Class 7/8 have been working with ‘The Last Leaf’ by American short story writer O’Henry, in an extended English/Creative Writing Main Lesson Block.
Creative Writing is a core Main Lesson topic at this age, as it so perfectly meets the academic, social and emotional needs of the young adolescent student, when their rich emotional life can leave them feeling inwardly chaotic. They are excited one moment, despairing the next; they are confident then miserably insecure; socially they swing from being best friends to sworn enemies.
The emotional turmoil that the students are experiencing is ideal for an English Main Lesson – using writing as a means to observe, express, describe, study, and think logically – to guide students towards inner balance. Alongside many technical aspects of writing – imagery, structure, rhyme, character sketch, memory, personification- the students also explore, with the teacher, the different attitudes to life these themes represent.
In ‘The Last Leaf’ Johnsy is ill with pneumonia and she determines that when the last leaf falls off a vine outside her window she will die. This beautifully inspirational tale deals with pessimism, self- sacrifice, friendship and the power of hope, with a typical O’Henry surprise ending.
As part of their exploration the students have been modelling some of the characters from the story. Every day in Main Lesson they spend about 10-12 minutes working on their model. These models are the results of about five days work in Main Lesson.
Steiner Education has a strong focus on the arts for all ages, not just as a separate subject but as a powerful vehicle for teaching in every subject. Artistic experience weaves through the curriculum all the way from Kindergarten to Upper School, integrating with the topics of the Main Lesson, so children find themselves modelling a variety of forms from animals, plants and human figures, to bones and geological formations.
This is ‘Mr Pneumonia’, a personification of the terrible illness that stalked the streets of New York at the very beginning of the twentieth century. It captures the dark mood of the victim caught in the embrace of this “red-fisted, short-breathed old duffer”.
Behrman is a failed artist who drinks far too much and acts tough. He is actually a caring person who sacrifices his own life whilst trying to help someone else.
The left model represents the character Sue, an optimistic, caring person, struggling to keep her friend, Johnsy, from fading away and dying of pneumonia. The right figure is not one of the characters in O’Henry’s story, but rather represents the spirit of the story – bravery and loving sacrifice for others.