Charles Alexander McMurry.

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much thinking.

Further questions might be the following : Where
does the tree get its food ? What part of the roots
acts as mouths for receiving the food ? If the little
hairs are so important, what suggestion would you
make about transplanting the trees ? Where, then,
could the water be best poured for watering trees ?
Why are these roots and rootlets so knotty and
irregular ? Where does this water go that enters
the roots ? Through what part of the trunk does it
pass ? Why are the leaves so thin and broad ? How
can the leaves prevent too much evaporation ? Why
are the petioles of different lengths ?

The fact that it requires very careful thinking to
word such questions as these, even after one is well
acquainted with his subject-matter, is proof that they
are an important advance upon the arrangement of
a subject by mere headings. But the teacher who
aproaches her class with that preparation, i.e. with
her questions clearly marked out, is partly protected
from wandering. A proper question requires a defi-
nite answer, while both the amount of matter included
under a heading and its nature are uncertain. Con-
sequently both teacher and pupil are more likely in
the former than in the latter case to know when they
are on the right track and when they have finished.


A third important safeguard against wandering is
closely connected with this one. If the prominent
questions that compose the outline form a necessary
sequence, a teacher is much more likely to be re-
minded at the right time of what ought to come next
than would otherwise be the case. A great law of
teaching is here involved. Applied to the single rec-
itation, it is often referred to as the law of sequence.
According to it, a lesson is by no means fully pre-
pared when the teacher has fixed in mind several
topics that she wishes to cover ; she may even have
stated these topics in the form of definite questions ;
but preparation is still very defective unless these
questions are brought into a very close sequence,
either logical, or causal, or at least natural. In fol-
lowing the topical method in United States history,
teachers often take the events of an administration
as the chief points to be considered ; but it happens
not seldom that there is no close sequence between
these points, and hence the law of sequence is violated.
In the preceding examples of the developing plan of
teaching, the leading questions in regard to England,
and in regard to the sugar tree, were arranged, so
far as possible, with reference to this principle.

Let another instance illustrate this point further.
Suppose the fifth grade in geography has learned
that a very large part of Spain consists of a plateau
with low land around the edges ; the series of ques-
tions following may form a close sequence. If the


plateau is so high, what must be the effect upon the
moisture-laden winds that rise over the edge of the
plateau ? Since a large portion of the rain will fall
upon the edge of the plateau, what about the interior
of this highland ? If little rain falls upon the interior,
what about the size of the rivers, the abundance of
grass, of woods ? If the rivers are small, etc., what
about the population of the interior ? It is plain how
such a closely connected series prevents wandering ;
for, when it is once begun, it is very easy to proceed ;
each question reminds the teacher, and often the
children, of the thought that should be next consid-
ered, and hence there is little temptation to wander.
Thus far three safeguards have been suggested to
prevent the danger of wandering, i.e. a clearly fixed
aim, an outline of topics in form of questions, and a
close sequence among the questions. The presence of
this aim and of such questions in sequence invites
both teacher and pupils to measure the worth of all
contributions from the latter and to reject what is ir-

How reviews In addition to these three means of protection it is
wandering advisable to require frequent detailed reviews and
summaries. The reviews might take place every
ten or fifteen minutes, according to the ability of the
class in this direction, and the summaries would come
less often. Reviews and summaries call for reflec-
tion in regard to the ground that has been covered ;
and, if the conversation has been wandering, the


participants are likely to be made conscious of the
fact. The instructor, at least, will be placed upon
her guard. They are made very easy, too, if, as im-
portant thoughts were presented, brief headings for
the same were placed upon the board. Some of the
better scholars should first be called upon to repro-
duce all that they can without interruption. Then,
after necessary corrections are made, others should
follow : thus the demands made upon each are tem-
pered according to his strength.

A very important principle of teaching is involved why sum-

i i ., . , maries are

in such summaries, and it applies as much to text- especially

book instruction as to the developing method. In im P rtant -

each there is a tendency to become so immersed in

details that general bearings and larger issues are

lost. This is seen in history classes that take " seven

pages in advance and seven in review," but never

find time to do more than memorize each day's

lesson ; it is seen in all studies where the advance is

so constant that students do not halt to breathe and

look about them to see the main steps that they have

taken. This principle is sometimes known as the

law of absorption and reflection. According to that

law there are two kinds of mental activity required

in study. The student employs the first when he

becomes absorbed in the study of individual facts.

He gives himself to certain details to such an extent

that attention is entirely withdrawn from other groups

of ideas. He employs the second when he withdraws


his attention from this one series of facts and directs
it to a much wider range of thought ; when he rises
high enough to take a broad survey of the field that
he is studying and to see the relationship of principal
topics to one another.

