Meaningful Learning: Main Lessons

09 August 2019

Main Lessons are one of the most distinctive aspects of schools working out of the impulse of Dr Rudolf Steiner. Our Main Lesson practice is both a method and a content:
Main Lesson Method: Deep Learning

We learn best when we are engaged, when we have time to be immersed in a subject, when our feelings are stimulated, when we can be active in our learning. Dr Steiner’s suggestion was quite simple: all these characteristics of healthy and effective learning can be met if lessons are organised in blocks of teaching over an intense period. So we organise key teaching and learning into significant blocks of time that are spread over a three week period. This extended period enables students to go deeply into a topic, to be immersed in it, to make connections between disciplines. Above all, it enables students (and teachers!) to be deeply and inwardly engaged with a topic in a way that is not possible in the relatively short time of a single period.

Such short periods are ideal for rhythmical learning, where subjects need regular repetition to build a specific set of skills (eg basic skills in English and Maths, Languages, the creative arts, Sport).

In the core subjects of English, Maths, Science and Humanities (History/Geography) the secret of the main lesson success is the daily work. Taking in new material one day and sleeping on it, allows our deep unconscious to embed learning more deeply in our mind. Picking up the learning the next morning ensures a freshness and vitality in how a student embraces the content of the main lesson. Over the three weeks, this daily process builds what has become the “holy grail” of contemporary educators: deep learning. 

In the younger years, these block lessons are literally the main academic lesson of the day, hence the name which we now use to describe this period of learning through the school. It also happens at a time when we are most awake and ready for learning ie the first periods of the morning.

Main Lesson Content: A Curriculum of World Citizenship

The curriculum of Main Lessons through the school is a broad experience of the unfolding story of humanity, our human story. This journey equips our students with a picture of the human being in history, the sciences, art and literature. Each main lesson is a “Big Picture”, a big idea that opens a window into one broad realm of human experience. Our aim as teachers is for each main lesson to leave behind in the soul of the student an image that can literally last for life. Former students often speak of the lasting legacy that main lessons leave, as they look back on their journey at Glenaeon.
The Main Lesson topics currently underway at this stage of Term 3 provide a snapshot of the rich journey our students undertake:

Class 1: Nature Stories: Environmental Science including Class Play (Drama)
Class 2: English: King of Ireland’s Son: Celtic Narrative
Class 3: In the Promised Land: Hebrew stories
Class 4: Fractions and Ratios
Class 5: Ancient Greece
Class 6: Geometry
Year 7: Creative Writing / Polynesian Cultures
Year 8: Platonic Solids (Mathematics) x 2
Year 9: Organic Chemistry / Conic Sections (Mathematics)
Year 10: Surveying: Applied Trigonometry / Physiology
Year 11 and 12 are currently off on exam preparation.

Mia Westcott is a GlenX, a former student (K-12), now training to be a Pediatrician at John Hunter Hospital in Newcastle. This is what she wrote in looking back at her journey through Glenaeon:

"I have always found Main Lesson to be such a huge part of my life at Glenaeon, a fascinating and enjoyable experience. The things I have learnt in Main Lessons seem to recur throughout life, and make daily life a richer experience. I have found evidence of this when travelling, such as when I knew as much about Norse Mythology as the tour guide when in Norway, felt like I was with old friends when looking at the wonderful paintings and architecture of the Renaissance in Italy, and actually knew what the guide was talking about in India, as I had studied both the Ramayana and Bhavagad Gita. My parents have made me realise just how lucky I am to have learnt about all these things, and I would have thought it perfectly normal, but for the fact that they often didn’t have a clue what I was talking about. Main Lessons were also an excuse to draw and be creative, and when I look back at my main lesson books, I remember the great pleasure I received from this. I have to admit, I still have every single Main Lesson book from primary school and most from high school, and (don’t tell anyone), I actually enjoy getting them out and looking through them, remembering the fantastic stories."

Meaningful Learning indeed!