November 4, 2010

The Law of the Lesson

"The Stay at Homes" by Norman Rockwell

“The truth to be taught must be learned through truth already known.”

“We go at once to the obvious fact that our pupils learn new truths by the aid of those that are old and familiar. The new and unknown can be explained only by the Familiar and the known.” Pg 84

This is the fourth law of the Seven Laws of Teaching written by John Milton Gregory. Once again, it is straight and simple to understand and yet full of practical applications and subtle insight on how to enhance our days of lessons and learning. Let us jump right into the practical side of things and see some ideas for us teachers that if taken up and applied to our lessons will reap us a great harvest of learning for our kids.

Ideas paraphrased from pg 94-95

1. Discover what your student knows of the subject you want to teach…this is his/her starting point not the text book or lesson.
“Knowledge is truth discovered and understood.” Pg 85

2. Make the most of the student’s knowledge. Let him feel the extent and value as a means of learning more.

3. Have your student tell all he knows about the subject in a clear statement or two. This will bring him to the border of the unknown.
“All teaching must begin at some point of the subject or lesson. Where can it begin but at that which is seen or known by the learner? If the subject is wholly new, or the fact to be taught is entirely strange, then a known point must be sought or made by showing some likeness of the new and the known to something known and familiar.” Pg 85-86

4. Begin with facts which lie next to the border of what your student already knows, and which can be reached by a single step.
“All learning must proceed by some steps. By what steps can it advance except by those which link one fact or truth to another, as simple facts lead to more general facts, premises conduct to conclusions, and phenomena come at last to the explaining laws and reasons? In all true learning, each new fact mastered becomes a part of the known, and serves as a new starting point for a fresh advance. It adds its own light to the knowledge that preceded it, and throws increased illumination forward for the next discovery. BUT each step must be fully mastered before taking the next, else at the second step the pupil will be moving from the unknown to the unknown, and thus violate the law.” Pg 87

5. Connect each lesson with the lessons before and with the students knowledge and experience.
“If a friend tells us an experience or an adventure, we interpret his story by a running comparison of it with whatever has been most like it in our own experience; and if he states facts utterly without likeness to all we have known, we stop him to ask explanations or illustrations which may bring the strange facts into connection with our knowledge of things. Tell a child something utterly novel and differing entirely from all his former experience and knowledge, and he will struggle in vain to understand you…..the whole system of figures of speech-topes, metaphors, similes, comparisons, parables and illustrative stories- has sprung out of this law.” Pg 89-90

6. Review the steps to be taken in the lesson and be sure they lead naturally and easily from the known to the unknown.
“The known, to each individual, is that truth which he has mastered and made his own; all else is to him the unknown. Much which is to the teacher knowledge is to the child the unknown, and it is to this unknown that our law especially applies. The path of learning to this must be constructed through the pupil’s knowledge.” Pg 85

7. Adjust the steps to the age of the student, and be sure he fully understands the new truth before moving on to the next one. Do not discourage younger children with lessons that are too long, and bore older students with lessons that are too easy or too short.
“Young teachers, urged on by the constant exhortations to thoroughness given them by older educators, and not reflecting that a child’s knowledge is necessarily less than that of grown men, attempt to hold their little pupils to each lesson studied till they know it with the same fullness as the teacher himself.” Pg 93
“All teaching must advance in some direction. Whitherward shall it march but to that which is to the pupil new and unknown? To teach again what is already known and understood is to mock the pupils desire for knowledge.” Pg 86
“No more fatal blow can be dealt to a child’s native love of learning than to confine its studies too long to familiar ground under the fallacious plea of thoroughness. Old mines may be reworked if you can find ore at deeper levels.” Pg 86

8. Use illustrations that are familiar to your students. Use common objects and things they know.
“The mind uses by preference only its clearest and most familiar knowledge in the interpretation of new facts. Each man borrows his illustrations from his calling: the soldier from the camps and marches, the sailor from the ships and the sea, the merchant from the market, and the artisan from his craft…..This bent of preference is one of the elements of prejudice which shuts the eyes to some truths and opens them to others.” Pg 91-92

“The difficulty so often in answering the questions of little children lies not so much in the hardness of the questions themselves, as in the child’s lack of the knowledge required in the explanation.” Pg 90

All quotes taken from The Seven Laws of Teaching by John Milton Gregory.

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