to take a case different from the one before described, let us suppose
that a class have been performing a number of examples in Addition. They
come together to the recitation, and, under one mode of managing
classes, the teacher is immediately beset by a number of the pupils with
excuses. One had no slate; another was absent when the lesson was
assigned; a third performed the work, but it got rubbed out, and a
fourth did not know what was to be done. The teacher stops to hear all
these, and to talk about them, fretting himself, and fretting the
delinquents by his impatient remarks. The rest of the class are waiting,
and, having nothing good to do, the temptation is almost irresistible to
do something bad. One boy is drawing pictures on his slate to make his
neighbors laugh, another is whispering, and two more are at play. The
disorder continues while the teacher goes round examining slate after
slate, his whole attention being engrossed by each individual, as the
pupils come to him successively, while the rest are left to themselves,
interrupted only by an occasional harsh, or even angry, but utterly
useless rebuke from him.
But, under another mode of managing classes and schools, a very
different result would be produced.
A boy approaches the teacher to render an excuse; the teacher replies,
addressing himself, however, to the whole class, "I shall give all an
opportunity to offer their excuses presently. No one must come till he
The class then regularly take their places in the recitation seats, the
prepared and unprepared together. The following commands are given and
obeyed promptly. They are spoken pleasantly, but still in the tone of
"The class may rise.
"All those that are not fully prepared with this lesson may sit."
A number sit; and others, doubtful whether they are prepared or not, or
thinking that there is something peculiar in their cases, which they
wish to state, raise their hands, or make any other signal which is
customary to indicate a wish to speak. Such a signal ought always to be
agreed upon, and understood in school.
The teacher shakes his head, saying, "I will hear you presently. If
there is, on any account whatever, any doubt whether you are prepared,
you must sit.
"Those that are standing may read their answers to No. 1. Unit figure?"
While these numbers are thus reading, the teacher looks at the boys, and
can easily see whether any are not reading their own answers, but only
following the rest. If they have been trained to speak exactly together,
his ear will also at once detect any erroneous answer which any one may
give. He takes down the figures given by the majority on his own slate,
and reads them aloud.
"This is the answer obtained by the majority; it is undoubtedly right.
Those who have different answers may sit."
These directions, if understood and obeyed, would divide the class
evidently into two portions. Those standing have their work done, and
done correctly, and those sitting have some excuse or error to be
examined. A new lesson may now be assigned, and the first portion may be
dismissed, which in a well-regulated school will be two thirds of the
class. Their slates may be slightly examined as they pass by the teacher
on their way to their seats to see that all is fair; but it will be safe
to take it for granted that a result in which a majority agree will be
right. Truth is consistent with itself, but error, in such a case, never
is. This the teacher can at any time show by comparing the answers that
are wrong; they will always be found, not only to differ from the
correct result, but to contradict each other.
The teacher may now, if he pleases, after the majority of the class have
gone, hear the reasons of those who were unprepared, and look for the
errors of those whose work was incorrect; but it is better to spend as
little time as possible in such a way. If a scholar is not prepared, it
is not of much consequence whether it is because he forgot his book or
mistook the lesson; or if it is ascertained that his answer is
incorrect, it is ordinarily a mere waste of time to search for the
"I have looked over my work, sir," says the boy, perhaps, "and I can not
find where it is wrong." He means by it that he does not believe that it
"It is no matter if you can not," would be the proper reply, "since it
certainly is wrong; you have made a mistake in adding somewhere, but it
is not worth while for me to spend two or three minutes apiece with all
of you to ascertain where. Try to be careful next time."
Indeed the teacher should understand and remember what many teachers are
very prone to forget, namely, that the mere fact of finding an
arithmetical error in a pupil's work on the slate, and pointing it out
to him, has very little effect in correcting the false habit in his mind
from which it arose.
The cases of those who are unprepared at a recitation ought by no means
to be passed by unnoticed, although it would be unwise to spend much
time in examining each in detail.
"It is not of much consequence," the teacher might say, "whether you
have good excuses or bad, so long as you are not prepared. In future
life you will certainly be unsuccessful if you fail, no matter for what
reason, to discharge the duties which devolve upon you. A carpenter, for
instance, would certainly lose his custom if he should not perform his
work faithfully and in season. Excuses, no matter how reasonable, will
do him little good. It is just so in respect to punctuality in time as
well as in respect to performance of duty. What we want is that every
boy should be in his place at the proper moment; not that he should be
late, and have good excuses for it. When you come to be men, tardiness
will always be punished. Excuses will not help the matter at all.
