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Charles Alexander McMurry.

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of educating teachers out of traditional into rational
methods. Wherever teachers in training classes,
in normal schools and in teachers' colleges, in insti-
tutes, and in any meetings for careful discussion, are
searching for the simple elements of method, the
inductive process of developing general truths and



304 METHOD OF RECITATION

applying them will give them a clear insight into the
fundamental law of good instruction.

From the pupil's standpoint this sets up every-
where the problem of self-realization. What he
needs is a chance to think and apply the truths
which make up the usual text-book, an opportunity
to develop and organize them into a body of related
knowledge. This is, in fact, exactly what is accom-
plished in classes where a skilful teacher works in-
ductively. The summaries and conclusions arrived
at in class instruction, all systematically entered in
the student's note-book, become a skeleton outline
of the subject similar to that of a text-book.

Text-books are always in place when used to re-
view and summarize ideas that have been well de-
veloped in instruction.

The text-book is also indispensable as an outline
of the subject taught. The children need such an
outline, not only for the purpose of guiding them
into definite and systematic courses, but also to help
out the irregularities of school work. Pupils who are
absent often need such a text-book to find out the
work accomplished and as a means of recovering the
ground lost

Are these In trying to lay down uniform principles of

metn d tne question naturally arises whether there
can be one method flexible enough to apply to all
studies and to children of different ages. Teachers
are prone to think that such a single method must



APPLICATIONS AND CRITICISMS 305

produce a dull uniformity in the treatment of all
studies. On the contrary, we claim that the laws
of teaching embodied in the formal steps lead natu-
rally to a great variety in the recitation work in
different studies. Perhaps the chief reason for this
is found in the diversity of general truths or laws
worked out in arithmetic, history, geography, etc.,
and in the wide variety of concrete materials out
of which these truths are developed. An examina-
tion of the processes of treating these contrasted
topics in different studies will show how great is
the variety in method coupled with uniformity in
fundamental principles.

In geography for example, in such topics as Min-
neapolis as a trade centre, irrigation in the West,
a coal mine, the Rhine River, cotton raising in the
South, etc., the chief burden of work is met in the
first and second steps, where each topic is fully dis-
cussed and reproduced by the children. On the
other hand, the general truth which is developed in
the third and fourth steps can be derived quickly,
requiring only a small portion, relatively, of the reci-
tation time. The fifth step may be briefly handled
or brought in by comparison in discussing later
topics.

This emphasis of the second step in geography
calls for a definite kind of knowledge and skill. The
teacher must know the full concrete details of his
subject and be able to present them in a graphic



306 METHOD OF RECITATION

way. In primary, intermediate, and even in gram-
mar grades this abundance of interesting material
is peculiarly appropriate to the mental condition of
the children and brings into full action the senses
and the imagination.

What has just been said of geography is largely
true of history. In the history lessons of intermedi-
ate and grammar grades there is great need for ful-
ness of biographical particulars and much dramatic
and picturesque narrative. In contrast with this re-
quirement our text-books are filled up with general
statements, important enough in themselves, but not
understood for lack of background and detail color-
ing. In history, therefore, as in geography, the for-
mal steps point out the exact spot where the greatest
improvement is now called for ; namely, in the largely
increasing amount of personal, individual, narrative
material, which should be introduced to give keener
relish and clearer understanding of historical or geo-
graphical truths. For younger children in their first
approaches to history, simple and interesting biog-
raphies are strikingly suited. The reasonableness of
this demand for historical biographies is so generally
felt that many of the recent books introductory to his-
tory have made this idea the basis of their treatment.

In history the time given to comparisons and to
the formal statement of general truths is relatively
brief, as in geography. This is illustrated in the
lessons on King's Mountain, In Unity is Strength,



APPLICATIONS AND CRITICISMS 3O/

The Settlement at Plymouth, Burgoyne's Invasion,
The Invention of the Cotton Gin, etc. Indeed, it
may be said that any geographical or historical topic
which has been fully worked over in the first and
second steps will lead up quickly to a clear under-
standing of important general truths. No great
amount of time, then, need be spent on the third
or fourth steps.

