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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 26

I.—Method of Beginning the Conjoint Teaching of these Subjects

page 25

I.—Method of Beginning the Conjoint Teaching of these Subjects.

First Stage: The Elementary Composition of the Simple Sentence.

Let us take a class that are about to begin the subject, and therefore know nothing of it. To be able to do this, the children only require to be able to write to dictation simple sentences on the slate. They are at all times, when being taught, to have their slates in hand, ready for use when required.

I. The Radical Idea of a Simple Sentence—Its Duality—The Noun, and Verb, and Pronoun.

I. The first thing to do is to give them the radical idea of what constitutes a simple sentence—its necessary duality—its two parts of subject and predicate, of noun and verb. This can be easily done; materials are abundant all about. Take the pencil in your hand; say something about it; make them say something. Point out the two necessary parts—the thing to speak of, and what is said about it. Take other subjects—the window, the desk, Johnny, Mary, &c. &c.

This root conception of the necessary duality of a sentence should be illustrated by numberless examples till it is apprehended fully. This should of course be done orally.

Next use the Board. Let one of the sentences be written down, and let its two parts be clearly separated to the eye. Let this be written on the slates with like separation. Let several be written on the board in the same way and transferred to the slates. Let others be written on the slate at once, and the two parts clearly marked. Let this radical duality be otherwise exercised on by the teacher, in ways he knows best for his own pupils, as by sending them to their seats to write short sentences, clearly separated, on subjects written on the board; by exercising them on the reading lesson of the day in separating the simpler sentences there; and so on. Let the same duality be exhibited in sentences of different page 26 length. Let both slate and mouth be constantly used. It may extend over many lessons, and should not be left till they have a thorough grasp of this radical idea.

2. Application of this Duality to Grammar.—We thus gain the true idea of the noun and the verb—the noun, the name of everything we can speak of; the verb, the word that can tell or assert something. These words should be given and used, and their definitions and uses learnt. Subject and predicate may be used if the children are old enough.

3. Introduce next the need for the pronoun by making two or more sentences about the same thing. Give its definition and use, and frame sentences with this new element.

II. Adjuncts to these two Radical Elements—the Adjective and Adverb.

The next stage is the adding of adjuncts to these two chief parts of the sentence—the extending the idea of each by the addition of explanatory words.

1. Extension to Noun—as green, square, large, &c.

Give name and simple definition of adjective.

Make sentences orally, and on board and slate, with this new element.

2. Extension to Verb.—Show how similar explanations can be added to the second part or verb.

Give name and simple definition of adverb.

Make sentences with new element in same way.

III. Writing of Short Compositions with Preceding Elements.

The next step is to exercise them in writing short compositions or themes on one subject, with all the preceding elements. This is an important step, and requires care.

1. Use the Black Board.—Take, say a book, and put it on the desk. Draw from them by questioning and otherwise several facts regarding it, taking special care that the sentences are theirs, got from them and formed under your guidance. Use any or all of the elements already known.

As each sentence is formed to your satisfaction, let it be written on the board correctly, with capitals and period in page 27 place. The series may be of any variety, and will be greatly determined by the answers and sentences made by the children, it being your wisdom to use and adapt their material. In this way such a series as this may be formed:—

"The reading-book lies on the master's desk. It is used every day by the second class. It is very interesting. The boy takes great care of it. Other boys are sometimes careless of theirs."

We have here five sentences on the board regarding this book—in other words, we have drawn from the children a piece of composition regarding the book. They have formed them, and the work is therefore quite within their capacity.

2. Let this be copied by them on their slates. Let similar exercises be frequently done on the board and transferred to the slate, then blotted from the board, and read by the children from their copy.

3. On Slate from Memory of Board.—Let such an exercise be done on the board, read over several times, and the succession of ideas and anything else worthy of remark, pointed out. Let it be transferred to the slates, and then blotted out from the slates, and then let the board be turned round. Let the children now take their seats, and reproduce it from memory, at first, in the same or equivalent phraseology. It will be well that the sentences thus asked be simple and few, and that the ideas of each be mentioned on the board. Let the class be recalled, and the slates be compared with the original on the board, the errors pointed out and corrected, and equivalent correct expressions praised. They have now produced a composition so far from themselves. Of course this exercise will vary in difficulty according to the age of the children. Do not overdo it; let the work be slow and sure.

