The most important thing for which we can prepare a child is the experience of freedom, at the right moment in life, through the understanding of one's own being.

 

Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925)

Teaching Practice > Media
Digital devices, fragmentation, physical body, emotion, cognitive skills, technology, volition
By: Franz Glaw, June 2015, in: Struwwelpeter 2.0, Medienmündikeit und Waldorfpädagogik, Journal, 2014

Media as a Provider of Education


Whenever the consequences of media use are discussed, the discussion usually centres on the effect on the consumer. People focus a lot less on the effect on the producer, particularly on the adolescent producer of any media content.

The consequences of media use appear in a completely different light if one literally changes sides.

 

No matter whether the pupils do some research for an article for a school magazine, for a broadcast with the local radio station or whether they are shooting a film: right from the start they find themselves entangled in complex relationships between the world, their own interests and the audience.

 

A radio broadcast which no one listens to, or a film which no one watches, loses its meaning. The audiences' reactions are made public on social media. There are not only the comments of YouTube users but also second-by-second analyses of views: when did the viewer lose interest? Which parts were repeatedly watched? In which countries and by which age groups was my film watched?

 

It has been made clear in the first few articles of this paper that indirect media education, especially abstinence from media, plays a crucial role in early childhood. How then can direct media education be put into practice in the high school years?

Three aspects might be essential:

 

1. Active involvement

When a ninth grader is doing woodwork, she does not only learn the theory of materials and techniques but receives direct feedback regarding her planning and actions from the piece she is working on. In the same way personal experience of media production will form a basis for insight.

 

2. Learning to assess

In the way mentioned in point 1 – together with the relevant theoretical knowledge – the adolescents can learn to judge for themselves and will not be forced to copy the adults' conclusions.

 

3. Approaching the world

Electronic media can open up a pathway into the world and its people. This pathway is designed with the knowledge of effect, and reflected interests and intentions; it is very different from the analog approach. For example, the experience of producing a movie can be really enlightening when compared to the experience of rehearsing and staging a play.

 

We have very good reason in Waldorf schools for teaching writing before reading. Consequently, we might say: Producing content for various forms of media is part of a school's educational task. As a guide we might consider the pupils' individual assignments and set the tasks as follows:

- Production of a newspaper (text)

- Production of a radio broadcast (sound)

- Production of film (moving image)

 

Experiences with a High School Project

The media of writing: “Discovering my own language”

Involvement with text does not have to be confined to the reading and analysing of literary or scientific texts. It can also help the pupils discover their own personal way of expression. The poetry main lesson block in grade 10 helps students to discover the possibilities, limitations and principles of various genres of text. This is the basis on which they can then explore the effect of their own writing. Often, the teacher is the only reader of students' texts, but providing the learner with a specific task and audience is a lot more motivating.

 

A great opportunity for such a writing task is a school newspaper; it might be an existing one or a class might want to start one.

 

In 1994, grade eight of the Düsseldorf Waldorf School in Germany had a “newspaper week” and then started their own paper, the “Monolith” which is still regularly published today, despite several generation of change.

 

In 2008, the education authority of the German province of North Rhein Westphalia planned to introduce some changes to the exam regulations. The editorial team of the “Monolith”, amongst others, started a protest movement against these changes, they did some careful research on Waldorf teacher training in Witten-Annen, studied the relevant legislation, questioned experts, took part in parliamentary discussions and meetings of the school committee and finally interviewed the education secretaries of every parliamentary political party. These interviews were to be published in a “Monolith” special edition. The team was well prepared, travelled to the provincial parliament and conducted comprehensive interviews which highlighted the politicians limited subject knowledge, which they had readily acknowledged. The representatives of the opposition parties watched the students' presentations of their final year projects at the Düsseldorf school. After further parliamentary discussions, the legislation was changed in favour of the students. The editors had reason to be proud of their contribution to this political success.

