Humanities

English

Through speech we communicate and understand one another. There are four “channels” through which this can happen: listening and speaking (given) and writing and reading (culturally developed). Advancing the capacity to communicate using these four “channels” is the distinctive domain of English.

As a subject, English enhances self-expression in all its forms, thus intrinsically developing self-knowledge. It fosters the ability to understand increasingly sophisticated communication from others, developing the capacity for empathy.

A rich orality is modelled by the teacher and fostered in the early years, as an ongoing underlying basis for the gradual transformation into skilful literacy from the age of seven onwards. The use of eloquent speech is felt to be a fundamental element of the pedagogical fostering of the growing human being. The transformation of this potent orality into a structured literacy is the task of education as a whole, and English in particular.

Of course these skills are also fostered in other subjects, particularly the humanities, but they are initially the domain of English.

Method and content

Initially, in Class 1, letters of the alphabet are introduced through story and picture. Writing precedes reading, as the children move from recognising what they do in speech, to ‘speaking’ onto paper. The child’s imagination is called upon, and written responses elicited, through stories told with expressive language, carefully selected to mirror the development of the child: nature stories and fairy tales in Class 1; fables in Class 2; Bible stories in Class 3; ancient mythology in Classes 4 and 5; historical biographies in Classes 6, 7 and 8.

Written technique is introduced carefully in terms of child development, and as the servant, not the master, of expression. A continuing feeling for the plasticity and gesture of language is encouraged through active, age-appropriate recitation from Kindergarten to Class 12.

In Classes 9 and 10, the main lessons of Narrative, History of Drama, Myth into Literature and Poetics aim to give the adolescent a comprehensive experience of human cultural expression through the ages, building on the foundation of the class teacher years.

In Class 11 and 12 the English curriculum finds completion in the main lessons of romantic literature, Parzival and modern literature.

The main lessons foster a spiral of skill development throughout the Upper School. In Classes 9 and 10, they consolidate technical skills and strengthen the foundations for increasing expressive power. These unfold through Classes 11 and 12, as students deepen their capacity for inward reflection, empathy and creative expression. Electives in advanced level English study, such as creative writing, English Literature A level and independent project writing, further enhance maturation of skills. This takes place within the overall aim of enabling the graduate to stand with all the attributes of literacy, as defined above, in today’s world.

Narrative

The use of narrative is a key feature of daily classroom teaching and learning in the Steiner Waldorf tradition. Story, verses, poems and oral presentation appear in many forms and in all subjects across the curriculum. In the Lower School, there are no standard textbooks – it is the teachers who impart new material, orally in the first instance, in their own words.

The Waldorf tradition of reciting story and event enables teachers to tailor their lesson material to meet the needs of their Class and the individuals therein. It allows children to understand their world in an age-appropriate manner, while introducing a richness of language, vocabulary and sound. Narrative stimulates listening skills, helping to develop in children their powers of concentration. The development of skills in speaking fosters the child’s capacity to think, while a wide range of vocabulary lays the basis for breadth of thought in later years.

Through narrative in the curriculum, pupils are exposed to profound truths, awakening feelings of reverence and providing a necessary and healing counterweight to the increasingly powerful effects of today’s technological society. The rhythm and repetition inherent in narrated story, poem and verse deeply nourish the inner needs of today’s child.  For the child approaching puberty, recitation can help to bring clarity and balance.

Narrative teaches our children about life – it contains beginnings, evolution, consequences, and outcomes.  Sequences convey meaning, crisis reaches resolution, personal experience is highlighted. Listening to and recalling story encourages collaborative learning and a curiosity for the world, while also enabling children to digest their experiences. Conflict, tension, pain, grief, loss, anger – all can be clothed in classroom stories, enabling individuals and groups indirectly to come to terms with difficult issues. Indeed, story is often more objective than the direct or moralising approach.

The narrative threads in the curriculum recapitulate the historical development of oral tradition. Thus, Class 1 learns subjects through the context of traditional fairy tales and nature stories - from literacy to numeracy to music and languages; in Class 2, stories of the saints and fables provide the milieu in which children learn. Each year, the context changes from Bible stories to myths to the history of ancient civilisations, and so on to present day ‘history’. This evolution through story mirrors the child’s own inner development.

Classes are called upon daily to contribute narrative together, in the form of verse and poem. What begins as group narrative develops through the years into individual presentation, from oral project presentations or debates in class, to dramatic performances for other classes and the wider community.

History

History is the discipline of studying the past in order to explore our roots and through this to understand the development of both the individual and humanity as a whole. Through making sense of the past we can understand the present and shape the future. Students thus develop key life competencies: judgment, thinking, moral initiative and social awareness.

