James Pyle Wickersham.

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mortality, God. Doubts will come soon enough,
and strong enough ; childhood is the time for trust.



" Man, in fact," says Sir William Hamilton, "only
obtains the use of his faculties in obtaining the use
of speech ; for language is the indispensable means
of the development of his natural powers, whether
intellectual or moral." The truth of this statement
is unquestionable, and it shows at once the de-
servedly high place Language holds in a course of
study. For its beauty as a science, for its useful-
ness as an art, for its disciplinary advantages as a
study, Language can scarcely be outranked in excel-
lence by any other subject open to the contemplation
of finite minds.

The following divisions are deemed proper :

I. Instruction in our Mother-Tongue.
II. Instruction in the Dead Languages.
III. Instruction in Living Foreign Languages.

I. Instruction in our Mother-Tongue.

I^obody will deny that to be able to read and write
our Mother -Tongue with accuracy and facility is a^
valuable acquirement, but even some teachers hold
that its further study is of little use. In these cir-
cumstances it may be worth while to make a few

U* (161)

162 instructions" IX language.

statements intended to favor the study of the English
Language as a science.

A knowledge of the Enghsh Language, as a
science, is necessary to a nice appreciation of it.
One who is accustomed to hear well-spoken dis-
courses, or to read well-written hooks, may be able
in good degree to understand the meaning and per-
ceive the beauty of what he hears or reads ; but to
enable an individual to appreciate those more deli-
cate shades of thought, or those finer touches of
beauty, which may be expressed in words, careful
study is necessary. If any doubt it, let them test
the matter. Take a poem of Milton's, or an oration
of "Webster's, and enter upon a critical examination
of it with a well-read man who has never studied
Grammar or Rhetoric, and you will most likely find
that many things relating to its arrangement, its
choice of words, its introduction of figures, its con-
struction of sentences, its order of paragraphs, have
almost altogether escaped his attention; and that
even man}^ things which he has noticed he cannot
express in appropriate words. JSTo art, indeed, can
be fully appreciated without a knowledge of the
science or sciences upon which it is based, and lan-
guage is no exception.

A knowledge of the English Language, as a
science, is necessary to its skilful use. "With suita-
ble models for imitation, a child may learn to speak
and write correctly. A favored son of genius may
be so gifted with speech that without the prepara-
tion of study he can lead men captive by the charms
of his poetry or the power of his eloquence. But
these facts do not invalidate the proposition which


heads tliis paragraph. Suitable models for imitation
may, indeed, enable a child to speak and write his
Mother Tongue with as much accuracy as is gen-
ei^ally required by the common usages of society,
but the degree of skill thus acquired would be en-
tirely inadequate to the higher purposes of Litera-
ture. If the gift of genius in the use of language,
on the part of the one who has it, be taken as a fact
indicating that no necessity exists for study on the
part of the thousands who have it not, there is no
reason why the same principle might not be applied
to all human efforts, for in each of these, at some
time, genius has enjoyed triumphs. It is not possi-
ble for ordinary men to use language w^ith skill who
have not closely studied the signification of words,
the structure of sentences, the characteristics of
style, and the composition of discourse. The Greeks
made their language a prominent object of stud}^,
and the classic elegance of their writings is the
delight of all readers. The Parisians, by the same
means, are fast making the French the language of
refined society throughout Europe. Demosthenes
prepared his unequalled orations with immense
labor, and the same is true, with fewer exceptions
than is generally supposed, of all great speakers
and writers.

