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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 26

Part Second. — The Combined Teaching of Grammar, Analysis, and Composition From the First

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Part Second.

The Combined Teaching of Grammar, Analysis, and Composition From the First.

We shall now speak of the important practical matter we wished specially to bring before you now as to the method of teaching these subjects, Grammar, Analysis, and Composition.

First, then, we hold that they should be taught Simultaneously from the very first.

They are but different parts of the same subject, the knowledge and practical use of the English language. Grammar inquires into the nature and relations of words; Analysis and Synthesis into the manner of combining these into phrases and sentences; and Composition seeks to put both to practical use in expressing thought on any subject. They should therefore be taught so as mutually to assist and illustrate each other; and this can only be done efficiently by teaching them together.

Second, we hold that Composition is the most important subject, inasmuch as the chief end of our teaching in English is to impart the power of writing the English language with correctness, and if possible with effect and taste; and, there-fore, that this practical use of the language in the making of page 24 sentences should be that with which we should begin, continue, and conclude—the other subjects being helps and means towards this most desirable end.

These are the two positions in the teaching of these subjects to which we desire your special attention viz.,—that Grammar, Analysis, and Composition should be taught from the first simultaneously; and that Composition, being the most important, should receive most attention, and should regulate the teaching of the others, and be the instrument by which they are taught. In short, we advocate a combined course of Composition, Grammar, and Analysis, with Composition as the basis, medium, and end.

It follows, therefore, in our view, that if any one of these subjects requires from any cause to be omitted, any one of them may be omitted except Composition. Moreover, we hold that Composition should always, even in the humblest schools, be one of the branches taught, and should receive as regular and careful instruction as even the three R's.

These positions we consider of very great importance, and to them we ask your special attention, as we attempt to show how they are to be worked out.

Let it be distinctly understood throughout, that technicalities are only to be introduced gradually, according to the capacity of the child, and as they become necessary or useful for further progress. Technical terms are but means to an end. The important matter is the getting a thorough grasp of the principles, the ideas, of which technical words are merely the expression, which the skill and perception of the teacher will determine the fittest time to employ. Care must be taken that they are used as a help to the ideas. When they become a burden, they are given too early, and are worse than useless. Before the technical word is used, let the principle it expresses be fully understood, practised, and conquered, and then these forbidding terms become valuable, as gathering up gains already made, and as expressing much in little, as coins representing many smaller sums, handy tools for the performance, with certainty and celerity, of future work.

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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.

II.—The Rest of this Combined Course.

It would be impossible to give a complete plan of the Combined English Course we advocate, in an address. This it was not our intention to do. We wished merely to indicate the general method to be pursued, and the spirit in which it should be worked out, and to show at some length, as we have done, the mode of conducting the first and most important stage.

For the rest of the course, each teacher must construct a plan of procedure for himself, arranging the various parts of grammar, analysis, and composition as he thinks best for page 31 himself and his pupils. The materials for such a course are abundant, and to be found in our common text-books on the subjects. I cannot name any one book in which what I recommend is done. But the course is not difficult to construct. Let a teacher place before him several of our best text-books of grammar, analysis, and composition. From the abundant materials and exercises there presented, let him arrange for himself a graduated series of lessons on these conjoint subjects. In doing this, let him attend to the following points :—

1. The great principle that should pervade the course is that it is one based on, and having as its aim, the practical use of the language—in other words, that it is through a Course of Composition; and, therefore, that everything in Grammar and Analysis is to be reduced to practice in Composition. It should, as far as possible, be made a rigorous postulate—nothing taught without being done.

2. Let, therefore, the order in which Grammar is taught be that best adapted to progress in practical Composition. Do not follow Grammar text-books implicitly, but only where the order coincides with this practical aim. For example, the conjunction should not be begun till the children are ready to begin the forming of compound sentences, and then only the coordinative conjunctions, which are used to form these. So again, the relative, and the subordinate conjunctions (which are almost all derived from the relative, and should therefore be treated of along with it) should be taken only when the children are able to make complex sentences, in which these elements are used.

