Teaching has its natural laws as fixed as the laws of the planets or of growing organisms. It is a process in which definite forces are employed to produce definite results, and these results follow as regularly and certainly as the day follows the sun. What the teacher does, he does through natural agencies working out their natural effects. Causation is as certain -- if not always so obvious nor so easily understood -- in the movements of mind as in those of matter. The laws of mind are as fixed as material laws.
To discover the laws of any process, whether of mind or of matter, makes it possible to bring that process under the control of one who knows the laws and can command the conditions. Knowledge of the laws of electric currents has made it possible to send messages through the oceans; and he who masters the laws of teaching may convey to the minds of others the experience of the race. He who would gain harvests must obey nature's laws for the growing of corn, and he who would teach a child successfully must follow the laws of teaching. Nowhere, in the world of mind or in the world of matter,can man produce any effects except as he employs the means upon which those effects depend.
Teaching, in its simplest sense, is the communication of experience. This experience may consist of facts, truths, doctrines, ideas, or ideals, or it may consist of the processes or skills of an art. It may be taught by the use of words, by signs, by objects, by actions, or by examples; but whatever the substance, the mode, or the aim of the teaching, the act itself, fundamentally considered, is always substantially the same: it is a communication of experience. It is painting in the mind of another the picture in one's own – the shaping of the thought and understanding to the comprehension of some
truth which the teacher knows and wishes to communicate. Further on we shall see that the word "communication" is used here, not in the sense of the transmission of a mental something from one person to another, but rather in the sense of helping another to reproduce the same experience and thus to make it common to the two.
THE SEVEN FACTORS
To discover the law of any phenomenon, we must subject that phenomenon to a scientific analysis and study its separate parts. If any complete act of teaching be so analyzed, it will be found to contain seven distinct elements or factors:
(1) two personal factors -- a teacher and a learner;
(2) two mental factors – a common language or medium of communication, and a lesson or truth or art to be communicated; and
(3) three functional acts or processes --that of the teacher, that of the learner, and a final or finishing process to test and fix the result.5. These are essential elements in every full and complete act of teaching. Whether the lesson be a single fact told in three minutes, or a lecture occupying as many hours, the seven factors are all present, if the work is effective. None of them can be omitted, and no others need be added. If there is a true science of teaching, it must be found in the laws and relations of these seven factors.
To discover their laws, let us pass the seven factors again in careful review:
(1) a teacher;
(2) a learner;
(3) a common language or medium of communication;
(4) a lesson or truth;
(5) the teacher's work;
(6) the learner's work;
(7) the review work, which organizes, applies, perfects, and fastens the work which has been done.
Each of these seven factors is distinguished from the rest by some essential characteristics; each is a distinct entity or fact of nature. Since every fact of nature is the product and proof of some law of nature, each element here described has its own great law of function, and these taken together constitute The Seven Laws of Teaching.
It may seem trivial so to insist upon all this. Some will say: "Of course there can be no teaching without a teacher and a pupil, without a language and a lesson, and unless the teacher teaches and the learner learns; or, finally, without a proper review, if any assurance is to be gained that the work has been successful. All this is too obvious to need assertion." So also is it obvious that when seeds, soil, heat, light, and moisture come together in proper measure, plants are produced and grow to the harvest; but the obviousness of these common facts does not prevent their hiding among them some of the most profound and mysterious laws of nature. So, too, a simple act of teaching may hide within it some of the most potent and significant laws of mental life.
THE LAWS STATED
These laws are not obscure and hard to reach. They are so simple and natural that they suggest themselves almost spontaneously to the careful observer. They lie im-bedded in the simplest description that can be given of the seven elements named, as in the following:
(1) A TEACHER must be one who KNOWS the lesson or truth or art to be taught.
(2) A LEARNER is one who ATTENDS with interest to the lesson.
(3) The LANGUAGE used as a MEDIUM between teacher and learner must be COMMON to both.
(4) The LESSON to be mastered must be explicable in the terms of truth already known by the learner -- the UNKNOWN must be explained by means of the KNOWN.
(5) TEACHING is AROUSING and USING the PUPIL'S MIND to grasp the desired thought or to master the desired art.
(6) LEARNING is THINKING into one's own UNDERSTANDING a new idea or truth or working into HABIT a new art or skill.
(7) The TEST AND PROOF of teaching done -- the finishing and fastening process -- must be a REVIEWING, RE-THINKING, RE-KNOWING, REPRODUCING, and APPLYING of the material that has been taught, the knowledge and ideals and arts that have been communicated.
These definitions and statements are perhaps so simple and obvious as to need no argument or proof; but their force as fundamental laws may be more clearly seen if they are stated as rules for teaching. Addressed to the teacher, they may read as follows:
(1) Know thoroughly and familiarly the lesson you wish to teach -- teach from a full mind and a clear understanding.
(2) Gain and keep the attention and interest of the pupils upon the lesson. Do not try to teach without attention.
(3) Use words understood in the same way by the pupils and yourself -- language clear and vivid to both.
(4) Begin with what is already well known to the pupil upon the subject and with what he has himself experienced -- and proceed to the new material by single, easy, and natural steps, letting the known explain the unknown.
(5) Stimulate the pupil's own mind to action. Keep his thought as much as possible ahead of your expression, placing him in the attitude of a discoverer, an participator.
