Sixth Grade Middle Ages

Knowing that the pace of school-life would pick up as soon as we got back in swing after our leisurely spring break, I spent a couple hours in the classroom on Sunday putting up a chalkboard drawing. Though drawing has often been a struggle for me, I’m pretty happy with how this turned out.




I’m using one of my favorite resources to teach this block — The World of Walls by Polly Schoyer Brooks. It’s a great book full of Middle Ages biographies, but it is long out of print and sells for $1700 on Amazon (makes me wonder if I should sell my copy!) If you can somehow get your hands on a copy of this book, grab it! Update! It is available (not in the edition I own, but still, the stories are great!) Check out this Amazon link to get it!

This week we learned about St. Benedict and Gregory the Great. Next week we’re on to Charlemagne and Eleanor of Aquitaine. Good stuff!

We’re also in the midst of our play — Robin Hood. We don’t have a dedicated play block, which makes me a little nervous that we won’t have enough time to practice, but it will help us avoid losing focus with the spring. We have lots of activities ahead of us before the close of the year, but it promises to be good, fun stuff. I’ll do my best to keep you posted.

I’m also thinking a lot about 7th grade. It’s been a while since I taught that curriculum, but I’m up to the challenge and looking forward to entering the Renaissance with this vibrant group! Our team of middle school teachers is coming together to create a really exciting, enriching middle school experience that promises to bring a fresh, modern perspective to the Waldorf middle school. Creative juices are flowing!

Waldorf and Evaluation

The middle school teachers at my school have been talking a bit about evaluation. Part of this discussion is coming about because our current 8th grade teacher is helping his students apply to various private high schools in the area, but it is an ongoing topic that we come back to every now and then.

Our school is like many others, in that for younger students, their evaluation comes in the form of a narrative evaluation that is released at the end of the school year. This, along with parent-teacher conferences, is the primary avenue for feedback to parents. It works well because teachers and parents work so intimately together throughout the year, that the need for more frequent formal evaluation is not necessary.

When students enter middle school, though, we find that they appreciate regular feedback. Evaluation shifts from being directed towards the parents, to being directed towards the students.

Our school has a practice of providing block evaluations to middle school students and parents at the end of each main lesson block (every 3-4 weeks, typically.) This evaluation includes a checkmark rubric system, as well as a brief narrative evaluation. This format makes keeping up with the pace of evaluation fairly manageable — even with a class of 24 students.

At the beginning of the year I decided that I really wanted to see my students’ attention to their work improve, so I decided that in addition to the block evaluation, I would evaluate individual main lesson pages, to inspire them to excel. I am so pleased with the results. I give students a score of 1-5 — 5 is best and anything below a 3 needs to be redone (we work on loose paper that we bind into books at the end of the block, so redoing a page is easy.)

Another benefit of this system is that it forced me to set due dates for main lesson pages, collect them and hold kids accountable for pages not turned in. The result is that we all move along at a pretty quick pace together, completing work on time.

Some of my colleagues have questioned this practice, wondering if it is getting a little too close to a formalized grading system. There was a time when I wouldn’t have agreed with doing something like this, but I’m astonished by how well it is working in my classroom. We certainly have our moments when students disagree with their score, or when I have a hard time giving a score that is objective and not just based on my own artistic preferences, but in general I’m pretty happy with the system.

Waldorf Sixth Grade: Islam

The weekend after a block ends is always a very busy one.

This time our school had an open house, which gave me the perfect opportunity to camp out in my classroom and get ready for the next block

On Monday we start our Medieval History block.

constantine waldorf chalkboard

I’m starting off the block by finishing up the end of Rome. I had planned on telling the biography of Jesus during our Geometry block, but for various reasons, that didn’t happen. So, this is what I’m looking at for week one . . .

  • Monday — biography of Jesus
  • Tuesday — Constantine (see the drawing above)
  • Wednesday — fall of Rome
  • Thursday — biography of Muhammad
  • Friday — biography of Muhammad

In my mind, there are two different parts of the Middle Ages block.

