The Use of Main Lesson Books in Waldorf Education

The most striking feature of a Waldorf school through the grades is the Main Lesson books. They are unique to Waldorf education. While traditional schooling combines the text books with lecturing, Waldorf students process and record lectures in notes and illustrations on large, blank pages of high-quality paper. The head, heart and hands are involved in their study work. The work thus created is unique and original.

What are these books exactly and why do Waldorf schools use them? What is a Main Lesson Book?
The creation of a Main Lesson book is an active, hands-on experience of learning that encourages both intention and creativity. Waldorf students record content of each subject of study, presented during a student’s main lesson class, in a Main Lesson book. These creative, curriculum-rich books become the culmination of all that the students have learned, in depth, for the block during the year about a topic. Each block can be for a duration of 3 to 4 weeks. These topics, such as Science and Mathematics, History and Geography, Astronomy, Climatology or Meteorology and so on, to name a few, are taught in blocks and the books serve as both learning tools and documentation of the work learned. Students derive a huge sense of satisfaction of the work made by them.

What is Its Purpose?

The Main Lesson book serves many important purposes. On a practical level, it replaces the conventional textbooks published by Publication houses. The Main Lesson book becomes an authentic, creative, holistic recording of the imparted knowledge.

In this way, students learn through listening and reviewing the next day and re-interpreting the teacher’s lessons into creative notes and processing the information as they go along. This is done alongside creative and artistic representations of the material, be it illustrations, paintings, map-work and the like. This brings personalisation, beauty, joy and relevancy to lessons.

Does A Main Lesson Book Help with Learning?

Yes! Many research studies say this method absolutely boosts learning. The research is not about Waldorf Main Lesson books specifically, but it is about the effectiveness of illustrations and drawings and note taking in relation to retention, recall and depth of learning.

Research shows how note-taking by hand positively impacts, learning. Their results indicate that taking notes by hand helps students process material being presented as they go along, since they recall what was earlier taught, recapitulate and then write their notes. The researchers call it “generative note-taking,” meaning that students “summarise, paraphrase, conceptualise” information during the Main lesson class, which does not happen while teaching out of the text book. Main stream learning may lead, to students not just remembering less information, but also having more difficulty putting information into context for creative, divergent and critical thinking.

But what about the illustrations? Sure they’re fun for students, but are they useful for learning? Drawing has been linked to better memory in several studies. New York Times article, A Simple Way to Remember Things, Draw a Picture writer, Tim Herrera, looks at several recent studies that show drawing can help young and old alike remember “word definitions, pictures, and abstract thoughts and ideas.” This is because turning to illustration when processing information relies on more areas of the brain, leading to “a seamless integration of visual and motor aspects of a memory” which leads for “better recall.”

Are Main Lesson books fun for children to create? Absolutely, yes. Are they treasured keepsakes for years to come? But they are also relevant tools for deep processing of information — a creative culmination of all that is being learned in the student’s day and year.