« AnteriorContinuar »
ON TEACHING READING. We make no apology for again inviting the attention of our readers to the important subject of teaching Reading in Schools. Whatever other questions press for solution, this one- -“ How can a good style of reading be best cultivated in schools ?” will always be a prominent one among the teachers who make a true estimate of their work. For, since reading is to be the principal instrument of all the mental cultivation which a child is to acquire after he leaves school, it is important that he should learn, while under instruction, not only to read, but to read well; and not only to read well, in the sense of fuently and correctly, but, if possible, tastefully and expressively, and in such a way that the act of reading is no longer a task, but a source of pleasure both to himself and to those who listen to him.
It is one of the hardest tasks for a teacher to keep up his standard of reading, and to continue year after year to exact the same high degree of excellence which at first he thinks attainable. In school-keeping, as in most things, our natures become "subdued to what they work in ;" we become unconsciously infected by the atmosphere which we daily breathe, and after long listening to blunders and failures, to droning, to monotony, and to hesitation, our sense of hearing becomes as it were vitiated ; we become satisfied with small successes, and our standard of what is possible, and even of what is desirable, gradually lowers and conforms itself to the average of our daily experience. Every good teacher is aware of this, and is constantly guarding himself against it. He knows that to get finished and beautiful reading in his school would be one of the greatest triumphs of his profession. He knows that he cannot teach a child to read expressively, “ with the spirit and the understanding," without also giving him thoughtfulness, delicacy of perception, a knowledge of the subject which is read, the power to recognise words and thoughts in their true logical relations, and, incidentally, a mental refinement such as few other departments of the school-work can properly cultivate. Reading, therefore, is not a mere mechanical art.
It cannot be taught well, unless much else is taught with it. By the goodness of a person's reading, we may measure much of his knowledge, and more of his quickness of insight, and general intellectual power. If teachers will look round their schools, they will generally find that the best readers are the steadiest thinkers, and have the finest minds; they will observe also that in just the proportion that they are successful in giving mental activity and an appetite for knowledge to their pupils, the reading of their schools will improve and become more intelligent. Hence they will own that it is on the whole the fairest test, when a visitor or inspector comes to take the measure of their work, if he asks to hear the reading, and makes his estimate of other things accordingly. Let the teacher think, too, of the pleasure wbich is conferred in the home, by one child who is a graceful and pleasing reader ; of the innocent and improving hours which such a child helps others to spend ; and of the fact, that there is no one accomplishment wbich better fits a pupil to become a centre of civilising and refining influences in the circle in which he lives, than that of good reading; and we think he will conclude that no pains which he spends in this department of his work can ever be wasted; and that no other duty should ever tempt him to neglect it.
A recent meeting of the British Teachers' Association, held at the Borough Road, afforded a gratifying proof that teachers are alive to the importance of this matter. An unusually large attendance of the masters of British Schools in and around London met on the first Saturday in November, to hear an essay from Mr. George White, of Bethnal Green, on the subject of “ Teaching Reading by the Simultaneous Method.” Mr. White brought a large class of boys in order to illustrate his mode of teaching, and subsequently read an elaborate paper explaining it in detail. He started with the assertion that the progress of a scholar in learning to read may be conveniently divided into three parts, which were thus distinguished :
1. Learning the names and powers of tlie letters of the alphabet as exemplified in the simplest combinations.
II. From the first rudimentary attempts at combining the sounds of the letters in words, till the scholar can read off easy lessons with fluency.
III. Elocutionary reading.
These three stages were described at length; and the lecturer pointed out, that in all three it was possible to proceed simultaneously—that is to say, with a large class of children, seated in a gallery under the care of one teacher, rather than in small drafts in which each child reads in turn. With the help of his own well-trained pupils, he went on to exemplify the several steps of the process as follows:
First Step.–The class to name the letters in the words of the lesson, consecutively; to form tbe words mentally, and pronounce them, the teacher repeating in the same order every letter and word after each separate utterance of the class.
