Principles of Teaching
( Originally Published 1897 )
Concentration.-We have seen (Chapter III.) that the power of fixing the attention may be cultivated. Ability to hold the attention is one of the first requisites of a teacher. Self-effort on the part of the pupils is essential. Compulsory attention does not educate. Inattention must be promptly checked. It is a blunder to go on with a lesson when any member of the class is idle. Carelessness, lassitude and indifference will arise if concentration of thought is not insisted on.
The lesson should be treated in such a way as to awaken curiosity, arouse a love of activity, and create sympathy. Concentration cannot be secured unless the teaching is pleasing and suggestive. It must also be within the comprehension of the pupil. A lesson ceases to engage attention if it is too easy, too monotonous, or too difficult. Pupils of feeble intellect, those of sluggish nature, and those of lively manner, must receive instruction suited to their conditions.
Power to fix attention requires the teacher to have the lesson well prepared. He must have information not found in the text-book. The physical wants of the pupils must not be overlooked. Watchfulness, promptitude and knowledge of methods and devices are essential. Recapitulation or a review may be needed. Routine and stereo-typed plans should be avoided. A teacher should strive to understand what is going on in the minds of his pupils. Many a teacher fails to secure the concentration of thought of his pupils because he is thinking of the subject to the exclusion of his class.
Interest.-Learning depends mainly upon interest. Interest is one of the most powerful agents which the teacher can employ to stimulate mental activity and to train the attention. Interest in study is therefore an element that he should constantly aim to excite in his pupils.
Generally speaking, children are more readily attracted by the power of the teacher than by the subject of instruction. They soon estimate his character, and are moved by the stimulus of his knowledge, his ability, his manner, and his sympathy. The efficient teacher awakens and sustains interest, and thus gains the attention of his pupils. They become happy, and are controlled by his will. It is obvious the teacher must himself become thoroughly inter. ested if he is to interest his scholars.
In order that pupils may be interested the matter of the lesson must be suitable and presented by proper methods. If they are to cooperate in the recitation they must not be impelled by fear. The exercise must be within reasonable limits, as the brain cannot sustain lengthened exertion on the same topic. Physical comfort must be preserved. The mind is readily influenced by the conditions of the body. Timid pupils must be encouraged, slow ones stimulated, and weak ones gently handled. The desire to master the subject should be excited, and for this purpose the proper incentives are to be used. Variety in the methods of teaching is important. A change from the lecture or the conversational method to the question method, or from the inductive to the deductive method, may be needed. The teacher must be able to detect any lack of interest, and to bring to his aid such devices as will restore attention and create interest.
Definiteness.-A definite purpose should mark every lesson. The object to be gained will determine the character of the teaching. There should be no working in the dark. The teacher who does not take aim in his efforts will not meet with success. Random shots are out of place in the recitation. The information imparted should have in view the ends of education. The subject must be presented with distinctness, and principles must determine the methods of instruction. Looseness has no place in good teaching. A lack of logical coherence and clearness of plan is generally the result of want of thoughtful preparation.
" The teacher must be perfectly clear as to what his lesson is intended to do-what benefit it will confer upon the children. He must settle with himself whether its object is to convey entirely new information, or to sum up and formulate what they already know in a scattered and uncertain way ; and he will decide how best to carry out the work so that it may sharpen their intelligence, strengthen their moral tone, and promote a love of reading and study. In any case a distinct purpose must run through his work, and he must treat his subject in such a manner that the children may get a definite meaning and value out of it."-Landon.
Arrangement.-The arrangement of information in a text-book is not necessarily the arrangement to be followed by the teacher in giving instruction. The orderly development and connection of ideas, the steps in the process of teaching, and the lucid manner of presentation, are not always found in a book. Instead of what may be difficult and complex, a good lesson requires such a statement of knowledge to be substituted as will be simple, orderly and easily grasped. The facts have often to be transformed, separated, rearranged and fully illustrated. No mass of facts crowded together promiscuously will have value to the student. Logical arrangement is not only essential to the successful teaching of individual lessons, but it is valuable on account of its influence on the pupils' intellectual habits. It prevents confusion in the instruction, and fosters orderly mental development. The parts of the lesson should be well proportioned and their connection fully shown. What is subordinate should not be placed by its treatment on a level with what is more important.
