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The habit of challenging every word and requiring it to yield up its treasure, will be an invaluable one to be formed in the earliest days of school life. At the first the written words learned are those which already form a part of the child's vocabulary. With these great care should be taken that advancement be made only as rapidly as a full association can be made of the written with the spoken word. Soon, however, words entirely new to the ear of many of the pupils are reached. Here the progress must stop until a mastery of the signification and use is acquired.
In the primary grades meanings should be developed from the general knowledge of the class, from objective illustration, or the teacher's explanation; but in the grammar and higher grades free and constant use of the dictionary should characterize the preparation of every lesson. In this manner every exercise becomes an instrumentality in the enlargement of the child's available vocabulary and thus of his power of comprehension and expression. One of the most important aids in preventing the evil so prevalent of reading simply "words, words, words," is to inculcate the habit from the beginning of making the word but the dress of the idea. But these verbal studies will avail but little unless they are accompanied by a gradual development of the power of attention. To this attainment the successful instructor will give constant thought and judicious effort.
Unless the habit of concentrating one's energies upon the work in hand shall have a steady and assured progress, continual waste will attend all efforts at education. At first the power of voluntary attention is almost entirely wanting. Curiosity must be appealed to. A degree of charm must be thrown about all subjects that the interest may be awak. ened and held and the mental forces brought into focus upon the work. Weariness and lassitude must be avoided by a careful limitation of the exercise, by variety and expedient. By these efforts emphatic tendencies may be given at an early age which, if sustained and nurtured, become helpful servants to supplement all our later exertions. With increase of strength the will may be appealed to to control and direct the attention, but at no period can the teacher afford to fail to bring to bear all the attractive and inspiring features which may surround the exercise. “Diffuse consciousness" characterizes too frequently not simply the pupils of the schools, but those who have passed beyond their immediate influence.
The teacher should be conscious that the power of closer and more prolonged attention is growing with advancing lessons.
The regular work of the reading class in the grammar grades should lead up by a gradual process of development into the more comprehensive study of literature in the high school.
Pupils should, in those grades, be brought into an acquaintance with many of the better writers of the world and learn much of their lives and the extent and nature of their productions. Teachers in the intermediate grades of the common schools, it has seemed to me, too often fail to realize the great influence they may have in cultivating a taste for that which is pure and ennobling in the world's literature. We cannot ignore the present condition. Reading matter lies all about the boy and girl of the present day. They will read something if they have any intellectual activity. Unless the schools afford a wise directive influence, in the vast majority of cases the reading will be misdirected. The story exciting the passions and quickening the baser impulses will crowd out those whose influences would be exalting and educative in the truest sense. If, in this taste-forming age, a wise direction is not given by school or home a diseased taste will result which can be remedied only by arduous exertion, and so much ease and satisfaction will be found in following the bent thus taken that it will be only in rare cases that a suitable remedy will be applied to effect a recovery.
What can be done? Give pupils definite work to perforın in the preparation of lesBons, make the methods of the recitation such as to cause pupils to come to it each day with a hearty relish, inspire them with enthusiasm by your own excellence of preparation and large appreciation of the subjects studied; bring within the reach of pupils for their spare moments at school or evenings at home such material in stories, biography, travels, history, science or poetry as when read will leave a beneficent influence upon the whole life.
There is probably no class which can be conducted with as great ease on the part of the teacher as the reading class; there is none that offers as enticing inducements to great efforts on his part, if he fairly appreciates his opportnnities.
The printed page is the medium through which the soul of the reader gets its glimpses of the soul of the author and it is an all important duty of the teacher to clarify this medium for the child. To accomplish this result a series of carefully prepared questions should be proposed with each lesson which will lead to a thorough study of the text and awaken a spirit of research. At this point the reading should have an intimate connection with the study of grammar and other language work. Reason, judgment, and imagination should be brought into activity in the study of worthy literary productions. The figures of personification, antithesis, simile and metaphor, etc., should be taught, and their effects observed. Allusions to distinguished persons and places, to principles of science, to the arts, to the customs of former times, to literary works of prominence are of frequent occurrence in the writings of all eminent authors.
Their investigation presents a large and important field for awakening and storing the mind. In many cases to be sure this field is too large to be compassed until years of maturity are reached, yet by such study within the limits of the pupils' powers are they brought into the spirit of the production and intelligence and taste cultivated.
As to the amount that should be read in the schools no rule could be given, though this matter has received much attention during recent years. I suppose in many very successful schools the old one-set-of-readers plan may still be found in operation with commendable results. It has become customary, however, in the majority of the graded schools, to bring into use a large supply of supplementary reading in various forms. When the idea controls that we educate children in proportion to the amount of reading we enable them to do we are liable to error. In the lower grades where the work of securing a good vocabulary is an important end, I believe much additional work may, with great advantage, supplement the text-book, provided the new words do not increase too rapidly. The finding of the same words in a great variety of relations, while affording the necessary drill in prompt recognition is a great aid in arousing the mental activities.
