Inspiring and Challenging Students with Single-Subject Lesson Blocks

At the Washington Waldorf School, we do more than teach students what they need to know to graduate. Our methods make sure they get a depth of knowledge that positions them for success in college, work, and life.

One of the ways we do this is with main lesson blocks, which allow students to immerse themselves in a single area of study — and be inspired and challenged by it.

These lessons are the first class of the day and last approximately two hours through grade eight and one and a half hours in high school. They are taught in three- or four-week blocks, each of which focuses on one subject. This intensive focus on a subject helps students build a strong connection to it.

In grades one through eight, most subjects are taught in blocks. In high school, the main lesson provides a concentrated study of particular topics in the humanities, sciences, and mathematics, such as ancient civilizations, music history, organic chemistry, and calculus. Each grade includes main lesson blocks on eight to 10 subjects per year.

Because the main lesson is longer than other periods, students are able to explore subjects more deeply.

Most material is introduced orally, but it is reinforced by and integrated into multiple forms of written and artistic expression, such as drama and movement.

For example, when studying the Renaissance in the seventh grade, students might learn to sing one of the era’s madrigal compositions, paint a fresco, or craft an argument for or against Galileo’s theories of physics and astronomy based on the knowledge and beliefs of that time period.

In each block, students record what they learn in a main lesson book. It’s like a personal “textbook” in that it contains a student’s own writing and illustrations of lessons, in addition to handouts, exams, and class notes.

Until the seventh grade, students handwrite the content of their main lesson books. After that, they may also type this content on a computer. Illustrations are drawn and painted in all grades. While the teacher guides the main lesson book content, particularly in the younger grades, each book represents a creative, individual expression of a student’s work during the blocks. Many students treasure it long after leaving Waldorf.

Main lesson blocks are a critical component of the Waldorf approach to education. The blocks encourage each student’s creative and active engagement with lesson material, creating lovers of learning and independent thinkers who are ready to meet the world after Waldorf.