Norman Allison Calkins.

Manual of object-teaching : with illustrative lessons in methods and the science of education online

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" The power of memory may be represented under the figure
of a spider's web, which sends out its threads in all directions,
establishing connection with every part, and with the central
point of the whole. When the mind has woven such a web
around any object, it can pass along any of the threads at pleas-
ure, and reach any given point in the system. Thus, it only de-
pends on volition to keep the clew to every idea we may desire
to recall in our minds, and to bring it at any moment back into
the light of consciousness."*

This view of memory gives an idea of the great im-
portance of giving proper attention to its laws in methods
of instruction. It shows us that if we would fix impor-
tant truths and principles indelibly in the mind of a pu-
pil, so that he can recall them at will, we must establish
connections between them and other ideas already exist-
ing in his mind. First, a system of natural links should
be established, since this process develops the most im-
portant power of memory. This may be accomplished
through the blending of similar ideas into generalized
forms, and then classifying and connecting these with
kindred combinations of thought. Other connections
may be made by means of practical associations ; and still
others by logical, and even by artificial, links, so that it
will be impossible for the idea or truth to remain isolated
in the mind. In this way the bridges will become so nu-
merous that the mind can easily return to the truth thus
lodged there at any future period.

Instead of this thorough discipline of the powers of
memory in the school-room, and the development of these
several aids to learning, the pupil is too commonly left to
struggle on in vain efforts at the accumulation of knowl-
edge by merely trying to "commit to memory" words
which barely represent to him so many isolated ideas.

* Mo roll's Mental Philosophy.


It is no wonder that neither the words nor the ideas which
they symbolize are forth-coming when an examination is
made to ascertain what the pupil has learned.

Importance of Language. Notwithstanding the
memory is so generally abused by committing mere
words, it must not be inferred that words are of but little
importance, and may therefore be slighted. Just the re-
verse is true. Voluntary memory is based upon language.
"Were our ideas not symbolized by words, or signs, we
could not recall them at will. By means of language we
can hold our ideas before us as something existing apart
from ourselves, and combine, or separate, or place them in
any relationship that we may choose. This is the high-
est order of memory. But, in cultivating the memory
through the aid of language, care must be taken to secure
the ideas which the words symbolize by means of classifi-
cation, also by associating them with the words, and the
words with the things represented. By these processes
the mind may gain such a power as will render the mem-
ory both accurate and ready.

Association of ideas alone produces but an involuntary
memory. Its peculiarity consists in the recalling of an
idea by the presence of that with which it is associated,
without the influence of the will. The sight of an object,
a sound, an odor, a taste, or a feeling, may each recall
ideas which have been previously associated with them ;
but the mind has not the power to recall at will, unaided
by the presence of the associated object or quality, ideas
that have not been symbolized with words or signs.

Human and Brute Memory. Probably here is the
dividing line between human memory and brute memory.
The human memory deals with ideas, words, symbols,
and even abstract ideas ; and forms natural, artificial, and
logical associations with these; and is subject to the will.


The firute memory deals with simple ideas and things
only, and makes none but natural associations ; and the
ideas are recalled l)y the presence of the associated object,-
without the influence of the will. Human memory is vol-
untary ; brute memory is involuntary.

The animal that learns to perform a certain act on
hearing a given sound remembers the act by associating
it with the sound. A horse that has travelled a road
only once, when it again passes the same way recollects
by association the places where it stopped, and even inci-
dents that occurred. A dog that has been whipped for
some act, associates the whipping with the act done, and
thus is prevented from repeating it through this associa-
tion. *

Man also uses this same process of memory that of
simple association ; and, although it is a low order of de-
velopment of this faculty, yet it is of great importance
when properly exercised, and aided with ideas symbolized
by words, and these words associated with objects. By
this means, however, it becomes a very different process
from that of direct association alone, and a most valuable
aid in giving facility to memory.

Culture of Memory. The powers of memory depend,
to a great degree, upon the cultivation of those faculties
by which knowledge is acquired. If the perceptive fac-
ulties be clear and active, the observation quick and accu-
rate, the power of attention steady and strong, and habits
of classifying and associating ideas carefully formed, the
memory will firmly hold and readily reproduce the ideas
and words which have been duly acquired. Therefore,
by cultivating the powers of mental acquisition, the foun-
dation for a retentive and ready memory will be laid.

* An interesting chapter on the " Difference between Man and the Infe-
rior Animals " may be found in Dr. Hooker's Human Physiology, p. 347.


Three Periods of Memory. The memory assumes
somewhat different aspects during the several periods of
mental development. Because of these various condi-
tions or tendencies of memory, it is especially important
that the processes for its cultivation should correspond in
character to its several stages of mental development.

