Where Imagination Outshines Memorization

How Waldorf Education Cultivates Deep Reading in the Age of the Internet

by Lori Ann Kran

Last week NPR’s Audie Cornish quoted Google CEO Eric Schmidt after he made headlines by lamenting the decline of deep reading. Mr. Schmidt explained that all of his colleagues spend all of their time in short form – short message, short communication. Reading and research have become the instant search, instant news, instant messaging.

Cornish interviewed Maryanne Wolf, Director of the Center for Reading and Language Research and a professor of child development at Tufts University.
Dr. Wolf is also worried about the loss of deep reading.

According to WOLF, “Deep reading refers to a whole continuum of processes that include some of the most important things about thinking and how we connect thought to what we read – critical analysis, analogical reasoning, how we infer from the text, how we take in another’s perspective.” In the Internet Age both Wolf and Schmidt worry that today’s children may not learn to cultivate the processes necessary to develop deep reading. Remember reading is a human invention, it must be cultivated and nurtured over many years, indeed over a lifetime.

Herein, once again, lies the beauty of Waldorf Education. Every Waldorf teacher, from Early Childhood through 8th grade, tells stories that engage the students’ hearts and minds. The stories are complex, full of detail, and students learn to listen deeply, carefully. Students learn to retell stories often as artfully as the teacher. Their minds are working. They are sequencing, learning a rich vocabulary, learning the art of storytelling.

In the early grades students begin to learn to read the poems, verses, rhymes, even entire plays that they’ve memorized. They see this material in print, are able to follow the words, and WOW it dawns on them that they are readers. This is how children start to learn how to think and connect their thoughts and begin to read. This is exactly where the deep reading process starts forming. It is our task, then, as teachers and parents, to cultivate this emerging skill in our children. We do this by reading wonderful literature to them, and by modeling, taking the time to relax and read ourselves. So, I’m of the opinion that all reading is good reading. But in my last class cycle I made the distinction with my students between “candy” reading and “classic” reading. Candy was perhaps for free time, but the classics were essential. Deep reading is strengthened when the story line, the character development, invite the reader to ponder, to slow down, to analyze, to compare and contrast, to empathize. Classics encourage the reader to luxuriate in the word, the language. This is deep reading. This is why our 7th and 8th graders love to read Shakespeare and Steinbeck and understand Chaucer. It’s why our 3rd and 4th graders love CS Lewis, EB White, and Brian Jacques. Why are our youngest students so eager to learn to read? Because they hear incredible stories, classic literature: they know the world of reading awaits them. Their imaginations are engaged, and they can’t wait to sink their hearts and minds and eyes into a good book.

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