Effective Practices : Pedagogy

Main Lesson Books
Pedagogy Section 9

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1. Does your school have published guidelines or suggestions for teachers regarding the structure and correction of main lesson books? Please describe these guidelines or suggestions.
2. If standard guidelines are not available, are there practices that are generally used in your school to help guide teachers in the development and correction of main lesson books?
3. How are new teachers supported and instructed in the creation and correction of main lesson books at your school?
4. What is your school’s philosophical approach to the creation and correction of main lesson books?
5. What is working particularly well at your school with regard to the creation and correction of main lesson books?
6. If there were something you could change with regard to the way main lesson books are conceptualized, created and corrected at your school, what would it be and why?

PGY 9-1

Does your school have published guidelines or suggestions for teachers regarding the structure and correction of main lesson books? Please describe these guidelines or suggestions.
Most Waldorf schools in our study have detailed scope and sequence documents for each class in the lower school, including subjects such as foreign language, drawing and music. Similarly, high schools have published profiles which describe what is covered in each class. However, none of the schools had written guidelines for their teachers with regard to the structure and correction of main lesson books. This is an area where schools tend to have a culture that is not codified, and the school’s expectations are passed down from experienced mentor teachers to new members of the faculty. Nonetheless, most schools spoke of their desire to have some general guidelines for teachers in this area, especially with regard to corrections, as this is an area which is often problematic.

PGY 9-2

If standard guidelines are not available, are there practices that are generally used in your school to help guide teachers in the development and correction of main lesson books?
Schools use many vehicles to guide teachers in the development and correction of main lesson books. Main lesson books are frequently shared at the faculty meeting so that teachers are able to benefit directly from the experience of their colleagues. Sometimes this sharing happens in the context of a child study or class study; at other times the faculty will focus on a part of the curriculum such as history and ask for main lesson books in that subject to be brought from each grade. In these comparisons it is helpful when a range of main lesson books can be shared, rather than just one or two examples by the most accomplished students.

Oftentimes teachers are able to enjoy a consultation process in the late spring with the teacher who is just completing the grade ahead. This consultation includes a sharing of main lesson books and the material covered in each block, and conversation around the ways in which the books were corrected.

An emerging support vehicle is the use of a consultation between the class teacher and the school art teachers. For example, one school explained that is has two very accomplished art teachers who are able to give guidance about illustrations that might be included in a main lesson book. They make various suggestions about images that would be appropriate for inclusion and give recommendations about the color palette for the picture and other adjustments to the proposed image.

Main lesson books are carefully examined as a part of the evaluation process for teachers, and recommendations for improvement in this area can be a helpful part of the evaluation process. In reviewing the main lesson books the school looks for appropriateness of content as well as the presentation including handwriting and artistic elements. In the earliest grades there is little correcting that is done in the books, but by middle school there should be indicators that correcting is going on. Correcting of main lesson books begins in 3rd grade, and by 4th grade the students should be taking some responsibility for the quality of their work. It is important to look at the main lesson books for indicators that the teacher is helping the students with this process.

In the evaluation the school also looks for consistency in the main lesson books and compliance with the school’s scope and sequence documents and its policies. For example, from 5th grade on a school might expect that a student would be required to fill in material missed due to an absence. The school might also look to be sure that a teacher is following through on the school’s policy with regard to homework, and that students are being directed to the study hall if work is missing or incomplete. By 6th grade the students are doing work in addition to that in the main lesson book such as science projects and papers, and it is important to look at these in addition to the main lesson books to evaluate a teacher’s work accurately.

Another aspect of the evaluation is around the crucial skill building that goes on in 4th and 5th grade main lesson books, as this is the place where students build the capacity for future work. The projects and papers done in middle school are possible due to the seeds that are planted in the earlier grades. Evaluations look at whether the students’ artistic and academic work is progressing properly.

PGY 9-3

How are new teachers supported and instructed in the creation and correction of main lesson books at your school?
The primary support mechanism for new teachers with regard to the creation, approach and correction of main lesson books is the mentor. Each new teacher is assigned a mentor who supports the teacher in his or her work for an extended period, typically three years. A big part of the mentoring guidance is conversation about how main lesson books will be structured for each upcoming block, and conversation around the ways in which the books will be corrected. (See: Mentoring and Renewal for additional information about mentoring programs.)

PGY 9-4

What is your school’s philosophical approach to the creation and correction of main lesson books?
The main lesson book should represent the child’s best effort.