A third study which may be classed with those just
mentioned is natural science. In this, also, the first
and second steps largely predominate and absorb
most of the recitation time. Here, again, the general
truths arrived at in the third and fourth steps may be
briefly stated. But the process of treating a science
topic in the first and second steps is quite distinct from
that in geography and history. In natural science
lessons the children are in the presence of the objects
of study, and must learn to observe and scrutinize the
facts. The skill required of the teacher is not that of
graphic description or narrative, but that of guiding
the children to a close observation, description, and
inference. This is illustrated by the lessons on the
milkweed butterfly, where the children observe the
outdoor life of butterflies, collect specimens, examine,
compare, and draw conclusions as to butterfly life.

These three studies, therefore, natural science,
geography, and history, while they agree in giving a
strong emphasis to the second step, present a striking
variety in the method of treatment suited to the



3O8 METHOD OF RECITATION

peculiar materials of each study. They harmonize
also in abbreviating the third, fourth, and fifth steps ;
and yet the general truths formulated and applied in
the fourth and fifth steps are so widely divergent that
a free inventiveness and originality on the teacher's
part are always appropriate. The formal steps lay
no clamp upon the teacher.

In arithmetic our present methods of teaching
place great emphasis upon the fourth and fifth steps,
i.e. upon the statement and application of rules.
Generally speaking, neither text-books nor teachers
spend much time in the inductive solution of problems
before stating the rule. Perhaps nine-tenths of the
time of arithmetic recitations is consumed in learn-
ing and applying the rules. In arithmetic we have,
therefore, in present practice, the exact opposite of
what we have described in geography, history, and
natural science, and this is, in the main, defensible.
Even in the proper teaching of arithmetic by inductive
methods a much greater amount of time will be
spent on the fourth and fifth steps than on the first
and second. Our present practice in arithmetic
neglects the inductive approaches to rules, as every
experienced teacher knows. The formal steps call
attention to the importance of inductive processes in
working up to arithmetical rules.

In the study of formal grammar in the seventh and
eighth grades there is also a preponderance of the
fourth and fifth steps. The amount of language



APPLICATIONS AND CRITICISMS 309

material already collected in the experience of the
children makes it possible to devote the major part of
the pupil's time not to the acquisition of new indi-
vidual facts in language, but to the collection and
comparison of familiar facts, to the formulation of
general truths and their application. In developing
any language principle in the first and second steps
it is necessary to bring together familiar language
material, but there is no need for description or
narrative such as is found in geography and history.

Moreover, in both arithmetic and grammar we are
able to work out a somewhat complete and systematic
body of thought before completing the grammar
school. But in geography, history, and natural sci-
ence no such complete system is possible. As re-
marked above, it is necessary in these studies to
collect a large body of new and concrete data, and in
this lies a large part of the labor and interest of the
study. The general truths reached, while extremely
important, are not so numerous nor so complete and
systematic in statement and arrangement as in arith-
metic and grammar. The fact that the definitions and
rules of grammar and arithmetic can be definitely
developed out of particular data, and formulated in logi-
cal statements which can then be applied, makes the
treatment of topics in these studies (arithmetic and
grammar) almost perfect illustrations of the inductive-
deductive method of instruction.

In reading lessons a close analysis is necessary to



3IO METHOD OF RECITATION

show the definite application of the formal steps.
Reading has two phases. On the one side is learning
how to read, first by mastering the symbols in primary
grades, and second by drill in easy, natural oral ex-
pression in all the grades. On the other hand, reading
means learning to appreciate and interpret the thought
content of the lessons, the ideas, experiences, and
truths embodied in the best reading matter. In short,
reading may signify a mastery of symbols or a study
of literature.

