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1.9.3 Critical Pedagogies 2: Steiner

Scenario

This scenario draws from the main body material on Steiner, and as such should be read in conjunction with that material. As the chapter showed, the pedagogy associated with Steiner privileged holistic conceptions of the child, and is interested in developing all aspects of those being taught, not merely focusing on subject-specific competencies. Although there are links between Steiner's philosophy and mainstream curricular requirements in the UK national curriculum, there are discontinuities too; Steiner's ideas are most frequently found in either specialist Waldorf/Steiner establishments devoted to following the paradigm's tenets or else in Forest Schools, which focus in their teaching of disaffected, troubled or otherwise excluded youths by offering a holistic and nature-focused education in woodland settings, drawing on traditional skills such as woodworking and forestry and fostering a different way of conceptualising the world while also encouraging the learner to find themselves anew in educative circles.

The scenario draws to some extent from the Forest Schooling idea, though in a more limited way. In this scenario, you have been asked to co-lead a residential trip where learners are camping for three nights in a nature reserve often used by scout groups and the like for similar activities. Part of the rationale for the trip is to offer a qualitatively new experience for learners who might not have camped before, or who might have limited experience of rural environments or of being close to nature. In this scenario, you are drawing up a sample itinerary for you and your colleagues to discuss at a later meeting, where the schedule for the visit - and learner activities within it - will be agreed.

Task: With your new understanding of Steiner's philosophies, how might you go about planning this trip?

Consider - bearing in mind your appreciation of Steiner's ideas taken from the module and from any other reading into this paradigm that you might have done - what you might take from Steiner in devising activities that will allow for both structure and agency; there will be guidance and facilitation from staff (who will be accompanied by a forestry worker with specialist knowledge of woodland environments), but there will be also a privileging of the learners' own investigations of the environment, and some consideration of the engagement being made with these new contexts.

One suggestion is to have spaces for learner-organised play and exploration to develop, so that learners can experience freedom within the woodland and natural environment that they might not have access to - or feel drawn towards - in their everyday urban world. Provide suggestions and some equipment (for team games like football and cricket, perhaps) but do not enforce such games being played; instead, encourage new games to be devised by the learners, and also for them to fully explore the environment and to set themselves a project to spend the next two days working towards. Such projects might be small-scale and individual, or may be collective and potentially complex. They could involve construction (dens, hideouts, treehouses, bridges), or perhaps investigation of flora and fauna, working with natural materials and with the tools to work with those materials (sculpture, whittling, weaving, as possible examples). Other learners might prefer to take charge with the preparation of meals, with the organisation of the camp, with gathering firewood for evening communal activities, or for relaxation in quiet and unpressured environments where time means less than it might do in the classroom. 

Though the learners will be taking the lead in devising their own projects, some will need some direction and support, and all will require some form of engagement so that their interactions with their new surroundings can be observed, and so that there can be engagement - both from the teacher and from learner perspectives - in reflection on what kinds of learning might be ongoing, how these might differ from the learner's engagement with their ordinary word, and how any innovations and improvements might be built on for the future as well as during this residential visit. The links between Steiner's ideas and behaviourism mean that it is not just what the child thinks is important, but also the ways in which they are acting and interacting in this environment, and in the products of their working. Steiner advocates a facilitative style of teaching, with the educator as an accessible support rather than as a didactic presence; this should inform the interactions between teacher and learners so that there is both presence and availability as well as a supportive network being in place, but that there should not be overt direction or leadership given. In this way, the child is being given latitude to make their own new sense of the world rather than reacting to the perspectives of others. Time should be made available at the end of each day for learners to discuss what they have been doing, how they feel about their project work, and how their approach to working and learning might be positively impacted upon by being in a fresh context.

Educators should perhaps reflect, by themselves and in concert with their colleagues on the trip, about how the pupils are interacting with each other and themselves and the extent to which their behaviour has developed from being in the natural environment, and in contexts where the usual rules have been to some extent suspended. Such trips and residential visits give teachers an opportunity to learn more about their pupils as individuals, and this additional knowledge can improve understanding and in turn inform positively the way in which teaching and learner are delivered and supported when back in the more traditional classroom context. There might also be opportunities for learners to connect with wider senses of themselves - Steiner's writings include consideration of the spiritual aspect of people's lives - and though there may well be learners who are religious in a conventional sense, or else who have no spiritual or faith-based leaning, there may be opportunities developed for learners to consider their place in the world in somewhat different ways because of their trip experience. As with the more formalised and explicitly educational and developmental aspects of the trip, these should perhaps be given latitude too.  


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