In travelling one often crosses a valley, then ascends
a hill ; one crosses another valley, and then ascends a
mountain, etc. There are heights and depths in study
as well as in travel. The student should plunge into
details, and he should rise again to a point where he
can see the ground that he has covered, both that of
the day, and often that of the preceding week, or
month, or term ; that is, he should rise to a point
where he can secure a broad view. In other words,
he should have periods of absorption and of reflec-
tion, and these two should alternate just as do hills
and valleys. In any recitation period provision
should be made for this variety of thinking, so that
after a very careful study of details a general survey
of the whole may be secured. Summaries should
be planned in accordance with this demand. If the
class is making rapid progress, there could well be
two or three summaries within thirty minutes as the
outcome of more detailed reviews. By that means
children obtain a frequent view of a long stretch of
the road that they are pursuing, and thus keep in
mind both the general direction in which they are
travelling and the principal points passed.

This law of absorption and reflection is sometimes


called the law of mental respiration. Just as we alter-
nately inspire air and then expel it, so absorption in
details and reflection in regard to them should alter-
nate. The perspective thus secured affords valuable
aid in the proper classification of one's knowledge.
If, after having studied for fifteen minutes, a pupil is
required to give a heading for the matter covered
and to recall the gist of the thought ; and if the same
thing is done for the work of the hour as a whole, for
that of the week, month, etc., if this is done, he is
allowed to withdraw far enough from particular facts
to distinguish which are relatively unimportant and
which are of the greatest value. Ordinarily in the
progress of the study of details there is not sufficient
opportunity given to distinguish their relative values.
Children are too immediately occupied with them,
that is, they are too close to them. But when at fre-
quent intervals pupils look over the territory travelled,
they have an excellent opportunity to view the differ-
ent points in the right proportion. Thus we see that
the classification of knowledge is secured and the
danger of wandering avoided by the application of
this law of absorption and reflection.

But in all teaching where attempts are made to Danger of
dispense, to a considerable degree, with textbooks, f^fhef'
there is danger of trying to develop things that can remedy,
never be developed. For instance, suppose that a
teacher remarks to a class, " Let us talk about a cer-
tain bird. Can you tell me what one I have in


mind?" In that case she is putting to the children
a question that they have no means of answering.
They may name all the birds they know and finally
hit the right one ; but it is not instruction in which
anything is unfolded or developed ; it is no real
instruction at all, but only an injurious exercise in
guessing. But the conversational plan of teaching
aims to develop the judgment of pupils ; hence the
questions asked must be of such a nature that they
may reasonably be expected to answer them. If the
teacher asks the third grade in what manner Crusoe
might salt the rabbit that he caught, she should do
so with the belief that a reasonable amount of think-
ing on their part will produce a certain reasonable
reply. To be sure, they know nothing about any salt
mine on the island, but they know that the sea is salt,
and if some one replies, as was the case in one class,
that Robinson would dip his meat into the salt sea,
or that he would allow some sea water to evaporate
and use the salt left, the answers should not be unex-
pected by the instructor. But when pupils lack data
from which to draw a reasonable answer, the ques-
tion should not be given. As a rule, no answer should
be tolerated for which a fairly good reason cannot be
offered. We see, then, that the developing plan is
dangerous in that it very easily encourages the ten-
dency to guess, and thereby encourages thoughtless-
ness instead of good sense. Where teachers are in
much doubt as to the possibility of developing a


thought, the safer plan by far is to tell it frankly or
approach it through a lesson assigned in a book.

A careful study of children will gradually reveal Precaution
to the teacher what is probably capable of develop- attempting to
ment. In times past teachers have undoubtedly erred devel P to


in supposing that almost everything new must be
given to the child in order to be comprehended and
learned ; hence their immediate resort to " telling "
and to text-books. It has been the intention in the
numerous examples given above to show that much
can be unfolded through conversation, but not all.
In connection with England the fact was given
that an abundance of coal and iron ore was found
in that country. That being the case, it was asked
what might follow. The children, knowing that
Crusoe had been shipwrecked and lay senseless
upon an island, were asked what he would be likely
to say and do when he came to his senses and stood
upon his feet. It was told to the class that a hill
unoccupied by either the British or the Americans
overlooked the city of Boston, and the children were
asked to suggest the plan that might occur to the
Americans in regard to it. Thus, even in these
instances, although many things can be developed,
some must be told. In other topics it is often nec-
essary to tell much more or to make much use of the
text-book. In all studies the teacher must see that
the children are brought into possession of the neces-
sary facts, before they are required to put these facts


together in order to work out a solution. It is a
shrewd teacher who can discriminate between those
truths that are necessarily preliminary to the prob-
lem, and those that can be reasoned out. But he who
disregards this distinction is in danger of making a
farce of development work. Aside from all this, it
is well to remember that some subjects, such as
beginning reading, writing, and spelling, are arbi-
trary or conventional in nature, and on that account
allow only a small amount of development.

