THE LAW OF THE LEARNING PROCESS
We must now pass from the side of the teacher to that of the learner.
It has been seen that the teacher's work consists essentially in
arousing and guiding the self-activities of the pupils. The pupils'
work, which we are now to consider, is the use of those
self-activities in studying. The laws of teaching and learning may
seem at first to be only different aspects of the same law, but they
are really quite distinct -- the one applying to the work of
the instructor, the other to that of the one receiving the
instruction.The law of the TEACHING PROCESS involves the means by
which the self-activities are to be awakened; the law of the LEARNING
PROCESS determines the manner in which these activities shall be
If we observe a child as he studies, and note carefully what he does, we shall easily see that it is not merely an effort of the attention nor a vague and purposeless exertion of his powers, that is required of him. There is a clear and distinct act or process which we wish him to accomplish. It is to form in his own mind, by the use of his own powers, a true concept of the facts or principles in the lesson. This is the purpose to which all the efforts of
and pupil must be directed. The law of the learning process may
therefore be stated thus:
THE PUPIL MUST REPRODUCE IN HIS OWN MIND THE TRUTH TO BE LEARNED
With the laws previously discussed the teacher has been chiefly concerned; the law now before us concerns the pupil also. It brings into view the principles which must guide the student in his studying, and which it is the business of the instructor to emphasize and enforce. While telling the teacher how to teach, it also tells the pupil how to study.
THE PHILOSOPHY OF THE LAW
We have said that merely pouring out before pupils the content of the teacher's knowledge is not teaching. It should now be pointed out that true learning is not memorization and repetition of the words and ideas of the teacher. The work of education, contrary to common understanding, is much more the work of the pupil than of the teacher. This idea, which has been presented before in this discussion, is here reaffirmed as fundamental.
We must distinguish between the original discovery of a truth and learning it from others. Discovery is made by processes of original investigation and research which are usually slow, tentative,and laborious. Learning comes by processes of interpretation, which may be easy and rapid. Still there is much in common; the learner rediscovers in part the material that he learns. No real learning is wholly a repetition of the thoughts of others. The discoverer borrows largely of facts known to others, and the student must add to what he studies from his own experience. His aim should be to become an independent searcher in the fields of knowledge, not merely a passive learner at the hands of others. Both the original investigator and the student must be seekers for new facts and principles, and both must aim to gain clear and distinct conceptions of them. It is indispensable that the student should become an investigator.6. There are several phases of the learning process which should be carefully noted here in order that the full meaning of the law shall be seen and understood.
(1) A pupil is sometimes said to have learned the lesson when he has committed it to memory, and can repeat or recite it word for word. This is all that is attempted by many pupils, or required by such teachers as consider their work done if they can secure verbatim reproductions. Education would be cheap and easy if this were real learning and could be made to stay.
(2) It is an evident advance over the memorizing of words when the pupil has also an understanding of the thought. Itis so much better that many teachers are tempted to care only for the thought, and so to inform their pupils. There is a danger here, for in many cases, as in the teaching of the lessons in the Bible, it is important to know and to remember the words.
(3) It is still better when the pupil can translate the thought accurately into his own or other words without detriment to the meaning. The one who can do this has advanced beyond the work of mere learning, and has placed himself in the attitude of a discoverer. He has learned to deal with his own thoughts as well as the thoughts of others. The capable teacher will recognize this, and will pardon possible crudeness of expression, while he encourages the pupil to more accurate thinking as a means to more accurate language.
(4) The pupil shows still greater progress when he begins to seek evidence of the statements which he studies. The one who can give a reason for the things he believes is a better student as well as a stronger believer than the one who believes but does not know why. The real student seeks proofs, and a large part of the work of a student of nature is to prove the things which he discovers. The student of the Bible ought to seek to find out for himself if these things are so. Even the youngest pupils will take a stronger hold of the truth if they can see a reason for it. In searching for proof,the student encounters much knowledge on the way, like the mountain climber who finds the landscape always widening around him.The particular problem with which he is engaged is seen to be a part of the great empire of truth.
(5) A still higher and more fruitful stage of learning is found in the study of the uses and applications of knowledge. No lesson is fully learned until it is traced to its connections with the great working machinery of nature and of life. Every fact has its relation to life, and every principle its applications, and until these are known, facts and principles are idle. The practical relations of truth, and the forces which lie behind all facts, are never really understood until we apply our knowledge to some of the practical purposes of life and of thought. The boy who finds a use for what he has learned in his lesson becomes doubly interested and successful in his school work. What was idle knowledge becomes practical wisdom.
