Charles Alexander McMurry.

The method of the recitation online

. (page 12 of 21)
Online LibraryCharles Alexander McMurryThe method of the recitation → online text (page 12 of 21)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

or ten recitations are usually required to teach the
story of the Discontented Pine Tree. One period
is necessary for the first step, then five or six for the
narrative itself or the second step, and the other
three for the general truth and its application. It
would take fully as much time for the Golden Touch
in the third or fourth grade. Several individual
trade centres should be studied somewhat in detail
before the generalization, trade centre, could be
reached. Minneapolis as the first example, and a
type, might require two weeks, although the others
could be taught in much less time.

In order to realize that all sections of our coun-
try must be firmly united under one central govern-
ment, very many data are necessary. A careful
treatment of those given in Chapter II could easily
occupy two months in the sixth grade.

Require- The successful treatment of these concrete data

ma -kes a great demand upon the teacher. In order to
excite deep interest among her children in her subject-
matter, she herself must be deeply interested in it.
As she approaches the class she must feel that she


has something valuable to give them, something that
they will value highly as well as she. How little
this is the case with many common topics, as per-
son, voice, and case in grammar; the location of
cities in geography; the teaching of the several
cases in percentage, etc. ! The first demand on the
teacher is, then, that she know her subject thor-
oughly and feel its richness. But far beyond that,
she must have prepared each lesson with much care
before she can hope to provoke free, pointed discus-
sion, of such quality that good summaries will be
given in the natural language of the child.

This is the ideal, which can never be fully at-
tained. But it can at least be approached ; and there
is the consolation, too, in case of failures, that con-
stant, earnest practice will rapidly render a near
approach to it more and more easy.

In the last two chapters a large number of factors Summary,
have been considered that are important in the
preparation for, and presentation of, individual no-
tions. The first great question was, How should
individual notions be approached ? The answer,
was that the past experiences, related closely to a
given topic, should be called to mind in abundance ;
the method of doing that received much attention.
The second great question, How should individual
notions be presented ? has now been discussed at
length. This completes our consideration of indi-
vidual notions. It is evident that there are two steps


in their mastery ; first, the step in which the mind is
prepared for the new concrete matter ; and, second,
that in which the latter is presented. These will
often be referred to in the future as the first and
second steps of instruction.



INSTRUCTION often ceases at this point as though
all was finished when individual notions have been
acquired. This is the case in much of history and
geography; that is, in these subjects there is often
little more done than to collect a mass of facts about
individual men, battles, administrations, cities, moun-
tains, rivers, etc. But we have seen that percepts
without concepts are blind, they give no insight into

general truths and laws. Sense impressions, vivid A starting-

point tor
concrete pictures or percepts, are only the starting- general

point in instruction; its end has not been reached
until these concrete data have been sifted and fully material.
interpreted. We have thus far, as it were, merely
collected the material out of which to build some
structure; just what kind it shall be is not yet
determined; it now remains to look over the many
things with care, to see what can best be made out of
them. Or we have thus far only gotten together in
piles the books which are to constitute our library ;
the usefulness of the same will now depend upon the




How a full
view of
notions may
be secured.

care that is taken in sorting, arranging, and indexing
them. Hence there is much work still to be done.

It might happen that the mere sight of building
materials would hint at the best use to which they
might be put. So in instruction it can happen that
the concrete data immediately suggest the large truth
that they are intended to teach. This is the case with
the Golden Touch. The experiences of Midas, his
repentance, etc., are not peculiar to the king alone.
The child quickly feels that Midas is typical of many
people, and that, if their selfish wishes were granted
they, too, like him, would be grievously disappointed.
Thus a glimpse is caught of the general truth, the
universal application.

But is it not important to catch more than a glimpse
of such a weighty truth ? Should not ?ifull view of
it be obtained by bringing together those facts within
this narrative that point to it, and also by calling to
mind other stories and any actual experiences of life
that teach the same thought? Baucis and Philemon
had their wish ; did they choose more or less wisely than
Midas? Why? In what respects was Salomon's choice
a wise one ? How did Midas overestimate the value of
money ? What use did Robinson Crusoe make of his
bag of money when upon the island ? Why ? Such
comparisons and questions bring the chief thought
into full view until it can be stated in words, and they
do it in such a way as to establish a conviction.