  1. What happens in Europe following the fall of Rome.
  2. What happens in the rest of the world during this period.

In my training at Rudolf Steiner College, they recommended moving into the European picture following the fall of Rome. I’ve decided to use the arrival of the Dark Ages in Europe as an opportunity to move to another part of the world. It’s sort of like, “While Europe was asleep in the Dark Ages, there were things happening in the rest of the world.”

Waldorf Sixth Grade Islam

Taking a look at the rise of Islam is the perfect thing to do at this time. We’ve had a break from history, we’re feeling a bit detached from the Romans and we’re overdue for examining other cultures and the rest of the world. Due to the constitution of my class this time around, I am giving particular thoughtfulness to our study of Islam. I’ve really enjoyed the research and there are some fantastic resources out there.

  • Muhammad: Legacy of a Prophet is a great PBS video that is available on YouTube and elsewhere. I remember watching this video the first time I taught this block and it is just as good now as it was then.
  • Muhammad by Marilyn Tower Oliver is a basic book about the life of Muhammad from the library. You can probably find a basic book about the life of Muhammad from your own public library in the juvenile section.
  • Muhammad: A Prophet for Our Time is a great book by Karen Armstrong. It is completely digestible and gives a richer picture than what you get in books from the kids’ section of the library. This book is an update of her book, Muhammad: A Biography of the Prophet. I am always hesitant to rely on resources from the adult section of the library (a week’s worth of reading yields two days’ worth of main lesson content) but for this topic I want to be thorough and I’m enjoying the reading.
  • Islam: A Short History is another good one from Karen Armstrong.

I plan on spending about a week and a half on Islam this time around. In addition to the life of Muhammad we’ll cover . . .

  • The Five Pillars of Islam
  • The Four Rightly Guided Caliphs
  • The schism between Suni and Shia
  • Stories from Arabian Nights

In addition to main lesson content, with my last class we visited a mosque and this time around we have an opportunity to have an Islamic calligrapher come teach the class. At Rudolf Steiner College it was recommended to explore Islamic calligraphy after learning English calligraphy as part of the European portion of the Middle Ages block, but I plan to take advantage of this opportunity anyway.

Following our Islamic studies, I plan to spend a few days studying medieval Japan, particularly the life of a Samurai, and the biographies of Miyamoto Musashi and the poet Basho.


Sixth Grade Waldorf Geometry Round-Up

This past week we finished our Geometry block and I was thoroughly impressed with the work the students created!

Definitely confirmed my conviction that the Sixth Grade Waldorf Geometry block is the best block ever!

If you’re interested, I linked to my favorite resources in a previous post.

I’m also happy to share my 6th grade geometry block test. Just get in touch through the contact link above.

Waldorf Sixth Grade Geometry

A lot has happened in sixth grade since my last update. Here are the highlights:

  • We finished our block on Ancient Rome. The block culminated in an evening of Roman rhetoric and feasting. The students prepared speeches about the ancient Roman topics they studied, we invited families and siblings, everyone brought a dish to share and we ate by candlelight together. It was truly a magical evening and the students did a fantastic job!
  • Our school has a practice of having the middle school teachers swap a block once in the year. My colleague taught the sixth graders Business Math, while I led a block on North American Geography in the fifth grade. Their Business Math block ended with a Holiday Bazaar. Each student created a product and calculated expenses, profit margins, etc. It was a great exercise and the students made quite a bit of money to go towards their 8th grade trip.

Those two blocks took us through to Christmas Break and now we are back in the new year and studying geometry.


I went back through the blog to take a look at some of my old sixth grade geometry posts. Those posts are some of my most popular of all time, probably mostly due to Pinterest. I realized that the last time I taught sixth grade geometry it was in January, and it really did feel like a good time for the block. There is something very inward about geometry — every individual is alone with his or her drawing. (Check out those old posts by following the links below.)

This time around I’m realizing even more strongly how perfect this block is at this time. Our middle school math program happens to be in a geometry unit, which is very different than the geometry that I am doing with the students in main lesson, but the two are dovetailing very nicely.