The learning process is not completed until this last stage has been reached. The other steps aid in illumining the understanding of the pupils as they progress in their work, but our law of the learning process demands this final stage, and to this purpose the efforts of the teacher and the pupils must constantly be directed.
The earnest student will be enabled, by means of these steps, to watch his own progress with his work. He can ask these questions: What does the lesson say? What is its meaning? How can I express this meaning in my own language? Do I believe what the lesson tells me, and why? What is the good of it -- how may I apply and use the knowledge which it gives?
It is true that many lessons are not learned with this comprehensive thoroughness, but this does not change the fact that no lesson is really learned until so understood and so mastered.
LIMITATIONS OF THE LAW
We should consider two limitations to this law of learning. The first has to do with the age of the pupils. It should be remembered that the mental activity of young children lies close to the senses.Their knowledge of a lesson will be largely confined to the facts which appeal to the eye, or which can be illustrated to the senses. A little later the desire of pupils for activity and for carrying on some active enterprise may profitably be utilized in their training.As maturity is approached, young people think more and more about reasons, and the lessons which will appeal most to them will be the ones which ask reasons and which give conclusions.
Another limitation is one concerned with the different fields of human knowledge. In each branch of knowledge there are distinct evidences and applications, and therefore the operation of the law of the learning process will vary to meet conditions. The capable teacher will discover these differences, and will find the proper conditions of successful study of each.
Herman Krusi, one of the best of teachers because one of the most sympathetic students of childhood, said: "Every child that I have ever observed, during all my life, has passed through certain remarkable questioning periods which seem to originate from his inner being. After each had passed through the early time of lisping and stammering, into that of speaking, and had come to the questioning period, he repeated at every new phenomenon the question, 'What is that?' If for an answer he received the name of a thing, it completely satisfied him; he wished to know no more. After a number of months, a second state made its appearance, in which the child followed its first question with a second: 'What is there in it?'These questions had much interest for me, and I spent much reflection upon them. In the end it became clear to me that the child had struck out the right method for developing its thinking faculties." Krusi's questions belong chiefly to the first period of growth and education;in the later periods come other questions.
PRACTICAL RULES FOR TEACHERS AND LEARNERS
The rules which follow from this law are useful both for teacher and pupil.
(1) Help the pupil to form a clear idea of the work to be done.
(2) Warn him that the words of his lesson have been carefully chosen; that they may have peculiar meanings, which it may be important to find out.
(3) Show him that usually more things are implied than are said.
(4) Ask him to express, in his own words, the meaning of the lesson as he understands it, and to persist until he has the whole thought.
(5) Let the reason WHY be perpetually ASKED till the pupil is brought to feel that he is expected to give a reason for his opinions. But let him also clearly understand that reasons must vary with the nature of the material he is studying.
(6) Aim to make the pupil an independent investigator -- a student of nature and a seeker after truth. Cultivate in him the habit of research.
(7) Help him to test his conceptions to see that they reproduce the truth taught, as far as his powers permit.
(8) Seek constantly to develop in pupils a profound regard for truth as something noble and enduring.
(9) Teach the pupils to hate shams and sophistries and to shun them.
VIOLATIONS AND MISTAKES
The violations of this law of the learning process are perhaps the most common and most fatal of any in our school work. Since the work of learning is the very heart of school work, a failure here is a failure in all. Knowledge may be placed before the pupils in endless profusion and in the most attractive guise; teachers may pour out instruction without stint, and lessons may be learned and recited under all the pressure of the most effective discipline and of the most urgent appeals; but if this law is not followed, the attainments will fall short of their mark. Some of the more common mistakes are these:
(1) The pupil is left in the twilight of an imperfect and fragmentary mastery by a failure to think it into clearness. The haste to go on often precludes time for thinking.
(2) The language of the textbook is so insisted upon that the pupil has no incentive to try his own power of expression. Thus he is taught to feel that the words are everything, the meaning nothing. Students often learn the demonstrations of geometry by heart, and do not suspect that there is any meaning in them.
(3) The failure to insist upon original thinking by the pupils is one of the most common faults of our schools.
(4) Frequently no reason is asked for the statements in the lesson, and none is given. The pupil believes what the book says,because the book says it.
(5) The practical applications are persistently neglected.That the lesson has a use, is the last thought to enter the minds of many pupils.
Nowhere are these faults in teaching more frequent or
more serious than in the Sunday school. "Always learning, but never able to come to a knowledge of the truth," tells the sad story of many a Sunday school class. If that class be taught as our law prescribes, the results might be very different.