A knowledge of the science of the English Lan-
guage is valuable for its own sake. We study not
merely to use, but to know. Knowledge is of much
worth in itself. Language is subject to laws which
control its growth, its changes, its constructions.
If it is worth while to study the laws which relate
to the mineral masses of the earth, to plants, to


animals, to stars, it cannot be less worth while to
study the laws which relate to human speech. The
science of the English Language contains as much
worth knowing as any other science, the study of it
is as valuable for discipline, and as well calculated
to lift the mind up to the contemplation of what is
most noble in human life and human thought. In-
deed, it would seem that our Mother-Tongue ought
to have more interest for us than almost any other
thing. It is by means of our powers of speech that
we hold converse with our friends, in words we
embalm our thoughts, in words our heart's highest
aspirations are expressed. Except the soul itself,
earth can present nothing more wonderful or more
clearly evincing Divine wisdom and goodness than

A knowledge of the science of the English Lan-
miaire is valuable to us on account of the relations
of the science of language to other sciences. Lan-
guage must be used to record all the observations
and discoveries which are made in any department
of science, and the scientific man feels the constant
want of words adapted to express his meaning. He
sees things which he cannot describe ; he feels
thoughts stir within him which he cannot express.
Suftering from such a disability, he says what he
does not mean, and is misunderstood, perhaps
maligned. The history of s(^ience records many
"wars of words." Bacon, Locke, and many other
writers lament the errors in science which arise
from a misuse of language. "While language has
thus an intimate general relation to all the sciences,
its relations are particularly close to History and the


Pliilosopliy of tlie Mind. The language of a people
reveals their inmost life, ^ot only what they did,
but what they were, becomes fossilized in words, and
men can read the record after the lapse of centuries.
So the mind reflects itself in speech as in a mirror.
The laws of thought are found expressed in the laws
of speech, and hence the sciences of Logic and
Grammar have much in common.

The preceding statements, showing the value of a
knowedge of our Mother-Tongue, prepare the way
for a detailed discussion of the methods of instruc-
tion adapted to the various branches which relate
to it. Generall}^ stated they are as follows :

I. Learning to Eead our Mother-Tongue.
IL Learning to Understand our Mother-
III. Learning to Compose in our Mother-

I. Learning to Eead our Mother-Tongue.

Under the head of Learning to Read our Mother-
Tongue, we will discuss methods of imparting
instruction in the Alphabet, Pronunciation, Spelling,
and Beading,

The Alphabet.

Already something has been said concerning
methods of teaching children to speak correctl}^,
hereafter something further will be presented on the
subject ; here some degree of familiarity with spoken
w^ords on the part of the. pupil is taken for granted.


Reasons liave been given also why the instruction
of a child should commence with things rather than
with words ; but, since there will come a time when
he must be made acquainted with written language,
we will now consider methods of teaching the

There are tAventy-six letters in the Alphabet of
the English Language. In order that children be
made acquainted with these characters, they must
learn : first, to know their forms ; second, to asso-
ciate their names with their forms. That will be
the best method of teaching the Alphabet which
impresses the forms of letters most deeply upon the
memories of learners, and succeeds in making the
most lasting associations between these forms and
their names.

In teaching the forms of letters, the sense of sight
is addressed ; and in teaching their names, the sense
of hearing. To the blind, a knowledge of the forms
of the letters is communicated through the sense of
feeling. The deaf and dumb cannot learn the names
of the letters — they can learn to write but not to

It is possible that our English letters are the
changed forms of symbols used by the ancient
Phoenicians or Eg^^ptians, and they may once have
represented real objects; but now they are wholly
arbitrary. Many other forms might be adopted that
would answer the purpose just as M^ell. The names
of the letters, too, are arbitrary ; at least so far as a
child can understand. The names of some of them
do possess an analogy to the sounds they are in-
tended to represent ; but there are so many depar-


tures from this principle that little practical advan-
tage can be derived from it in teaching. A child
cannot see why de is a more appropriate name for
the letter d, than ge would be ; why z should be
called ze, instead of zed^ izzurd, or any other name ;
nor why the twenty-six names in use have been
chosen in preference to as many others.

To learn our Alphabet, then, a child must become
acquainted with twenty-six arbitrary forms, and
associate with them twenty-six arbitrary names.