In main lesson the students are learning to create various constructions using the compass, straightedge and pencil, while in their math classes, they are doing calculations about those forms. Last week in main lesson we did an exercise to discover that a circle yields the largest area (given an equal perimeter/circumference) and then in math class the students did calculations to prove the truth of that observation. Just perfect!

I also spent some time during the holiday break to find just the right compass to give my students. You can find my favorite on Amazon by following the link below.

Staedtler Precision 6 Inch Student Comfort Compass (556WP00)

There are lots of other interesting new things going on in our classroom. I hope to blog about them soon!

Waldorf Ancient Rome Resources

The sixth graders in my class are in the throes of learning about Ancient Rome!

For this teacher that means mornings of marching, stories of fierce and bloody battles and not-so-subtle reminders of the importance of the law of the land!

I’m having a great time teaching about Rome again, and I’m absolutely astonished by how truly different every block is every time I teach it.

This time around my students are completing Rome reports. We’ve got projects about Pompeii, the Colosseum, aqueducts, roads, law, the Latin language — I’m so glad their interests are taking us all over the Roman Republic!

We’ve been very busy, but I couldn’t resist stopping here to give a little update about some of the resources I’m using this time. As usual, I’m making liberal use of my public library, but the books below are good enough to purchase, if your library doesn’t have them.

Here are the Waldorf Ancient Rome resources I’m using this time.

I often begin preparing with a review of the broad, sweeping overview that is presented in A Little History of the World. I just love the friendly voice of this book and it does a great job of giving the big highlights of huge expanses of history. I have used it for some storytelling, but it doesn’t give a lot of detail, so I usually rely on other sources for that.

Ancient Romans: Expanding the Classical Tradition (Oxford Profiles)
has been my go-to book this time around. It focuses on biographies of the important figures in Roman history, so it’s great for storytelling. I tried reading it aloud one day when I wanted to quickly get through some content, but found that it really needed my personal touch to freshen up and enliven the stories. I’ve found the stories delightful to read myself, though, and I’m sure most of my students would love to read it through on their own.

I’ve also used books from the adult section of the library much more than I ever have in the past. I’ve found that since I have a pretty good idea of the basic overview of the history, I don’t have to face reading those thick adult books in their entirety. Now I pretty much know what I’m looking for and I can find the right content in the book and read it through. The adult library books have been giving me a nice amount of detail to fill in my stories. I’ve always been a huge proponent of the juvenile section of the library, so I’m surprised by how much I am appreciating the adult section these days!

On the Threshold of Adolescence by Hermann Koepke

We’re all about getting ready for sixth grade here at AWJ, and every summer our first step in planning for the new year is to get up to speed on child development.

on the threshold of adolescence

We have a collection of child development books we consult each year (more about those later), but the summer before sixth grade is the time for Hermann Koepke’s book On the Threshold of Adolescence.
on the threshold of adolescenceOn the Threshold of Adolescence does a pretty good job of describing the changes that come about with the 12-year-change. It is definitely written with the perspective of the teacher in mind, more than that of a parent. Though I appreciated this perspective, in some ways the book feels a bit outdated and even somewhat alarmist. Some of the challenges that are described as resulting from the shift that happens in the 12-year-change, were more dramatic and serious than anything I have experienced with sixth grade students in the past. I’ve never dealt with shoplifting or smoking sixth grade Waldorf students.

If you look past those dramatic descriptions, though, and keep your eye on the underlying child development topics, On the Threshold of Adolescence is a good read. (It’s also fairly short and accessible — always a plus for busy teachers.)

Here are some other books that come highly recommended that are worth checking out.
Parenting Teens With Love And Logic: Preparing Adolescents for Responsible Adulthood, Updated and Expanded Edition
Positive Discipline for Teenagers, Revised 3rd Edition: Empowering Your Teens and Yourself Through Kind and Firm Parenting
How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk

Waldorf Upper Grades Painting

I’m currently attending a summer training conference, getting ready to teach sixth grade next year.

waldorf upper grades painting

Though the value of the content we receive in the courses seems to vary year to year, what doesn’t vary is the inspiration that builds as a bunch of teachers get together and share ideas.

