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ELEMENTARY INSTRUCTION IN DAY SCHOOLS.
VERY teacher should have a distinct idea of the object he has in 5 view and often endeavour to realize it anew, for we all know He how apt we are to lose sight of the actual end to be attained, in
the absorbing interest of the means and methods we have to use Do in order to gain it. Like Martha, who, in her care to have the x table well furnished for the entertainment of her Divine Guest,
forgot that the object was, to do him honour, and thereby showed him disrespect, by neglecting to give attention to His words, and wishing to prevent her sister from doing so.
When we hear of young people, who although they have attended school for some years, are unable to read so as to be understood, or to write a letter, or to keep common accounts, must we not say that the teacher has failed at least in part of his aim ? and may not this arise from not having kept that aim steadily in view ? putting the child through the usual routine of spelling, class-reading, and copy writing, and resting satisfied, if but this machinery be actively worked, without sufficiently trying to make sure that real progress is made.
It may be useful then to put into words, the object which every teacher of a primary school for the children of the working classes, should have in view.
The Dean of Hereford, Mr. Dawes, to whom the cause of Education owes so much, thus describes the lowest standard that ought to be aimed at-p. 8—10 of “Effective Primary Instruction.” “A fair proportion of the children, say two-thirds or two-fourths ought, at the ages of 10 or 11, when they leave school and their labour becomes marketable, to have a knowledge of Scripture, be able to read simple narratives, with tolerable ease and fluency, so as to interest a hearer ; to have such a knowledge of the common rules of arithmetic, and of weights and measures, as to be able to apply it to every-day life; to write a legible hand, and to spell tolerably well in writing from dictation, and to have some knowledge of the geography of their own country.
Education below this standard is of little or no use in after life, and after leaving school is soon forgotten. It is a common complaint that many of our school children, in a few years after they have left, are scarcely able to read.”
May it not be added, that of those who have filled copy-books at school with very fair writing, many are quite at a loss to write an ordinary letter correctly? and again, that some who were accustomed to work sums in long division at school, are ignorant how to make out a small bill, or to keep the accounts of a household ? It may be said, in explanation of this deficiency so often observed, that, (1.) children are taken away from school at a very carly age, that (2.) even while there, they often attend very irregularly, and that in the instances in question, it is probable that in addition to these causes, the children were (3.) of inferior ability, and unable to keep pace with others of the same class.
Now these hindrances to progress are, and must be, of continual occurrence. Instead of complaining of them, is it not wiser to endeavour to succeed in spite of them, by adapting our school plans and methods to these conditions.
Children are taken away from school at an early age—it is the universal complaint of schoolmasters and mistresses and managers in every part of the country.
The endeavour should then be to give them the power of reading and writing, with which they may at any time educate themselves, with as little loss of time as possible ; and at the same time to develop healthily their faculties of body and mind, to impart that knowledge of Christ which maketh wise unto salvation, and to train them in moral and religious habits so effectually, as to lay the foundation for the building up in afterlife of a good and useful character.
Again, if the children are irregular in attendance, the aim should be to prevent as much as possible their losing ground through this cause, which though sometimes blameable, is not always so—and in cases where there is a want of ability or of quickness, the teacher's care should be directed to insure the progress being steady, although slow, and not impeded by anything in the mode of instruction adopted.
With these aims in our mind, let us inquire how the ordinary plan of teaching reading only in classes, and writing by means of written or lithographed “copyheads” answers the purpose ?
In a class, each child can read but a sentence or two during the halfhour allotted to the lesson; beginners perhaps are told half the words, but unless very quick and attentive, have probably no more idea what to call one of these words, if met with in the next sentence that comes to their turn, than if they had never seen it, for they have no interest in what is going on. While the others have been blundering over the intermediate sentences, their little minds have been busy about a hundred other things, and if the sounds did convey some idea when first repeated to them, it took no hold, because unassociated with anything calculated to interest them. Suppose you could have this child separately—if only for five minutes, instead of half an hour. You could then engage its interest in the simple story or dialogue—the new words would have associations that would make . it more easy to remember them, the sentences would have connection, and the newly learned words would be impressed on the memory by recurring again more than once perhaps in the portion read. No time would be wasted, while others were bungling over their part of the lesson, and instead of habits being formed of inattention, from this cause, or of indolent dependence on others' telling, the child would be called upon to make a continued effort to attend, and to exert to the utmost its own powers of memory and intelligence. If kept from school for a day, or many days, the lesson might be taken up just where it was left off, and the ideas last called forth re-awakened, instead of, as in a class, the child's finding the lesson for the day, new and strange, owing to the advance made by the others in his absence.
