Monday, December 5, 2011

Waldorf Academy

The Waldorf Academy has been in the news a lot recently. You must have seen it! Here's one of the news reports;

This school apparently eschews technology, according to the news reports. Well, it doesn't actually. Students in senior grades are able to use the internet to search and the schools have their own web site, and in some cases, even Twitter accounts (/ But why let the full truth stand in the way of gleefully proclaimed headlines.

And it's the gleefulness I want to focus on. If, like me, you consider yourself to see the value in technology in educational settings then you've probably had the same experience as me: Somebody approaches you (a colleague probably) or engages you in casual conversation and then with utmost glee asks whether you've heard about the school where all the tecchie bigwigs send their kids that has no technology. They then sit back and wait for a reaction.

What's going on here, why the Glee!?

Here's my take. These are the Late Adopters. The Laggards. Those that have this hidden belief that technology is just a fad and will soon disappear. Like atheists in church primary schools they hide their beliefs away hoping that one day they will be able to 'come out' and proclaim they were right all along. In the meantime they do enough to get by and in doing so their students don't get as good a deal as they should.

But how about the Waldorf way? I like a lot of what they say and do but I don't believe that technology hinders a creative curriculum. I believe it can enhance it.

The idea that you can do some wood carving or sock knitting instead of "real work that can be assessed" would also cause a few to break out in a sweat!

In some ways, I also like the attitude that there is stuff that can wait until later. In education we seem obsessed with the future: "We can't do this because we need to prepare students for exams", or "we need to study this exam board as it gets them into a better university."

Focusing on the here and now can sometimes be forgotten. Focusing on the future too much can undervalue student achievement as it is subconsciously gives students the message that what they're doing is not good enough. Whilst it's important to "skate to where the puck is going to be", it's also important to take care of the puck when you have it!

As far as innovation is concerned the curriculum is innovative in that it differs from the norm; a kind of retro-innovation. Within the innovation framework studied as part of this course the technological aspects fail, of course. However, some of the teacher strategies seem relatively innovative; an emphasis on discovery & creativity.

When the innovation framework was designed it was probably not intended to look at classroom practice that featured knitting!

My take is that if the best way to support learning is without technology then so be it. However, it's not just so much the technology that's an issue. In the above video clip, maths classes are shown with student and teacher work being written on a blackboard. Is that the best way. A standard, modern whiteboard with no technology attached at all would surely be a better way?

Is the Waldorf Academy really saying that the blackboard is a better way of supporting the learning of young mathematicians than a wipe clean whiteboard, or are they simply trying to propagate an image of a bygone era to attract the Late Adopters?

I suspect the truth is really somewhere in-between!

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