Any student of United States history necessarily


becomes acquainted with some of the sad results of
our want of unity during the Revolutionary War and
the years immediately following ; but because the in-
struction is not planned to teach convincingly that our
states must be united, no intelligent conviction in regard
to that matter is established ; some of the most valuable
data are omitted entirely, and those that are furnished
by the book and teacher are not so massed as to point
inevitably to close union as the solution of the many

Geography contains almost an overplus of concrete
facts, but too often instruction stops with them, and
the result is that only a vague conception is given of
trade centre, manufacturing country, canal, harbor,
mountain, beautiful view, etc. Beyond doubt the de-
fect is due partly to the fact that individual trade cen-
tres, harbors, mountains, etc., are not studied in such
detail as to furnish the accurate facts necessary for a
fairly correct concept. Some idea of the number of
details required for that purpose was given in connec-
tion with Minneapolis. But the defect is due also to
the fact that such concrete data as are studied are not
brought together and compared. Minneapolis and
the other cities along the Mississippi River that were
mentioned represent only one kind of trade centre.
Minneapolis is an excellent type of our large Western
cities that deal largely in grain and lumber, and ship
goods in and out by rail. But all centres of trade do
not handle mainly these goods, nor depend so fully

1 88


How a single
case is mis-

upon railways. Buffalo adds coal and live stock to the
articles mentioned, and waterways by the Great Lakes
and Erie Canal. Pittsburg deals largely in iron
products, London in wines, fruits, iron goods, etc. A
glimpse of the characteristics necessary to a trade
centre is furnished by a study of Minneapolis alone.
But in this case, as in that of Midas, more than a
glimpse is wanted ; and it can be gotten by compar-
ing facts along the same line learned from other sources.
In this case several great cities should be carefully
compared in order to reach a clear conception of
trade centre.

One can get only a faulty conception of the
general notion of valley by observing one valley. It
is customary in good schools to examine a neigh-
boring valley, estimating its length, breadth, etc.
But it is usually so narrow that one can throw
across, or at least see across it. It gives scarcely a
suggestion of the great Mississippi Valley. Many
a child, who can define this word and illustrate what
he means, is mystified by being assured that he
himself lives in the Mississippi Valley, for he has
never even seen that river. So the worded defini-
tion fails of interpretation until numerous valleys
of various sizes and characteristics are studied and

Danger of These instances show that it is unsafe to stop
shorTofgen- snor t of the abstract truths, the rules, laws, or defi-
erai truths, nitions. When one has presented only the individual


notions he has, as it were, what he knows to be valu-
able gold ore in his possession. But the latter must
be refined before it can be brought into relation to
human needs, before it can be used ; so with knowl-
edge; the non-essentials that are mixed with the
essentials in concrete facts must be separated from
these before the latter can become adapted to our
use. That itself is a very important part of instruc-
tion. In arithmetic it is not left to one or a few
examples worked to suggest of themselves the arith-
metical rule ; that would involve too much risk. It
is a matter of vital importance to compare the steps
taken in adding different groups of fractions in order
to discover what must always be done, i.e. what the
rule is. This is the case, too, in all study. The
first and second great steps of instruction give com-
mand at best of well-arranged series of individual
facts; from these the general truths are still to be
drawn; and unless this is done the instruction of
the teacher is, as a rule, largely in vain. So far as
knowledge is concerned, general truths are the
teacher's harvest; just as the reaping and threshing
of wheat are essential parts of wheat raising so the
careful reaching of generalizations is an essential
part of good instruction.

While the acquisition of concrete facts may be
regarded as a single large step, it was found to con-
sist of two minor acts, each of which involved a
large number of valuable considerations. So the


progress from individual to general notions is not
simple; enough has been said to indicate that the
individuals must be compared in order to discover
in what respects they are alike and what properties
are essential to all ; then must follow a collection of
the essential characteristics of the class and an
expression of the same in words in the form of a
definition, maxim, or proverb, etc. Hence, there
TWO steps in may be said to be two stages in proceeding from
tion? individual to general notions : one, the stage of com-

parison and abstraction, the other, of definition ; the
former would then be the third, the latter the fourth
step in the mastery of general notions, since, as
shown above, two are necessary in acquiring the
concrete data.

Third Step

Comparison presupposes a knowledge of things to
be compared ; one cannot well hunt out resemblances
and differences among objects before these them-
selves have been separately studied. The argument
for this statement is well worth thinking out, it
would require too much space to be presented here.
The opposite practice is quite common.

The extent to which the comparison is carried
must depend upon the number and nature of the
data furnished through the second step, or through
other similar experiences acquired either in or out-
side of school. Few problems involving addition of
fractions need be solved before their comparison can


take place with the view of reaching the rule. This The ease or
is because one problem is quickly recognizable as reaching gen.
typical of all others. Likewise the metamorphosis eralizati ns.
of one insect readily represents that of others of
the same class. The moral of a story may easily
be reached from the one narrative when the theme
is simple and when it recalls numerous past experi-
ences tending in the same direction. This is the
case with the Golden Touch. Children who are
quickly susceptible to the force of the underlying
truth must necessarily have been led already to re-
flect on the occasional uselessness of gold; for
instance, they have found Crusoe rightly preferring
a jack-knife to a whole bag-full of money. And
such experiences, coupled with the narrative, indeed
compared with it unconsciously, cause the moral to
seem easy and capable of being reached at a single
bound. However, as already shown, it is reached
much more effectively if time is taken to recall other
related experiences and compare them all.