Infants first notice objects, as cat, dog, clock;
next, they learn to associate certain verbal utter-
ances with these objects, and always look for the
thing when its name is mentioned ; and, finally, '
they attain the power of imitating these utterances,
or they learn to talk. Objects familiar to a child
may be represented by pictures, and he may be
exercised in naming the objects thus represented.
Such exercises upon the pictures of familiar objects
may be followed by others upon the pictures of un-
familiar objects, and the child may be taught to call
the pictures of a lion, a tiger, a camel, an ostrich,
&c., by their right names. Other lessons might
acquaint the child with the forms and names of
some of the simpler diagrams used in Mathematics,
such as squares, triangles, circles, and rectangles.
These exercises seem to present a series of easily
followed progressive steps from the first attemj^ts at
talking to the task of learning the Alphabet. They
follow essentially the steps which preceded the in-
vention of the Alphabet. The principle is the same
in all, that of learning forms and their names. The


Alphabet is more difficult to learn, because its forms
and names are arbitrary.

The Alphabet may be taught in two ways : first,
by commencing with letters; second, by com-
mencing with words. The first may be called the
A B Q Method, and the second the Word Method.

1. The ABC Method. — The ABC Method
commences with letters. As the manner of con-
ducting a recitation in the Alphabet, according to
this method, depends somewhat upon the kind of
apparatus used, a convenient classification may be
based upon it.

1st. The Manner of teaching the Alphabet from a
Book, — As the Alphabet was taught some yeaTS
ago, and as it is taught now to a more limited
extent, each pupil was provided with a book, called
a Primer, or an A B C Book, from which he recited
his lesson. Teachers generally called their pupils
up singly, and, with pen, pencil, or pen-knife,
pointed to the letters, from a to z, or from z to a,
and asked their names, or told what they should be
called. The whole twenty-six letters were named
in quick succession, little efi:brt was made to im-
press their forms or names upon the pupils' memo-
ries, no questions were asked or instruction given
apart from the lesson which might be calculated to
add interest to it, and the work of recitation was a
short process, but a very dull and dry one.

More skilful teachers may use books in teaching
the Alphabet to better advantage. Instead of pur-
suing a fixed order in their teaching, and invariably


passing from the first letter of the Alphabet to the
last, or from the last to the first, they may select at
the commencement a few of those letters which
possess the most easily remembered forms, describe
them, ask questions about them, and engage their
pupils in searching for them among other letters.
Used in this manner, the Alphabet may be taught
from a book quite readily ; but as only one at a time
can be heard conveniently, this manner of conducting
a recitation loses the advantages of classification;
and, besides, looking at and talking about forms are
not the best conditions for remembering them.

2d. The 3fa7iner of teaching the Alphabet with Cards.
— Cards used for giving instruction in the Alphabet
should be large, and the letters should be printed
upon them in large type. The first Card might
have a few of the letters most easily learned, as 0,
X, and S, placed prominently in the centre, and the
same arranged promiscuously with a few other
letters about the maro:in. The second Card mio;ht
have a few additional letters placed in the centre,
and these, with those first learned, and a few others,
might be made to occupy the margin, as in the first
Card. This arrangement of the letters should be
continued upon other Cards until the whoM Alpha-
bet was presented.

Imagine such a set of Cards, a suitable frame
upon which to place them, the teacher with pointer
in hand, and a class of pupils, and you will be
ready to appreciate the lesson which is about to be

The teacher first calls the attention of his class



to the large letters in the centre of the Card. He
speaks of their forms, peculiarities, and resem-
blances ; gives their names, repeats them, and asks
appropriate questions about them. Then, the inter-
esting search for the letters, as they are arranged
about the margin of the Card, commences. Mary
finds six es, but John detects another one. James
counts four 6's, but the rest insist that one of them
is a d. Sarah finds out three rs, and no one can
find another. Emma names a letter, and the rest
are requested to look for it. It is p. The eager
search begins, and it is eager, for Emma well knows
thatp is a hard letter to remember, and there is but
one on the Card. James calls out, "I have it."
Other letters are named and found ; and when the
recitation has ended, the pupils take their seats
reluctantly, and wait impatiently till the time again
arrives when they can have another game of " hide
and seek" with letters. It cannot be doubted that,
with Cards skilfully used, a knowledge of the
Alphabet can be quickly and pleasantly imparted.

