Students study Main Lessons for the first one and a half hours of the day, four days a week. These Main Lessons, covering English, Mathematics, History, Geography and Science, are held in blocks of three to four weeks. This allows the students time to deeply engage with each subject. Year 10 has, additionally, a Main Lesson in Art History and in Design & Technology.
As the students are poised on the threshold of the adult world and are beginning to see themselves as both individuals and world citizens they can be expected to gradually take up social responsibilities with their practice starting in the context of the class community.
In Year Seven, the students reach 13 years of age, and become teenagers. There is still accelerated growth in the limbs, and an associated awkwardness in movement. Sexual identity and capacity becomes established in advance of psychological development, and the students may become very conscious or self-conscious about their bodies. Sporadic bursts of energy and willingness to engage in physical activity vie with periods of lethargy.
Rudolf Steiner described this stage as the development of ‘earth’ maturity, meaning that the students now fully engage with the wider outer world, while developing personal, individualised judgements about the truth. Students are encouraged to take initiatives and to challenge attitudes and knowledge which they formerly accepted on authority and in this way to formulate their own point of view. In the striving for individuality, students are encouraged to accept that others see the world differently.
This period of inner development resonates with key themes of the chapter in world history of the great voyages of discovery and the renewal of culture that took place during the Renaissance. Teachers support students to discover new perspectives that direct their attention towards the exploration of the outer world and away from the newly experienced unrest in their inner life. Students are given many opportunities for active learning and group interaction.
Given the fluctuating mood swings of students of this age it is appropriate to study the influence of mood on writing styles and to extend the investigation to include a study of poetics and metrics in general. The ‘Wish, Wonder and Surprise’ Main Lesson effectively meets these learning objectives. As the inner quest of students is taken up through their participation in outer adventures, the Arthurian legends of knightly exploits provide students with literary content that is particularly suitable for this age group.
There is a continued need for the presentation of clear concepts grounded in practical applications in the outer world. Once the students display solid foundations in the logic, form and structure of Mathematics, they may be led towards increasingly intellectual and abstract concepts. Algebra develops out of the practical use of formulae, and students begin to discover its power as a method of describing problems, patterns and forms.
The introduction of Algebra represents a major conceptual leap for the students. While the concrete, logical rules and processes bring the children very much into their thinking realm, their new-found logical reasoning skills are applied to the representation of the concrete with the abstract. The rules and processes of Algebra are developed out of working with simple formulae and the use of pronumerals, brackets and negative numbers in equations as a technique for solving practical problems. During this topic, the aims are to engender in the students an appreciation of how general rules of arithmetic become clear through algebra, and to enable them to grasp the principle of balance in an equation.
The study of the Medieval period brings students experiences that touch both their intellectual and feeling life. The Medieval age, characterised by the movement and chaos that precedes the manifestation of a new impulse, mirrors the period of uncertainty experienced by the child in early adolescence. The students investigate the outcomes of the disorder that followed the fall of Rome. They study the rise of feudalism and its positive and negative contributions to people’s lives. They learn about knighthood with its banner of chivalry and honour and they study the crusades from both Christian and Muslim viewpoints. In learning about the journeys and encounters of the Crusaders the students develop an awareness of the scientific and cultural impulses brought to Europe from the world of Islam. They learn of the subsequent developments in science, trade, communication, travel, art and banking that led to the dawn of a new age. Students will have opportunities to reflect on the lasting legacy of the middle ages evident in the governance, language and culture of the 21st century.
The students develop an appreciation of the complexities of societies- then and now. The multi-perspectival approach encourages the development of empathy, a quality essential to the practice of tolerance. Reflections of the knighthood, its code of honour, the study of lives of figures such as St Francis and Joan of Arc give students examples of human greatness and moral strength.
Much of the content of Year Seven is concerned with humankind’s different relationship to the environment as the impulse for independence and individualisation begins to grow in the 13 year old. Geography is now closely linked to history and the Medieval age, a time in which human beings shared this characteristic. Under a feudal society, deeply rooted in Church authority, lives and agricultural activity were determined by the seasons and the festivals of the year. The village was the extent of their known world. The Year Seven child stands at the threshold between remaining where they are and leaving behind the ‘known’ to journey to ‘new landscapes’.
The Crusades, and the ability of Knights, explorers and navigators to journey away from their home landscape and expand boundaries and borders to discover and conquer ‘terra incognita’, captivate thirteen year olds. With the journeys, human consciousness expanded, and new knowledge arose.
Students continue to form strong connections to information through their feelings. The quality of imagination is still an important ingredient in their reception of intellectual material.