But some of our great classics furnish remarkable
examples of a common inability to " read between the
lines." Pestalozzi's " Leonard and Gertrude " was un-
doubtedly regarded only as an interesting story, not
as a work on education, by the great majority of its
multitude of admirers during the previous century.
Even to-day students need to be cautioned that it is
educational in its aim before they are inclined to dis-
cover in it educational truths. One hundred years


ago people wanted many of the experiences that
must be put alongside those of this story in order to
bring out clearly its fundamental thought. Now
they have plenty of them, but easily fail to call them
to mind and to associate them with the contents of
the book. Hence it must be a part of the instructor's
duty to call up such experiences and suggest, through
them, the generalizations intended.

Pestalozzi's book furnishes an excellent example of
a properly realized second step ; i.e. there is an abun-
dance of incidents or particulars so presented as to be
very clearly seen and to appear interesting ; but while
there is no fault to find with it in that respect, the
reader must extricate himself from this mass of details
and discover the great truths that the essential parts
of the story indicate before he has really read the
book or gotten its worth.

In general, this step of comparison must be a con-
siderable abridgment of what is necessary in a com-
plete induction. It would be agreeable if a great
number of individual valleys, trade centres, and stories
teaching the same underlying thought as the Golden
Touch, etc., could be studied in detail. But want of
time, in school at least, forbids. Only a few well-
chosen types can there receive such close attention,
and they must represent and explain in a rough way
the entire class to which they belong. It is for the
home and later life to supplement this work of the


If these individuals have been accurately and in- The various
terestingly taught, the comparison that follows can comparison?
awaken much life. It is interesting to note how a
cat or a dog runs across the floor ; but it is more in-
teresting still to note how the former is fitted to do
it so much more quietly than the latter. We enjoy
observing just how the sheep, the cow, or the horse
clips off grass from the meadow, but we enjoy still
more the comparison of them to discover why one
prefers long grass and another grass that is very
short. Tennyson's poem of "The Brook" is very
attractive in itself, but after seeing what message a
little stream carries not only to one poet but to two
or three, it is especially attractive to compare these
messages and their various styles of expression. The
old Greek heroes were wonderful men ; so were our
own pioneers. A class that has formed a close
acquaintance with both sets of men is likely to be-
come especially stirred in determining which had the
greater difficulties to meet and which were the nobler.

Such comparisons increase not only the interest in
knowledge, but its accuracy and definiteness as well.
One serious defect in most instruction is that the
facts taught are abandoned too soon for the sake of
new ones, and in consequence they are neither thor-
oughly comprehended nor even retained in memory.
But the moment we begin to compare animals or
poems, or men, etc., they must be recalled vividly to
mind ; thus a careful review is instituted. But more


than that : this knowledge is not reproduced in just
the same way in which it was originally acquired ; it
is approached from some new point of view, it is seen
in one or more new relations. We may be well
acquainted with the life of Washington or of Lincoln ;
but if asked to show in what respects they were alike,
or in what respects one was superior to the other, we
would have hard thinking before us. Each life would
need to be reviewed from a new position ; points that
we have been in the habit of emphasizing might
receive little attention, while others that have been
neglected might be brought into prominence ; the
result would be that new thoughts and perhaps new
convictions would be reached. So a comparison of
the Rhine, Hudson, and Mississippi valleys causes
a careful review of each and adds new thoughts or
conclusions to our stock. Most people are prone to
recall facts, for instance, the causes of the Revolution-
ary War, in the same order in which they were first
learned, if they recall them at all; in consequence
they make little advance in their knowledge, it does
not grow more thorough. But comparisons tend to
remedy the defect by forcing them to look at a sub-
ject from one side, then from another and another,
etc., the result is that their knowledge becomes more
thorough, for seeing any topic from many sides or in
many relations means thoroughness. Thus compari-
sons are an important agent in securing interesting
reviews and wide comprehension of a subject.


In developing the idea of nouns the teacher gives
examples of nouns such as horse, mountain, deer,
tree, boy, apple, barn, etc. By examining and com-
paring such words as to their meaning, children will
conclude that nouns must be the names of objects.
But if the teacher suggests that there are other
nouns such as running, playing, talking, eating, etc.,
and shows that these too can be used in the same
way as the previous list, the children, by comparison
of the two groups of ideas, will modify their state-
ment and conclude that nouns are the names of both
objects and actions.