3d. The Manner of teaching the Alphabet on the Slate
or Blackboard. — The best way of impressing forms
upon the memory is to make them. In drawing an
object, one is compelled to look at it closely, and
follow out all its details, and this is well calculated
to deepen the impression it leaves upon the mind.
For this reason, the slate and blackboard, upon
which letters may be copied, are considered useful
articles of apparatus in teaching the Alphabet.

If the teacher can draw skilfully, he may place
letters for imitation upon the slate or blackboard;


but if not, he must have suitable printed letters for

In conducting a recitation, the teacher may tirst
require his pupils to imitate the forms of several
letters which he has placed upon the blackboard.
Kext, he may engage them in criticising their own
work, and comparing it with the models. All the
peculiarities in the forms of the letters must be
commented upon. If deemed expedient, the letters
may be redrawn. The teacher may draw the letters
awkwardly on purpose, in order to excite interest,
and induce criticism. Finally, the names of letters,
thus drawn, may be given, pointed out by the chil-
dren, and repeated in various ways.

One of the advantages of using the slate and
blackboard, in teaching the Alphabet, is that the
teacher can furnish pleasant employment for the
class when not^engaged in reciting. Lessons which
have been recited may be repeated upon the
pupils' slates at their seats, or upon blackboards
suitably located for the purpose ; or new lessons
can be prepared in the same manner. Children are
very fond of work of this kind, and it will be found
greatly to facilitate their progress.

There are certain letters in the English Alphabet
which, from the similarity of their forms, are more
difficult to distinguish than others, such as A and V,
M and N", and E and F, among capital letters; aud
h and ^, p and q^ c and ^, and u and n, among small
letters. The distinctions between such letters can
be more prominently brought before the learner's
mind when exhibited upon the blackboard than in
any other way, and if he be required to draw them


repeatedly himself he cannot easily forget them.
For the purpose of illustration, we will take the
letters, 5, c?, p, and q^ and describe a lesson upon
them. Having drawn the letters conspicuously
upon the black-board, the teacher may call the
attention of the class to their forms, leading them
to see that these are composed mainly of two parts.
He may then draw these parts separately, and give
them names. I call them stem and curve. After-
wards, it will be well to draw' a stem, and by placing
the curve, first at the top, and then at the bottom of
the stem, and upon both sides^ it will be shown that
all the letters can be made. Let the teacher now
satisfy himself that his pupils know their right hand
from the left, and he may send them to the black-
board, with the direction to draw a stem, and place
the curve at the bottom, at the top, on the left side,
on the right side, until they are quite familiar with
all the forms, and can draw them readily. The
names of the letters may now be given, and the
teacher will ask such questions as these : If I place
the curve at the top of the stem on the right-hand
side, what letter do I make ? If I place it on the
left-hand side at the bottom, what letter do I make?
On the left-hand side at the top ? On the right-hand
side at the bottom ? Which letter is p ? Which is
d? Which is h? Which is q? How is d made?
How is q made? Where do you put the curve in
making b? Where do you put it in making p?
The lesson may conclude by requiring the pupils to
make each of the letters upon the blackboard when
its name is given.


4th. The Manner of teacJdng the Alphabet with Let-
ter-Blocks. — It is easy to obtain small blocks with
letters painted or pasted upon them, and these may
be made to answer a good purpose in teaching the
Alphabet. To make the lesson most interesting
and profitable, each pupil should possess a set of the

At recitation, the pupils should be stationed
around a table or desk, each with his blocks before
him. The teacher may first require the pupils to
separate all the letters they think they know^ from
those they do not, and have mistakes corrected by
the class. He ma}^ then take up a block upon w^hich
is the letter he designs to teach, and make them
acquainted with its form and name, and request each
pupil to select a similar letter from among those
before him. If ^ny make mistakes, the class should
correct them. When several letters have been
selected in this way, the remaining time of the reci-
tation may be devoted to teaching those selected.
Suppose c, e, h, and k to be the letters selected.
Each pupil will push aside all his other blocks, and
with these only before him, the recitation is ready
to proceed. The teacher may hold up each letter
in succession, and inquire its name; a pupil may be
appointed to hold up the letters, while the others
name them; or all may be required to select the
letters w^hen the teacher gives their names. The
teacher may make words w^ith the letter-blocks, and
ask the pupils to imitate them, both wdien they have
the privilege of looking at them, and from memory;
or words, as models, may be given in books, or
placed on a blackboard.