In the main lesson book each child does similar things, but each book is different and the child’s individuality shows through in his books. The book should be a source of pride for the student, and should serve as a journal for their educational trip of discovery.

In middle school the students should feel that they are collaborating with the teacher in the way that the main lesson book is presented.

The approach to corrections changes through the grades. In the early grades the corrections are made directly in the main lesson book. The teacher does the correcting as the student goes along. The student crosses out the error and makes the correction in the book. By third grade the students are learning the beginning of composition, and the teacher strives more and more to have the students write drafts prior to their inclusion in the main lesson book. By the upper grades the teacher should make sure that things are laid out in advance and communicated to the students clearly so there are a minimum of errors in the book.

In the drawing work there should be clear expectations about what should be included in the picture. Students can also be taught how to correct errors in their drawing. The emphasis cannot be on artistic perfection, as that chokes off the possibility for artistic inspiration.

In middle school the teacher must understand and not be dismissive of what the media is bringing to the students. At the same time it is the job of the teacher to help the students transform those images from the media into material that is appropriate for a main lesson book.

The teacher needs to remain mindful of the spirit and intent of what is being done in a main lesson book. The teacher cannot be too concerned with form at the risk of killing the spirit behind the book, and yet can’t allow the student to abandon all form as he gets into the spirit of the book. We are always striving for balance between spirit and form, and the best main lesson books show this balance clearly.

There is a capacity within the students that will emerge as the main lesson books are completed. They will know what is right or wrong, and the teacher does not need to push something that already has its own engine. The students will rise to the teacher’s positive expectations, and the teacher does not need to force this for most students. Extra support will always be needed for students with learning differences, but most students can do good work without the teacher being overly critical of each detail.

In the lower grades much of the text is composed by the teacher, with the expectation that students will learn to write well if they have a good model to follow.

Students copy verses they have already learned in grades 1 and 2. In 2nd grade they may copy a fable the class has written together or a few sentences they create on their own. The amount of teacher, group and self-generated work increases as the students enter 3rd and 4th grade.

By the time a class is in 4th grade most of the entries should be their own. To achieve this students write first in a practice book. The writing is checked by the teacher and then written into the main lesson book. This approach means that there is less of a need to correct main lesson books so the writing has already been checked. The book is checked for the drawings and maps and borders, and to ensure that all of the drafts have been copied into the book. Approaching the work in this way means that a teacher may not be able to stick to a traditional three day rhythm with the class, and that it may take as long as a week for material to go from the first presentation in class to written content in a main lesson book. However, it is worth the investment of time as by 5th grade all of the students are capable of writing a draft in a single day. A practice book may be used for this writing, but teachers report that single sheets are easier to collect, correct and return.

Traditionally, there is a lot of emphasis on how a main lesson book looks. We must be careful to balance this properly, and ensure that the focus on appearance does not take away from what the children are learning on the topic.

The main lesson book is something that the child has reverence for. It is the place where the child should want to do his or her best work.

Some children are visual learners and need to have clear visual guides to learn how to create their book. For these students it is helpful for them to mark their margins before they begin to write, and that clear examples of the colors and media you wish the students to use are provided. These visual learners must be able to clearly see what you want done, and are not satisfied with just a verbal explanation.

The teacher’s expectations regarding spelling and neatness should be addressed in the student’s practice book. In this way the main lesson book is a true reflection of the student’s finished thinking on a topic. We find that journaling should be postponed until the students are older, and that it is most effective in the high school.

In first grade the drawings are walked through step by step. The teacher instructs the class on how to use the crayons and how to fill the page with an image. Students practice the drawing first on a sheet of paper and then put it into the main lesson book. This gives them a chance to try out the drawing once with the teacher’s support, and then to recreate it on their own without the teacher’s help. This approach helps work on the student’s memory. We allow the younger students to make a little artistic variation in the picture, but they ask before making changes to the image the teacher has presented.

For some students the translation of the drawing from the chalkboard to their paper is an issue. Sometimes it is helpful to have both a crayon drawing and a chalk drawing for students to look at.

The main lesson book is central to the educational work we do with the children. The marriage of text and image is such a beautiful process, and as the students grow older they take it in in a way that supports and reflects their individual personalities.

A lot of the drawings are done step by step in the early grades, with the teacher instructing at the board. This is an opportunity to teach artistic technique, yet even in the first grade the child’s individuality is clearly expressed in the depth of color used and other facets of her artwork.