Suppose, hereafter, when you are about to take a journey, you reach the
pier five minutes after the steamer has gone, what good will excuses do
you? There you are, left hopelessly behind, no matter if your excuses
are the best in the world. So in this school. I want good punctuality
and good recitations, not good excuses. I hope every one will be
It is not probable, however, that every one would be prepared the next
day in such a case, but by acting steadily on these principles the
number of delinquencies would be so much diminished that the very few
which should be left could easily be examined in detail, and the
Simultaneous recitation, by which I mean the practice of addressing a
question to all the class to be answered by all together, is a practice
which has been for some years rapidly extending in our schools, and, if
adopted with proper limits and restrictions, is attended with great
advantage. The teacher must guard against some dangers, however, which
will be likely to attend it.
1. Some will answer very eagerly, instantly after the question is
completed. They wish to show their superior readiness. Let the teacher
mention this, expose kindly the motive which leads to it, and tell them
it is as irregular to answer before the rest as after them.
2. Some will defer their answers until they can catch those of their
comrades for a guide. Let the teacher mention this fault, expose the
motive which leads to it, and tell them that if they do not answer
independently and at once, they had better not answer at all.
3. Some will not answer at all. The teacher can see by looking around
the room who do not, for they can not counterfeit the proper motion of
the lips with promptness and decision unless they know what the answer
is to be. He ought occasionally to say to such a one, "I perceive you do
not answer," and ask him questions individually.
4. In some cases there is danger of confusion in the answers, from the
fact that the question may be of such a nature that the answer is long,
and may by different individuals be differently expressed. This evil
must be guarded against by so shaping the question as to admit of a
reply in a single word. In reading large numbers, for example, each
figure may be called for by itself, or they may be given one after
another, the pupils keeping exact time. When it is desirable to ask a
question to which the answer is necessarily long it may be addressed to
an individual, or the whole class may write their replies, which may
then be read in succession.
In a great many cases where simultaneous answering is practiced, after a
short time the evils above specified are allowed to grow, until at last
some half a dozen bright members of a class answer for all, the rest
dragging after them, echoing their replies, or ceasing to take any
interest in an exercise which brings no personal and individual
responsibility upon them. To prevent this, the teacher should exercise
double vigilance at such a time. He should often address questions to
individuals alone, especially to those most likely to be inattentive and
careless, and guard against the ingress of every abuse which might,
without close vigilance, appear.
With these cautions, the method here alluded to will be found to be of
very great advantage in many studies; for example, all the arithmetical
tables may be recited in this way; words may be spelled, answers to sums
given, columns of figures added, or numbers multiplied, and many
questions in history, geography, and other miscellaneous studies
answered, especially the general questions asked for the purpose of a
But, besides being useful as a mode of examination, this plan of
answering questions simultaneously is a very important means of fixing
in the mind any facts which the teacher may communicate to his pupils.
If, for instance, he says some day to a class that Vasco de Gama was the
discoverer of the passage round the Cape of Good Hope, and leaves it
here, in a few days not one in twenty will recollect the name. But let
him call upon them all to spell it simultaneously, and then to pronounce
it distinctly three or four times in concert, and the word will be very
strongly impressed upon their minds. The reflecting teacher will find a
thousand cases in the instruction of his classes, and in his general
exercises in the school, in which this principle will be of great
utility. It is universal in its application. What we _say_ we fix, by
the very act of saying it, in the mind. Hence, reading aloud, though a
slower, is a far more thorough method of acquiring knowledge than
reading silently, and it is better, in almost all cases, whether in the
family, or in Sabbath or common schools, when general instructions are
given, to have the leading points fixed in the mind by questions
But we are wandering a little from our subject, which is, in this part
of our chapter, the methods of _examining_ a class, not of giving or
Another mode of examining classes, which it is important to describe,
consists in requiring _written answers_ to the questions asked. The form
and manner in which this plan may be adopted is various. The class may
bring their slates to the recitation, and the teacher may propose
questions successively, the answers to which all the class may write,
numbering them carefully. After a dozen answers are written, the teacher
may call at random for them, or he may repeat a question, and ask each
pupil to read the answer he had written, or he may examine the slates.
Perhaps this method may be very successfully employed in reviews by
dictating to the class a list of questions relating to the ground they
have gone over for a week, and then instructing them to prepare answers
written out at length, and to bring them in at the next exercise. This
method may be made more formal still by requiring a class to write a
full and regular abstract of all they have learned during a specified
time. The practice of thus reducing to writing what has been learned
will be attended with many advantages so obvious that they need not be
It will be perceived that three methods of examining classes have now
been named, and these will afford the teacher the means of introducing a
very great variety in his mode of conducting his recitations, while he
still carries his class forward steadily in their prescribed course.
