The Seven Laws of Teaching

I have been reading a classic work of John Milton Gregory called The Seven Laws of Teaching. I love this definition of teaching:

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.

Milton goes on to write about discovering the seven laws; and to communicate an experience there must be:

  1. A TEACHER — one who KNOWS the lesson or truth or art to be taught.
  2. A LEARNER — one who ATTENDS with interest to the lesson.
  3. A LANGUAGE — used as a MEDIUM between teacher and learner must be COMMON to both.
  4. A LESSON — one to be mastered, it must be explicable in the terms of truth already known by the learner (the UNKNOWN must be explained by means of the KNOWN).
  5. A Teacher’s work — TEACHING is AROUSING and USING the PUPIL’S MIND to grasp the desired thought or to master the desired art.
  6. A learner’s work — LEARNING is THINKING into one’s own UNDERSTANDING a new idea or truth or working into HABIT a new art or skill.
  7. A review work — The TEST AND PROOF of teaching done (the finishing and fastening process) must be a REVIEWING, RETHINKING, REKNOWING, REPRODUCING, and APPLYING of the material that has been taught, the knowledge and ideals and arts that have been communicated.

Each of these seven factors is distinguished from the rest by some essential characteristics; each is a distinct entity or fact of nature.

These definitions and statements are perhaps so simple and obvious that they need no proof; but their simplicity is more apparent than real. These definitions may be more clearly seen if they are stated as rules for teaching. If addressed to the teacher, these laws 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.
  6. Require the pupil to reproduce in thought the lesson he is learning — thinking it out in its various phases and applications until 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.

Milton concludes his introduction by stating 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.

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