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 Though I appreciated this perspective, in some ways the book feels a bit outdated and even somewhat alarmist.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.

Brushes

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!

Waldorf 6th Grade Summer Reading

During this time of the summer, amidst the report-writing (I’m nearly halfway done!) I like to figure out some good historical fiction novels to read to get me in the mood for the next year’s curriculum. I feel like I’ve got a pretty good handle on good fifth grade summer reading but sixth grade still eludes me.

Last time through I remember trying several different books on Rome, but I never found just the right one. Here’s a rundown of some of the books I’ve tried. If you’ve got a good suggestion, leave it in the comments.
Waldorf 6th grade summer reading I’m a big fan of Deepak Chopra, especially his book on Buddha, so I was happy to give his book on Jesus a try. (He has one about Muhammad, as well, though I don’t think I’ve ever tried it.) Somehow this Jesus book didn’t capture my attention as much as the Buddha book did, but I am going to give it another try this summer.
Waldorf 6th grade summer readingI really wanted to enjoy Caesar and Christ by Will Durant, but I just couldn’t get into it. It’s a pretty heavy, intellectual book, and though it was very informative, it wasn’t the kind of lose-yourself-to-the-story kind of reading that I was searching for. Again, I’m determined to give it another go this summer and maybe I’ll find it a bit more accessible. Incidentally, I’ve linked to the audiobook version available on Amazon (the book itself must be out of print.) Audiobook could be the way to go with this one.

I’ve pulled a few suggestions from my Goodreads account, too.

Waldorf 6th grade summer readingCleopatra’s Daughter by Michelle Moran was a top pick on Goodreads. It looks like just the kind of summer reading I’m longing for!

 

Waldorf 6th grade summer readingAnother top pick on Goodreads was I Claudius. I remember giving the DVD a try last time around, but it wasn’t a very good production, so I gave up. Maybe I’ll give the book a try.

I’m afraid my Waldorf 6th grade summer reading list is pretty limited. I go off to my summer intensive training next week, though. Maybe they’ll share some good titles there!

If you’ve got a good suggestion leave it in the comments.

Reflection

The last day of fifth grade happened just three days ago and since then I’ve been reflecting on the past year.

persia-drawing

I really enjoy taking the time to reflect on the year that has just finished. Though the world compels us to keep moving forward — preparing for the coming year, making the most of the summer, managing future enrollment — I try to resist the urge. My future teaching will be stronger for these few weeks of looking back and taking stock.

There are some essential tasks that go along with this reflection.

Writing Reports

The primary focus of my work during these weeks is writing my end-of-year student reports. Though writing 27! individualized student reports is an arduous task, there are some things I’ve done to make the task more manageable and a pleasant experience.

  • Preparation is key and I’ve found that if I choose 3-5 students before I go to bed and think about them as I fall asleep, the process of writing their reports the next day is an easier, richer experience. I’ve had the time to connect with them and think about their work over the course of the year.
  • This year I kept my students’ main lesson books so I could refer to them as I write their reports. Though I collect their work throughout the year, during these first few weeks of summer I can look through them at a much more leisurely pace. I can view the totality of their work, see how they’ve grown and truly connect with each one of them through their artistic work, compositions and handwriting. It makes writing their report a much more personal experience. I’m grateful that my families are understanding about not getting their work back until later.

Organizing Resources

The other task I do at this time that I really enjoy is collecting, collating and sorting the resources that I used throughout the year. I mostly do this as a support to the teacher who is following me, but it is also helpful for me to put all of that work together for the future. Every year I do things slightly differently, even if it is a grade that I have taught before, and I really like to look back and see what worked and what didn’t.

Though I am looking forward to enjoying the summer and taking a break from school, I know I’ll enjoy that time so much more if I really put the year to bed properly.

Greek Mythology

Spring has definitely arrived here in Portland, and with it, the fifth grade Greek Mythology block!

Greek Mythology chalkboard

The fifth graders and I are loving the stories of the Greek gods! I’m doing things a bit different this time around, thanks, in large part, to the popularity of Percy Jackson. I couldn’t imagine telling my students the stories of the Greek gods, pretending that they were all new to them. So, instead, I decided to take advantage of their familiarity with the stories to do things a bit differently. Here’s what I’ve got figured out.

  1. We spent just one week on the Greek Olympian gods. I gave them a basic picture of at least 3 of the 12 gods each day. I told them enough stories to make it interesting and engaging, but I did not tell them a lot of the stories they already knew.
  2. I assigned a substantial project for the block. The students have been divided into groups and together they will write a play based on one of the more popular stories. I split my 27 students into 4 groups and gave them 7 different options for stories. The ones that were eventually chosen were Demeter and Persephone, Daedalus and Icarus, Prometheus and Pandora’s Box.
  3. I am spending the rest of the 3 week block telling the stories of the Greek heroes (Hercules, Perseus and Theseus.)

This approach means that we’ll be able to talk about all of the Olympians, the demi-gods and the heroes — a tall order for a short block!

I’ve also discovered some new resources.