Second Step.—The class to pronounce the words of the lesson consecutively, the teacher repeating in the same order every word after each separate utterance of the class.
Third Step.-The teacher, by reading aloud, to form ellipses, omitting single words only;
the class uttering the word omitted, after the formation of each separate ellipse, and the teacher correcting, if need be, after each utterance of the class.
Fourth Step.—The teacher, by reading aloud, to form ellipses of members of sentences; the class uttering the member of the sentence omitted, after the formation of each separate ellipse.
Fifth Step.—The class and the teacher to read alternately, each taking a memler of a sentence successively, as indicated by the points.
Sixth Step. The class and the teacher to read alternately, each taking a sentence successively.
Seventh Step.—The class to read a paragraph or passage at discretion of teacher.
Besides these, several supplementary contrivances were illustrated and described, by which the exercises might be varied, and new and effective forms of test applied. Among them were :-Pattern reading, with occasional ellipses ; individual reading, as a test, and to give boldness of utterance; analysis of subject of lesson, to aid proper expression ; silent reading, to gather up meaning of lesson ; multiplied prac. tice, scholars of superior grade helping those less advanced.
The whole of these exercises were performed with great precision by a large class of sixty boys, to whom the method had evidently communicated considerable life and interest, and who illustrated its merits in a conspicuous manner. In the discussion which ensued, it was manifest that great interest had been excited, and that while differing in details, all the teachers present were most anxious to avail themselves of any plan by which the difficulties of teaching reading might be lessened, and the general character of school reading improved. We regret that we have not space even for a brief resumé of the essay or the discussion ; but only for one or two of the principal suggestions which were thrown out.
Several manifest advantages were recognised as belonging to the method of teaching reading which had thus been elucidated to the meeting. It economised the power of the teacher, and superseded the necessity of employing monitors, or other imperfectly trained agents as teachers. In simultaneous reading it is possible for one master to conduct the exercises of sixty or seventy children at a time; to come personally into contact with them, and to give whatever explanations are needed. The plan also enables him to give the right tone and inflection, to correct the habit of hasty and indistinct reading which is so common among learners, and to insist on due pauses and a clear enunciation of every syllable. Moreover, a lesson of this kind serves incidentally a useful purpose in regard to discipline; for by it the children are compelled to observe closely, and to obey the word of command with great precision. It is easy for a practised teacher, especially in the use of the elliptical method, to detect in an instant any wandering or carelessness, and to make the lesson furnish
good practice in obedience and promptitude as well as in reading itself. Each child was fully occupied, also, throughout the whole lesson ; the wearisome period of inaction which occurs when children in a large class read in turn, was avoided; the attention was sustained, and all excuse or opportunity for idleness was removed. Time was economised, and a great deal of matter was brought forcibly under the notice of the children in a short period. Finally, it was evident that the simultaneous plan delighted the children, and kindled in them an animation and an interest which the ordinary mode of conducting a reading lesson does not excite.
On the other hand, attention was drawn, at the meeting, by several speakers, to some deficiencies which characterised the method. It was observed that a monotonous and mechanical style of reading seemed to be encouraged by it. Separate words and syllables were clearly uttered; but the perception of a sentence as a whole did not appear to be conveyed so well to the class. To defer “elocutionary reading" to the final stage of the process is, in effect, to imply that questions of taste and expression do not belong to elementary reading ; whereas it is important that, from the first, children should never be permitted to read even the simplest sentence, except in a natural tone. It was pointed out that one of the great difficulties in teaching reading was to make children read as they would talk “artlessly, intelligently, and as if the words were their own. The method of simultaneous pronunciation, so far from removing this difficulty, appeared rather to increase it. It substituted the average tone of the class, which is necessarily an artificial one, for the free and natural tone which each individual child ought to acquire. It seemed also to encourage loudness and hardness of utterance, and not to be in any way helpful in teaching the due modulation of the voice. Lastly, the plan was open to the general objection which attaches to all simultaneous exercises,--that it did not sufficiently cultivate individual power, and independent effort. The children are led to rely on one another, and to be content with their own part in the chorus; but can neither receive stimulus to their own exertions, nor guidance in the management of their own voices, unless they are constantly challenged to read separately.
