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formal grammar and punctuation as a system. They must know, of course, the principal functions of every part of speech and of every mark of punctuation, but instruction in both these matters should be given by example rather than precept, indirectly rather than directly.
Teachers should make their pupils feel that every kind of written work is an exercise in English, and should impress upon them the fact that compositions of whatever nature are as important a part of the school work as any other study. It is their duty to see that these exercises are made as pleasant as possible.
A boy should write upon subjects that interest him, that he may throw himself into the matter in hand as into a favorite game, and so speak his own thoughts naturally and easily. Special attention should be paid to the cultivation of those qualities which give a composition unity of structure and fluency of expression.
As to cultivating a literary style and taste, let children read good books that are adapted to their ages, tastes, and attainments, not that they may hope to copy the style of day of these authors, but that they may be influenced unconsciously by them, as one acquires good manners unconsciously from good associates.
The study of the English language as such, and that of English literature as such, are valuable ; but they are indirectly rather than directly serviceable in the writing of English.
DISCUSSION ON LANGUAGE TEACHING.
MR. F. F. BARROWS, Connecticut: In the teaching of language and composition, would Mr. Metcalf pursue any different course, from that which he has outlined, with that part of a class which did not do the prescribed work well ?
At the invitation of the President, Mr. Metcalf hereupon further elaborated his views on the Teaching of Language, as follows:
There are always exceptional cases in all classes of pupils, and we must depend upon the tact of the teacher at the time to know what is best to do. I have, in the paper outlined a general plan which may be followed as far as circumstances permit. It may be assumed that all or nearly all children like to talk, and any diffidence usually arises in consequence of a feeling that they cannot do well the work in hand. It therefore becomes the teacher's duty to encourage by judicious commendation every honest effort of his pupils; and moreover, to adjust his requirements so skilfully to the ability of his pupils that no honest effort will fail to bring commendable results.
The difficulties to which the gentleman alludes in his question may be safely left to the tact of a judicious teacher. I am confident, and my confidence comes from an experience of several years in this kind of work, that most of the difficulties anticipated by teachers who have never attempted the work will disappear after a trial of two or three months.
The plan outlined in the first part of my paper on teaching language by story-telling, information lessons, reproduction, etc., is not the plan I would advise for the upper classes of the grammar school. It refers, rather, to the first six classes, three in the primary and three in the grammar. In the upper classes I have usually placed in the pupils' hands carefully selected books from the public library. I may mention that these books are now supplied by the Boston School Committee, sets of sixty being furnished to the teacher's order. These books are not to be read in school hours, but are taken home once a week by the pupils, and a prescribed number of pages read. On the following day, the pupils return the books, and in a class exercise give their ideas of that portion of the book which has been read. It is on the same principle as followed out in the story-telling and reproduction in the lower classes, except that the pupil himself now reads the book and then reproduces the subject-matter. In my own experience, I found the pupils rapidly gained an ability to reproduce in pretty good English a story of twenty pages, after
reading it once or twice at the most. The object of this plan was to cultivate in the pupil a habit of getting the idea from what he read. When this power was once obtained, it was a wonderful aid to progress in all his school studies. Formerly when pupils only had to reproduce the words of a lesson, they sought for words; now that it was the idea they were to look for and reproduce, they could cover thirty pages of a book, where before they struggled over five or six.
Of course there always are a few of the more brilliant who, if allowed, will do all the work of the class. But the teacher should guard against this. Give one pupil a fair share of the time and then call on others,- till all have been brought out. From this verbal expression, it is an easy step for the pupil to tell his story with pencil.
It has often been asked me, what is a teacher to do with the poor exercises so often seen on scholars' slates, after the most conscientious teaching? I do not examine slates to any great extent. I do not attempt to correct all the errors of a pupil's composition. I do not believe it is necessary. In a private school and with five or six scholars, it might be an excellent method, but with fifty scholars and fifty slates, what can a teacher do? It is impossible to examine them all, and do all the other school work well. A teacher, be she ever so strong, has only so much energy, and if she puts it into the examination of slates she cannot put it where it might be far more desirable.