Letter-blocks may be cut into sections ; and pupils
can be amused and instructed in putting the sections
together so as to form letters. The differences be-
tween letters which are nearly alike can be strikingly
exhibited in this way. If, for example, one block
represented the stem of the letters 5, d^ p, and q, and
another the curve, it would be easy to show their
relative position in the formation of these letters.

The letter-blocks can be used most conveniently
with a frame. Such a frame is called a Reading-
Frame. The body of the frame maybe made some-
what like a common blackboard, about three feet
wide, and long enough to allow two feet to each
member of a class. At convenient distances apart,
horizontal grooves should be placed along the face
of the frame in such a manner that the letter-
blocks would stand upright when placed in them.
At the base of the frame, and extending out a foot
or more in front, there should be boxes appro-
priately divided into apartments for the blocks. All
the Alphabetical exercises which can be performed
with letter-blocks, can be better performed with a
frame constructed in this manner. It is used some-
what as type are set; and words and sentences can
be built up and taken apart by children with as much
interest as they would take in a puzzle. "With the
"Education Tables," manufactured at Windham,
Connecticut, and consisting of block-letters moving
in grooves, I have seen children teach themselves to
spell words and to read short sentences with very
little assistance, and that given in answer to their

It has now been shown how books, cards, slates


and blackboards, and letter-blocks may be used in
teaching the Alphabet. All that remains to be said
is that all these articles of apparatus may be used
by the teacher at his pleasure, or they may be com-
bined in teaching. A teacher violates no principle
if he use book, cards, blackboard, and blocks at
the same recitation. Children are fond of variety,
and it can hardly be doubted that a teacher who
varies his methods and means of teaching will cause
his pupils to make more progress than one who con-
fines himself to a single method or to the same
means, even though he may choose the best.

2. The Word Method. — The ABC method of
teaching the Alphabet commences with letters, and
when the pupil is sufficiently acquainted with these,
he proceeds to learn words by a process of synthesis.
T^he liiBthod of teaching the Alphabet about to be
/described commences with words, and proceeds by
/ a process of analysis to resolve them into their com-
-ppnent letters.

The first step in a linguistic course of study is to
become acquainted with oral words. Children learn
the names of things. They learn to talk. Starting
here, there may be found a series of nice gradations,
which, if followed in teaching, will lead naturally to
a know^ledge of the Alphabet.

1st. Lessons upon the Names of Pictures. — The
pupil has learned the names of objects. By pictures
he will learn that objects can be represented, and he
will acquire the power also of looking closely at the
details of diiferent forms in order that he may dis-


tinguisli one from another. These picture-lessons
may be given from books or cards prepared for the

2d. Lessons upon the Names of Words. — These
lessons may at first embrace only the words which
stand for the objects represented in the pictures.
They should be printed near the pictures in order
that an intimate association may be formed between
the picture, its name, and the word which stands
for the name. In asylums for the blind, labels with
raised letters cut upon them, are sometimes attached
to familiar objects, in order that an easy connection
can be formed between the object and the word
which symbolizes it. After such an introduction,
the pupil should be exercised upon the names of
words, disconnected from pictures or objects. A set
of cards could be easily contrived presenting, first,
pictures without words; second, pictures with words,
and, last, words without pictures.

3d. Lessons upon the Names of Letters. — Having
learned to use spoken words, and to distinguish some
written words, pupils would seem to be prepared to

Online LibraryJames Pyle WickershamMethods of instruction .. → online text (page 11 of 31)