Method and content

Historical developments are brought in an age-appropriate manner to the pupils/students. In the Lower School, providing the ‘seeds’, through pictures that are gradually ‘awakened’ in the Upper School, through revisiting similar content from different perspectives. The teacher brings a ‘picture’ symptomatic of the underlying forces of History, and utilises a variety of age-appropriate and creative ‘tools’ to develop this. Themes explored between Classes 5 and 12 are as follows:

  • Class 5 - ancient civilizations; opening horizons to understand that every culture has its ‘flower’ to develop and share
  • Class 6 - from Rome to the Middle Ages; the conflicting role of the individual and the group; relationships between power bases (church/state), people (emperor/Pope) and ideals (service/greed)
  • Class 7 - the renaissance to the 16th century; exploring the individual’s creativity in developing our modern world
  • Class 8 - causality is a key theme; studying the American revolution to present day; What is the impact of the inventions that have shaped the 20th and 21st centuries?  What have humans done with these inventions?
  • Class 9 - develops the thinking into will; I and the other; What is my point of view, and that of the world? What ideas and motivating forces live behind the development of modern history, for example, colonialism, nationalism, socialism?
  • Class 10 - develops the will into thinking; Where are my roots?; revisiting  Class 5 content  - ancient civilisations - using a phenomenological approach; key questions explore the human being’s relationship with, and attempt to control, his environment and attempts to come to terms with one’s mortality
  • Class 11 - develops the will and feeling into thinking; revisiting Class 6 content - Middle Ages - supporting the motif of ‘finding one’s way’. ‘Symptomatic’ content brings service and devotion (monks/ warriors); the church and the state (Pope/Emperor); the East/West divide (Islam and Christianity)
  • Class 12 - develops individual judgment beyond the personal – ‘know who you are’; broad thematic overviews within history, the developmental stages of cultures, the development of the individual towards freedom from one’s culture

Geography

Geography connects the student to the world, beginning with a sense of the world that surrounds the child (but is separate from them) at an early age, progressing to an ability to identify, analyse, imagine and know this world.  This unfolds for students in a way that cultivates awe, respect and responsibility.

There is also a strong interrelationship between Geography and other aspects of the curriculum. This is particularly the case with Science and History where for example, relative distribution of resources and ease or difficulty of travel have been major influences in the unfolding of History; patterns of land-use, population and politics have had a significant impact on the world's changing Geography.

Method and content

Geography has three fundamental themes: physical geography; social geography and inner geography. The core methodology is to work from the whole to the inter-related parts and to start in the child’s known world and travel to the unknown and then back again.

Children start with their surroundings – one’s bedroom, the family home, the common classroom - and learn to describe, define, measure, map and draw from their observations. In an organic sequence, this expands into local community, region, country, continent and finally the world and then beyond and below into the climate and the geology. The material is presented and explored with a graduated training in skills, knowledge and appreciation.

The scope of what is covered at what age is determined by a slowly expanding horizon, carefully matching and nurturing the child's growing awareness of the world around them, beginning with the immediate, local and familiar in Class 1, and culminating in a planetary perspective, with some understanding of global systems in Class 8. Within this there is also a growing understanding of the economy of human life - how we meet our material needs, and the growth of society and trade. In the Upper School this development continues through main lessons in Ecology and the Sciences through to Philosophy in Class 12.

Classes 1 & 2 - general study of nature and the seasons.

  • Class 3 -  farming and building main-lessons as well as gardening allow the children to learn how people and the land have a creative and fruitful relationship, giving them an appreciation of the resources of nature and how the land is cultivated, as well as practical skills.
  • Class  4 - expands the horizon to regional geography, explored through walks and maps; establishing basic skills of map reading and reading the land, as well as imagining each from the other. Themes include variation in landscape features and how local ways of life have changed over time.
  • Class  5 - geography of the UK is explored through the physical, cultural and political, particularly learning about the interplay between history and geography and the lifestyle imposed by the land.
  • Class 6 - European geography, physical, cultural and historical, especially considering the migration of peoples, interchanging and expanding with the rise and fall of the Roman Empire. Also Geology - seeing the inside story, plate tectonics, reflecting the child’s inner turmoil on the eve of adolescence; this usually includes a geological field trip.
  • Class 7 - world geography: continents, oceans, climate zones, latitude, cultural specializations.
  • Class 8 – the aim is a rounded understanding of the world as a whole - physical, political, cultural, climatological and geological.
  • In the Upper School, Geography is offered as an option among the GCSE and A level subjects and Geography main lessons are being explored in order to bring the teaching of this subject to fruition.