The body of knowledge to be acquired in learning
how to read appears unsystematic and must be care-
fully sifted out by the teacher to get at the essential
ideas. The work consists largely of learning a set of
symbols and word forms and of associating with them
the already familiar forms of oral language. It includes
also the physical development and exercise of the
vocal organs. One of the chief causes of poor read-
ing is that teachers do not sift out the essential ideas
in this somewhat miscellaneous body of exercises.
While the general truths involved are somewhat
fugitive and difficult of formulation, they should be
as definitely grasped and stated as possible.

There are certain rules for the spelling and pro-
nunciation of words, for the distinct articulation of
vowels and final consonants, for acquiring natural,
conversational tones, for the expression of different
feelings and emotions, for emphasis and apt expres-
sion of thought.



APPLICATIONS AND CRITICISMS 311

Such general directions do not cover the whole
ground, but they indicate what sort of definiteness
should characterize the teacher's effort. They may
be worked out inductively and applied in the class
room. In order to show that the art of reading involves
principles, it is only necessary to ask, What is the
teacher's chief purpose in any given lesson ? e.g.
distinct articulation or natural expression. If she has
no such distinct purpose, her work, lacking aim, will
be loose and indefinite, and specific progress will not
be made.

Looked at from the standpoint of the thought and
culture material supplied in reading, there are many
truths, historical, scientific, and social, which ought to
be worked out in reading lessons. Illustrations of this
embodiment of truths may be found in " The Vision
of Sir Launfal," "The Great Stone Face," "The
Psalm of Life," and "Evangeline."

Reading, in both its phases, greatly emphasizes
the step of application. It is one of the most directly
useful of all studies, first because the ability to read
is applied so constantly in most kinds of instruction ;
and second, because the reading of good books sup-
plies one with the best outfit of social and culture
ideals. The fifth step, therefore, in all reading
exercises, is doubly important. To apply thoroughly
the few rules and principles of oral reading is
essential to good work, and bringing to bear the
social ideals derived from reading upon the behavior



312 METHOD OF RECITATION

and upon all the social life of the school is vitally
important. The demand for graphic, concrete
illustrations in the second step, and for the apper-
ceptive use of familiar experiences in the first step,
is strongly felt in all good reading work.

In this brief survey of the school studies we observe
that the formal steps are capable of great variety of
adjustment to the peculiar subject-matter and needs
of different studies. The widely divergent character
of the general truths developed, and the still more
divergent subject-matter from which they are drawn,
are a complete test of the flexibility of any proposed
principles of instruction. We find that these simple
principles of induction and deduction possess ade-
quate elasticity. They are not a dull, mechanical
device for reducing all studies to a uniform method.
On the contrary, they not only allow, but require,
great flexibility and originality in the teacher. At
the same time, there is a fundamental movement,
which is the same in all the studies and is the basis
of scientific method. But the point to be emphasized is
that these principles not only lay requirements upon
the teacher, but they are a great help to her ; they
define the course so clearly, in a large way, as to be
encouraging and inspiring. They bring definiteness
into the field of teaching, where without them one
is lost. They are indispensable as a guide to young
teachers, and a strong corrective of poor methods in
experienced ones.



APPLICATIONS AND CRITICISMS 313

Looking abroad, beyond the range of common
school studies, we may find in the kindergarten, in
the high school and university, in Sunday-school and
pulpit, many places which will still further test the
flexibility of this method of instruction in its applica-
tion to the needs of education.

In this chapter we have considered mainly the
varying application of the inductive and deductive
processes to text-books and to the different studies.
But the formal steps also involve other principles of
very great importance. Closely linked with the
inductive and deductive processes are the principles
of apperception, of interest, of self-activity, of logical
sequence in thinking, of aim-setting, of the selection
of types and lesson unities. All these are involved
in the application of the formal steps to each of the
branches of study. We may say, in brief, that
the inductive-deductive thought movement furnishes
the opportunity for every one of these principles to be
put into efficient operation. When properly arranged
and adjusted to one another, these principles are not
antagonistic, but work in harmony. The principle
of apperception, for instance, applies to every lesson
unity, no matter in what study, and the formal steps
make definite provision for the exercise of this prin-
ciple in each important topic studied. The other prin-
ciples may be tested in the same way, in each study.