On the whole, the plan of simultaneous reading was generally regarded, at the meeting, as a most useful expedient, and one which might be employed, especially in the case of younger children, with very good effect; but as one which required to be used with great skill and caution, and constantly supplemented by the more usual methods of individual and class reading. We believe that, as an occasional exercise, twice or thrice per week, perhaps, in the lower sections, and once a week in the higher sections of a school, a teacher may employ
the method very wisely, and will find it available in the correction of some faults, which otherwise it would be hard to remedy. But we are sure that the plan can never safely supersede the duty of teaching reading in small classes, and of making each child encounter difficulties, and read often in the presence of the class, alone and without help. It behoves us all to be constantly on our guard against any method which offers to save us trouble. All compendious and summary ways of escaping from the drudgery of teaching the elements are apt to mislead us. There is small fear of our under-estimating such methods, or using them too little. The danger to be guarded against is that of using them too much. Teaching reading is a task which never can be an easy one; it will always demand all the skill and pains that a teacher has to bestow. It requires the right use, not of one method only, nor of two, but of all methods in their due proportion. The end to be attained is careful finish and intelligence in the reading of each learner ; and no collective results, however pleasing, will ever compensate for deficiency in this respect.
Yet it must not, after all, be forgotten, the one circumstance which really determines the style of reading in a school, is the habitual reading of the master or mistress. If that be uniformly exact in all matters of detail, free from all provincialism and negligence, the standard of excellence will be high, and the
school will be constantly approaching to its attainment. But no efforts will raise the general style of the school reading above that standard. It is, then, of the utmost importance that teachers should feel that the accomplishment is one which it is worth their own while to cultivate; and that they should sedulously endeavour to make their own reading a model worthy of imitation. For reading is to a very great extent an imitative art; and, next to the importance of understanding the subject on which a learner reads, there is no condition so necessary to the perfection of his style as that he should often listen to finished elocution, and so acquire a taste for it.
MISS COUTTS'S ADDRESS TO SCHOOLMISTRESSES.
In November last, Miss Burdett Coutts, accompanied by the Countess of Falmouth, Mrs. Brown, and other friends, visited the National Society's Training Institution for Schoolmistresses at Whitelands, and kindly presented to eighteen of the students prizes for general usefulness, for good needlework, and for progress in needlework. We extract the following valuable remarks from the address of Miss Coutts to the students on the occasion :
Before reading the names of those to whom prizes have been awarded, I would briefly refer to the object for which they are given, especially those I have termed “progress prizes.” They would greatly fail in their object if considered only as intended for personal encouragement. That is certainly one object; but it is also to be wished that they should be regarded as suggestive of plans and principles to be brought forward in schools hereafter to be placed under your care as schoolmistresses, especially to those amongst you who will shortly enter on active school duties. Among the first points to which your attention will be early directed will be, “ The best means of encouraging those children who, either from the defects of their early training, or from natural inaptitude for learning, do not rise rapidly in their classes, and yet who strive to do well.” This will require consideration. A large proportion of such children is to be found in every school, and their management is always a cause of anxious thought to conscientious teachers; for it is not easy to give to these the encouragement they need, and not to cause others to relax in their efforts to attain to excellence. It is difficult to give any rule upon this and similar points of school management; and in the skill and delicacy with which they are managed consists the superiority of one teacher over anotber. But one rule, which it is hoped the progress prizes may suggest, seems safe and just, and is found to work well--namely, that any child who persistently and continuously exerts itself to improve should at certain intervals receive positive encouragement, when a sufficient time has elapsed to show that progress has been made.