3. Gradually teach Analysis, as it contributes to the better understanding of Grammar, and to improved power in Composition.

4. Make a list, as easily got from our text-books, of the different principles in Composition proper that you purpose to teach the children; arrange these according to the order of difficulty, beginning with the simplest; and combine these with the grammatical and analytic course, so that each shall most assist the others.

5. Every teacher will determine for himself, according to the age and capacity of his children, and the time they page 32 remain at school, what principles in these three subjects he ought to take up, whether few or many, general or particular, in order to gain the aim he sets before him in this study—that of giving them the power, on leaving school, of writing at least a creditable composition, narrative and descriptive; and he will make the points he takes up more or less minute accordingly.

6. Though thus taught conjointly, it should always be kept in mind, that we are teaching three distinct but related subjects, each having its own rules and exercises. Exercises should therefore be given in each separately, in Grammar as Grammar, in Analysis as Analysis, and in Composition. Though combined, and having a distinct series of exercises as thus combined, in which all together are put to practice, they should also be examined and exercised on in the regular way as given in our text-books.

Such a plan of combined teaching of these important subjects he will, I am sure, find to be easier than he may at first sight imagine, with this advantage—that it is his own, and to be worked out by himself, for a definite and most commendable end. I can promise him, that he will be amply repaid for his trouble by the growing power his children acquire in the use of English in writing and speaking, and the firmer and more intelligent understanding of the grammatical structure of the language which such a course will secure.

III.—General Remarks on the Combined Course.

1. Can the General Principles of Composition be taught from the beginning?

But can the advanced, and more or less abstruse, principles of Composition, which are generally taught only to our highest classes, be taught at the early age we advocate? They can. Custom and traditionary method have pronounced differently, but these must stand aside when better things are to be done. Under the first stage, just review the number of such principles we introduced and exercised on—the duality of sentences; the making the idea of the sentence clearer by qualifying cither or both of these parts; the fact that each page 33 sentence begins with a capital and ends with a period; the necessity for varying sentences in their length, in their beginning, and in their construction to make a good exercise; and, in some degree, the discrimination of synonyms, and the necessity of using specific words to express an idea strongly.

The principles of Composition are, as a whole, quite within the capacity of common children, and only seem beyond them from the sesquipedalian names in which they are clothed.

For instance, in Composition we must avoid Ambiguity of expression. What is this but that we must not use a word with a double meaning, which any child can understand? We must avoid Circumlocution. What is this but saying what we have got to say, in as few words as possible? We must avoid Redundancy. What is this but taking care not to say the same thing twice over in different words? And so of every one of the technicalities of our books on Composition. The ideas can be easily given from the first and at an early stage; the names can follow when convenient.

It is only the bare truth to say, that the principles of Composition are simpler and more easily understood by children than those of Grammar, and can be taught and exercised on much earlier, with ease and pleasure to the child, and gratifying results to the teacher.

2. Age for Beginning.

At what age should we begin such a course? This may be guessed from what we have already said. It can be begun from the time that children are able to write down sentences on their slates; certainly when they are in the III. Standard, and even orally and on the board to the II. Standard—that is, from eight to ten. At this age, they are quite capable of doing the work required, and understanding the things spoken of, provided, of course, it is done skilfully and with sparing use of technicalities.

In recommending this to teachers, this question of age has been one of the first inquiries, and the answer has generally called forth astonishment and incredulity—that Grammar, not to speak of Composition, which have been relegated to the higher part of the school, should be begun at that age! I page 34 have frequently, with their permission, taken on the spot a combined II. and III. Standard, and drawn from the children, who did such work for the first time, a series of sentences on the pencil in my hand or other simple subject, which they wrote on their slates, and read out as a little composition ten minutes after. Many teachers have determined to try it; should they do so earnestly and systematically, I have no fear of the result.