Before any such plan of selecting and of treating
topics can be generally accepted, it should be grounded



314 METHOD OF RECITATION

in psychology and its worth practically demonstrated
to the satisfaction of teachers in a large variety of
studies. Our present educational practice is based
upon traditions and theories which partly support and
partly antagonize the principles of the formal steps.
We can well afford to examine and test them from
both standpoints.

Criticisms of Any well-matured plan based upon psychology and
sound theory ought to be an ideal which our practice
has only partially attained. Many of the best criti-
cisms, therefore, will be found to be simply practical
difficulties which inevitably arise in every effort to
gain greater proficiency and skill.

The first criticism, which the friends as well as the
opponents of any plan of instruction must seriously
consider, is found in the query, "Is it scientific?"
This question we have attempted to discuss at length
in the earlier chapters. The psychology of the in-
dividual and general notion, of percept and concept,
was laid down in the earlier chapters as the scien-
tific basis of the inductive movement in learning. If
there is any one process in mental life upon which
the psychologists, as scientific thinkers, are agreed,
we take it to be this normal movement of the mind
from particular to general, from percept to concept.
Moreover, the great educational writers, some of
them psychologists of the first rank, as Comenius,
Locke, Rousseau, Pestalozzi, and Spencer, have given
an overwhelming emphasis to this one idea.



APPLICATIONS AND CRITICISMS 315

It seems improbable that teachers will object to
any of the fundamental principles, considered singly,
such as sense perception, beginning with the individual
and concrete, self-activity in acquiring and in using
ideas, apperception, the inductive movement from
particulars to generals through close observation and
comparison, clear formulation and memorizing of the
general truth, the deductive extension of truth acquired
to new particulars, repeated applications till pro-
ficiency in common use is gained. But there is a
further question, whether we have rightly estimated
these various principles according to their relative
value, and have found out what are their true
sequence and interdependence. This organization of
essential principles into a compact plan, flexible
enough to be applied to different studies, may well
be subjected to close criticism. Even if such a plan
is adapted to geography and history, has it equal
value for mathematics, reading, and Latin ?

In this critical discussion it is not difficult to keep
in mind the three principal stages in the mental
movement upon which the formal steps are based:
(i) perception, or getting the knowledge of the
individual ; (2) the inductive process up to the clear
statement of the general truth ; (3) deduction, or the
varied application of the truth to new data. Just to
the extent to which we find this movement in learning
to be general or universal, we have a scientific basis
for method in instruction.



316 METHOD OF RECITATION

Natural reac- But we naturally resist the proposition to bind our-
law. agaiE selves down to any law of instruction. So strong is
the instinct tozvard individual freedom that we will
submit to no law unless it is very clear and very im-
perative. Instead of finding this general law ac-
, cepted, we shall be met with the unfailing criticism
that we are drifting into a hard and close routine.
This criticism is based upon the assumption that the
teacher is trying to make an artificial mould in which
mental action is to run, rather than that the nature
and constitution of the mind itself determine its mode
of activity. The main question goes back to the
previous query, Have we found the natural process ?
All will agree that the teacher cannot arbitrarily
make the process, he can only help to guide the
minds of children along the road of their best natu-
ral free expression.

We have a right to resist any arbitrary effort to
impose upon us an artificial, dogmatic law of in-
struction. But having rationally and experimen-
tally worked our way to an understanding of the
simple principles of teaching, it is true wisdom and
self-mastery to constrain ourselves in practice to con-
form to them.