" What is complex and difficult should be divided and subdivided to suit the pupil's capacity. To take in detail what we cannot accomplish by one effort, and to thoroughly master the several parts in succession as we proceed, is the principle of all successful labor, mental or mechanical. It is only by subdivision, which presents to the pupil one point for consideration at a time, and that a sufficiently limited one, that progress in study is possible ; but by the aid of subdivision there is no limit to what he can accomplish. The teacher accordingly shows his skill in presenting in each lesson a practicable succession of steps. At the same time he must not simplify over much ; this is incompatible with any vigorous, mental exercise. His business is not entirely to remove difficulties from the path ; but to present only such as the pupil can by fair exertion overcome. His requirement should therefore always be abreast, and sometimes slightly ahead, of the pupil's capabilities."-Currie.
Unity.-All teaching should be marked by unity. A central thought forms a distinctive feature of every well-conducted recitation. Each lesson in literature, history, grammar, etc., should have some leading idea. Instruction fails in its object if pupils fasten their minds upon some subordinate statement. No details should be given that would tend to lessen the effect of the main facts which are to be presented. All the minor facts that are introduced should be grouped around the main ones in proper relationship of interdependence and relative importance. The beginning, the middle and the end of the recitation must have in view the one definite purpose to be gained. Every method or device employed must have a distinct place in the scheme of the lesson. The form of a well-constructed lesson will be as evident as that of a demonstration in Euclid or the parts of a building. Not only should the entire lesson have its meaning, but every fact or illustration brought in should have a meaning in itself, and a value in the purpose to be gained. A well-conducted recitation is marked by no purposeless digression into irrelevant topics, no unnecessary repetition of facts, no over-development of one portion of the lesson, and no scampering over important matters. The central line of thought gives room for variety in detail, versatility in the manner of presentation, and originality in teaching devices.
Self-activity.-It is a well-understood maxim in teaching that children should be trained to acquire knowledge for themselves. The successful teacher wakes up the mind, sets pupils to think, gets, them to work, and arouses in them the spirit of enquiry. In the greater part of our acquisitions we are all self-taught. All knowledge, at the outset, must be learned by its discoverer without an instructor. True teaching is not that which gives know-ledge, but that which stimulates pupils to gain it. In a sense it may be said he is the best teacher who instructs least. The mind must do its own thinking,. and it is a mistake for the teacher to suppose he can make his pupils intelligent by his own hard work.
A pupil should be allowed time to realize whatever is presented to him by way of explanation. The teacher should be able to estimate exactly how much information is necessary to awaken curiosity. Only that amount of help should be given which is required. Self-effort is checked when too much is suggested. To direct the thought of the child, to encourage him, and to prepare him for the central point of difficulty, will be constantly required of the teacher. It is a common blunder on the part of teachers well acquainted with their subject to introduce matters which, while interesting in themselves, are not necessary for developing self-activity.
"When a thing is clear, let the teacher never try to make it clearer ; when a thing is understood, not a word more of explanation should be added. To mark precisely the moment when the pupil understands what is said, the moment when he is master of the necessary ideas, is perhaps the most difficult thing in the art of teaching. "-Edgeworth.
Study.-Teaching should stimulate study. Everyone should be a student. The person who loves study, and who knows what to study, how to study, and when to study, has a good education. A pupil should be trained to get clear ideas of his lessons, to read carefully and systematically, to master the leading features of the subject taken up, to understand principles, definitions and facts, and to analyze, to generalize, to deduce and to illustrate. It is the duty of the teacher to train his pupils to consult dictionaries, reference books and maps, and to induce them by habits of observation and reflection to find out facts not set forth in what they read. Hard study is beneficial. Children that are " spoon-fed " remain children. For one pupil who is injured by hard study, one hundred would be benefited by increased mental activity. Hard study develops manhood and forms the royal road to success.