But you may say, all this is true enough, and it might be very well to recommend individual, in preference to class-reading, if we had only five or six children to teach, but what are the rest to do, while each child is reading separately?
They may be employed in writing—not however in merely copying forms, which is a mere mechanical process, utterly unconnected in the child's mind with reading, or with any thought--not worthy even to be called drawing, for in drawing objects, ideas are suggested by those objects, but what
ideas can be suggested by letters as letters ? To prove that in writing from copyheads, children usually copy letters merely as letters, it is only necessary to go into a school where no other plan is adopted, and to require each child writing "a copy,” to read it-it will generally be found that to be able to read it is the exception! and that as a rule, no idea whatever is attached to the words written, and indeed in many cases it is better so, than that young children should dwell on the thoughts that some of the moral precepts used as “copyheads” might suggest. Wherever dictation is practised, writing is in some degree raised from this degraded position, and the child learns its connection with the mind, and its use, in expressing thought, and is therefore no longer likely to write even copies entirely without thought, yet the habit being formed previously, the copyheads usually of no interest, and so often repeated as to become wearisome, it will be found that even children who write occasionally from dictation, will sometimes write a copy, in ignorance of its meaning, or how to pronounce the word, and perfectly content to remain in this ignorance.
Suppose this child to be taken away from school-of what use will the power of writing be to him ? Yet the same period of time which has been employed in attaining this amount of mere penmanship, would have sufficed to acquire, together with it, the habit of writing with thought, a knowledge therefore of the use of writing, and some facility in spelling correctly. No copy is required but a printed book, with an alphabet of the written letters, placed before each child, until all-capitals as well as small letters, can be formed correctly. Dictation should be practised as much as possible—the scholars being carefully overlooked from the first to insure a right position of the hand, good formation of the letters, and correct spelling, and no mistake allowed to stand. If the teacher is behind, instead of in front of a writing class, mistakes may often be prevented, by encouraging each scholar to ask for help in every difficulty, or at least may be corrected as soon as made. A mis-spelt word allowed to stand, is impressed on the mind, and even if corrected at the end of the lesson, is likely to be repeated. Besides, by thus helping your scholars just when they feel the want of help, you engage them with you in the work of their own improvement, and a very different feeling is cultivated between teacher and scholar, than when the faults of the latter are counted up against him at the end of the lesson, as though it were through wilful neglect that he had not the whole English Dictionary at command.
Whatever a child is given to copy, should FIRST BE READ, and any hard words explained, a remark or question calculated to awaken interest or curiosity on the subject, is easily added, and will often arouse a child from a stupid, heavy way of working, and make the lesson a pleasure instead of a task. When a certain portion has been carefully written and corrected, the scholar should read it over in his own handwriting. This reading over the writing lesson, both in the printed book, and the copy-book, is of the greatest importance. But assistant teachers are almost sure to neglect it, and the only way to insure its being done, is to desire each child to ask the teacher to hear the lesson read.
But it will be objected, how is the teacher to give all this individual attention, when there are four or five classes requiring instruction ?
He must train assistants among his advanced scholars—every one that has learned on this plan can teach again—having found the benefit of the teacher's ready help whenever a difficulty arose, he will know how to give the same, according to his capacity, to others, and it is for the teacher to cultivate the feeling of willingness thus to help; not setting up one child as a monitor to domineer over a class of children not much less than himself, but granting the privilege to the diligent and trustworthy, to become fellow-workers with him in the Christian duty of giving to others what we have ourselves received. This is to educate—not merely to instruct—to train in Christian well-doing, not merely to fill the head with knowledge. Such teaching, done faithfully, is not waste of time, even as regards the young teacher's own learning; while correcting the mistakes of others, always with the book, he is confirmed in what he has already learned, if not acquiring new knowledge, but what is of still more use, finding out how little he yet knows.
Besides, are not our school children the fathers and mothers of the generation to follow us? How then can we estimate the good that may be done, by thus training them to become teachers in their turn, especially if, with the power to teach, has come any experience of the blessedness of following in His footsteps, who declared that He came, “not to be ministered unto, but to minister.”