Although it is often declared that the world has
made its progress by passing from one extreme to
another, yet we should guard against going from the
old plan of telling all to the new plan of developing
all. This precaution is all the more important when
the fact is recalled that the new convert to the devel-
opment method usually makes too much use of it.
is this Some teachers oppose the conversational method,

siow? d * n wn l e or m P ai % because it consumes a great deal
of time, or is too slow. They argue that so short a
time is spent in school that it is necessary to cover
ground much more rapidly. But let us see what
are the causes of this slowness. In the first place,
as we have seen, the children themselves are to con-
ceive some of the problems from day to day in each
study, and they are to find solutions for a large
number of them. The law of self-activity requires
that they do this work rather than have it done for
them. Hence, although it occupies much time, it can-


not properly be omitted. Second, the develop-
ing plan of teaching allows the expression of any
doubts, misconceptions, objections, etc., on the part of
the children or students. These need to be satisfied,
or shown to be false. That also takes time, but the
law of apperception requires time for such things,
in order that the new may really be welded to the old
in a proper way. The destruction of wrong notions
is just as necessary a part of good instruction as the
presentation of correct ones, although the former is
not usually summed up among the positive benefits
of a recitation. Hence, while such discussion occu-
pies much time, it also cannot properly be omitted.
Third, the developing plan requires that many
links be inserted in the chain of thought that would
be ordinarily presented, so that there may not be
any broad chasm between any two points. The law
of close connection or close sequence in thought re-
quires the insertion of many facts, so as to present
a situation that is fully and easily comprehended.
Hence, although this also requires much time, it can-
not properly be omitted.

We see, then, why the developing plan of teaching
requires much time, for these points mentioned cover
the chief characteristics of that method. But which
one of them ought to be omitted in order to save
time and cover ground more rapidly? If no omis-
sions are in place, then the method is not too slow.

To be sure, compared with the progress ordinarily


whatthor- made by the text-book method, this other way is
mainland extremely slow. But any one will admit that ordi-
how to secure nar iiy we pass over subject-matter altogether too
rapidly, and we should bear in mind that real prog-
ress is to be measured not by the ground appar-
ently covered, but rather by what the child actually
gets in such a way as to make it his own. Teachers
are too often inclined to hurry, measuring their prog-
ress by the amount covered ; but if the rate of
progress were determined by what the child really
digests, we should necessarily proceed very much
slower, for it takes a large amount of time properly
to digest a single important thought. This can be
seen from the fact that there are several stages in
the assimilation of a thought First, it must be seen
clearly from a single side, then it can be recalled by
the memory with some effort. After it has been
seen from several sides, however, one really begins
to feel the force of it ; then it can be recalled by the
memory with some ease. Only after it has been
seen from many sides are we able to recall it with
such ease and feel its force to such a degree that we
can begin to use it, and it is even some time after
that before we begin to use it with ease and feel that
it is fully our own. Now, much instruction consists
in giving a single view of an important thought.
That is seen in lectures. A lecturer often presents a
thought clearly in a few sentences, and then moves
on. An attentive audience sees the thought clearly


for an instant, and then something else takes its
place, and the great danger is that even in an
excellent lecture one will be given only glimpses of
fine things. But the only condition under which any
topic is really digested is that the mind dwell upon it
for a long time. It must be looked at from one side,
and then another, and then another. It must be
reflected upon at length, in order that one may be-
come saturated with it so that it seems a part of him.
The developing plan of teaching, by allowing
different persons to be heard from and to express
their thoughts from different points of view, provides
the necessary time for the mind to dwell upon a
matter and see it in various lights ; in other words, it
provides for real digestion of thoughts. When we
reflect that probably nine-tenths of the information
acquired in school is forgotten, and that only a por-
tion of the remaining one-tenth has really been di-
gested in such a way as to be a power within us, the
need of a slower method of instruction becomes
apparent. If we were to cover ground one-half as
fast, and spend twice as much thought upon a topic,
we should learn much more effectively than we do at
present. Enlightened teachers generally admit this
statement as a fact, but they are controlled by the
habits of the past when it comes to actual instruction.
It must be acknowledged that the developing method
is slow, but that is the kind of method that both
children and teachers need. Since the ordinary

1 62


Final advice
in regard to
use of devek

tendency is to cover ground altogether too rapidly,
any method which puts a check upon teachers and
secures greater thoroughness is to be welcomed.

