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subject. Some teachers went so far as to contend that oral teaching was the only true. method, and that text-books should be almost, if not altogether, discarded. I recollect a visit, many years ago, to a school kept by a man somewhat advanced in years, who was taken captive by the phrase “ oral teaching.” No pupil had a book before him, but the teacher was attempting to amuse and instruct them by telling stories, they very listlessly hearing. This he considered the very acme of oral instruction, and yet the stories he told had not the remotest bearing upon the school, or any of its appropriate exercises, nor were they in any sense adapted to awaken mind, or impart moral precepts. But you will readily see that this man was adopting a course quite as erroneous as the former, — tending, as it would, to relieve the pupil from true mental discipline, and to weaken his self-reliance. The true course is a medium one, — a judicious blending of the two ; and those teachers will be the most successful who properly unite the two modes. The objection to the old method was not so much to the use of the text-book, as to the improper and excessive use of it. The book should be used by the pupils, and its contents be learned. The important truths and principles of each lesson should, if possible, be comprehended. If they are clearly understood, they may be, and should be, clearly expressed. In order that a pupil’s knowledge of a lesson may be ascertained, the teacher should freely use the oral method, and ask such
Mere Word-Definitions not enough.
questions as will thoroughly test the ability and comprehension of the pupil. In conducting a recitation, the teacher should not feel confined to the mere questions of the book. With a clear understanding of the subject, he should strive, by incidental remarks and illustrations, and by judicious questions, to awaken thought, and Secure trote mental discipline. . Even the simplest questions in geography, grammar, etc. may be expanded and varied, and made suggestive of other questions; and the oral method should be mainly applied to secure this expansion and variation. The first question in geography usually is, “What is geography : ” and the printed answer is, “A description of the earth.” But how few pupils, taught merely by rote, have any clear and well-defined knowledge of the subject. A pupil may give a word-definition of a cape, an island, peninsula, isthmus, etc., without really possessing any correct conception of the object or thing thus defined. It should be the duty and aim of the teacher to ask such questions, and use such illustrations, as will make an accurate and permanent impression on the mind. If the lesson be in arithmetic, and some particular rule is under consideration, let the teacher propose such questions as will tend to elucidate the subject, and test the scholar's comprehension. For instance, if the lesson is in Interest, much of the time devoted to the recitation may be most profit
ably used by asking questions aside from those con
tained in the book, though involving the same principle. At every step the teacher may properly and profitably propose questions, uniformly remembering that his true object is to awaken thought, and promote right and wholesome mental development and discipline ; or, in other words, to teach his pupils how to think, to investigate, to understand.
In attempting to favor oral teaching, some have fallen into an excess of talking. To tell a child a fact, is not half as valuable to him, in many instances, as some hint or indirect aid, by which he would be led to make the discovery himself, in part, if not entirely. In no case regard oral teaching as an entire substitute for the book, but merely as an accompaniment for the purpose of confirming, eluci
dating, and expanding the lessons of the book.
With very small children, for a time, most of the instruction should be of the oral kind. But here, even, great caution is necessary, in order that oral teaching may not degenerate into mere talk. Objects should form the basis of many of the lessons for the youngest pupils in our schools; and it should be the constant aim of the teacher to ask such questions as will awaken thought in the mind of the child. Such lessons will be given without a book, and, of course, will be wholly oral. It is quite an error to suppose that a child must be told everything that he does not know. The true way is, for the teacher to ask questions and give suggestive hints; but, in most cases, to leave some point for further thought and investigation on the part of the
A Specimen Lesson.
pupil. The mechanic, who should hope to make an accomplished workman of an apprentice, by doing all the work for him, instead of requiring him to practise for himself, would be no more unreasonable than those teachers who attempt, by mere talking, to awaken thought and secure mental growth. I will illustrate my idea of an oral object lesson by giving an example. I will give other examples in a future letter. I will suppose that the teacher points to the side of the school-room, to the plaster wall, and that the following conversation takes place. I would, however, recommend that your usual practice be, to ask a question with the understanding that all who think they can answer will raise the right hand, and that some one be selected to give an answer, and if any have a different answer, let them be called upon to give it. Teacher. “Now, children, give attention. I wish to ask you a few questions. Let us see who will answer the most. What do we call this 7 ° Pupils. “The wall, or side of the room.” Teacher. “Very well. Of what is it made 2° Pupils. “Of plaster.” Teacher. “Yes, we call it plaster. Of what is plaster made 7 ° Pupils. “Of lime.” Teacher. “Is lime the only article in plaster ?” One Pupil. “I saw the masons put in some hair.” . Another. “And I saw them put in sand.” Teacher. “You are both right. Hair and sand.
are both used in making plaster. Can you tell what it is called before it is placed upon the wall ?” One Pupil. “My father calls it mortar.” Teacher. “Yes, that 's right. In making mortar you say lime, hair, and sand are used. Can you tell me why hair is used ?” After some hesitation, one pupil says, “I guess it is used to hold the mortar together better.” Teacher. “Very good. Now can any one tell me why sand is used ?” - All hesitate, and no one offers an answer. The teacher then says, “As no one knows why sand is used, we will wait until to-morrow, and see if you can find out. Perhaps your parents will tell you, or; if not, you must ask a mason. How many of you will try to find out why sand is used, and tell me to-morrow 2 (All hands raised.) I wish you would also try to tell me all you can about lime, of what, and how, it is made, where it is made, and for what used besides in making mortar. We will talk about lime at our next lesson.” It will be readily seen, that pupils would go home from a brief lesson of this kind abounding in inquisitive questions. Father and mother, brother and sister, and all whom they meet, will be interrogated for information; and the whole neighborhood will be made fully sensible that a school exists, and that an active, efficient, live teacher is at the head of it. . Your sincere friend,