There are two simultaneous processes occurring in the class one literacy lessons. One is auditory in nature and the other is visual. Reading and writing are both obviously deeply emerged in both these sense-worlds and the curriculum mirrors this.
On the Auditory level we are moving from the parts to the whole.
For example, a story about a bear contains an alliterative phrase, eg: “the big brown bear was basking on the bank”. We then focus in on the word ‘bear’ and isolate the sound /b/.
On the visual level we are moving from concrete to pictorial to abstract. The children practice form-drawing and use their bodies to make the form, as well as drawing the form in their books, meanwhile the story about the bear allows the children to form a ‘picture in mind’ and the teacher draws a picture of the bear on the board from which we can extract the letter B.
For each of the consonants we will have a story which contains the sound involved and accompanying images which contain the letters.
There is also a three-day cycle where the story is introduced on day one, the sound is linked to the picture on day 2 and the letter is drawn on day three. The three-day cycle is interleaved so that on any particular day one is simultaneously introducing a new letter-story, linking the sound from yesterday’s story to a picture and practicing the written form of the letter which was first introduced two days ago. Clearly it makes sense for one story to contain more than one sound-letter connection.
What I will do now is give an outline of the first three days of this method so that one can see clearly how a story might develop to allow for three sounds to be incorporated in this way.
Please note that when I am referring to the sound of a letter I will do so like this: /b/ for the sound “buh”, the first phoneme in the word “bear”. When I am referring to the letter itself I will use capitals and bold to make that clear that I am talking about the grapheme, I.e. B.
Stories from a big part of the curriculum in Kindergarten so beginning Class 1 with a story is going to feel very natural for the children. What is great about this story, however, is that we are going to link this story to sounds and letters so the children can be part of the process of extracting writing and reading from the language that we use.
“Once upon a time there was a big brown bear who lived by the bank of a river with her baby bear. They were hungry so the big brown bear went into the woods to look for some food. In the woods she found a beehive high up in a tree where the bees were busy making their honey.
‘mmm’ said the bear to herself, the honey in that beehive would make a tasty breakfast for me and my baby bear so she climbed up and the big brown bear broke the beehive to get the honey. Well the bees were not happy about this and buzzed around the bears head, but being so little, and the bear being so big and her fur being so thick, there was nothing the bees could do and they had to go and build themselves a new beehive. And this time they built it even higher up the tree so that the hungry bear could not reach it.
Well the big brown bear took the beehive back to her baby and they had a yummy breakfast, basking on the bank.”
To accompany the story, a picture has been drawn on the board. A picture of a bear basking on a bank. But at this stage, no reference is made to either the graphene B or the phoneme /b/. The story, which obviously contains a lot of /b/ sounds and the bear which is drawn to resemble the grapheme B are allowed to work in the subconscious of the children until tomorrow.
The children draw a bear in their main lesson books.
The story is recapped by the children. They retell the story to the teacher obviously using a lot of /b/ sounds as they do so. At this point the sound /b/ is linked explicitly to the picture of the bear, although the outline of the letter B is not yet highlighted. The phrase “the big brown bear was basking on the bank” is repeated by everybody as a clapping rhyme, clap every time you hear /b/.
The story is then developed:
“Well, Once the bear had broken their beehive, the bees found a new tree to try to build their new hive within. But this time they chose a tall tree, they chose the tallest tree they could find and built their new hive there. Unfortunately for the them, however, a tailor lived nearby and he loved honey. When he saw the new hive in the tall tree he climbed up and took some honey to have on his toast. Well the bees lost their temper this time and tormented the tiresome tailor until he relented and returned the stolen honey.”
To accompany this part of the story a tall tree is added to the picture of the bear ready to introduce the /t/ sound.
The children draw a tree in their main lesson books.
Referring back to the /b/ for bear, another part of the board is used to make ‘the land of /b/’ where the children think of things that begin with the /b/ sound, these are drawn by the teacher on the board and the children draw them in their book.
The story is recapped again, from the beginning, including the bear, the beehive and the tall tree and the tailor with the children using a lot of /b/s and /t/s in their language. The association of the sound /b/ with the picture of the bear is reiterated and the sound /t/ with the tree.