The main objections that have been stated to an
abundance of discussion in classes of all ages are three,
i.e. the tendencies to wander, to guess, and to progress
too slowly. Although there are means of overcoming
them, the objections are sufficiently weighty to pre-
vent the majority of teachers from depending mainly
upon conversation as a means of reaching new knowl-

A few instructors can limit themselves almost
wholly to that method, at least in some subjects, and
make their nearest approach to ideal teaching. But
such effective work is the result of much native
ability and extensive experience, as said before. It
is wise for the majority to depend in large measure
upon text-books in most studies. But in no branch
should a text be so closely followed that the recitation
period is spent simply in reproducing the contents of
a book ; that is slavish work, taxing chiefly the mem-
ory and giving no guarantee of real assimilation.
Even where the book is in regular use, some of its
statements can well be anticipated and developed by
conversation before they are assigned in the book
itself. This can often be done in the assignment of
the lesson. Many other statements need to be fol-
lowed out in detail far beyond the meagre account in
the text. Hence, even where the book is used, the


recitation period should be occupied, not with cate-
chetical questions on the text, but with discussions
either of problems whose solution will be found in
the text later, or of statements already met there,
but needing much amplification in order to be ap-

Since discussion is to play so prominent a part in Kindofques
all good teaching, it is well to realize that the skill p" s *
required in conducting it is shown first of all in the
value of the questions asked. It is necessary, there-
fore, for the ambitious teacher to become a careful
student of the art of questioning. Especially must
she consider the purpose of the questions. Ordina-
rily they aim merely to test the presence of knowl-
edge supposed to be already acquired in the lesson
assigned, as map questions in geography. But those
necessary in the developing method cannot aim pri-
marily to test memory in this way ; they must pro-
voke thought first of all. Hence, instead of catechetical
questions, or others that can be fully answered by a
yes or a no, or by memorized statements in the book,
those are to be put which are suggestive enough to
arouse thought and broad enough to call for even a
series of thoughts. The preceding pages offer nu-
merous examples of this kind. One of their merits is
that, while they provoke or stimulate thought, they
at the same time test the presence of knowledge.
Socrates resorts continually to questions that fulfil
this double function. In his conversations with young


men he tests what they know while spurring them on
to the most careful thinking.

vivid mental Throughout this chapter we have been consider-
* n & tne metno cl of presenting new individual notions

securing or concrete facts. One object is to offer them in


such a manner that a vivid picture will be produced
and a deep interest be aroused. This demand for
vividness should ever be borne in mind by the
teacher. Children should practically see Minneapolis
with its waterfall and flour mills, with its wheat fields
to the west, and its farm products of all kinds com-
ing and going. Likewise Midas, and his little daugh-
ter coming to kiss him in the early morning, should
stand out distinctly before them ; so the different
stages in the lives of certain insects should be accu-
rately pictured ; and the several colonies quarrelling
and fighting with one another after the Revolution,
should appear almost as clearly as disagreements on
the playground are recalled. The developing method,
with its searching, thought-provoking questions, is to
be applied to this end. But other means, also, are
to be kept in mind. One of them has already re-
ceived emphasis; namely, the past related experiences.
Indeed, the developing method is made possible only
through these.

In addition to these means it is important to pro-
duce in class, so far as possible, the object talked aboiit.
It has taken centuries of progress to realize this
need. During many generations following Colum-


t>us's discovery of America people had an unlimited
faith in the power of words, whether the words
represented familiar ideas or not. They were as
far removed from the use of objects as they could
possibly be. They even ignored the mother-tongue
in approaching a foreign language, learning Latin
through a grammar that was entirely in the Latin
language. Finally Comenius advocated pictures illus-
trating the idea symbolized by the word, and in con-
sequence his " Orbus Pictus," or picture book, issued
in 1657, became one of the most noted school books
ever published. By the help of such illustrations
one could get some notion of the object mentioned,
even though he had never seen it.

Another century passed before Pestalozzi was born,
who partially convinced the world that even pictures
were inadequate and that teachers must make it their
practice either to bring things into the schoolroom
to be studied, or to take the children out to see them.
The lesson is not yet half learned, but here and there
are instructors who do regularly bring insects and
flowers into the school, who visit museums with their
classes, and even go on lengthy excursions with
them. They aim to make not only their nature study
but other studies concrete thereby ; they visit museums
to see historical relics ; they make excursions to see
actual valleys ; they use objects to show how real frac-
tional units can be added ; they do all this in order to
secure living pictures of what is studied. There is



as much difference between seeing a thing and merely
hearing about it, as there is between visiting Paris

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Online LibraryCharles Alexander McMurryThe method of the recitation → online text (page 10 of 21)