Pupils should be wisely directed in their studies. Whatever is necessary or useful as a preparation for life, and whatever will best serve as a foundation for future work, should receive first attention. The vagueness and uncertainty of the smatterer should be avoided. Hurried study is faulty. Organic growth follows the proper acquisition of knowledge. The mode of study must be suited to the subject. To master the subject rather than to master the book should be the object. The relative importance of facts should be understood, and what is first in value should receive most attention. The correlation of facts, the relation of cause and effect, and the logical sequence of ideas should be carefully observed. Pupils should be trained to work systematically, and to have set times for study at home. Desultory reading in matters requiring study, or spasmodic efforts, should be avoided. It is important that pupils should cultivate the power of concentrating their attention on what they take up. Interest in a subject may be created and fostered. A love of good books is an impelling force to a student. Ability to select the best reading matter comes only by careful application. To know where to look for knowledge is constantly in demand. Recreative reading, and reading which supplies general information, should not be ignored. general reading or recreative reading need not be aimless. Life is too short and too serious to allow any time to be wasted.
Thoroughness.-Every subject should be taught thoroughly. This does not mean that all the details of a lesson should be mastered. Junior classes cannot be expected to have a complete grasp of the subject. Pupils should not, however, learn what they may have afterwards to unlearn. It becomes a source of bewilderment, rather than of help, to require at first more than the broad principles and general outline of any particular subject. To overlook fundamental facts and spend time on details, is the reverse of thoroughness. The mind is limited in its capacity, and any attempt to master secondary matters is very apt to crowd out more important ones.
"Perfect knowledge is only a relative term, for, absolutely considered, we can never know anything perfectly ; however, we may aim at perfection, although we may not hope to reach it. By teaching a subject thoroughly, therefore, we simply mean that the information which we communicate to our pupils should be complete and exact as far as it extends, and that we should not rest satisfied until it is fixed in their minds ; at the same time, we should not attempt to push our instruction beyond their capabilities, nor deceive ourselves with the idea that we have taught anything thoroughly which has been merely learnt by rote. The most imperfect and fruitless kind of teaching is that when the master attempts to convey a perfect knowledge of all the parts of a subject before the faculties of the pupils are prepared for grasping such an amount of knowledge. A little knowledge, fully under-stood and thoroughly digested, creates intellectual power. The amount of knowledge fixed in the mind is not of so much account as the ideas which are evolved by the intellectual process of elaboration."-Tate.
Stimulus.-The power of stimulating pupils is natural to some teachers. Sympathy, quickness of resource, a lively and attractive manner, insight into character, and personal interest in students, are powerful aids in arousing a spirit of activity. Many points of detail and method are capable of being acquired by care and effort. Power to arrest attention, to create interest, to inspire ambition, and to develop energy, may be cultivated by every faithful teacher.
The lesson should be made entertaining as well as profitable. A change in the method of instruction, or a variation in the routine, may often wake up a dull class. If pupils are inattentive, it is probable the teaching is dull, Nagging, or using satire, is a false method of reating interest. Enthusiasm for the subject on the part of the teacher will do much to stimulate the pupils. Pupils are very imitative, and they are led to care for what interests the teacher. A teacher who is not a student fails to interest. The best methods of conducting recitations should be made a study. Each subject calls for special methods of treatment. Clearness is a stimulus to mental growth, but there is a danger of explaining too much and too soon. The pupils should be encouraged to share in original research. In science, history, and other subjects, there is great opportunity for using this stimulus. The various school incentives (Chapter IX.) may be effectively used by the judicious teacher to stimulate pupils in their work.
Instruction.-To give information is an important object in teaching a class. Knowledge should be given in an intelligent manner, and the elements of training should not be forgotten. How children learn is often of more importance than what they learn. Information should be made real, and what pupils learn should have value in after life. (Chapter III.).
Instruction may be direct, when the truths communicated by the teacher are clearly and readily grasped by the learner. It may be indirect, when the learner is skilfully brought to discover truth for himself. Very frequently the instruction given is of an objective nature. This is the case when by presenting objects to the mind of the pupils their curiosity is excited, their observation and thought guided, and their attention fixed. Objective and indirect teaching have the highest value as methods of training, but direct teaching is not to be set aside, not-withstanding the frequency with which it is abased.