4. On Slate without Board.—Next, let a like series of sentences be made on any subject, and let them be written down at once on the slate without the board. Let them be read over, corrected, and improved. Let them be rubbed out, one copy being kept, and let them be reproduced in the seats, then examined and corrected, then rewritten till they are done with ease and without error. Let the same be done with a great number of common simple subjects, till the children gain page 28 power and security in first framing sentences and then reproducing them.

5. Reproduced at Home.—Next, let the exercise thus made and reproduced in school, be done at home on slate, and by-and-by on paper, and brought next day and corrected. Let this corrected exercise be written out fully, and in a fair and correct copy.

Let this be continued till they bring a really good exercise from home, and can produce one in school when asked. They will acquire ability and ease more quickly than one who has not tried it would imagine.

6. Done without direction—unaided.—All the previous exercises have been done so far by the help of the teacher, he furnishing materials for the ideas to be expressed in the seat and home exercises.

Now, however, let them make sentences in school, unaided, on a subject named by you. The subject will, at first, be simple and the sentences few, but gradually increasing in number and difficulty as they gain power. Let these self-produced compositions be examined and corrected as before, and then rewritten till quite accurately produced. Let this be done in school and then at home, and continued till they have real and felt ease and ability in producing a little composition on any simple matter, with some degree of credit.

Remarks on this First Stage.

This would end what I would call the first stage in this combined course.

Its aim is to give the children the power of making a series of simple sentences, or short theme, on a given subject, with certain simple elements.

It begins with a thorough and careful laying of the foundation of all writing, the duality of all sentences; proceeds by numerous steps, and gradually-lessening assistance from the teacher, from single simple sentences on separate subjects to a series on the same subject; from oral, through board, slate, and, if of age, paper exercises, in sentences produced by the aid of the teacher, till they come at length to produce a short page 29 series for themselves without assistance, in other words, a short composition. The road is more or less lengthy, according to the capacity of the children, but it must be carefully and thoroughly traversed to be thoroughly efficient. We must attain the end we aim at, the self-production of a little exercise on a simple subject, descriptive or narrative.

The chief aim has therefore been to produce a certain power of Elementary Composition, because this power is the means for prosecuting the whole of the subsequent more advanced course. Other things have been so far only incidental, and have only been taught where necessary and auxiliary to this end. But we have incidentally taught the other subjects of our course. In Grammar, we have explained, defined, and exercised on the noun, the verb, the pronoun, the adjective, and adverb. These words and parts of speech we have introduced in the order we saw best, but, after being known, we have used them freely. A certain amount of Analysis has also been given—viz., that there are two chief divisions of the sentence, and that each of these may be extended and qualified, the one by the adjective and the other by the adverb, and that the first element or subject, as well as other nouns, may have a substitute in the pronoun.

In contrast to the usual mode of procedure we make Composition the main aim in this first course, for these reasons :—
(1.)The writing of good English should be the great end and aim of all our teaching in the structure of the English language.
(2.)This elementary composition is quite within the power of even very young children, and may be graduated in difficulty, according to age and capacity.
(3.)It utilises a power they hourly use, that of making sentences in common speech, corrects and extends it, and therefore builds on the known and common.
(4.)The material for the work is abundant and simple.
(5.)It is the most thorough means of giving the elementary ideas of grammar and analysis, because the things are known and used before they are designated.page 30
(6.)It is the best basis for the efficient teaching of the after more formal course of grammar and analysis, in which, as already shown, the practical use of the grammatical forms must form a main idea; and it gives a practical ability in composition, which will be at command when the higher principles of composition come to be formally taught.
(7.)It can be done with very great pleasure to the children—a most important matter, especially in beginning a subject more or less difficult.
(8.)It is attended with a growing feeling of power over the subject, than which nothing is more valuable in any part of school-work.
(9.)Not least, it imparts to young children the ability of writing a composition on a subject, and of giving an account of anything, which may be all the composition the most of the children in our common schools will likely ever get. This is a most important consideration, and one that should insure the teaching of composition from the very first, by some such elementary course.
(10.)It will correct and improve the general style of their answering and speech at all times, and give them greater and readier insight into the meaning of all they read.
(11.)It will give pleasure to parents, by no means a mean element to be taken into account, who will appreciate such real practical ability in writing, of which they themselves feel the want, and sec the importance in common life.