A Year in the Life: Ambient Math Wins the Race to the Top!
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.
Back to the Common Core for Grade 3 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.
Text Types and Purposes:
Write opinion pieces on topics or texts, supporting a point of view with reasons.
Introduce the topic or text they are writing about, state an opinion, and create an organizational structure that lists reasons.
Provide reasons that support the opinion.
Use linking words and phrases (e.g., because, therefore, since, for example) to connect opinion and reasons.
Provide a concluding statement or section.
Write informative/explanatory texts to examine a topic and convey ideas and information clearly.
Introduce a topic and group related information together; include illustrations when useful to aiding comprehension.
Develop the topic with facts, definitions, and details.
Use linking words and phrases (e.g., also, another, and, more, but) to connect ideas within categories of information.
Provide a concluding statement or section.
Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, descriptive details, and clear event sequences.
Establish a situation and introduce a narrator and/or characters; organize an event sequence that unfolds naturally.
Use dialogue and descriptions of actions, thoughts, and feelings to develop experiences and events or show the response of characters to situations.
Use temporal words and phrases to signal event order.
Provide a sense of closure.
Creative or original writing does not begin in the Waldorf system until Grade 4. In Grade 3, the mechanics of good writing are still being learned in a pictorial, artful way. As with much else in the Waldorf curriculum, time is devoted to building a solid foundation. The “slow food” (vs fast food) movement favors quality over convenience or expedience. Just so, Waldorf carefully builds capacity before demanding performance.
The standards above reflect a rigorous approach, with clearly defined rubrics for grading student work. One student might be more verbally inclined and therefore better at written self expression. Another student may be brimming with ability and ideas but not yet able to verbalize them, especially in writing. The student with a different developmental time frame then suffers by receiving a failing grade.
Better to wait on the original writing and focus instead on the basics: spelling, parts of speech, punctuation, and the building blocks of composition. There are many creative, colorful, interesting options for teaching these basic elements. Cursive writing is a lost art, one that has proven beneficial to the retention of information and creativity. As stated by the Morain Waldorf School. “Cursive writing is also introduced this year (third grade), which recent studies indicate aids in reading, retention and even idea generation.”
We could say the the overeagerness of the Common Core’s pushing requirements down the grades has gotten us into a pickle. That of discouraging 9 year old “poor writers” from a potential lifetime of true learning, one that grows from the seed to the stem, to the leaf, flower, and fruit. As gardeners we would not expect to find apples on the tree in spring, instead of buds and blossoms. We urgently need to allow the young child to go through the stages that are most conducive to healthy growth and development.
The Waldorf Grade 3 curriculum is still very much in the “input” stage, feeding great literature, poetry, and cultural history into eager minds. Forms of writing: narrative, informational/expository, and persuasive can be introduced in a foundational, nascent way. For example, growing food and later preserving or canning it, while colorfully listing the procedure, with lots of guidance, is an excellent example of informational text.
Back to the aforementioned “pickle,” here is a wonderfully illustrated list for preserving food, from Ms. McLachlan’s third grade class at Four Winds Waldorf School. This list could be copied into the students’ Farming main lesson books after having experienced several of the methods first-hand.
Production and Distribution of Writing:
With guidance and support from adults, produce writing in which the development and organization are appropriate to task and purpose. (Grade-specific expectations for writing types are defined in standards 1-3 above.)
With guidance and support from peers and adults, develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, and editing. (Editing for conventions should demonstrate command of Language standards 1-3 up to and including grade 3 here.)
With guidance and support from adults, use technology to produce and publish writing (using keyboarding skills) as well as to interact and collaborate with others.
“Guidance” is the key word here, but the Waldorf version differs greatly from the Common Core version. The Waldorf guidance nurtures the child’s consciousness at its appropriate stage by allowing abilities to be grown and fed until ready to blossom and fruit, as opposed to the Common Core version which pushes developmentally inappropriate requirements down to younger and younger ages. The reasoning “earlier is better and more productive” has been proven wrong in many ways but it persists, to great harm all around.
Technology should not be used at all until later. As mentioned above, cursive writing serves many positive purposes. And the rampant introduction of iPads and laptops into schools in lower and lower grades is counter productive to say the least. Oxytocin is produced by human presence, and it does not yet (and will not ever) come off a screen.
Research to Build and Present Knowledge:
Conduct short research projects that build knowledge about a topic.
Recall information from experiences or gather information from print and digital sources; take brief notes on sources and sort evidence into provided categories.
(W.3.9 begins in grade 4)
Research should be experiential only at this age. It should not be a junior version of the high schooler’s or college student’s research. No place yet for gathering information and sorting index cards! Here’s a very experiential research project I conducted with my third grade class. We kept a worm bin from the beginning of the year, supplied with 100 or so worms. All year long, the students went to each classroom at lunchtime with a wheelbarrow, collecting leftovers that were composted into the worm bin. At the end of the year I covered the floor with white paper and we counted the greatly increased numbers of worms. A wriggly affair, but a very real way of scientifically measuring and documenting the worm facts.
Range of Writing:
Write routinely over extended time frames (time for research, reflection, and revision) and shorter time frames (a single sitting or a day or two) for a range of discipline-specific tasks, purposes, and audiences.
Later for this, explicitly. For now, gather and store for future harvesting. 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.