dialogue, students worked daily on a recitation of Mark Antony’s oration at Caesar’s funeral, drawn from Shakespeare. At this time, the sixth grade has taken up the subject of Astronomy. Having focused earlier on the earth forces of Geology, they now turn their attention to the cold, clear constellations of autumn’s night sky.

The seventh grade students are also occupied with earth study, developing group reports for European Geography. The subjects are wide-ranging for each report, including biographies, current events, and artistic renderings of both physical and cultural geography. The block will close with a European “feast,” featuring food samples from many regions. In art, the students have explored perspective drawing, painting, and pastels over the autumn, and will now move into the careful copying of Renaissance portraits.

Eighth graders have finished their main lesson on the Civil War. As with the previous grade, they too developed group reports that included biographies of both an African-American and a spy, along with battlefield maps. Their current study is Solid Geometry, taught by Academe’s Sharon Annan. This subject combines the spatial thinking of geometric drawing with the linear thinking of algebra, and is something of a culmination of many years of Waldorf math. Additional subjects in math have included a study of the binary system, which is the language of computers, and an algebraic expression of the Pythagorean Theorem.

platonic solids

The students’ autumn efforts have yielded a bountiful harvest! This harvest, of course will become the seeds of future growth, and we look forward to what will unfold next.

~Jim McClurkin

6th Grade Teacher

jim mcclurkin

This article was originally printed in the December 2010 edition of the Garden Breeze newsletter of the Waldorf School of Atlanta.