November 14, 2010

The Law of the Learning Process

" Un Homme des armeset son cheval" by Jean-Louis meissonier

The Learner must reproduce in his own mind the truth to be acquired.

“It is to form in his own mind, by the use of his own powers, a complete and truthful conception or notion of the facts and truths in the lesson, in all their parts, relations, proofs, and applications.” Pg 124

This is law six of The Seven Laws of Teaching by John Milton Gregory. If the Law of the Teaching process emphasized that the teacher must activate the pupil’s self-activities to learn the truth being taught, then this law is about what the student must do and what the teacher must emphasize and enforce for the learning process to be successful. In this portion of the book the old adage that you can lead a horse to water but you can not make him drink it, is proved. For the impetus for learning is not on the teacher as many have assumed, but on the learner.
His (the student’s) constant aim should be to rise from being a learner at other men’s feet, to become an independent searcher of truth for himself. Both discoverer and learner must alike be truth seekers. Both must aim to gain clear and distinct conceptions of it. Both must needs employ in their work the truths already familiar to them, and both must put their learning to use, to find its full power and value. It is indispensable that the learner shall become an investigator.” Pg 125

How do I then teach my young students to be investigator’s? I returned to the 5th law the Law of the teaching process for some clues. Here is what I found:
Make sure that the lesson is adapted for his age and interests then…...

*Listen to them talk about what they know about the topic. Show respect for their mind and how it works. I really enjoy this.

*Ask questions to spark his curiosity, ask questions that are open ended, ask questions that invite him to think outside of the box, ask questions that lead him down a path to discover more about the lesson, ask questions that invite his opinions, ask questions that bring up more questions, ask question more then give answers. When you give an answer give it in such a way as to invite more questions. Questions stimulate the mind to think and allows the student discover any given topic.

*Never be in a hurry to move on if your student is struggling to articulate his answers. Be patient and wait for him to speak everything in his mind. When he is speaking he is paying attention. When he is paying attention learning is happening.

*Invite the students to ask questions but be careful not to do all the talking, but skillfully turn his answer into another question. Get him talking.

*Also, it is all right to say I don’t know let’s go look it up. Show your students how to seek out truth by your example.

*Use lots of concrete hands on type objects for them to use all their senses in discovery. Pictures and objects are worth a thousand words.

Mr. Gregory spends most of this chapter discussing the five stages that a learner must go through before a new truth can be fully understood. Again the impetus is on the learner but the job of the teacher is to enforce this and emphasize it. It is a daunting five item list when you think of all the lessons we prepare and give each day homeschooling. I thought, “How will I ever incorporate all those phases into one lesson?”, but after I was all tired out reading about it he gave me the truth I needed to continue on…..The reality of the five stages is this:
It is true that not many lessons are learned with this comprehensive thoroughness, and it may be that only the briefest and simplest lessons can be mastered at a single sitting; but this does not change the fact that no lesson can be counted fully learned till so mastered and understood.” Pg 129

I also realized that some lessons may be learned over time. At one time I the learner may learn something from stage one, then later I find more information about it and I go on to stage three. Then I meet someone and talk more about what I know and hear what he knows and then I am on stage four etc. The goal is not to get our students through each stage in one lesson or one sitting, but to recognize what stage they are in and lead them forward at their pace and interest. We are sympathetic and knowledgeable guides, not slave drivers with whips.

So without further ado here are the five Stages: (from page 128)

1. What does the lesson say word for word.
“A pupil may be said to have learned his lesson when he has committed it to memory, and can recite it word for word….education would be cheap if such learning could be made to stay; but it passes away like the images from a mirror, unless by almost endless repetitions.” Pg 125-126

2. Exactly what does it mean?
‘It is an evident advance over the memorizing of words when the pupil adds clear understanding of thought.” Pg 126

3. How can I express this meaning in my own language?
“It is a higher stage in study when the thought is so mastered and measured, as it were, that the pupil can translate it accurately into other words with no loss of meaning. He who can do this has advanced beyond the mere work of learning and has begun the work of discovering. The wise teacher will recognize this and will pardon the crudeness in expression, while he encourages the pupil to more accurate thinking as a means to more correct language.” Pg 126

4. Is the Lesson true? In what sense and why?
“The learner shows higher work still when he begins to seek the evidences of the statements which he studies. He who can give a reason for the faith which is in him is a much better learner, as well as stronger believer, than the man who believes, and he knows not why.” Pg 127

5. What is the good of it-how can I apply and use the knowledge it gives?
“But there is a still higher and more fruitful stage in learning. It is found in the study of the uses and applications of knowledge. No lesson is learned to its full and rich ending till it is traced to its connections with the great working machinery of nature and life…..the practical relations of truth, and the forces which lie hid behind all facts are never really understood until we apply our knowledge to some of the practical purposes of life. ” Pg 127 -128

“It is worth more to be possessed of but few of the lessons of wisdom, but to apply these diligently, than to know many but not to have them at hand.” Seneca tutor of Nero

All quotes from the Seven Laws of Teaching by John Milton Gregory


  1. hi sarah, would be good to chat online to you. We started homeschooling 6 months ago, and find it very daunting, I think we are all still in school mode. Sarah, Ben and Blake6yr

  2. The first year is definitely the hardest. But it gets easier as you get more comfortable with new ways of approaching learning. I would love to hear more about your story and see if I can encourage you. The best way to contact me is to drop me an email at Hope to hear from you soon.