Another point to which it is intended these prizes should draw attention, is the expediency of adopting some means of diffusing throughout the whole school a general impression that much stress is laid upon the attention given to instruction in needlework; and that those children who are attentive, and who endeavour to improve in this particular, are not unnoticed, though they may not make such rapid progress as some of the other children.
You will find it very necessary to secure attention to, and improvement in, needlework throughout the school. Year by year, industrial training seems more and more valued ; and needlework is of primary importance, both from its intrinsic value to girls, and from its being that part of industrial work which can be most practically and efficiently taught in schools.
The objects of the prizes given by me have been confined to needlework and industrial instruction, because I conceive these to be of the greatest moment, not only to children in National schools, but also to yourselves; and whenever an opportunity offers, I feel the deepest anxiety to impress upon all (I may almost say) the indispensable obligation due to society, that girls of every rank should receive practical instruction in needlework, and possess a sound knowledge of domestic economy. I have striven so very earnestly to obtain a recognition of this principle, that I some. times fear, as respects needlework at least, I may seem to attach an undue importance to it; and to me, therefore, it seems not uncalled for if I enter somewhat more minutely on the present occasion upon some of the reasons which induce myself, and others who think with me, to feel so earnestly on this subject.
Many of these are within the range of your own experience; for you must bave noticed how great a difference the knowledge and practice of needlework makes in a home. You will all feel, too, that it tends to cement the ties of family affection ; for the little comforts furnished, or the little gifts made and received with so much pleasure, are familiar to us all; and you will all be ready to admit that skill in needlework promotes habits of economy. But economy has roots which strike deep, and produce results wbich may not at first be so easily observed. It was the wont of the greatest soldier England ever had, and one of the most acute observers of the principles from whence spring the actions of men (the “great duke," as he was commonly called when amongst us), that “economy was the parent of generosity." Trace this thought out, and you will find that the apparently humbler branches of instruction may play a more important part in forming the character than you would at first sight have imagined.
I will also say a few words on “the Uniformity of School-routine."
The regularity with which each class is refilled, as the younger children grow up and the elder leave, has a tendency to check that adaptation of instruction which is indispensable in order to produce any abiding influence on the mind. In infant schools this is especially the case, for there exists so much similarity between children of a tender age, that, when passing before one in numbers, it is difficult to remember that each little one bas its distinctive individuality as strongly as one's own, when seen and known separately; for how common is the remark, “ that the child is father to the man." Sometimes, too, surprise is expressed that a person should turn out so differently to what he or she was as a child. Whether the remark be for evil or good, it shows how distinctive was the individuality of the child at the time. What image is there that remains more vividly impressed upon the mind, after the lapse of long, long years, than the little traits and baby peculiarities of some of “Christ's lambs" taken early to their rest-safe, as we fondly hope, with Him who “suffered the little children to come unto Him” while on earth. You should be very jealous over yourselves, and watch that your perception of this individuality does not in time become blunted. Indeed, it requires a missionary spirit to carry out this great work of education—the spirit of those who give up all, and go forth, setting their face as a flint against disappointment and difficulty and trouble, to do the work of Christ ; and, above all, without this spirit you will not teach effectually. And while you teach your children, forget not that you yourselves will ever need to remember that you cannot do these things in your own strength.
I have now only to present these books to you, which I am sure you will all value as remembrances of this place, and of which I am sure you will always retain an affectionate remembrance.
NATIONAL ASSOCIATION FOR THE PROMOTION OF
SOCIAL SCIENCE. The meeting of this Association, in October last, was held at Bradford, and was a highly interesting and valuable one. The president for the year was the Earl of Shaftesbury, who delivered the introductory address ; but the venerable president of the Association-Lord Brougham – was also present, and took a considerable share in the discussions of the sections, and in the general business of the meeting.