Drill.-To fix a series of facts in the mind of a child requires much reiteration. The truth which a pupil reaches under the guidance of a teacher he should be taught to reach again with greater readiness and certainty. Increased power and facility are cultivated by repeating the same acts. A large amount of practice in the shape of drill exercises is essential in elementary classes. Some time of nearly every lesson may be devoted to this process. A word of caution is needed to prevent drill from taking the place of intelligent teaching. To keep "pegging away," without giving proper attention to mental activity, leads to wearisome, unnecessary and mechanical labor. Bright pupils in graded schools are often neglected by the use of too much drill.
Reproduction.-In order that we may learn clearly what pupils know they must express themselves in words. Knowledge which cannot be put in language is indefinite and uncertain. To test the attainments of the pupils becomes necessary in order to give right instruction. In all teaching the acquired mental power of the pupils should be constantly tested. The ability of the child to observe, to reason, and to use language, is measured when he is called upon to state what he has acquired. Power to recall, to imagine, to compare, to analyze, to generalize and to discriminate, may be cultivated by practice in reproducing what has been taught. When pupils are required to mention what they have gained from the study of a lesson, or from observation, the accuracy of their knowledge and the soundness of their views are tested. Practice in this process of teaching may, as in the case of drill, be carried too far. It should be recollected that tests of the attainments of pupils are only a means to an end. Oral and written examinations are an essential feature of every well-devised system of teaching, (Chapter XVI.). Too many examinations should, however, be avoided.
Reviews.-Lessons of a recapitulatory or examinatory nature are essential to good teaching. These should be given at certain times to review and sum up the teaching of a previous series of lessons. Skilfully employed, such recitations are of great value in keeping information fresh and ready for use, in giving a wider grasp of a topic, and in enabling the pupils to observe relationships and to apply general principles. With judiciously arranged review lessons the memory is strengthened, a broader view of the entire subject is possible, and there is prevented that cramping and narrowing effect which results when the details of each recitation are considered apart from the other lessons.
In a sense every lesson should include, if necessary, review questions. To "finish" the course in two-thirds of the academic year, with the object of spending the rest of the time in reviews, shows a misconception of good teaching. If a subject is taught properly, reviews each day, week or month, have recognition in the regular work. For junior classes a review each Friday has its advantages. The better plan-especially for advanced pupils-is to review the subject when a chapter or topic has been finished by the class. Review questions, or review lessons, should show the same definiteness of purpose and logical arrangement that mark every other well-conducted recitation.
Progression.-The learner must proceed step by step. The teacher guides, but the pupils ascend, round by round, by their own efforts. The learner's present attainments should be made the basis of the teacher's work. If there is unity in the aim of the teacher, and if the proper end is kept in view, a rule of selection and adaptation must be followed. The progress of the pupil should be a growth in the mind with each part rising naturally out of the preceding, and forming itself into the mind. A number of well-known maxims have value in the various methods of instruction. Some of them should be received with caution. They include, in some cases, half-truths, or sound principles that may be misapplied.
1. Nature's Method. It is a popular statement to say that education should follow Nature. The teacher does not really develop the minds of the pupils, nor does he deter-mine the order of their development. He must look to Nature as his guide. He only assists Nature. By observation and study he becomes acquainted with Nature's laws and learns how mental growth takes place. In this way he is guided in choosing objects of knowledge, and in presenting facts to his pupils. If the teacher adopts methods that run counter to mental processes, he is not following Nature's method. It should be understood, however, that there is no force called Nature which will carry on education. Mental and moral growth, as well as physical growth, demands intelligent guidance.
2. From the Known to the Unknown. The first thing in teaching is to find out what the pupil knows that is most nearly allied to what is to be presented. There must be a starting point ; there must be something upon which to build. The irksomeness felt in the early stages of some subjects is due to the want of a foundation. To stimulate the activity of the pupil, and to secure a ready reception for new material, it is necessary to take hold of something already in the mind. It is evident no fixed plan will suit all cases, and the skill of the teacher is exhibited in the tact with which he makes himself acquainted with the existing conditions. In almost all cases the pupil has some previous knowledge of the subject acquired in some way, and his attainments will determine the mode of procedure. The most elementary facts may at first require attention.