The freedom of the teacher consists not in disre-
garding the law, but in finding it out and obeying it.
If psychologists and teachers have been so for-
tunate as to find the natural highways of human
thought, all this crying out against mechanism and



APPLICATIONS AND CRITICISMS 317

formalism is only so much railing at the laws of
nature. The whole question of freedom and origi-
nality in the teacher may be one of obeying the laws
of nature, or of constantly blundering in the effort
to be free and original. The teacher must have
either an instinctive tact or a conscious insight into
the simple laws of mental life and action, or this much-
lauded freedom and originality is entirely eccentric
and unreliable. That teacher will possess the great-
est freedom, versatility, and power in instruction who
is most skilful in obeying the law which regulates
the child's thinking. We are constantly driven back,
therefore, to the fundamental question : Are we mis-
taken in our interpretation of the mental movement
in children ? Have we wisely applied the principles
of psychology to method in teaching ?

But even if our principles are correct and our in-
terpretation of this general process well grounded,
we are still exposed to the danger of countenancing
a dull routine. The formal steps, like any other plan
of recitation work, may be reduced to a mechanical
form, destitute of life. There is no protection against
this kind of routine except in spirited and earnest
teachers. A well-grounded process in teaching will
not save the teacher who lacks knowledge of his
subject, who lacks insight and tact in managing
children, or who is destitute of spirit and originality.
In other words, the teacher must throw the whole
strength of his personality into those channels which



318 METHOD OF RECITATION

a wise method has laid out, or else failure is sure.
We can easily expect too much from formal princi-
ples and plans of instruction. They are valuable as
a means of economizing and of concentrating the
teacher's energies within the best channels. The
tacit assumption always is that a teacher pours his
own versatile and vigorous spirit through these
channels. Without this the form of instruction is
like a dry mill-race. It may be admitted that an
active-minded, independent teacher may feel ham-
pered, for a time, in the attempt to apply the formal
steps of instruction. But just as a young pianist
gradually overcomes awkwardness and self-conscious-
ness in following the directions dictated by the prin-
ciples of music, so the teacher can expect to free
himself gradually from the feeling of constraint, and
in the easy use of these principles find a means of
power.

Another criticism against the method of instruc-
tion under discussion is that it increases the load of
the teacher, while it reduces the amount of indepen-
dent effort required of the pupil. This criticism, if true,
strikes a fatal blow at the whole plan. There is, in
deed, an appearance of justice in this criticism. The
teacher is required to show greater skill in presenting
topics (in the second step), more power to illustrate
and explain, more insight and tact in calling out the
experience and older knowledge of children (first and
second steps), greater precision and aptness in ques-



APPLICATIONS AND CRITICISMS 319

tioning and in developing general truths (in second,
third, and fourth steps), a more complete logical
mastery of the principles of the subject taught,
and their various applications. All these things
are necessary to first-class teaching, and where the
teacher has not yet acquired this sort of professional
knowledge and skill, these requirements are indeed
a burden.

But most persons will acknowledge that these re-
quirements are just. The teacher must assume the
obligation of a larger mastery of his subject and of a
readier proficiency in class-room treatment. In this
we are simply setting up a standard to which teachers
are encouraged to rise, and which lays upon them
the burden of professional equipment.

But there is another side to this difficulty. That
which at first glance seems only a heavy burden
becomes later an inspiration and easement. Having
once acquired professional knowledge and skill, the
teacher will find his work becoming less mechanical
and burdensome, more spirited and engrossing. The
feeling of conscious power, based on previous success,
becomes an exhilaration, and the teacher moves up
to a larger freedom and capacity for instruction. In-
stead of the cramping influence of a narrow routine,
he feels the expansive energy of a clear and gener-
ous purpose working in practical ways. The crit-
icism against this so-called overburdening of the
teacher loses its point when we consider that the out-



32O METHOD OF RECITATION

come of a mastery of these principles of teaching
and of their skilful use means economy of effort and
the inspiration of success.

But the more important question is, What effect has
this method upon children ; does it make thinkers and


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Online LibraryCharles Alexander McMurryThe method of the recitation → online text (page 19 of 21)