“the big brown bear was basking on the bank” is chanted and clapped again and so is “The tailor saw the tall tree”
The story is continued:
“well, the tailor who called Daniel, realising he was in danger from the bees, darted home and closed his door. His house was dark and dank and he didn’t like dwelling in the damp so he opened his door to let the dazzling sun into his abode. But as dusk fell Daniel felt cold and closed his door again.”
To accompany the story, a door is incorporated into the picture on the board.
The children draw a door in their main lesson books.
The ‘land of /t/’ is created on the board and similarly the /t/ objects are drawn into the children’s books.
Now the /b/ sound is recapped, with reference to the ‘land of /b/’ which the children created yesterday which is still on the board and still in their books, maybe a few things are added.
Explicit reference to the bear is made again and this time the teacher draws distinctly the outline of B around the bear.
At this point, the class could go outside and walk the shape of the letter in the playground so that they are embodying the shape before coming back into the class and writing the letter B in their books.
This part is explicitly taught. Everyone is expected to write it in the same way from the top down. Remove the crayon, start at the top again and make two curves. The form drawings that the children have been doing link explicitly to this stage of the learning.
It is important to note at this stage that we make it clear that it is not the letter that makes the sound. We make the sound and the letter is the symbol we use to ‘catch’ that sound and fix it to the page/board.
As only one letter has been completely introduced at this point it is simultaneously easy and difficult to assess. It is easy to see that the children can or cannot draw a B and support can be given by the teacher at this point as the children work in their main lesson books. It is probably too early to tell if the children have really mastered the link between the sound and the letter. At this stage we probably just want to make the association as often as we can during the lesson and get the children to make the sound and the association as often as we can.
In later lessons we can begin to assess whether the B – /b/ link is secure by a combination of activities including pointing to the letter and asking individual children to say the sound and by getting children to come to the board and draw the letter, or as a whole class activity to get the children to draw the letter on mini-blackboards at their desks.
In later lessons we would begin to have the children writing short phrases such as “THE BIG BROWN BEAR”. This activity lends itself to assessment as the teacher can circulate and ask the children to make the sounds of the letters by pointing to different letters. By this stage, the children will have covered several letters so you can begin to assess whether they can remember the sound associations by asking them to come up and identify the letter on the board which makes a certain sound called out by yourself.
This would eventually lead up to full sentences such as “the big brown bear was basking on the bank”. This would then naturally lead into reading as the children would read out the sentences that they had written.
By following this pattern, over a three-week lesson block one might be expected to introduce up to 13 consonants to the class. The following list is a suggestion for the pictures which might accompany the letters as they are introduced. It is taken from the blog A Waldorf Journey and can be found here: http://www.awaldorfjourney.com/2017/06/waldorf-first-grade-letter-stories/
- M mountain
- B baby, bears
- P proud prince
- D duck
- T tree
- N nixie
- F fish, forget-me-not flower
- L latch on the door, ladder, lightning
- H house, horse
- S salamander, snake
- R robbers (with jackets full of loot)
- C cat
- J Jack Frost
Obviously, this is only a suggestion and class teachers can choose whichever pictures they prefer to accompany the sounds and letters. I personally don’t think I could draw a duck to resemble a D and would avoid a Nixie as it is not a common word amongst UK children. And rather than robbers for R I have seen an excellent example of using Little Red Riding Hood’s cloak to make the R.
The next lesson block would be numeracy and then in the second main lesson block on literacy the final 8 consonants and the vowels would be introduced. The vowels are introduced in a slightly different way which is not the focus of this assignment.
In theory, all the letters could be introduced before the Christmas break, but there is no rush and it will depend on the teacher and the class. I know that my own daughter, who is in class one, had not met all the letters by Christmas and finished off the rest in the new year.
I think there is something special about introducing the letters in this way, for although my daughter could already copy all the letters and recite her alphabet, she did not have the experience of the letters that she does now. People worry about the later formal reading instruction at Steiner schools but I can see that my daughter has not been held back and that her hunger for learning to spell, read and write is stronger than ever and it is a joy to watch her deciphering it all for herself in this way.