Heroes, Gods and Monsters of the Greek Myths is a book I have used in the past. I’m not sure that there isn’t a better version of the stories out there, but this one is serviceable and has served my needs pretty well.
D'Aulaire's Greek Myths

D’Aulaire’s Book of Greek Myths is a resource not to be missed. I haven’t used it a lot this time around for story content (though I certainly did my first time teaching the block.) Instead, this time I’ve used this book for the drawings. Most of the drawings translate easily to the chalkboard or oil crayon with colored pencils. I couldn’t imagine teaching the block without it.

The last resource I have to share is completely new to me and I feel like I just discovered buried treasure!
Hercules bookHercules by Geraldine McCaughrean is part of her series of books on the Greek heroes, which also includes a book on Perseus and Theseus. These books are very descriptive, wonderfully-written young adult books that are manageable for the typical fifth grade reader.

I’m feeling a bit pressed to tell the stories of these three heroes in the two weeks I have left of the block, so in addition to telling the stories of some of Hercules’ labors, I plan to have them read some of them, too. I’m really enjoying reading them as I prepare and I feel completely prepared to tell the stories based on the versions that are in this book.

Of course, I’m just working on the Hercules book at the moment, so I can’t speak for all three, but they’re definitely on my list as I continue the block!

Responsive Classroom — Direct Instruction

A few years ago, a colleague shared a book with me that changed my teaching career. The book is called Teaching Children to Care: Classroom Management for Ethical and Academic Growth, K-8 and I’ve written about it before here.

There are so many classroom management gems in this book that I couldn’t even begin to cover them all in this post, but one of the big messages I took away from this book is the idea of “direct instruction.”

The basic idea is that we have plenty of unspoken expectations of our students, and frequently students find themselves “in trouble” for things we never taught them to do (or not to do) properly.

The book goes through an explanation of how to teach things in a clear, direct manner, so all of those little unspoken expectations are articulated and practiced. It truly changed the way I worked with my students!

The Responsive Classroom people (who publish the book) recently posted  on their blog about the direct instruction approach. It goes through an example of teaching children to wait their turn to speak. As the teacher of a large class, I feel that this skill is so important for students to learn! I highly recommend this blog and the entire Responsive Classroom approach to classroom management.

Sixth Grade Business Math

One really great thing that my school does is that the middle school teachers participate in a block swap program. We love that exchanging one block per year with another teacher allows for us to capitalize on our individual strengths and it gives our students an opportunity to work with a teacher with a different style and focus.

Right now the sixth grade teacher and I are engaged in a block swap that has me teaching Business Math in the Sixth Grade.

I’m having a great time working with an older class and plunging forward with challenging academic content. It’s fun to see how much these talented sixth graders are!

My primary resource for this block is a book called Mathematics Lessons for the Sixth Grade by Ernst Schuberth. Good luck finding the book, though. I must’ve loaned out my own copy and when I went to buy one for the school, I was fortunate to find a used seller on Amazon with a copy for sale.

We’re using the class’ bake sale business as a foundation for a lot of the academic content of the block and it’s great to have a real-world practical example to guide our studies.

Working on this block also reminds me that I should put out my grade six materials. I’ve been holding that idea in the back of my mind as I prepare and I believe I could have some materials for this block available pretty soon.

Until then, make sure you check out my other business math post on this site. Apparently I posted a fair amount. Here’s another post and another.

Fifth Grade Language Arts

During our Ancient Civilizations block we’ve been focusing on Language Arts and there are various ways that focus takes form.

  1. Dictations — In our weekly dictations I’ve been giving special attention to comma use. I’m trying to introduce the various comma rules through our dictation sentences. Everyday when we do the dictation in class, part of our review of it is a discussion of the commas and the purposes they serve. Every week I write the dictation so it will emphasize one of the comma rules. My students are definitely not in the habit of overusing commas, which I am grateful for, though they could definitely develop a more attentive eye towards using punctuation (in general) when necessary.
  2. Language Arts class — In our weekly Language Arts class we have been working on putting together a “Grammar Guidebook.” Our first entries are all about the parts of speech. I’m using these great books from Mercurius that were developed for use in the high school but I appreciate that one side of the page is unlined, while the other side is lined. They make great grade school workbooks. As I take a closer look at the site, though, I see that they come in a variety of rulings, including graph paper. We’re putting titles and illustrations of each part of speech on the unlined page, followed by definitions, explanations and examples on the lined pages. Just perfect!
  3. Weekly compositions — It is my goal to have the students write about our content once each week. We are working on developing an editing process (which I write more about here) but at this point my students are simply learning how to tell a story in written form. In fifth grade, rather than write a summary of the story (or the entire story from beginning to end), we are choosing one small image from each story and writing about it with great description and detail. To get the students to live into this way of telling a story I describe it in a couple of ways, which I’ll write about in a separate post.

Language Arts are my specialty and I really love teaching the subject to my students. There isn’t a great Waldorf Language Arts guide out there (unless one has been released that I don’t know about) so I rely a lot on traditional resources and apply my own Waldorf touch. My favorite resource, actually, is my own 7th grade textbook, Warriner’s Composition and Grammar. (Which I was astonished to find is going for nearly $200 on Amazon.) There are other great resources out there, though. Here are a few.

Write Source 2000: A Guide to Writing, Thinking and Learning

The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation: An Easy-to-Use Guide with Clear Rules, Real-World Examples, and Reproducible Quizzes

The Synonym Finder