The teacher must make the most of the pupil's knowledge. Every lesson should be connected with former lessons. Progress should be in the right direction. The steps should be proportioned to the age and power of the pupil. Each additional fact, reason, proof, and inference should be adapted to the end in view. New truths should be made familiar before further steps are attempted. It is a great mistake to take up a series of lessons without. necessary recapitulations and reviews. Pupils should be taught to make discoveries for themselves, and thus " proceed from the known to the unknown."
3. Simple to Complex. The young child has difficulty in discerning relations. What is complex may have to be broken up into its elements so that it may be presented in small portions. ' It may be necessary to lead the pupil along the steps of a subject consecutively, and not by great strides over several intermediate ones at once. If what is simple is presented first, what is complex may be subsequently grasped.
"Although this principle of education is generally known and acknowledged, yet comparatively few teachers understand it rightly, or practise it completely. It is, by no means uncommon to find teachers practising a dogmatic and technical system of instruction ; while, at the same time, they believe that they are teaching from the simple to the complex ; our dogmatic modes of instruction are simple enough as regards the work of the master, whilst they are anything but simple when considered in relation to the mental efforts required of the pupil. As this species of self-delusion is so fatal in its consequences, it is important that we should exactly understand what is meant by teaching from the simple to the complex. We teach from the simple to the complex when we ex-plain the various particular forms of a general or abstract principle, before we attempt to explain the general principle itself ; or when we explain the simpler elements or parts of a subject, before we attempt to teach the subject as a whole."-Tate.
4. Concrete to Abstract. Early impressions come by means of the senses. Accordingly it may be necessary to make a child's conception of a' subject clearer by an appeal to the senses. Hence object lessons have an important place in the mode of instruction used with young children. The objects themselves may make ideas clear which can-not be explained by verbal description. Diagrams, maps, apparatus, pictorial illustrations, etc., have their well known value in teaching. It is a mistake to suppose that what is concrete is necessarily clear. This maxim may be misunderstood.
" Taken literally it is impossible, for there is no concrete know-ledge with which to begin. Nor is it true as implying that definite knowledge is easier to get than general knowledge. It is just as difficult, requires as much preparation, as much mental energy, and as much maturity of mind, to make a clear distinction as to make broad generalization. Both processes, in fact, occur together as different aspects of comparison. To transform knowledge from hazy into definite, and from isolated into connected forms, are both ends of instruction, and the educator cannot safely assume that either process has been already accomplished before his work begins. Undoubtedly many who use the precept have a correct meaning back of it, but this meaning would be better expressed : Develop representations from presentations."-McLellan.
5. Wholes, then Parts. The whole of an object must be grasped in some way before its parts are understood. All complex objects of study. are, in the first place, perceived in a vague and indefinite manner. A child has an idea of a house, a horse, a man, etc., before he has any conception of the parts of any one of them. The more prominent parts are then recognized by very elementary powers of analysis. The unit must be the basis of instruction, but a part of an object may be the unit as well as the object itself. This maxim is almost similar to the preceding ones, and, like them, it may be misapplied. It may be generally recognized that the child should begin to learn what is nearest to him. He should advance to the remote and the ideal from the actual and the practical.
6. Knowing and Doing. Knowing and doing should proceed together. Curiosity and activity are natural characteristics of childhood. The former fosters a spirit of investigation, and the latter fastens knowledge. The self-activity of the child must be appealed to in all kinds of instruction, but this self-activity must be guided by intelligence. If the acts performed by pupils become merely mechanical there is no growth in knowledge. In early youth valuable habits may doubtless be formed without explanations for conduct being given. As children grow older, methods of instruction demand knowledge as the basis of the activities put forth. Pupils should be led to discover things for themselves. The suggestive method of instruction promotes the principle of self-development. In order that this spirit of self-development may be maintained, pupils should not be required to do what is beyond their capacity. They should not, as a rule, receive information which they can find out without the teacher's assistance. Voluntary efforts are most valuable. Too often there is a tendency to check the growth of the inventive faculties, by filling the mind with knowledge instead of cultivating original power.