Each is attended with its peculiar advantages. The _single replies,_
coming from individuals specially addressed, are more rigid, and more to
be relied upon, but they consume a great deal of time, and, while one is
questioned, it requires much skill to keep up interest in the rest. The
_simultaneous answers_ of a class awaken more general interest, but it
is difficult, without special care, to secure by this means a special
examination of all. The _written replies_ are more thorough, but they
require more time and attention, and while they habituate the pupil to
express himself in writing, they would, if exclusively adopted, fail to
accustom him to an equally important practice, that of the oral
communication of his thoughts. A constant variety, of which these three
methods should be the elements, is unquestionably the best mode. We not
only, by this means, secure in a great degree the advantages which each
is fitted to produce, but we gain also the additional advantage and
interest of variety.
By these, and perhaps by other means, it is the duty of the teacher to
satisfy himself that his pupils are really attentive to their duties.
It is not perhaps necessary that every individual should be every day
minutely examined; this is, in many cases, impossible; but the system of
examination should be so framed and so administered as to be daily felt
by all, and to bring upon every one a daily responsibility.
* * * * *
We come now to consider the second general head which was to be
discussed in this chapter.
The study of books alone is insufficient to give knowledge to the young.
In the first stage, learning to read a book is of no use whatever
without the voice of the living teacher. The child can not take a step
alone. As the pupil, however, advances in his course, his dependence
upon his teacher for guidance and help continually diminishes, until at
last the scholar sits in his solitary study, with no companion but his
books, and desiring, for a solution of every difficulty, nothing but a
larger library. In schools, however, the pupils have made so little
progress in this course, that they all need more or less of the oral
assistance of a teacher. Difficulties must be explained; questions must
be answered; the path must be smoothed, and the way pointed out by a
guide who has traveled it before, or it will be impossible for the pupil
to go on. This is the part of our subject which we now approach.
The great principle which is to guide the teacher in this part of his
duty is this: _Assist your pupils in such a way as to lead them, as soon
as possible, to do without assistance._ This is fundamental. In a short
time they will be away from your reach; they will have no teacher to
consult; and unless you teach them how to understand books themselves,
they must necessarily stop suddenly in their course the moment you cease
to help them forward. I shall proceed, therefore, to consider the
subject in the following plan:
1. Means of exciting interest in study.
2. The kind and decree of assistance to be rendered.
3. Miscellaneous suggestions.
1. Interesting the pupils in their studies. There are various
principles of human nature which may be of great avail in accomplishing
this object. Making intellectual effort and acquiring knowledge are
always pleasant to the human mind, unless some peculiar circumstances
render them otherwise. The teacher has, therefore, only to remove
obstructions and sources of pain, and the employment of his pupils will
be of itself a pleasure.
"I am going to give you a new exercise to-day," said a teacher to a
class of boys in Latin. "I am going to have you parse your whole lesson
in writing. It will be difficult, but I think you may be able to
The class looked surprised. They did not know _what parsing in writing_
"You may first, when you take your seats, and are ready to prepare the
lesson, write upon your slates a list of the ten first nouns that you
find in the lesson, arranging them in a column. Do you understand so
"Then rule lines for another column, just beyond this. In parsing nouns,
what is the first particular to be named?"
"What the noun is from."
"Yes; that is, its nominative. Now you may write, at the head of the
first column, the word _Nouns_, and at the head of the second, _Nom._,
for nominative. Then rule a line for the third column. What shall this
contain!" "The declension." "Yes; and the fourth?" "Gender." "The
In the same manner the other columns were designated. The sixth was to
contain case; the seventh, the word with which the noun was connected in
construction; and the eighth, a reference to the rule.
"Now I wish you," continued the teacher, "to fill up such a table as
this with _ten_ nouns. Do you understand how I mean?"
"Yes, sir;" "No, sir," they answered, variously.
"All who do understand may take their seats, as I wish to give as little
explanation as possible. The more you can depend upon yourselves, the
Those who saw clearly what was to be done left the class, and the
teacher continued his explanation to those who were left behind. He made
the plan perfectly clear to them by taking a particular noun and running
it through the table, showing what should be written opposite to the
word in all the columns, and then dismissed them.
The class separated, as every class would, in such a case, with a strong
feeling of interest in the work before them. It was not so difficult as
to perplex them, and yet it required attention and care. They were
interested and pleased - pleased with the effort which it required them
to make, and they anticipated, with interest and pleasure, the time of
coming again to the class to report and compare their work.
When the time for the class came, the teacher addressed them somewhat as
"Before looking at your slates, I am going to predict what the faults
are. I have not seen any of your work, but shall judge altogether from
my general knowledge of school-boys, and the difficulties I know they
meet with. Do you think I shall succeed?"
