Saturday, January 21, 2012

How to Secure Students' Attention

(Taken from the introduction to Volume 6)  This is mostly for my own benefit.

First, what not to do:

1.  Don't depend on personal magnetism, force of influence, etc.  Yes, this works at the time, but it does little to develop the long-term habit of attention.  Your sparkling personality is simply the shiny thing of the moment.  When someone flashier comes along (say, a comical classmate or charismatic politician), the student's attention will stray.

2.  Don't depend on interest.  The student can go down rabbit trails in his spare time.  Knowledge gotten in lessons ought to be consecutive.

2.  Don't talk so much.  Who is learning if the teacher is narrating?  (My children have confessed that sometimes when they don't feel like narrating, they ask questions that they think will lead me to narrate myself.  According to them, I usually fall for it.  Oh yes.  My honest, wicked children and my naive, foolish self.)

3.  Don't ask many questions.  The only questions should be Socratic "for the purpose of moral conviction."

4.  Don't encourage competition or approval-seeking.  This chokes the child's innate desire for knowledge.  "It seemed to me that we teachers had unconsciously elaborated a system which should secure the discipline of the schools and the eagerness of the scholars,––by means of marks, prizes, and the like,––and yet eliminate that knowledge-hunger, itself the quite sufficient incentive to education."

What to do:

1.  Regulate the lessons as carefully as you do your kids' nutrition (which is actually not very careful at our house right now, but I'm working on it... ). Lessons should be evaluated for literary quality, beauty, and generous variety.

  2.  Be brief.  Introduce the lesson if you must, READ the passage (this should be the longest part of the lesson), have the kids narrate, then briefly offer one or two points if you must.  (If you have a lot to say, then write something.  Make sure it is clear, succinct and literary.  Then let your kids read it when they are ready.  If you don't have time to write something worth reading, you probably shouldn't lecture during lessons either.)

3.  Avoid monotony by reading the passage only once.  This also ensures enough time to read the large number of books Charlotte recommended.

4.  Require narration at the end of the reading.  Knowing they are required to narrate afterward (and that the teacher will not be narrating for them in her misguided attempt at elucidation) will help students pay attention in the first place.  (Aravis says the exception is when the student had a rough morning, ie., overslept, rushed, got in trouble, etc.  It is difficult to pay attention when you feel guilty and tired.  Which leads us to practical habit training, but that is another subject.  Sort of.)

5.  Respect the student's desire for knowledge, however hidden it might be.  "Poetry, history, romance, geography, travel, biography, science and sums are all moral foods, and must be presented to children without predigestion by the teacher."  For no reason may we limit the child's proper curriculum.  

6.  Teach students about their abilities.  Each one of us is capable of self-direction, and also has some capacity to relate intellectually, imaginatively and morally to the things and ideas we find in this world.  It is our duty to USE our abilities.  It is not okay to drift through life entertaining ourselves.  Ourselves is a great resource for this fortifying of the will.  Also Proverbs provides warnings and explains where to look for help.

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