3. Composition should be Taught in Elementary Schools even when Grammar cannot be Taught.

If I were asked regarding a very elementary school, with great irregularity and short attendance, in which only the most necessary subjects can be taught—if I were asked whether Grammar or Composition should be left out, I would unhesitatingly answer, Grammar as Grammar. In addition to the three "R's," what more important power can be given to children than the power of using the language with some degree of correctness and ease, in writing to their friends, or otherwise using the pen?

Away in the north-west part of the northern district, I find teachers, with laudable but painful industry, pegging away at Grammar, and hear the children deliver themselves of all its most forbidding technicalities with only the very slightest apprehension of their meaning, even when they can with difficulty express themselves in the simplest forms of English, and understand only a modicum of their simple reading-books. It is painful to see such a waste of time and energy; and therefore to such teachers I strongly recommend the giving up of Grammar as a subject, and the teaching of Elementary Composition or Sentence-making in the way already described; taking up the simpler points in Grammar as they are necessary in the Elementary Composition course, but laying it wholly aside as a separate branch of school instruction.

The plan recommends itself to teachers, especially after seeing on the spot, with their rude material, the thing easily and pleasurably done. Its advantages would be very great in all schools, but especially in schools with another tongue in page 35 constant use outside the school-door. It supplies the one thing most wanted there—a knowledge of words, a knowledge of the simple structure of an English sentence, and the power, by-and-by, of combining these, and writing a simple composition on a common subject. I am sure were this to be done from the III. Standard onwards, and exercised on for only fifteen minutes or half an hour daily, the result in intelligence and in knowledge of the language would be remarkable.

This would be my advice to all our elementary schools in which the teaching of grammar is reckoned the right thing to do, and in which the children can stay only a short time at school. Teach the children to know the great principles of love to God and love to man; to read, write, and cipher; and to use our English tongue so as to be able, at least, to write a letter decently. All this can be done in the most elementary school. The last has not been done in most of such schools, and where done, not done systematically. It should be done, and it can be done, with ease and pleasure. Do not, in our elementary schools, put off time teaching them about indefinites and subjunctives and distributives, and such impractical matters. Take them through such a simple course of Elementary Composition as shall give them the power of writing a little theme or letter well, and only teach Grammar as far as it helps towards this desirable and most practical end; and you give the children a power for life which they will feel the pleasure and advantage of, and for which they will ever give you thanks.

We have now traversed the field we had before us. The subject recommends itself to every teacher and to every one interested in education. It is eminently practical and eminently pressing, and good can be done only by the adoption of some such combined course from early years in our daily school-work. Most earnestly do I urge you to do this. If the thing is to be done, it must be done by the profession—each man for himself. The best books on the subject may be made, but unless you teachers unite to work it out systematically in school, little good will result.

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It is most gratifying to note the change that is gradually taking place in our text-books on English, and their gradual recognition of practical power over the language as the aim and end of all our grammatical course. We have now not a few really good books constructed more or less on the plan we advocate. The last ten years have seen marked improvement in this direction. But these better class-books are not in general use, and the idea that an English course has its only true purpose in practical power in Composition has not yet taken possession of the profession. It will be something for this Association to seize the idea and put it to real practical effect in school-work.

But we live at the beginning of even greater changes still in the teaching of English.

The eyes of English scholars and educationists are beginning to be opened to the great wealth of English idioms, and the necessity for their practice from the first in the manner of the classical languages. They are becoming awake to the fact that, rightly used and exercised on, the English Language can afford as varied and thorough mental training as these ancient languages, that English has not received its due in this matter, that it is time that it should, and that it is only simple justice and practical wisdom to employ this great instrument of daily speech, thought and writing, for such training, and for increased skill in its use. Just reflect on the practical power with which a boy would leave school, from a thorough course in English similar to what has been applied to the classics, begun in early years, and carried on so many hours daily, with as numerous and efficient a system of exercises in the use of our glorious English tongue. The result would be astonishing, and the gain for life in business, literature, and thought, incalculable. The battle has begun of mere Classicism versus English, and the issue is certain. Henceforth, our greatest instrument in mental training, culture, and practical use of language is English. It lies mainly with Teachers to prove its power in this field, and to lead to this "consummation so devoutly to be wished."