Spelling and Composition

(this entry originally appeared from me in response to  list members’ question on our Waldorf_At_Home list)

It sounds to me like you have done a lot of research on this and that you have a lot of tools to work with – and you are so right – there are just an endless number of approaches to spelling! And I think that therein lies the key – familiarize yourself with these various approaches and be ready to jump in with the right one at the right time- and to abandon that and try something new when it seems right.

There isn’t really one way that Waldorf schools approach spelling – Live Ed comes very close to approximating how the subject is usually approached. But any Waldorf teacher – as with any kind of teacher -worth his or her salt will be ready with a variety of approaches,depending on the needs of the children in the class. A good teacher – at school or at home – will look to see how her child learns – for many it is, as you say, a visual thing. I am someone who usually has to write out a word, to see it written to determine if it is spelled correctly.  Others do not need to do this.

But, but, but….. 9 is still, in my opinion and in my experience, very young to be too troubled about spelling. Back to what you had quoted me as saying, I really do believe that focusing on spelling (as well as grammar, capitalization and punctuation) VIA the child’s own writing is the main way to go. And 9 is still a bit young for composition. Wait until her inner life, her selfhood is a bit further developed so that she has a bigger stock of experience and inner resources to draw upon. By about 11 or 12, if you’ve played your cards right, it is likely that she will have gotten over this “writer’s block” entirely and will be really ready, developmentally, to write out of herself. It is not the tools such as spelling which will enable her to write (ie compose) – it is her developing self which will prompt this.

In the meantime, you do the composition – and use your writing as a gentle vehicle for things like punctuation – and you don’t need elaborate stories – I am really coming more and more to a place where I feel something has gone a little haywire in some Waldorf circles and that there is too much “a story for everything” – by third grade or so, there really shouldn’t be so many stories. I have been having interesting correspondence with Eric Fairman about this very subject. We both feel that somehow Steiner’s indications for a teacher’s creativity have been misunderstood as a need for the teacher to tell stories for everything!

So with punctuation for example, illustrate its need by taking care how you breathe when you read – take a breath when there’s a comma – that’s what it’s for. Drop your voice when you come to a period – hang your voice when you come to a dash or a semi-colon. And when your daughter is copying your writing, just point these things out in a simple sort of way – ( also including things like “Don’t forget, we always use a capital letter for a person’s name and at the beginning of a sentence”)- and then she will develop an ear, a feel for correct punctuation. I can tell you as someone who teaches writing courses to older children and teens, having an ear, a sense for language paves the way for beautiful and fluent writing – knowing a  bunch of rules does not.

Posted on February 23, 2006 in 3rd Grade, 6th Grade, Language Arts

  • Robyn Silk says:

    Dear Blog,
    All of our children are in a Steiner school and my middle daughter struggles on a daily basis to grasp the written word. We have attempted varies approaches and have come to the conclusion that she is simply not ready for all the rules of grammar, it is too overwhelming for her. She is 10 and still not reading fluently. This in itself does not concern me, but it concerns her teacher and her class is racing ahead without her.
    My concern is that she is falling behind her peers in class and hence the demands are deepening for her to perform to the level that the teacher sets for the class. Her level is vastly different. The suggestions in spelling and composition we work with at home regularly, yet she is forced to work from mainstream grammar books, where there is little respect within the tasks asked and quite often I give her Anthroposophical guidance as to what each task is asking of her and bring it to her with a gentleness.
    My frustration is borne out of the desire to see her happy with learning and am uncertain now how to continue to guide her well.
    She is in year 5 but has a year 2 standard of reading and now she is struggling to follow simply instructions that are written and handed out to her to work through.
    It’s not possible for me to homeschool her, I am convalescing from a very serious blood disorder that put me into hospital for most of last year.
    So….devoted mother anguishing over beautiful daughter would love some advice.

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