children knitting, children dancing around a maypole, dragond drawn in chalk in a parking lot, children painting suns, children sitting in a circle playing music, and a recorder choir

Adaptations

One thing that I am quickly learning is that every school is going to be different, so I canít really make suggestions here that will accommodate every variation of circumstance. I also know that all teachers and classes are going to be different, so again, I canít recommend something that is going to work for absolutely everyone. What I have tried to do is create a general framework that others can build on to suit their own needs and abilities, and to provide some simple ideas that almost every one should be able to implement with a little thought and care. After that, I really have to just let everyone find the aspects and techniques that work best for them on their own, since I, unfortunately, donít know all of you.

Community

student shaking hands with teacher in hallway

While it isnít really a viable option in most schools to keep your students for more than a year (two in some schools), there are still many ways that you can make your classroom a safe and welcoming community for your students. One of the biggest things you can do it get to know each of your students as the individuals they are. What do they like? What do they dislike? What do they do outside of school? Let these things become a part of the daily dialogue between you and them. Greeting them at the door everyday as they come into the classroom is a great way to start building this connection. If the students feel that you care about them as people, they are likely to try something that they might not on their own, simply because you ask it of them. Placing their work around the classroom, or otherwise letting them have a role in decorating it (picking out the class fish or letting them organize the class library, for instance) should also be relatively simple, and gives them the sense that this is ďtheir place,Ē not just some random place where they spend 30 odd hours each week. The benefit of displaying their work is that it also sends the message that the work they are doing is important. Obviously, this is not going to work as well if all they are doing is worksheets.

Love of Learning

Probably the biggest key to keeping students interested in school and learning is to focus on things that interest them, that are important to them. They can still learn addition and subtraction, but maybe they do that by keeping track of the number of class pets, or how many dinosaur eggs were found in various nests. The problems donít even have to run that far afield, and in fact, the closer to home that any topic can be brought, the more likely you are to produce an emotional response in the child. Count up how much money (or tickets, or tokens, or whatever prize your school uses) has been saved up for the class pizza party. The students have a vested interest in finding the answer to a problem like this, and the simple equations become alive with meaning. If it is possible in your area, let the students spend as much time outside tying their studies to the natural world as possible. It doesnít have to be fancy. A simple walk around the school ground collecting as many different types of leaves as possible is meaningful. It connects them to their immediate environment, it connects the learning to their lives, and has multiple ways to lead into more academic topics.

Having them make a full blown text book might be too time consuming (incidentally, the Waldorf ďtextbooksĒ arenít published or professionally bound books, but ones made and bound by the students), but letting them keep a journal of what they learn will accomplish a very similar end. Give them five minutes at the end of a lesson to write down what they have learned about the dayís topic. The more time and effort they can put into these sorts of journals, the more important and valuable they will be.

Play

older students engaged in individual play

This is one of the areas where the structure and rules of the school where you work can really make a difference. Recess is an important time for children to play, and one of the only chances that they have during the day in most classrooms. Taking it away (either to as an administrator to gain more class-hours or as a teacher for punishment) really does the student no service. They need this unstructured time to explore themselves, completely aside from the mental and physical benefits of physical movement.

If you can find even 30 minutes in a week to let your students explore on their own or do something that they enjoy, they will not only be learning about whatever it is they happen to be exploring, they will also be learning that school is a place where they can be themselves, not just a place that wants to make them into a group of identical workers ready-made for the workforce. If you are uncomfortable with offering them this much freedom, it doesnít have to be this unstructured. Assigning them a presentation about the topic of their choice would be a step in the right direction, and letting them have some say in the format of that presentation would be even better. The more that they are setting their own goals and determining the means for getting there, the more it becomes play. Play is their natural state of learning.

For those teaching younger grades, the important point here is not to push the heavy academics more than you have to. Again, how much you can do this is highly dependent on the school where you work. For younger children especially, and even through early adolescence, the important thing is to keep their love of learning and their connection to the world alive. You can teach them counting, but the lesson sets better if they are counting the petals on the flowers they gathered or the number of crayons they used to make a particular drawing.

Interdisciplinary Studies

This idea can be trickier to implement, due to the fact that in some schools the academic blocks are determined on a school wide basis. However, that doesnít mean that you canít tie the subjects together. Relate your language and math lessons to whatever your class is studying in science or social studies. It doesnít really make a difference if you are dividing up food rations on the Oregon Trail or imaginary cookies in the classroom. Counting the number of petals on flowers or leaves on stems yields both math practice and some interesting biology concepts. If you use sentences that the students have written about another subject in your grammar lesson, not only have the students demonstrated their knowledge of the sentence topic, but they also have a connection to the sentences themselves, since they are the ones that wrote them. These methods will likely take a little more prep time than using pre-made work sheets, but they are also much more meaningful.

Including the arts (music, art, crafts, and even dance/movement) can seem complicated and time consuming, but it is important, especially in the wake of the budget cuts that are stripping the school programs dedicated to these. When you have them write an explanatory or descriptive paragraph, give them a chance to illustrate it. They get the art practice and another way to demonstrate their understanding of the subject matter. Play music from the region they are studying in the background while they are working. If you can, let them explore native instruments. Younger children especially will enjoy learning to sing songs from different cultures or time periods, at least as long as they can understand the language. The arts especially donít need to be considered a separate subject, relegated to a specific time of the day. This is as much a matter of how the teacherís mind is organized as anything else. If you believe that there is nothing in common between math and socials studies and English, then an interdisciplinary curriculum is not going to make sense; it depends on seeing all of the subjects as different ways of looking at the same world.