First Period. In infancy the memory is chiefly occu-
pied with the simple materials furnished by the powers
of mental acquisition ideas, and their symbols. This pe-
riod usually embraces about the first eight or ten years of
the child's life. Since those powers of the mind which
acquire ideas are earliest developed, and most active dur-
ing the first period, children should then be chiefly train-
ed in the attainment and memory of ideas and facts, and
the words which represent them. But the words should
always receive an immediately subsequent consideration,
since their oflice is that of symbolizing the ideas so that
they may be readily acted upon by the memory. During
this period of acquisition the order should be, first the
idea, then the word as its sign.

Young children should not be required to memorize
words without having an idea of their meaning. It is
true that their ideas must necessarily be less complete
than those of adults, but they should be correct as far as
they go, and such as the child's mind can grasp.

The exercise of the verbal memory merely is one of
the great errors in the methods of school-room instruc-
tion, yet no method is more common than this in those
primary schools where concert repetition is generally
employed. The mere memorizing of words is allowed
too prominent a place in the ordinary routine of schools,
in comparison with its small educational value. The rep-
etition of words is erroneously supposed to aid in cultivat-
ing the memory ; whereas it may produce an opposite ef-


feet. Words continuously repeated, without associating
them with ideas, may become so familiar to the ear, that,
like the ticking of a clock in our room, they rarely attract
the attention of the mind. When such is the condition,
the repetition of words becomes not only a loss of time
but a positive mental injury. If the habit of remember-
ing words without understanding them be once formed, it
will ever afterward prove a great obstacle to the success-
ful acquisition of knowledge.

Some teachers make the great mistake, in school exer-
cises, of treating this mental power as if it were the chief
or only instrument by which knowledge is acquired and
the mind cultivated. Acting upon this erroneous suppo-
sition, they require their pupils to "commit to memory"
definitions, rules, formulas, problems, and demonstrations
in grammar, arithmetic, and geometry, and pages of geog-
raphy, and chapters of history, without understanding
them, as if the repetition of these alone could work out
the development of the mind by some mysterious trans-
mutation. Memory is not a faculty of mental acquisition,
but rather one of preserving and reproducing the knowl-
edge which is accumulated through other faculties.

The suggestions given under the head of " Culture in
Language " in the preceding pages will afford many use-
ful hints relative to the cultivation of memory during
this first period, as language and memory are intimately

Second Period. During the second period, which ex-
tends from the age of eight or ten to about fifteen, the
memory is occupied more extensively with language, as
the representative of ideas embodied in connected thoughts.
Hence, this is the period especially adapted to the acqui-
sition of the habit of " committing to memory " language
that expresses thoughts accurately and beautifully.


The recollection of ideas is at all times of the greatest
importance, but the memory should ~be especially exercised
on words and language during the second period of mental
development. While the ideas should still receive due
attention, yet greater efforts may now be made toward
forming habits of. ready and accurate recollection of lan-
guage. The importance of such a habit must be apparent
to every one, when it is remembered how much more de-
sirable it is to be able to repeat the exact statements of
others instead of giving what we think were their ideas.
If their words are given, every one may judge for him-
self what they mean ; but if our own ideas of their mean-
ing are given instead of their words, serious misunder-
standings may be the result. Many instances have occur-
red in which grievous consequences have resulted from
persons relating their own apprehensions of the meaning
of others, instead of what they actually said.

During this period the work of instruction should be
so conducted as to establish habits of readily committing
to memory the thoughts of others; not only because at
this time the mind is especially adapted to this exercise,
but because, if neglected until the mind has attained that
maturity and fixity of habits which are acquired during
the third period, this habit of readiness and accuracy in
the recollection of language probably will not be acquired
at all.

Frequent "oral repetitions" aid the memory through
the sense of hearing, by the associations of successive
sounds, and may profitably be employed for this purpose
after the ideas and language both have been taught to
the children. While this is one of the processes which
may be employed in committing to memory, yet it is the
least intellectual of all, and should be used only to aid
other and more intellectual modes.

Again, the importance of learning to remember Ian-


guage will be understood, when it is considered that ideas
fade from the memory much sooner when, they are not
associated with words. But it must not be inferred that
the mere memory of words, without associating them
with their ideas, will be of any educational service

By the practice of stating clearly in words what we
wish to remember, the memory will obtain great pow-
er over our ideas. "Without some such expression of
thoughts in language, our ideas flow into each other so
that they present no clearly-defined lines of thought by
which we can recall them. This shows the importance
of requiring pupils to express, partly at least, in their
own words facts which we desire them to remember.

During this period special attention should be given to
learning geography, history, biography; committing to
memory declamations, poetry, quotations, and sentiments,
as a means of storing the mind with gems of thought
which are clothed in beautiful language, and also for con-
tributing to a ready use of good language.