The media of sound: “My image of the world”

 

A group of grade nine pupils at our school planned to produce a radio broadcast about agriculture, inspired by their own work experience on farms. They wanted to include the topics “factory farming”, “organic meat production” and “vegetarianism”. Their first port of call was the organic grocery shop at their school. Here, the fledging radio journalists interviewed the owner and the customers. They found out that the meat which is sold in this shop is delivered by “Jansen Organic Butchers” in Cologne. The pupils immediately called Mr Jansen and used all their charm to secure an interview with him. The next day they were treated by the boss himself to an exclusive guided tour through the butchers' shop and production area. In his typical local dialect he talked to them bringing plenty of humour to his 30 years of experience as a butcher. Further interviews with customers; sounds in the shop including the doorbell and especially Mr Jansen's distinctive laugh provided almost 2 hours of lively sound material. Mr Jansen also gave us an address for our next place of research: the organic farm where the animals live before they are slaughtered and halved. The line of argument “work experience on a farm – project – radio broadcast” again enabled a little miracle to happen and the next day provided a comprehensive introduction to organic animal husbandry. The owner of the farm answered every question patiently and even philosophically. Day four was spent listening to the material, choosing and saving appropriate soundbites. Further, some pupils conducted interviews with customers of a conventional butcher and an organic shop in a busy shopping area.

 

As with all the other interviews, it became clear here as well: the anxieties of the 14 year olds were wholly unfounded. Everybody we spoke to was friendly and answered the questions openly. Whether this was due to the equipment (recording devices, headphones, microphones) or to the knowledge of the young journalists: everyone treated the adolescents with respect which strengthened their self-confidence and made them grow just a little taller.

 

At this point it also became obvious that the radio opened the doors to places, topics and especially people which otherwise would have remained closed.

 

Creating reality

 

The next task was to create a radio broadcast based on five hours of sound material. It was clear that those five hours could not be broadcast unabridged, a radical selection had to be made. This was followed by first writing commentaries and then by recording them at the recording studio without any mistakes. This required creative wording and plenty of original ideas because the listeners should be able to “see” the invisible. It was decided that the opening scene should take place in Jansen's butcher's shop. For this scene, we mixed various soundtracks: in the background there were the conversations between the customers and the shop assistant, the chitchat of the waiting customers (so called “atmosphere”), Mr Jansen's laughter and the multiple chiming of the little bell at the shop entrance. On top of these sounds we recorded the commentary in which we explained where we were , with whom we were going to speak and to what.

 

The students were very surprised to learn about this type of montage technique and spontaneously said: “But this is manipulation!” However, quite quickly it became clear that a radio broadcast has to be produced in this way. A complete and unfiltered broadcast of reality would simply not be possible, it would require the listeners to travel to the locations themselves.

 

Responsibility

 

The producer of the radio broadcast has to select, arrange and comment – there is no other way.

The producer presents his or her view of reality and uses the collected impressions. Of course, there also needs to be a concept; without it, we would not have any criteria on which to base the selection. The crucial question is therefore how conscientiously the producer works and how independent and honest she is in view of her intentions.

It makes a huge difference whether we teach the above in an abstract way or whether the students have a hands-on experience. Planning and implementing their own production in a real context demonstrates for the students the responsibility that journalists carry. But it also makes them reflect on their own use of media, connect it to wider issues and finally enables them to reflect critically on media.

 

Appreciation of efforts

 

In the following week we went to the recording studio where our one-hour broadcast was to be produced. At the start of the project the students had thought that I was joking when I spoke about a broadcast for the local radio station. But now everyone was serious and the excitement grew. We took our recordings along and one by one sat with the journalist in a soundproof booth and answered her questions. Luckily, it was not a live broadcast and the blunders were later smoothed over.

 

It so happened that the grandfather of two students celebrated his birthday on the day of the broadcast and all the party guests listened to the programme. Peers from grade 13 also congratulated the radio group. They had heard the beginning of the programme by accident and listened to it right to the end.

The media of the moving image: “Finding an individual way of expression”

 

Our forms of communication and of getting information have been radically changed by electronic media and will continue to do so.

 

Smartphones enable us to access moving images at all times. Looking for information on YouTube has overtaken the number of searches through search engines. YouTube offers tutorials on every aspect of daily life and the number of uploads increases rapidly. When YouTube was eight years old, in February 2013, already one hundred hours of new film were uploaded per minute.

 

The language of moving images is a powerful form of communication used intensively. This language has its very own structure, its own rules. I have to learn this language if I want to use it consciously and independently and if I want to be a little protected from deception and manipulation. “We have to handle digital media as if we were its masters. If not, we will become slaves to it.” (A.Neider, Medienbalance)

 

In the Middle Ages, only a few had the privilege to learn and use the written language. Likewise, up until some years ago, only a few had the possibility to express their thoughts and visions artistically through film and present them to a wider audience. Today, a quality camera is part of every smartphone, there is free software and video portals such as YouTube. These technical developments make it possible that everyone can become a writer of screen plays, a cameraman or -woman, an actor or actress, a cutter and a producer and in some cases might even be able to make a living from it.