The scholars made no reply, and an unskillful teacher would imagine that
time spent in such remarks would be wholly wasted. By no means. The
influence of them was to awaken universal interest in the approaching
examination of the slates. Every scholar would be intent, watching, with
eager interest, to see whether the imagined faults would be found upon
his work. The class was, by that single pleasant remark, put into the
best possible state for receiving the criticisms of the teacher.
"The first fault which I suppose will be found is that some are
The scholars looked surprised. They did not expect to have that called
"How many plead guilty to it?"
A few raised their hands, and the teacher continued:
"I suppose that some will be found partly effaced. The slates were not
laid away carefully, or they were not clean, so that the writing is not
distinct. How many find this the case with their work?"
"I suppose that, in some cases, the lines will not be perpendicular, but
will slant, probably toward the left, like writing.
"I suppose, also, that, in some cases, the writing will be careless, so
that I can not easily read it. How many plead guilty to this?"
After mentioning such other faults as occurred to him, relating chiefly
to the form of the table, and the mere mechanical execution of the work,
"I think I shall not look at your slates to-day. You can all see, I have
no doubt, how you can considerably improve them in mechanical execution
in your next lesson; and I suppose you would a little prefer that I
should not see your first imperfect efforts. In fact, I should rather
not see them. At the next recitation they probably will be much better."
One important means by which the teacher may make his scholars careful
of their reputation is to show them, thus, that he is careful of it
Now in such a case as this, for it is, except in the principles which it
is intended to illustrate, imaginary, a very strong interest would be
awakened in the class in the work assigned them. Intellectual effort in
new and constantly varied modes is in itself a pleasure, and this
pleasure the teacher may deepen and increase very easily by a little
dexterous management, designed to awaken curiosity and concentrate
attention. It ought, however, to be constantly borne in mind that this
variety should be confined to the modes of pursuing an object - the
object itself being permanent, and constant, and steadily pursued. For
instance, if a little class are to be taught simple addition, after the
process is once explained, which may be done, perhaps, in two or three
lessons, they will need many days of patient practice to render it
familiar, to impress it firmly in their recollection, and to enable them
to work with rapidity. Now this object must be steadily pursued. It
would be very unwise for the teacher to say to himself, My class are
tired of addition; I must carry them on to subtraction, or give them
some other study. It would be equally unwise to keep them many days
performing example after example in monotonous succession, each lesson a
mere repetition of the last. He must steadily pursue his object of
familiarizing them fully with this elementary process, but he may give
variety and spirit to the work by changing occasionally the modes. One
week He may dictate examples to them, and let them come together to
compare their results, one of the class being appointed to keep a list
of all who are correct each day. At another time each one may write an
example, which he may read aloud to all the others, to be performed and
brought in at the next time. Again, he may let them work on paper with
pen and ink, that he may see how few mistakes they make, as mistakes in
ink can not be easily removed. He may excite interest by devising
ingenious examples, such as finding out how much all the numbers from
one to fifty will make when added together, or the amount of the ages of
the whole class, or any such investigation, the result of which they
might feel an interest in learning. Thus the object is steadily pursued,
though the means of pursuing it are constantly changing. We have the
advantage of regular progress in the acquisition of knowledge truly
valuable, while this progress is made with all the spirit and interest
which variety can give.
The necessity of making such efforts as this, however, to keep up the
interest of the class in their work, and to make it pleasant to them,
will depend altogether upon circumstances; or, rather, it will vary
much with circumstances. A class of pupils somewhat advanced in their
studies, and understanding and feeling the value of knowledge, will need
very little of such effort as this; while young and giddy children, who
have been accustomed to dislike books and school, and every thing
connected with them, will need more. It ought, however, in all cases, to
be made a means, not an end - the means to lead on a pupil to an
_interest in progress in knowledge itself,_ which is, after all, the
great motive which ought to be brought as soon and as extensively as
possible to operate in the school-room.
Another way to awaken interest in the studies of the school is to bring
out, as frequently and as distinctly as possible, the connection between
these studies and the practical business of life. The events which are
occurring around you, and which interest the community in which you are
placed, may, by a little ingenuity, be connected in a thousand ways with
the studies of the school. If the practice, which has been already
repeatedly recommended, of appropriating a quarter of an hour each day
to a general exercise, should be adopted, it will afford great
facilities for doing this.
There is no branch of study attended to in school which may, by
judicious efforts, be made more effectual in accomplishing this object,
leading the pupils to see the practical utility and the value of
knowledge, than composition. If such subjects as are suitable themes for