By the time students are in high school the students are given a great deal of freedom in their main lesson books, particularly in the humanities. These main lesson books may include a poem on every page or extensive use of photographs. In one music history class the students are allowed to use any media to present their relationship to the material in the class. The “main lesson books” in this class have taken on some truly unique forms including a treasure box filled with small scrolls of information to a 40 foot long cloth roll to which various pictures and motifs had been ironed on. Yet another student wrote a piece of music and then submitted a paper describing the style in which the music was written. While such freedom of expression is still too much for students in the 9th grade, the older students are encouraged to submit projects that reflect the same values we look for in our main lesson books, namely that they include both the information presented in the class and an interpretation of that material, along with a visual message presented through a good use of images.

The freedom enjoyed in the main lesson books for the high school humanities classes stands in contrast to the science main lesson books. Typically these books become increasingly precise and detailed as the students get older.

There is something very magical about every time you start a new main lesson book. It is an opportunity to start something new. The opportunity to have this gift, this ability to be the author of what it will hold is wonderful practice in problem solving, in initiative. New students who have not been here all the way through have much more trouble learning to jump in and get started. The main lesson book teaches perseverance.

Although the creation of a main lesson book is a solitary pursuit it can be a social tool as well. When a child does not like a page in a main lesson book page there is an opportunity to transform a mistake - to work with the drawing and correct it, to make the bunny floating in the sky into a beautiful cloud instead. In a large class it can be hard for the teacher to get around to all the students to make these sorts of suggestions to improve the page and so we ask students to help each other. In the youngest grades we may start by asking the students who are most capable artistically and socially to help other students, but gradually we teach every student to help other members of the class.

As a school we are fairly insistent that students make corrections in their main lesson books, although we do have a few books that are considered draft books. In these books we do not expect material to be copied over and made perfect, nor do we require many drawings. There are many things that a teacher must decide about corrections. Should all spelling errors be corrected? Should the expectations for all students with regard to the main lesson book be the same, or are there different expectations for students who are more or less accomplished? Should white out be allowed in a main lesson book?

We believe that most books should be as close to perfection as possible, but there needs to be many other writing experiences that just remain in rough draft form. We need the students to get lots of experience writing, and there are times that we want something to be brought to a near perfect level. The level of our expectations changes as the students get older. For example, in 3rd grade we may only insist that students indent the beginning of each paragraph, begin each sentence with a capital letter, that a period of other punctuation be used at the end of the sentence. As students get older an editor’s checklist is provided so that students develop strong writing skills and can become independent of the teacher for corrections.

The key elements of a main lesson book vary depending on the subject being taught. For math the main lesson book is about practice, not about presentation. In literature and history courses we look for the story line. In the sciences the illustrations should show the essence of the experiments. Does the book make clear the steps that were used to evaluate what went on in the experiment? Does the book include a list of the equipment that was used in the experiment? Are the student’s impressions of the experiment included? In history we look to see if the students are doing their own compositions. We want to see the composition books where the students have done their own drafts, and the level of correction that has been done by the teacher.

PGY 9-5

What is working particularly well at your school with regard to the creation and correction of main lesson books?
Schools in our study made the following observations on things that were working particularly well for them:

There is a real care about the main lesson books among the faculty, and the mentorship is strong in this area.

There is a culture within the school where all teachers share the work that is being done in their classrooms. This sharing serves to inspire the faculty and has a big impact on the overall quality of work that is being done.

We actively encourage students to look at each other’s drawings and to celebrate the good work that each student does. Carelessness is privately addressed by the teacher, but students learn to support each other and to see the best in each student’s work.

As the students get older it can be helpful to write the corrections needed on sticky notes. These notes can be copied for the teacher’s file before being placed in the main lesson book for the student to correct. This allows the teacher to have a good record of the student’s work and challenges, while allowing the student to correct his work so that the final product is one in which he can take great pride.

We have begun binding the year’s main lesson books together into one book at the end of the year beginning in 6th grade. This means that all main lesson books for the year need to be the same size. At the end of the year all of a student’s books are removed from their individual bindings. The students use embroidery floss and sew the books together into a single book. A beautiful cover is made from a painting and is glued onto a piece of heavy cardboard. In this way the books become real keepsakes. One exception in this process is that the physics main lesson books are excluded, and then are bound together separately at the end of 8th grade for grades 6, 7 and 8.