In the higher grades three classes of materials may very properly be employed, first that which is recreative consisting of interesting stories by reputable authors. This may be used chiefly for the story, and will not require great depth of study. The second class I would name information reading, such as works of history and science adapted to the advancement of pupils. With such works less rapidity of progress should be made and sufficient time given to arrange the subject definitely and systematically in mind. The third division may be termed literary reading. This should have the greater portion of the time of class exercises. The nature of the work should be intensive rather than extensive. The finer thoughts, should be re-read, memorized and recited, and the pupil brought to feel the literary beauty and strength which characterizes the work.
I have a great respect for the advanced reader still, and I believe that, if used aright, it is preferable to much of the work that has been introduced to take its place. I would have such readers dwell long enough upon the writings of a given author to establish a degree of acquaintance with, and love for his works. Reading upon a single production as “The Lady of the Lake,” “Robinson Crusoe,” “ Tales of a Grandfather," “Tales of Two Cities,” etc., at successive class exercises for a term or more, has not, within the range of my experience or observation, proved the success that has been hoped for such schemes. The advancement must, of necessity, be slower than eager, interested pupils can be reconciled to, and as a result the exercise will take on a spirit of monotony and indifference. The reading of productions that may be readily comprehended by children without the aid of a teacher, should be as spontaneous as possible. Much more will be accomplished in forming a pure reading taste, if the school can have access to even a small collection of such books, by the teacher encouraging pupils to take them to their homes for such spare moment reading as may there besecured.
MICHIGAN STATE READING CIRCLE COUNCIL
REPORT OF THE SECRETARY, MISS MARY E. TILTON, LANSING.
Mr. President :
The Council of the Michigan State Reading Circle would beg leave to submit the following report:
The council consisted, by election by this body, of Prof. Daniel Putnam, Prof. W. 8. Perry, Prof. L. C. Hull, Miss Mary E. Tilton, and Superintendent of Public Instruction, Joseph Estabrook, and was organized at its first meeting by the election of Prof. Daniel Putnam, president, and Mary E. Tilton, secretary and treasurer.
The council found, upon examination of affairs, that many teachers had expressed an interest in the movement, and that a large number had purchased some of the books recommended by the previous council, and commenced reading. The correspondence had been large, circulars had been prepared and mailed to most of the teachers in the State, and the county examiners urged to give their support and influence to encourage the work. The State Board of Education recognized the movement in their questions for the examination of teachers, but for some cause the work seemed to lack vitality.
It was found that the method of county organization was unsatisfactory, because of the difficulty of close relation between the county and local circles. After due deliberation the council decided to change the organization by doing away with the county circles and permitting the organization of local circles directly from the office of the state council.
In the early part of the year attention was called to the reading circle and its work, through the leading newspapers of the state.
The courses of reading were revised, and a graded school course added.
Circulars of information have been issued from time to time to old and new members, county examiners, principals and superintendents.
Series of questions have been prepared on each subject of the first year's reading, serving as a guide in the reading itself, and forming the basis for proposed examinations.
An effort has been made to encourage and strengthen the interest of new circles. with letters of suggestions and general direction.
As a result of the year's efforts, eighteen new circles have been recorded, with a membership of 165. Though not all that was desired or hoped, the results are far from being discouraging.
The plan of organizing local circles has proved satisfactory.
Many letters have been received from individual members expressing interest in the work, and testifying to the benefit derived from it. Teachers have become better acquainted, strengthened and encouraged in their teaching, from the reading accomplished.
Several letters of inquiry are now waiting a reply.
The leaven has begun its work and under proper conditions will extend its influence until all Michigan, like some of her sister states, has become permeated with the life. giving properties.
New impetus is given the work in the following action of the Association of County Examiners yesterday afternoon:
Resolved, That it is the sense of this Association of County Examiners, that the work of the Michigan State Teachers' Reading Circle is of such importance that it should receive every proper encouragement, and that we, as secretaries, will give it our most hearty approval.
The Association voted to join with the State Teachers' Association in the organization of a council of seven persons, three to be appointed by the Association of Secretaries, and three by the State Association of Teachers, with the Superintendent of Public Instruction a member ex-officio.
The following were named as members from the Association of County Examiners: Messrs. Drake, of Hillsdale, S. W. Baker, of Big Rapids, and C. L. Bemis, of Ionia.
Three vacancies occur in the Council at the present time. One caused by the with: drawal of Prof. L. C. Hull from the State, the other two by the expiration of the term of office of Pres. Putnam and Supt. Perry.
These vacancies should be filled, and it is hoped that the State Association will deem it advisable to recognize the action of the County Examiners by making the membership of its Council seven instead of five, as heretofore.
The course of reading has proved too heavy. Suggesting that this be simplified, beg leave to close this report with a financial statement of the treasurer.