Let the teacher now call to mind such nouns as
courage, honesty, beauty, kindness, strength, fear,
etc., and show how they are used in sentences.
After further comparison of the three groups, the
children may include names of qualities in their defi-
nition of nouns. The teacher may go farther and
show that any word like under or quickly can be used
as a noun, as " Under is a word of two syllables."
By still further comparisons the children may be able
to see that a noun is the name of anything used as an
object of thought. Without such a series of compari-
sons it is difficult to see how the notion of nouns can
be clearly formed and a correct definition obtained.

In getting a clear notion of vertebrate animals,
children may notice the backbone first in quadrupeds,
then in birds, later in fishes, frogs, serpents, etc.
Only by successive comparisons do they arrive at a


comprehensive view of the groups of animals included
under the term vertebrates. By a similar process of
comparisons does a child get the wider significance
of boat, road, fruit, government, church, states-
man, etc.

HOW com- The third step was spoken of not only as a step of
* comparison but also of abstraction. How the latter

tions. takes place may be seen from examples. In the

study of trade centres the individual characteristics of
each were considered in detail. Without any further
study of them we have a partially correct conception
of the idea trade centre. But if we wish to make
it at all accurate, we must first compare these several
great cities: one, Minneapolis, is the centre for flour
and lumber, another for coal, another for iron, fruits,
grain, etc. Some depend mainly upon water for
transportation, others upon railways, others upon
both to a marked degree. Hence in order to be
styled a trade centre it is unnecessary that a certain
city deal largely in flour ; neither must it be iron, nor
coal; in fact, it makes no difference just what the
articles be, so we leave that matter out of considera-
tion. What do we hold in mind then ? Those char-
acteristics simply that are really essential and hence
common to all trade centres. In order to be properly
called a trade centre there must be a large quantity
of goods shipped to and from a certain city; also
there must be conveniences for transportation, i.e.
plenty of railroads or waterways or other means for


carrying. The attention is drawn away (abstracted)
from all minor and non-essential matters and centred
finally upon those that are necessary for conceiving
trade centre properly. In reaching a correct defini-
tion of valley, one goes through exactly this same
process of comparison and abstraction. It is practi-
cally the same in reaching the generalization in his-
tory in regard to unity. In that case while many
details were studied showing the troubles that fol-
lowed the Revolutionary War, only the more signifi-
cant of these are now considered. They are brought
together and compared perhaps ten or twelve im-
portant facts ; most of these are found to be alike
in pointing toward unity as their remedy ; if some of
them, though important, do not hint strongly at unity,
the attention is withdrawn (abstracted) from them
and centred on those that do. These latter being
weighty matters, and pointing all to the same con-
clusion, are recognized as sufficient data on which to
found the conviction that our states should be united.
People are continually reaching conclusions in
this way, i.e. through comparison and abstraction
so it is nothing strange. But the difficulty is that
they do it very carelessly and hence make mistakes.
They are prone to the same errors in this case as in
the observation of the common objects about them,
i.e. the results reached are hazy and inaccurate
unless they expend conscious effort or do some real
studying. It is the duty of teachers to give children



Why clear
statement of
truths is

training in this work and to lead them to reach im-
portant generalizations correctly in all school studies.

Fourth Step

After separating essentials from non-essentials,
it remains to collect the former and to word clearly
and accurately the result reached ; for example, the
necessary characteristics of a trade centre, the rule
for addition of fractions, the law for the metamor-
phosis of insects, the underlying thought in the
Golden Touch, or the generalization regarding unity,
should receive definite statement. This is not an
easy matter ; the world is full of people who " know
ft but can't tell it." Some of the most common ideas
are defined in words with the greatest difficulty.
For instance, teachers quite frequently speak of
good character as the purpose of education, yet they
seldom dare attempt to state what the chief ele-
ments in such character are ; all people are ac-
quainted with Christ's parables of the sower, and of
the wheat and the tares;' yet it costs a struggle to
word properly the thought in either of them. Every
one, no doubt, has often been surprised at his ina-
bility to express himself on a topic with which he
had supposed himself to be familiar. What is the
cause of the difficulty? Beyond question in most
cases it is not first of all a lack of words, but of
clearness of ideas ; when one knows exactly what his
thought is, he can usually give expression to it ; hesi-


tation is due to vagueness. It means a decided ad-
vance in thinking to state a conclusion tersely in
words ; it is an advance, too, that should be regu-
larly required from all learners, for the final utility
of the three preceding steps in instruction is directly
dependent on the clearness and accuracy with which
generalizations are reached ; their purpose is to lead
to generals, and nothing is clinched until these latter
are fully expressed.

In whose words should the abstraction be stated, who shall
in those of the child or student, on the one hand, st atement.
or in those of the book or teacher ? Much is involved
in the question. As a rule, the mistake is made of

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 12 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21

Online LibraryCharles Alexander McMurryThe method of the recitation → online text (page 12 of 21)