We have a lot of experienced class teachers so the main lesson books are an area of strength for us.

The influence of our art teachers is very helpful as class teachers and others design their main lesson books.

One main lesson book in the 7th grade is called Wish, Wonder and Surprise. In this block teachers have often asked the students to create a children’s book. There is discussion about what would be most appropriate for children at this age, both in terms of vocabulary and visually. There is great focus paid to the quality of the grammar and the writing of these books. At the end of this block the students are able to read and share their books with the very young children in our after-care program. The books were very much appreciated by the young children who were so impressed by the older children’s ability.

At the end of the block the students are sometimes asked to turn to one page in their main lesson book that they like the most. Each student lays the book out on his desk open to that page, and then the class takes a tour of the “museum”. After touring through each of the books the class discusses what they saw and what was particularly interesting and unique. The focus is on sharing positive comments on each student’s work.

In the Parzival block the teacher often selects one truly beautiful page from each student’s book. A color copy is made of each page, and a compiled main lesson book is created and copied for each student in the class.

In the high school we have six weeks of main lesson dedicated to history as seen through art in the 9th grade. We speak a great deal about graphics and a sense of design in this block, and much of what we cover here spills over into all aspects of the older students’ work.

We are adept at using the main lesson book as a means of social development in the classroom. Often times a teacher will hold up a page from a main lesson book in front of the class and speak about what is particularly wonderful about the page. This can be done for the best and the least accomplished students as there is something brilliant in every student’s work. We begin this at an early age, and the students learn there is something to appreciate in each of us. We use the books to help build a social unit, even though the creation of the book is a solitary activity.

The seniors take a trip each year to Italy. Their final main lesson book is a journal of their experiences on the trip and includes at least three sketches every day. The students also include things that are memorable for them from the trip such as a small pressed flower or a particularly beautiful ticket. The students always include some very profound writing about what they are experiencing.

In the early grades we often have young girls who finish their main lesson books quite quickly and completely. In these situations we ask the girls to create miniature versions of their main lesson books in a small scale for their dolls.

One resource that every teacher should know about that was published at the end of the 19th century. Owen Jones classic, The Grammar of Ornament, was first published in 1853. It contains the motifs, decorations and ornamentations from cultures around the world at every stage of human history. It is a source of great wealth for finding wonderful borders that fit each main lesson book. It contains every possible visual reference for form drawing through the ages; for borders, title pages, and chalk board drawings it is absolutely invaluable. It is widely available in paperback form.

Our attention to the children’s writing ability has improved over the years. We are developing skills that allow students to do their own writing in the older grades.

There is a real reverence for the books, and anticipation of the book by both parents and the students. The books are full of life and really help parents see how their child is connecting to the school work.

Our devotion to art work and beauty is evident in the books and what happens in the art classes is brought into the main lesson books.

One learning technique that has significantly improved the quality of our students’ writing for their main lesson books is the Wednesday paragraph. This is a weekly writing opportunity that takes place in almost every class in the school, and is a regular chance for the students to create a composition and practice both their writing and editing skills. These extra writing opportunities help build skills through regular practice, and have helped improve the quality of the work that students put into their main lesson books.

PGY 9-6

If there were something you could change with regard to the way main lesson books are conceptualized, created and corrected at your school, what would it be and why?
Our faculty has plans to establish a range of expectations (minimum and maximum) with regard to the correction of main lesson books. The entire issue of main lesson books will be revisited, from conceptualization and creation of the books through standards for correction.

It would help us to have more discussion and shared expectations on the subject of corrections in main lesson books. Should corrections be done daily, or at the end when the book is complete? What are our expectations with regard to inclusion of material when students are absent? Should we write extensive comments on the inside cover of each book? What are our standards for completion?

We can always do more to help our new teachers in the development and correction of main lesson books.

As a movement we are good for getting things started and finished to a certain point, but the finishing details are not done. We don’t wash, iron and put away the costumes at the end of the play. We talk about something in the faculty meeting, and come up with good ideas, but we don’t do the finishing work. This same difficulty applies to our reluctance to reflect on our approach to corrections and to bringing the proper closure to the main lesson block and book.

It would serve our faculty to have more of a shared imagination about what our expectations are for main lesson books. It would be good if we could do more sharing of this work and what our expectations are with each other. We don’t have an effective mechanism for seeing the overview about how main lesson books are being approached.

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