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Educational Journal of Virginia.
Richmond, Va., October, 1885.
Further Hints to Teachers. The most important of all teaching is the instruction of young chil. dren in the elements of knowledge. The accuracy and profitableness of one's acquaintance with any subject depends very largely upon his exact knowledge of its elements. How often have we seen young men, sometimes of excellent powers, turn away in despair or disgust from the higher mathematics or the most valuable applications of Hebrew and Greek, because they never really understood algebraic addition and subtraction, or never could conjugate a verb and be sure they were right. To unlearn what was once learned wrong, or to begin again and work patiently through the long neglected elements, is a task of grave difficulty, which only the highest class of students will effectually accomplish. How seldom does a grown man who spells badly succeed in thoroughly correcting the fault. We did once hear of a young lady whose first letter to her sweetheart had to pass under her older sister's inspection for correction of the dreadful spelling, and who, feeling the extreme pressure of the situation, went bravely to work and in a few months learned to spell correctly ; but, having had no means of judging, we have always felt skeptical as to the completeness of her success. And besides the fact that a knowledge of the "elementary branches " forms the foundation of all knowledge, there is something still more important. Young children in their first years at school form their mental habits as to all acquisition of knowledge, and no habits whatsoever are harder to correct. They learn to be accurate or inaccurate, superficial or thorough, honest in recitation or dishonest, thoughtful as to the nature and causes of things or content to recite lessons like a parrot; and these good or evil habits go with them to gray hairs and the grave. Who shall arouse the people of this “ enlightened” age and country to appreciate the importance of elementary teaching, and to select, respect and pay the elementary teacher accordingly? Here is the real difficulty. Normal schools do something to stimulate the
present teachers; but it is only in proportion as a better educated generation shall become the parents that the evil in question will begin to be corrected.
We respectfully offer some brief hints to elementary teachers.
English spelling is the hardest to learn of all civilized languages, and becoming harder for every succeeding generation, since pronunciation is constantly changing, while the characters employed stand fast. It is a pitiful bondage to which our children are subjected in acquiring this great mass of uncouth orthography. But there is one consolation, a child that becomes a really good speller of Eng. lish can learn anything, you may be sure, that depends upon mere accurate observation and recollection of facts. This early drill is very encouraging to those who have a natural turn of mind for it, though sometimes very disheartening to others. It requires no small tact to give proper stimulus and encouragement in regard to it, and yet not utterly repel or seriously dishearten the class of pupils who can never become accurate spellers, and yet some of whom may prove quite intelligent in other respects. A teacher who never had any trouble in learning to spell will sometimes drive a sensitive pupil, who is otherwise constituted, almost to desperation. Yet it will never do to tell the school that accuracy in spelling is a matter of little importance ; so there must come in your tact. Spelling should be learned not merely by vocal recitation, but as largely as possible by writing. Do you not know, O most accurate teacher, that when sometimes just a little at a loss yourself, you only need to write the word down in both ways, and at once you determine which is right? Let that experience convince you that we learn spelling largely by the eye. With the slate and the blackboard and the pleasant little juvenile “composition,” you may add greatly to the result of the regular spelling lessons. And in the reading lessons how much might be done by marking certain words with your pencil as the pupil reads on, and then asking the class to go back and look sharply at each of those words. Many practical expedients will suggest themselves from time to time, if the teacher appreciates the difficulty of the task, and wishes to relieve and assist the poor suffering innocents who are really toiling like oxen, badly yoked and up hill.
To read well is among the most charming of human accomplishments. It obviously follows that high excellence in that respect cannot be universal or even general. But we are persuaded that a large proportion of moderately intelligent people could learn to read agreeably, and not a few to read so well as to give very great pleasure to
their friends. The requisites to good reading are quick apprehension of the thought, ready sympathy with the sentiment, correct, easy and musical enunciation, and for the rest that subtle undefined something which we call personal magnetism, and which acts in reading to others as it does in oratory. As to this last you can teach only by practice, and by your own contagious sympathies. But in all the other respects there is no limit to the possible instruction. Two things are of the greatest importance in a child's reading lessons ; the matter read should be thoroughly understood, and it should awaken a lively interest. The teacher may regard these points in the selection of reading lessons, and in the way of explaining them, and perhaps making them more vivid by description or dramatic utterance. It is a great gain when children can be encouraged to read aloud at home, not for the purpose of showing their proficiency, but because they have something to read that is interesting and will be enjoyed by the family. And whether at school or at home, young children are greatly benefited by reading in turn with older people, whether in dialogues, or in successive portions Scripture or verses of a hymn. Correct pronunciation is certainly a matter of very great importance, and many teachers of good talents need in this respect to improve themselves as well as their pupils. But let us not be punctillious and fussy as to the pronunciation of words in which there is a recognizable difference of good usage. And let the dictionary you happen to use be a servant, or at most a friend, and not a lord and master. It may be gravely doubted whether any really intelligent person should be expected to pronounce every English word exactly as it is pronounced in some particular dictionary, not even if he made the dictionary himself. On not a few points good usage varies, with changes of locality and with the lapse of time. We can only add upon this point that one who professes to teach young children to read should mark well the distinction between reading and that pestilent spouting which in some schools is called elocution.
Happy the child whose teacher understands fractions! A highly intellectual and cultivated woman of our acquaintance prolonged a visit for several months in order to teach her little nephew the mystery of fractions. He attended a distinguished school, with several instructors, but none of them had made clear to him the real meaning of fractions. Far be it from us to approach that antique mystery in these lucubrations. We had ourselves been teaching schwol more than three years before we had the least inkling as to what a fraction means, and felt like uttering a joyful Eureka when good Professor