Sometimes an old teacher, fortified by her “long experience,” will tell you that you may write and re-write your corrected exercises upon the black-board, teach and interest the children all you may, and still they will not have their exercises correct. Why expect it? Certainly the children will not always find out every mistake in their exercises under the plan proposed. You may examine and correct every slate, and even then mistakes will appear in every new draft. But follow out the proposed plan day by day for several consecutive years, and then let us ask for results. The fact is, too many teachers want to get results right away.
This teaching of language should begin when the child is five years of age. Most of the mechanical difficulties of writing can be mastered in a year, and then the pupils can have eight years of language and composition study. But to-day we cannot talk of results. We have had no eight years' experience upon which to base conclusions.
MR. MAXWELL, Associate Superintendent of Schools, Brooklyn, N. Y.: Prof. Hill, in his paper on language, referred to the mechanical difficulty of writing as one of the hindrances to a child's ready flow of expression in his composition exercises. He further advised writing on slates as easier for the child than writing on paper. Personally, I have no doubt that slate writing is an easier method, and therefore a better medium for such exercises — and so in a less degree is the pencil better than the pen but the question naturally arises, at what time should the pen be introduced into schools ?
MR. METCALF: In Boston we introduce the pen in the fourth year; as soon as the pupil comes to the grammar school. In the primary schools they use slates entirely. They also use them to some extent in the grammar schools, but nearly all the slate exercises by the older pupils are afterward copied on paper for preservation. This can be done easily, as only about two of these so-called “ information " lessons, which the pupils have to reproduce, are given in a month.
One other question often arises with teachers when considering this subject, and that is, “ How much technical grammar should be taught in the schools ?” Personally, I would confine the technical work largely to the construction of sentences, and to the study of facts concerning the parts of speech. Studied in this way, grammar is far easier for the pupils than is generally supposed. There are certain definite facts about a part of speech which a pupil should know. But how often, instead of this definite knowledge, do we hear them rattling off declensions and conjugations without the slightest idea as to their meaning. Of course, it may be claimed that to the ordinary pupil a knowledge of the grammar of the language is not necessary, but those who are to be educated men and women, surely might know - and correctly — what little of English grammar there is to be known.
GEORGE A. LITTLEFIELD, Superintendent Schools, Newport, R. I.: It is very fashionable of late to say that much of the technical grammar usually taught, is useless, but the critics who say this do not take the trouble to mention any portion of it to be
abandoned. Mr. Metcalf, I see, employs the same general terms of denunciation, and the last essayist of the morning session, in the course of his brilliant paper, brushed aside the teaching of grammar as of little account. Now, in order that we may derive some definite benefit from this discussion, will Mr. Metcalf please state what particular portions of English grammar he would have dispensed with ?
MR. METCALF: To answer that question satisfactorily, I should want to know how much grammar is now taught in the schools to which the gentleman refers. I might say, however, that I do not think it is of any great value to be able to rattle off conjugations as pupils too often do.
I once asked a bright girl in the graduating class of one of our grammar schools to tell me how each tense in the Indicative mood is formed, and it was with the greatest difficulty that she answered the question correctly. Yet she could conjugate any verb with the greatest ease. The jingle of the conjugation she had learned, but little if any meaning had ever been attached to it.
If, instead of this, the pupils learn the four forms of the English verb and study carefully the auxiliaries, there is really little else to learn about the verbs. What was expressed in the classic tongues and in the ancient Saxon by terminations, we express by auxiliaries, hence auxiliaries should be carefully studied. But there is no reason for studying the verb as if it were a Latin verb. On the other hand, certain reformers ask what is the use of knowing any of these things ? I reply, because we are broader men for knowing such things. It makes the difference between the educated and the ignorant man. The narrow utilitarian idea has already had too much sway. In conclusion, I would also say that the more a teacher knows of this subject the more interesting he can make it when teaching it to a class.
MR. W. J. ROLFE, Cambridge, Mass.: The reference to “regular” and “irreguar” endings of words and the remarks about making the subject of grammar interesting, leads me to ask, If we must use technical terms in the teaching of grainmar, should we not make them precise and interesting? To-day pupils are taught that certain words are “regular” and “irregular," but it is a very rare thing to hear asked, what is meant by these terms “regular” and “irregular.” If we do, what is the result ?