(6) Require the pupil to reproduce in thought the lesson he is learning -- thinking it out in its various phases and application still he can express it in his own language.
(7) REVIEW, REVIEW, REVIEW, reproducing the old, deepening its impression with new thought, linking it with added meanings,
finding new applications, correcting any false views, and completing the true.
ESSENTIALS OF SUCCESSFUL TEACHING
These rules, and the laws upon which they are based, underlie and govern all successful teaching. If taken in their broadest significance, nothing need be added to them or taken away. No one who thoroughly masters and uses them need fail as a teacher, if he also has qualities that enable him properly to maintain the good order necessary to give them free and undisturbed action. Disorder, noise, and confusion may hinder and prevent the results desired, just as the constant disturbance of some chemical elements forbids the formation of the compounds which the laws of chemistry would otherwise produce. But good teaching, in itself, will often bring about good order.
Like all the great laws of nature, these laws of teaching seem clear and obvious; but like other fundamental truths, their simplicity is more apparent than real. Each law varies in its applications with varying minds and persons, although remaining constant in itself; and each stands related to other laws and fact still it reaches the outermost limits of the art of teaching. In the succeeding chapters we shall proceed to a careful study of these seven laws, reaching in our discussion many valuable principles in education and many practical rules which can be of use in the teacher's work.
These laws and rules apply to the teaching of all subjects in all grades, since they are the fundamental conditions on which ideas may pass from one mind to another. They are as valid and useful for the instructor in the university as for the teacher in the elementary school, and for the teaching of a law in logic as for instruction in arithmetic.
There may be many successful teachers who never heard of these laws, and who do not CONSCIOUSLY follow them; just as there are people who walk safely without any theoretical knowledge of gravitation, and talk intelligibly without studying grammar. Like the musician who plays "by ear," these "natural" teachers have learned from practice the laws of teaching, and obey them from habit. It is none the less true that their success comes from obeying law, and not in spite of law.
SKILL AND ENTHUSIASM
Let no one fear that a study of the laws of teaching will tend to substitute a cold, mechanical sort of work for the warm hearted, enthusiastic teaching so much to be desired, and so much admired and praised. True skill kindles and keeps alive enthusiasm by giving it success where it would otherwise be discouraged by defeat. The true worker's love for his work grows with his ability to do it well. Enthusiasm will accomplish all the more when guided by intelligence and armed with skill.
Un-reflecting superintendents and school boards often prefer enthusiastic teachers to those who are simply well educated or experienced. They believe, not without reason, that enthusiasm will accomplish more with inadequate learning and little skill than the best-trained and most erudite teacher wholly lacking in zeal. But why choose either the ignorant enthusiast or the educated sluggard? Enthusiasm is not confined to the unskilled and the ignorant, nor are all calm, cool men idlers. There is an enthusiasm born of skill -- a joy in doing what one can do well -- that is far more effective, where art is involved, than the enthusiasm born in vivid feeling. The steady advance of veterans is more powerful than the mad rush of raw recruits. The world's best work, in the schools as in the shops, is done by the calm, steady, and persistent efforts of skilled workmen who know how to keep their tools sharp, and to make every effort reach its mark.
The most serious objection to systematic teaching, based on the laws of teaching, has sometimes come from pastors, Sunday schoolteachers, and others, who have assumed that the principal aim of the Sunday school is to impress rather than to instruct; and that skillful teaching, if desirable at all, is much less important than warm appeals to the feelings and earnest exhortations on the proper occasions. But what exhortation will have such permanent power as that which is heralded by some clear truth? If the choice must be between the warmhearted teacher who makes gushing appeals, and the cold hearted one who stifles all feeling by his indifference, the former is perhaps to be preferred; but why either? Is there no healthful mean between steam and ice for the water of life? The teacher whose own mind glows with the truth, and who skillfully leads his pupils to a clear understanding of the same truth, will not fail in inspirational power.
These questions may be left to call forth their own inevitable answers. They will have served their purpose if they repel the disposition to discredit the need of true TEACHING in Sunday schools as well in day schools; and if they convince Sunday school leaders that the laws of teaching are the laws of mind, which must be followed as faithfully in studying the Word of God as in studying His works.
A WORD TO TEACHERS
Leaving to other chapters the full discussion of the meaning and philosophy of those seven laws, we here urge the teacher, especially the Sunday school teacher, to give them the most serious attention. While facing your pupils, how often have you wished for the power to look into their minds, and to plant there with sure hand some truth of science or some belief of the gospel? No key will ever open to you the doors of those chambers in which live your pupils' souls; no glass will ever enable you to penetrate their mysterious gloom. But in the great laws of your common nature lie the lines of communication by which you may send the thought fresh from your mind, and awaken the other to receive and embrace it.
In the discussion of these laws there will necessarily occur some seeming repetitions. They are like seven hilltops of different height scattered over a common territory. As we climb each in succession, many points in the landscapes seen from their summits will be found included in different views, but always in a new light and with afresh horizon. New groupings will show new relations and bring to light, for the careful student, new aspects and uses. The repetitions themselves will not be useless, as they will serve to emphasize the most important features of the art of teaching, and will impress upon teachers those principles which demand the most frequent attention.