I liken it to the dynamic feeling that happens in the classroom when all the students are engaged and start sharing their ideas.

Being here, I’m getting so inspired for sixth grade, so in my downtime I’m sitting down and ordering supplies, books and researching field trips.

The activity has caused me to pull out a list of recommended art supplies through the grades that a colleague put together last year. It’s a very comprehensive list and it’s inspiring me to do things a little bit differently in terms of painting next year. Here are my Waldorf upper grades painting thoughts . . .

Watercolor Paper Blocks

Waldorf upper grades paintingThough I’ve never used them before, my colleague strongly recommends using these watercolor paper blocks. They can be found on Amazon or any art store. The primary benefit is that the edges of the paper are glued down, creating a block of paper, so the paper doesn’t curl or stretch when it gets wet. Though it seems like it would be useful for all kinds of painting projects, it seems almost essential for veil painting. I have never done veil painting with sixth graders before, so I’m not sure if I will this year, but I think we’ll love using these blocks.


Waldorf upper grades painting

This past year I bought new paintbrushes for my students and we switched to using these “cat’s tongue” brushes. I love how versatile the brushes are, as students can paint with broad strokes, or they can use the fine point to paint in small areas. One word of caution — the handles are made of wood (in typical Mercurius fashion) and if students leave their brushes in the water or they’re not careful about how the water drains off of their brush, the wood will swell and cause the metal brush to expand and fall off when the wood shrinks again. We’re always careful to dry our brushes as much as we can and let them dry laying flat (or on a slight incline) so the water drains away from the handle.

As for leaving a brush in water, my students know that if I spot their brush sitting in the water, I get to come over and use it to flick them with water. I don’t think I’ve ever actually done it, but the threat makes them giggle and keeps them cautious.

More Waldorf Upper Grades Painting Resources

A Waldorf Language Arts Resource!

waldorf language arts

For a long time I’ve felt that the world was missing a really good Waldorf Language Arts resource.

I was so glad to discover, then, this free Waldorf Language Arts compendium compiled by Roberto Trostli. Trostli has taken Steiner’s work and sifted through it and compiled anything he had to say about language arts. Though the copyright date is 2004, I’m guessing that it is somewhat newly-available online, which is why I’m coming across it now.

This book is part of the Foundations of Waldorf Education series that AWSNA has put together to collect Steiner’s work on education in a set of more centralized resources. They’ve done the work of sifting through various lectures and writings to find all of the relevant information.

Though the book is comprised of excerpts from Steiner lectures (so they have that characteristic warm, conversational quality) Trostli himself does a great job of putting the excerpts together so they give a picture of the child’s connection to language throughout the developmental stages, and this is how the book begins. I found this section fascinating and it completely rang true with my understanding of child development. I’m looking forward to referring to it to shed some light on my Waldorf language arts plan for sixth grade.

After going through the developmental stages in the beginning, Steiner’s thoughts on various language topics is presented next.

Here’s a rundown of the rest of the contents:

  • Writing, Composition, Handwriting and Left-Handedness
  • Reading
  • Literature
  • Speech and Recitation
  • Grammar and Spelling

Though this resource is not a practical how-to guide, it is very accessible and gives a fantastic background on which to build your own program.

I’m still hopeful that someone will write the ultimate Waldorf language arts practical guide, but for now we teachers are called upon to use our creativity and enthusiasm to craft the Waldorf language arts curriculum that will speak best to our students.

Free Chalkboard Drawing Sampler

I’ve put together a nice little document that includes images of some of my favorite chalkboard drawings!

I’ve also included my best chalk and eraser tips — I’ve got some opinions about the best chalk and erasers out there, and I’m happy to share them!

Just sign up in the form in the sidebar and not only will you get the Chalkboard Drawing Sampler, but you’ll also be signed up to get bonus content throughout the year.

Thanks for being a subscriber and supporting A Waldorf Journey!