The plan that has been described has been called “the ministering way of teaching”-it gives no opportunity for “showing off” either to teacher or scholar—the improvement in the work done, and the increased rapidity with which it is done, are soon shown, but it is impossible to know how much is due to the teacher, (if the help is given as it ought to be, just when wanted, mistakes prevented rather than corrected,) while at the same time, the scholars cannot boast, of the fair page, having been enabled to avoid errors, only through the watchful help of the teacher. This tendency of the plan to counteract, instead of fostering selfishness and self-satisfaction, both in teacher and scholar, is surely a great recommendation. For, if it is of importance to furnish our scholars, before they leave us, with the means of acquiring knowledge, it is assuredly of yet higher importance that the habits formed and the dispositions cultivated at school should be such as go to form a character after the pattern of our Lord and Master, Christ. We cannot tell that they will ever have much opportunity of using their reading and writing—their life may possibly be one of such incessant toil as to prevent it--but we know that all must have daily opportunities for the exercise of patience, perseverance, kindness, forbearance, and helpful sympathy, of practising the Saviour's rule, to “ do unto others as we would they should do unto us,” and of seeking to walk in his steps, by living to “minister” to others, and becoming, not of compulsion, but by choice a “servant of all.” We teach them the letter of the Gospel, let us see if it be not possible to strengthen immeasurably the power of our words, by the continual & felt influence of such a training as has been suggested.
With reference to teaching the letter of Scripture, it may be remarked in passing, that those teachers who have not already tried the plan of getting texts or passages written from memory, are little aware of the advantage gained, (1.) in accuracy—for in repeating, children often slur words into one another, in a way that writing only can detect;—(2.) in impressing the words on the mind, perhaps leading to thought, which the rapid repetition, often gabbling, seldom gives time for—(3.) in quietness if not reverence even mere copy-writing, has a quieting, stilling influence on a volatile child, how much more valuable that influence, if the thoughts be directed the while to some high and holy subject!
Besides, that the written record remains, to be read perhaps at some future time, calling up many a thought of the busy, happy schoolroom and kind teacher, of words spoken there, lessons given and impressions made, which would not otherwise have been thought of. Who knows also what may be the effect in the homes of those children, of holy truths read in a child's handwriting, by those who never read the Holy Book for themselves.
These remarks are offered for the earnest consideration of those teachers, whose first desire is, that each individual child should gain as great an amount of good as it is in their power to impart, during the short period they continue under their care. It is believed, as has been attempted to be shown, that more may be done in that short period than is usually accomplished, even though the work of teaching to read be not begun until the child be five, or at the earliest, four years old. It is unnecessary to teach the alphabet previously, upon the plan recommended, the knowledge of the letters both printed and written will be gradually acquired, as each is wanted, to read and write the easy sentences first used. Bishop Short's Reading Cards have been found excellently suited for beginning young children on this plan. More details will be found if wished for, in “Practical Notes of a Plan” by Sarah Crompton; and that lady's books of stories and short pieces, compiled originally for adults, will be found most valuable helps, as providing interesting and useful reading and writing lessons, in plain but not childish language. As soon as possible, children should be encouraged to write out of their own minds, to reproduce an easy story, going on from that to abstracts of lessons that have been read or heard, and then they will no longer require books to copy from, except it be now and then, a piece of poetry, which they may afterwards try to transpose. Letter-writing should always be taught in schools, some easy subject being given; girls may be usefully employed in writing familiar letters on things required in housekeeping, and boys on the cultivation of the garden, &c. From a Lady superintending a Female Evening School, in the neighbourhood
of London. "We had four who were totally ignorant of writing, one only of these could read, three of them, I am sorry to say, left after attending about two months; during that time, by strictly following Miss Crompton's plan, they could write from dictation and copy from a printed book. Of course it was far from well, but still they had gained the power of doing it. Their improvement in reading was also satisfactory. The fourth, a woman certainly past fifty years of age, has been regular in attendance; she now writes quite nicely, and her reading may be considered very fair. There have been several who knew but little of either reading or writing, who have derived much benefit.
With those who are capable, we follow the plan of making them reproduce in their own words some little story, or piece of useful knowledge, that has been read to them. After a lesson on grammar, geography, or history, I write questions relating to it on the black board, and they write the answers on their slates. These lessons are given only to the most advanced. This is my first essay in teaching a number. * * I ought perhaps to mention that the quietness and order of the room is a thing always remarked upon by any one who may come in.” From the Mistress of a Mixed School ( Girls and Infants), in the North
of England. “ Dear Madam,
I am glad to say, with respect to the new plan of writing, that so far I am pleased with it, especially as regards the accelerated improvement of the child. The teacher's labour is certainly not lessened, but as far as I can judge, at present, greatly shortened with each individual child.
I think the plan an improvement on our former one in several respects.