RF.4 3-4: Reading Is So Much More Than Decoding (#290)


A Year in the Life: Ambient Math Wins the Race to the Top!
Day 290

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.

The next series of posts will focus on Grade 4 Common Core English Language Arts Standards. Math By Hand integrates language arts with math, and though the Waldorf curriculum is taught in blocks, none of the subjects are really taught in isolation. Integration is key, and the ambient standards posted here will reflect that. The Common Core language arts standards are listed here in blue, followed by ambient language arts suggestions.

Phonics and Word Recognition:
Know and apply grade-level phonics and word analysis skills in decoding words.

Use combined knowledge of all letter-sound correspondences, syllabication patterns, and morphology (e.g., roots and affixes) to read accurately unfamiliar multisyllabic words in context and out of context.

Read with sufficient accuracy and fluency to support comprehension.

Read grade-level text with purpose and understanding.

Read grade-level prose and poetry orally with accuracy, appropriate rate, and expression on successive readings.

Use context to confirm or self-correct word recognition and understanding, rereading as necessary.

In Waldorf methodology, reading is an afterthought.  In today’s test-driven environment, such a statement might be anathema, but it does ring true in context.  In Waldorf Ed, English Language Arts is just that.  The arts aspect of the language begins in Kindergarten and remains in the forefront through the grades.  The children are steeped in the art of the story, its complex structure and word usage, and layers of meaning.

Because vocabulary and language mechanics are best increased and/or learned though exposure and usage, children who hear great literature before they can read it themselves are at a distinct advantage over those who may be bored with watered down, grade-level reading.  In the end, the whole to parts approach is most effective and successful.

That said, after the proverbial fires have been lit and an enthusiasm for learning is present, a focus on spelling and morphology (approached in a lively, pictorial way of course) could be beneficial as an add-on.  Such an add-on could nicely supplement the block lesson schedule with daily language arts (and math) skills practice.

Most Waldorf students are happily reading by now, with an enthusiasm for it that’s been built through the grades.  Complex, classic poems are memorized and recited, along with the sort of playful, whimsical verses that seem to suit the somewhat rambunctious fourth grader’s temperament.  The following two verses, the first by Lewis Carroll, and the second by Anonymous, are good examples of this genre.



Lightheartedness has sadly been replaced in our schools by rigor.  We must bring back arts, fun, and movement.  One of the most successful ways of integrating language arts is the class play.  Pine Hill Waldorf School second grade teacher, Caitlin Kennedy shared these thoughts regarding the virtues and advantages of producing and performing a class play.  Read the full article here.

“As the second grade basks in the afterglow of our performance, I am reminded of why we perform a yearly class play throughout the grades at Pine Hill. Play-acting develops clear speech and improved spelling, the use of meaningful gestures develops careful listening, and learning to move with ease about the stage enhances spatial orientation. Beyond this, putting on a show brings the class together as a whole, solidifies their social bonds, and creates a sense of community among all the children in the class. I watched this happen right before my eyes last year in first grade as the class came together for the first time. Truly, they have been a unified class ever since!

“This year I witnessed yet another and perhaps more important aspect to putting on a class play, namely the development of the will. There is a point in every production when the children are tired of the play, they already know the story and are ready for something new. Admittedly, sometimes the teacher also feels a longing for some fresh material as well! But when we persevere through the “doldrums” as a class, the children begin to strengthen their will forces. They begin to learn that while life for the most part is fun, there are times that call for just plain hard work. And through the experience of putting on a play, the children reap the reward of their hard work when the audience comes and the performances soar!

“The class has a palpable sense of accomplishment and capability now. We have completed our second play together and this has carried us into our first true writing block. We don’t do art for art’s sake at Pine Hill, but through the arts we develop the children’s capacities to a much fuller extent than any amount of homework or testing could ever do. Though it is hard work, I would not give up the class play for anything!”

It’s so much more than decoding!  A good language arts curriculum might resemble this Grade 4 form drawing: integrated, colorful, and whole.  As always, 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.


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