Grade 3: A Reading Revolution, It’s Time! (#234)


A Year in the Life: Ambient Math Wins the Race to the Top!
Day 234

For one year, 365 days, this blog will address the Common Core Standards from the perspective of creating an alternate, ambient learning environment for math. Ambient is defined as “existing or present on all sides, an all-encompassing atmosphere.”

And ambient music is defined as: “Quiet and relaxing with melodies that repeat many times. Why ambient? A math teaching style that’s whole and all encompassing, with themes that repeat many times through the years, is most likely to be effective and successful.

I found an excellent article in the Philadelphia Waldorf School’s blog, Loving Learning.  In it, Barbara Sokolov beautifully illustrates the practical sensibility of the Waldorf approach to reading in the early grades (from the Spring/Summer 2000 issue of Renewal: A Journal for Waldorf Education).  The following excerpts are highlights from the article which can be read here.

“In the primary grades, children continue to work on the outer mechanical aspect of reading. Students spend long periods of time reading simplistic texts that correspond to the level of their decoding abilities. Readers and textbooks contain stories and information written with restricted vocabularies and simple sentence structure. There is little to ignite young imaginations, to evoke wonder, or to stimulate appreciation for the beauty and complexity of language.”

Such is the sad truth of conventional early reader books.  If you think of the child as a seed of what s/he will be as an adult, these simplistic stories are insulting and demeaning.  How much more uplifting and fitting to offer intact, authentic, unadulterated literature?  It’s a leap of faith to see the mighty oak sleeping in the acorn, but this is exactly what we as educators must do, if we would not violate the inherent integrity of the child.

“How unfortunate it is that in the early grades most children are not exposed to rich complex language, simply because such language would not be compatible with their limited decoding skills. Just at the time when their minds are most open to language acquisition they are working with artificially limited vocabularies in school! Of course, vocabulary building is an ongoing process throughout the school years and beyond. But it is much easier for older children to learn new vocabulary if they already have a well-developed sense of language, and a large pool of words and mental images to build upon.”

We must think of this as storing up treasure in the child’s repertoire of language.  It is essential throughout to understand what part mental imagery and imagination play in the acquisition of language.  Such is the domain of the young child, and we ignore this to their and our peril.  As they learned to speak, naturally and seamlessly putting together complex language structures, so will they learn to read.  If we let them.

“It is apparent that the growing illiteracy problem in this country is not caused by the lack of technical decoding skills. For most of the children with reading deficiencies, it is a crisis in comprehension, a crisis largely brought about by the early introduction of abstract decoding skills and by ignoring the powerful tools of imagination and artistic activity that are the natural avenues of learning for young school children. Ironically, the only cure put forward by the educational establishment is to work harder and earlier on decoding skills, which only exasperates the problem further.”

Interesting that this was written some fourteen years ago and rings so true for what we are experiencing with the Common Core today.  Working harder and earlier on decoding skills is mistaken.  As Sir Ken Robinson tells us, what’s needed in education today is not reformation but transformation.  Or as Albert Einstein so wisely said, “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”

“Working with a real knowledge of the developing child, Waldorf teachers begin teaching reading by cultivating children’s sense of language and their inner capacities to form mental images. Vivid verbal pictures and the use of rich language are constantly employed in the classroom. Difficult vocabulary and complex sentence structure are not held back in the telling of tales. Children sing and recite a vast treasury of songs and poems that many learn by heart. Children live into the world of imaginative inner pictures, totally unaware that they are developing the most important capacities needed for reading comprehension, for reading with understanding. They learn naturally and joyfully.”

It’s essential to true language arts success that children be “totally unaware that they are developing the most important capacities needed for reading comprehension.”  This sort of back door approach is the only way to unlock the deep wellsprings of ability and the innate capacity for wisdom within each child.

“Working with a true knowledge of the human being, a true understanding of the stages of child development, the Waldorf teacher is able to educate children in ways that enable them to blossom forth with joy. As Rudolf Steiner says, “It is indeed so that a true knowledge of man loosens and releases the inner life of soul and brings a smile to the face.”

I found myself smiling as I read this, recognizing once again how Rudolf Steiner touches the nerve of true wisdom with his words.  Childhood happens only once, make it count by giving every child the gift of slow, authentic learning.  Because knowledge ensues in an environment dedicated to imaginative, creative knowing, where student and teacher alike surrender to the ensuing of knowledge as a worthy goal. Tune in tomorrow as we continue to explore ambient counterparts to the CCSS language arts standards.


 Image from the Philadelphia Waldorf School’s blog, Loving Learning

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