Third Period. During the third period, commencing at
about the age of fifteen, the memory begins to come more
directly under the influence of the judgment, and to deal
with reasons, principles, and laws cause and effect. Yet
neither ideas nor words should be neglected even then.
In this stage of development a few words may be em-
ployed to represent many thoughts, and a short combina-
tion of words to imply trains of reasoning.

The habit of classifying ideas, and referring particular
ones to general principles, will be found to greatly aid the
memory during this period. Indeed, the power of mem-
ory depends for its strength and facility upon properly
classifying and associating our ideas, and connecting them
with other thoughts and facts previously acquired.


Employ as many of the senses in the acquisition of
knowledge as possible, for each one will convey its peculiar
form of impressions to the mind, and the blending of these
together into ideas, the symbolizing of the ideas with
words, and the classification and association of the words,
furnish a great number of links by which the knowledge
may be connected and recalled at will. If an object be
examined by sight, then by touch, and the ideas which
are thus gained of it be clearly stated in words, the mind
will receive a third and new impression through the sense
of hearing. Here, then, will be three distinct classes of
impressions, derived by means of the senses of seeing, feel-
ing, and hearing, to unite in forming a complete idea of
the object, and also at the same time furnishing three
classes of links by which it may be remembered.

In conclusion, let it be again impressed on the mind of
teachers that the processes of instruction to be pursued
should always be such that each subject and fact shall
reach the mind through the greatest number of senses
practicable ; and especially let the sense of sight be em-
ployed, when possible, in some form, to aid in securing
clear conceptions; and let a statement of the facts be
clearly given in words, and associations be made with
kindred facts previously acquired ; then memory will be
strong and ready, and progress in knowledge rapid and



ATTENTION is a mental phenomenon indicating a most
important power of the mind. It does not, however, be-
long to that class of powers which are usually called
faculties. Instead of acting by itself directly upon the
world without through the senses, its mode of influence
is by and through the other faculties. In its simplest
state it appears to be merely the notice which the mind
takes of its sensations ; and frequently this attention
seems to be involuntary. This is especially the case in
very young children, when various objects are employed
to attract the notice of the mind. But by degrees the
mind exerts a greater and greater controlling influence
over it, until attention finally becomes a voluntary act.
In this capacity it is capable of being greatly strengthened
by cultivation.

Of itself " it originates nothing, it teaches nothing, it
puts us in possession of no new truth;" yet it is so inti-
mately connected with the other mental powers that they
would be of little avail without it. Thus we see that its
importance can hardly be over-estimated, since the several
faculties would become so deficient in the ability of con-
tinued action without it, that even natural acuteness could
accomplish but little, and we should be destitute of those
mental characteristics and steady habits which contribute
so largely to success in life.

" The force of attention is simply the perceptiveness of the
mind adjusting itself perfectly to the objects it contemplates, so
that they may produce their full effect upon it. Until this ad-
justment is effected, the impression of the objects must necessari-


]y be confused and imperfect; as, in a camera-obscura, the lens
must be placed in a proper position to receive all the light that
comes from the landscape, or the picture will be blurred and in-
distinct. The mind cannot give its perceptive force to a multi-
tude of objects at the same time ; it can take up only one thing
with effect at one instant."*

Attention is a bending of the mind to, or a stretching
of it toward, an object. It enables the mind to arrest and
detain the thoughts upon a particular object of interest,
excluding for the time being other mental operations.
It may become, for the moment, the sole occupation of
the mind, as when we have heard a sound that greatly
excites our interest, and listen for its repetition.

In order to make progress in intellectual culture, habits
of attention must be gained. It is exceedingly important
that these be acquired very early, because the utmost effi-
ciency will be given to all the other operations of the
mind by these habits, and especially to the acquisition of
clear, impressive, and serviceable ideas. Attention should
be associated with volition as early as possible ; for when
this power has become subject to the will the foundation
is laid for every degree of mental culture which circum-
stances will permit.

Culture of Attention. The habit of attention is an
essential part of observation ; therefore it must be ac-
quired before progress in intellectual culture can be made.
If we observe a child whose attention is absorbed with
anything, we shall discover that sometimes it is curiosity
that leads him to notice so carefully whatever may then be
occupying the thoughts. At other times, or in different
children, the simple love of activity, or desire to be con-
stantly doing something, seems to be the leading motive.
Again, we may notice that the child does not appear to

* Human Culture, by Garvey.


be affected by either of the preceding influences, but
by sympathy. Beside these, there is another power still
which acts in producing attention ; and although it may
operate in conjunction with and through the influence of
either of the motives already mentioned, it nevertheless
is capable of controlling all the other influences; that
power is the will the executive force of the mind. Thus
may we discover what the appropriate means to be em-
ployed in cultivating this important habit are, by observing
the various influences acting upon the minds of children
in producing attention.

