Blended learning in Steiner Waldorf schools

Image: Waldorf kindergarten in the UK

Blended learning in schools today usually means the use of digital technology to supplement traditional methods of teaching and learning. Martyn Rawson explains that Steiner Waldorf education understands blended learning in a broader sense – one that starts from direct, bodily experience and progresses to the use of digital media.

What is Steiner Waldorf education?

Steiner Waldorf education makes the assumption that all children are born with the potential and desire to form relationships, and that by doing so, they become capable. This approach can be described as holistic and relational in that it seeks to engage the whole person - bodily, emotionally and cognitively - in the learning process. It emphasises the importance of relationships: the person’s relationship to their body, to world cultures, and to their physical and natural environments.

Our brain and nervous system are relational organs, and our knowledge of the world and our ability to act meaningfully are integrally linked to our bodily relationship to our surroundings. As embodied beings, we are embedded in the world and not merely passive observers, mirroring ‘in here’ what we see ‘out there’.

Without getting too philosophical about it, it is important to realise that our ability to grasp reality literally goes hand in hand with our sensory-motor experience of the real world, and that this precedes our cognitive understanding.

Learning spaces in Steiner Waldorf schools

Real-world learning environments are supplemented by classroom learning, and not the other way around. Steiner Waldorf education acknowledges this in several ways.

In early years learning, children spend much of their time outdoors throughout the year and do practical tasks such as baking, cooking, cleaning and gardening.

For children between 6 and 14 years of age, the outdoor curriculum moves from experiencing nature to representing it through practical sessions involving, for example, traditional house building and farming, map design, charcoal manufacture, lime slaking, field trips in support of biology and geography, and hands-on science experiments.

Secondary school pupils do annual three-week practical internships in farming and forestry (ages 14-15), surveying and industry (ages 15-16), social work (ages 16-17), and individual and group projects (ages 17-18). Each internship is accompanied by photography, film, online documentation, podcasts, audio diaries, and so on. Drama productions replace normal classroom lessons and involve pupils in dramaturgy, design, costume production, set design, lighting, music, marketing, acting and even directing. Student firms are founded offering real services.

The learning approach always starts with the attunement of the body (exercises to create relaxed alertness), rich experiences, recall, retrieval and reconstruction, sharing and comparison, forming concepts and only later comparing these with existing concepts, and linking new concepts to existing knowledge.

The digital media curriculum begins with producing and analysing images and text, before progressing to using digital technology. Technology is always integrated into other meaningful activities: for instance, when studying news media, pupils produce their own newspapers (online and hard copy), write blogs, carry out video interviews, and so on. Pupils progress from hand-printing techniques to computer graphics, and from mechanical calculators to the principle of digital calculators.

Blended learning means not only doing things in real time and space, but also analysing and reflecting on how technology, AI and digital media affect our relationships to the world, to others and to ourselves in positive and, of course, negative ways.

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Dr Martyn Rawson has been a Waldorf teacher since 1979, both in the UK and Germany. He currently teaches in Hamburg and is also active in teacher training for the Master’s Programme at the Freie Hochschule Stuttgart. Additionally, he is Honorary Professor at the National Tsing Hua University in Taiwan (currently only online because of the pandemic).