Janice Hill is an English teacher at the Steiner-Waldorf school of Reggio Emilia. We talk with her about the main characteristics of Waldorf education and how this pedagogy is put into practice.
As Janice told us in Waldorf schools generally there is more space for dialogue, music, creativity, and artistic skills. They don’t have text books, they create their own books, while in the state schools the children are given a text book immediately and they have to start reading, writing, colouring, and there is less concentration in the actual human communication which is how language should be taught.
When the children are learning languages, particularly the smallest children, they learn primarily through imitation. When you learn your first language through your parents and the people around you, the same should be for your second, third or fourth language. So they do a lot of singing, a lot of dialogue, a lot of plays and the kids loose themselves, when they are learning a language they don’t realize they are learning a language and that’s the most important thing.
Talking about the “block lesson” concept Janice explained us that is a “deep way” of teaching. The children study, for example Italian, everyday from 8 o’clock in the morning to 10 for about four or three weeks. That gives them the opportunity to get a feel for the subject. Everyday they do something, the following day they repeat it and the third day they generally put that down on paper. It’s a three-day process.
Steiner-Waldorf education is something that has a rhythm. The children learn something one day, they sleep and come back to school and elaborate it, and then they rethought it. Seeing and learning a subject that way penetrates the child in a much stronger way than just learning 15 minutes a day, one hour or two hours a day. After six months of doing the block lesson they remember everything when they come back to the same subject, generally they have a real feeling for it, they have really understood it.
In Waldorf education there are class teachers and subject teachers (English, handicrafts, gyms…). The class teacher spends all the time with the children at class. The characteristics of these teachers are the love of teaching, their artistic approach to teach, their creativity and their initiative.
Before being a Waldorf teacher you have to do the foundation course to Steiner-Waldorf education where they study anthroposophy, which they bring indirectly into the classroom. Anthroposophy it’s like a spiritual awakening.
The key to all Steiner-Waldorf education is self-education. The teacher has to be on the path of self-education, constantly learning new things, open to new ideas and experiences, constantly looking for something new, never remaining in the past and always trying to innovate is the most important thing about Steiner-Waldorf teacher.
The students don’t have marks, which is initially a sock for some parents. The evaluation of the child is done by the teacher who is with him/her everyday. As the child get solder they learn to able to self-evaluate so they know what they have done, what they haven’t, how they’ve done it, so it becomes a much more simple approach than putting a number on a child, because they see what they have done.
Everybody works on his or her own capabilities. One of the most important things about Steiner-Waldorf education is that they try to get out from the children their true potential. Everybody is not going to be brilliant in maths or music, but if they can do the best they can that’s the most important thing. If you start to evaluate them with numbers this can stop them in the track. Anyway there is an evaluation but is done in a different way. The Italian federation of Waldorf School made a study about evaluating students at 2018 and has been spread now across Italy to look at the different areas that have to be studied.
When asked about technology Janice told us that for them they do it through projects with handicrafts. For example, in class 8 they had to do a pair of trousers, so this is for them a big project because they have to draw, design and then create. That’s their technological approach to life. They also make ovens in class 4 and 5 where they prepare pizzas. They don’t use computers, maybe in the future with the higher classes. Janice thinks that the children have enough technology outside the school so there is no need to bring it inside.
At the school they have several initiatives to involve the parents, for example they have a group of parents that meet once every three or four weeks on Monday. During this meeting everybody gives his or her opinion.
They organize also big festivals, spring and autumn festivals, where the parents are hugely involved cooking, cleaning etc. They are also involved in everyday life, for example, painting the classrooms. In summer they go and help to set up the school. They also clean it every week and provide meals for the children
Janice gave us a big “yes!” to homework because in her opinion homework can come in many different ways. It doesn’t have to be a piece of paper or fill in the gaps. It can be a beautiful picture of a school trip, making a nice picture on the cover of your book…It’s an important part of the daily life. The teacher creates the homework necessary for the children because they know them really well.
As a final insight, Janice told us that to self-educate yourself as a parent is to look for something that fits your child. Not just following same strategies but look for innovation, things that they have never done before, new experiences, “what children love is doing things, new things, and parents too.” So the key is always look for innovation, never stay where you are, try to transform yourself and as a consequence you change the world.