 

How people perceive and evaluate the content of film depends not only on what they see but also on how it is presented. This includes the details of shooting film, such as size, exposure time, camera angle, camera movement, zoom, light and colour. Another decisive factor is the cutting technique used in post-production. Images which have been recorded at different times and in different locations are merged; sound from various sources is added and so something new is created. This technique allows the creation of a variety of effects using the same components.

 

We can see that especially the young generation embraces these possibilities with enthusiasm. But also more and more Waldorf schools have their own YouTube channel, it's almost like having your own television channel.

 

Since 2012 the Association of German Waldorf Schools publishes their own films on YouTube under the “Waldorf School” label.

 

However, when we look at the results we see widespread amateurism, a cinematic stammer and awkward stutter. At the founding of the first Waldorf School, Rudolf Steiner stated that the students had to be taught the principle of the electric motor because they are riding electric street-cars. Accordingly, we should state today that teaching some basic knowledge about the language of film-making is part of the general task of schools. It is best to do this not only in an analytical form but also through reflective and repeated action. It can be really enlightening when various groups of students use the same footage to make a variety of films. After such an experience, nobody has to explain to the students that even though film-makers use real pictures, they use them to consciously create a new reality by artistic means. In this process they use colour, composition, perspective, cutting techniques and much more; all of these elements have a particular effect on the viewer.

 

Studying film making in this way enables the students to use this medium more consciously, more successfully and to express themselves more clearly. It also enhances the pleasure of watching well-made films.

 

Naturally, some conditions have to be met to make this a successful venture. First, the sequence is very important, starting too early can have an adverse effect. If I have never drawn or painted a picture, if I do not know the works of important artists and if I have no experience of photography, then my artistic expression in making film will be very limited and partly unconscious. Imagination and creativity and fine-motor skills as well as a finely tuned perception are competences which develop gradually and which require individual, physical experiences. The Waldorf curriculum is based on the pupils' developmental stages and on the precept that pupils should first experience things directly. An experience may only later be changed through a medium, filtered and produced. We want to enable the students to become creatively involved in these cultural and societal areas and to take on responsibility on the basis of their own knowledge and practical experience instead of being passively influenced by the developments in technology and society.

Some schools have established video groups which document school events and implement their own film projects. Students could examine aesthetic aspects of art in a video project or analyse films of literary works. However, only when students produce their own film do they gain a true understanding of the functions and effects of media, just as we only understand the qualities of a certain craft material when we actually work with it.

 

New information technology and media can be seen as mankind's next developmental step and we are called to use it for our own purposes rather than becoming its slaves and thus being robbed of our humanity.

 

Franz Glaw is a teacher for German and mathematics.

---

 

This article has been published in the reader “Struwwelpeter 2.0” by the German Association of Waldorf Schools (Bund der Freien Waldorfschulen) in cooperation with “Aktion mündige Schule” (AmS). AmS is committed to freedom in education and initiated the first people's initiative “Freedom in Schooling” in 1995  (www.freie-schule.de). In subsequent years, it supported similar initiatives in Berlin and Brandenburg, Germany. Freedom has an external and an internal aspect. The first creates the conditions, the latter creates the substance. Both of them have one thing in common: they do not just happen by magic, they have to be created anew, again and again. A conscientious approach to modern media is one of the contemporary questions of freedom.

 

The English and Spanish translations of articles selected from the original German edition of Struwwelpeter 2.0 were commissioned by the International Forum for Steiner Waldorf Education in cooperation with the Pedagogical Section at the Goetheanum.

 

This paper addresses teaching professionals in particular, but it may also be of interest to parents and students because it uses almost no specialised jargon. It is clear that this is work-in-progress which will need to be continuously developed further. Above all, the authors want to encourage teaching professionals to tackle the enormous educational challenges of our time.

 

The authors – Franz Glaw, Dr. Edwin Hübner, Celia Schönsted and Henning Kullak-Ublick – are part of the team “Media and Waldorf Education” which started its work in 2012. Further members of the team are Christian Boettger, Klaus-Peter Freitag, Andreas Neider, Florian Osswald-Müller, Dr. Martin Schlüter and – for selected issues – Dr. Paula Bleckmann.

 

With kind permission by the German Association of Waldorf Schools

 

Translated by Karin Smith

 

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