Curiosity exists in every child, and it may be strongly
excited by directing the attention to proper subjects, and
imparting information in a manner suited to the child's
capacity. The teacher who adapts instruction to the in-
telligence of his pupils, and interests their feelings, and
changes the mode of presenting the object or the subject-
matter, as the interest and the ability of the children to
attend seem to indicate, will have no difficulty in securing
their attention.

Love of Activity is another motive which sustains the
attention, because activity affords pleasure to children.
Physical activity is no more natural to the child than
mental activity. That physical strength will not be ac-
quired by a passive condition of the bodily organs is no
more certain than that the mind can be strengthened only
by its own activity. Physical and mental action should
be combined in efforts to strengthen the attention. Va-
rious modes of doing this will be devised by the skilful
teacher. As one mode of continuing the attention upon
a given subject, the teacher might require the pupils to
represent their ideas of it by actions, or by drawings, or
in writing, and also to express them in language.


Sympathy is another strong incentive to attention ; but
it depends for its power upon the personal influence which
the teacher has attained over the pupils through the exer-
cise of the moral feelings. Where this personal ascen-
dency exists, and the children see that the teacher is in-
terested in the subject or work before them, they will
make efforts not only to imitate her, but, from the happi-
ness which is afforded them through sympathy, even to
anticipate her desires and actions.

"There is nothing so likely to excite in children with whom
we associate tastes for and attention to any subject as the exhi-
bition of those tastes and habits in ourselves. Where the power
of sympathy has been established, the idea that we are constantly
occupied about them may excite the gratitude of children, but it
will not determine the direction of their inclinations. Yet if
they see that our interest is awakened and our curiosity excited
by making some new observations, or by ascertaining some new
fact, they will soon try to anticipate our discoveries. If they ob-
serve us interested in the cultivation of flowers, in watching the
labors of the bee, or the metamorphoses of insects, or in admiring
the beauties of a butterfly, or even manifesting a lively interest in
the exercises of the school, they will soon be delighted with the
same occupations. Example, emulation, curiosity, and sympathy
the most natural stimulants at this age, when pleasure is so
vividly enjoyed, and the idea of utility so indistinct act in uni-
son in leading children to habits of attention."*

How immensely important, then, it becomes that every
teacher should possess and manifest a genuine, hearty in-
terest in the work of instruction !

We cannot secure that quality of attention which is
necessary to success in education by mere outward com-
pulsion. Hence the importance of understanding the
several motives which have been previously described,
and their influence in the formation of habits of atten-

* Progressive Education, by Madame Neckcr de Saussure.


tion ; for whenever any constraint is necessary it should
be exerted in conjunction with some one, at least, of these
other influences.

It should be the aim of the teacher to bring the pupil's
attention under the control of his will as early as possible.
As this object is to be accomplished in connection with
the habit of attention, time must be allowed for establish-
ing it.

"The first efforts exacted from the child should be gentle;
one point only should be presented at a time, that he may not be
bewildered by multiplicity. The strain on his attention should
not be long-continued; he should be relieved before he is com-
pelled to desist from fatigue. One success will make a subse-
quent one easier of attainment; failure will make the nJext at-
tempt more arduous.

" All children are not drawn alike to the same subject ; some
attend more readily to one, some to another. The teacher will
find it advantageous to avail himself of these mental affinities in
establishing the habit of attention in his pupils. The child should
first be appealed to on those subjects, or on those aspects of a
subject, to which he may incline. When he has learned atten-
tion to these, it will be less difficult to gain it for other subjects.
The same progress in this habit must not be looked for from all
pupils, and least of all within a given time. One who is of slow
mental action may reach the mark much in arrear of his neigh-
bor, who is of a more active temper of mind. Individual differ-
ences must be allowed for in the mental discipline of school."*

Among the obstacles to be overcome in the cultivation
of habits of attention in a class of pupils are slowness of
mental action, sluggishness of temperament, timidity, and
undue vivacity or volatility. Slowness of mental action
requires arousing by the stimulus of curiosity. But this
may not prove sufficiently powerful for the sluggish tem-

* Principles and Practice of Common - School Education, by James Currie,
A.M., Principal of the Church of Scotland Training College, Edinburgh.


perament, which is in danger of slumbering on through
all the lessons of school. Fortunately, however, it is very
rare to find a child that is sluggish in everything ; and if
he shows interest in even one thing more than in another,
through that one avenue his mind may be reached, his sen-
sibilities awakened, and his attention aroused to activity.

If inattention arise from timidity, encouragement and

Online LibraryNorman Allison CalkinsManual of object-teaching : with illustrative lessons in methods and the science of education → online text (page 30 of 35)