Thursday, June 9, 2016

The Seven Laws of Teaching by John Milton Gregory

I read The Seven Laws of Teaching by John Milton Gregory because it came up repeatedly on classical education websites as recommended reading. It was brilliant. I can’t adequately describe how much I loved this book from 1884! It’s hard to believe how relevant it is to today. Apparently we’ve been struggling with the same educational theories and irons for a long time!

He boils teaching down into seven laws, which he believes to be as reliable as the laws of science. So while another book I read says teaching is an art, not a science, John Gregory would probably beg to disagree. 

Gregory identifies seven factors about which he states, “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.” 

He states the laws and then spends the rest of this short book expounding on the laws. They are as follows:
  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, RETHINKING, REKNOWING, REPRODUCING, and APPLYING of the material that has been taught, the knowledge and ideals and arts that have been communicated. 
(all caps in original)

He rewrites them, addressing them to the teacher:
  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 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 anticipator.
  6. Require the pupil to reproduce in thought the lesson he is learning — thinking it out in its various phases and applications till 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.

Now in more depth:

He must have “such knowledge and appreciation of the truth in its deeper significance an wider relations, that by the force of its importance we ACT upon it — our CONDUCT is modified by it.”

  1. Prepare each lesson by fresh study. 
  2. Find in the lesson its analogies to more familiar facts and principles
  3. Study the lesson until it takes shape in familiar language.
  4. Find the natural order of the several steps of the lesson
  5. Find the relation of the lesson to the lives of the learners
  6. Use freely all legitimate aids, but never rest until the real understanding is clearly before you.
  7. Bear in mind that complete mastery of a few things is better than an ineffective smattering of many.
  8. Have a definite time for the study of each lesson, in advance of the teaching. 
  9. Have a plan of study, but do not hesitate, when necessary, to study beyond the plan. 
  10. Do not deny yourself the help of good books on the subject of your lessons… If possible, talk the lesson over with an intelligent friend; collision often brings light. In the absence of these aide, write your views; expressing your thoughts in writing may clear them of obscurities.

  1. The very ignorance of his pupils may tempt the teacher to neglect careful preparation and study… The cheat is almost sure to be discovered, and from that time the teacher’s standing with the class is gone.
  2. Some teachers assume that it is the pupils work, not theirs, to study the lesson…
  3. Others look hastily through the lesson, an conclude that though they have not thoroughly mastered it, … they have gather enough to fill the period…
  4. A more serious fault is that of those who, failing to find stimulation in the lesson, make it a mere framework upon which to hang some fancies of their own.
  5. There is a meaner wrong done by the teacher who seeks to conceal his lazy ignorance with some pompous pretense of learning…

He describes as “secondary passive” attention when one is absorbed in the work so that learning seems almost effortless. Yet it still requires effort and persistence. He states, “It seems to be generally true that these sustained and abiding ‘interests’ are to be purchases only at a price — and the price is strenuous effort.”

  1. Never begin a class exercise until the attention of the class has been secured.
  2. Pause whenever the attention is interrupted or lost, and wait until it is completely regained.
  3. Never wholly exhaust the attention of your pupils
  4. Adapt the length of the class exercise to the ages of the pupils.
  5. Arose attention when necessary by variety in your presentation…
  6. Kindle and maintain the highest possible interest in the subject.
  7. Present those aspects of the lesson, and use such illustrations as will correspond to the ages and attainments of the pupils.
  8. Appeal whenever possible to the interests of your pupils
  9. The favorite stories, songs, and subjects of the pupils are often keys to their interest and attention
  10. Look for sources of distraction… and reduce them to a minimum
  11. Prepare BEFOREHAND thought-provoking questions
  12. Make your presentation as attractive as possible…
  13. Maintain and exhibit in yourself the closes attention to and most genuine interest in the lesson. True enthusiasm is contagious.
  14. Study the best use of the eye and the hand. Your pupils will respond to your earnest gaze and your lifted hand.

  1. Recitations are commenced before the attention of the pupils has been gained, and continued after it has ceased to be given.
  2. Pupils are urged to listen after their power of attention has been exhausted…
  3. Little or no effort is made to discover the tastes or experiences of the pupils, or to create a real interest in the subject.
  4. Not a few teachers kill the power of attention in their pupils by failing to utilize any fresh inquiries or any new, interesting statements to stimulate interest in the subject.

Language is both the instrument and vehicle of thought. Teachers must use language that is easily understood by the learner and must seek to clarify any new terms or concepts.

  1. Study constantly and carefully the language of the pupils, to learn what words they use and what meanings they give to these words.
  2. Secure from them as full as statement as possible of their knowledge of the subject, to learn both their ideas and their modes of  expressing them, and to help them to correct their knowledge.
  3. Express yourself as far as possible in the language of your pupils, carefully correcting any errors in the meaning they read into your words. 
  4. Use the simplest and thefts words that will express your meaning
  5. Use short sentences, of the simplest construction.
  6. If the pupil obviously fails to understand you, repeat your thought in other language, if possible with greater simplicity.
  7. Help the meaning of the words by illustrations.
  8. When it is necessary to teach a new word, give the idea before the word.
  9. Try to increase the number of the pupil’s words, and at the same time improve the clearness of meaning.
  10. Do not be content to have your pupils listen in silence very long at a time… Encourage them to talk freely.
  11. MAKE HASTE SLOWLY. Each word should b learned thoroughly before others are added.
  12. Test frequently the pupil’s understanding of the words that he uses…

  1. The interested look of the pupils often cheats the teacher into the belief that his language is thoroughly understood… when he has perhaps caught only a mere glimpse of the meaning.
  2. Children are often entertained by the manner of the teacher… they will sometimes profess to understand simply to please their instructor and gain his praise.
  3. The misuse of language is one of the common faults in teaching… teachers who attempt to cover up their own ignorance or indolence with a cloud of verbiage…[and] many honest teachers who…do not suspect that they may have used words which had no meaning for the class, or into which the children read a wrong meaning.
  4. It may be a single unusual or misunderstood term that breaks the connection… and too often [children] are charged with stupidity or inattention when no amount of attention would have helped hem to understand the unfamiliar language.
  5. Even those teachers who naturally use simple language to they classes sometimes fail in the higher uses of this instrument of teaching. They do not take the trouble to secure from the child in return some clear statement…
  6. Many teachers have no proper appreciation of the wonderful character and complexity of language; 
  7. Many of the topics studied in school lie outside the daily life and language of the children; and every science has a language of its own which must be mastered by the student…

“All teaching must begin at home point of the subject or lesson. If the subject is wholly new, then a known point must be sought by showing some likeness of the new to something known and familiar… All teaching must advance in some direction… Learning must proceed by graded steps.”

  1. Find out what your pupils know of the subject you wish to teach to them; this is your starting point.
  2. Make the most of the pupils’ knowledge and experience.
  3. Encourage your pupils to clear up and freshen their knowledge by a a clear statement of it.
  4. Begin with facts or ideas that lie near your pupils, and that can be reached by a single step from what is already familiar…
  5. Relate every lesson as much as possible to former lessons, and with the pupils’ knowledge and experience
  6. Arrange your presentation so that each step of the lesson shall read easily and naturally to the next.
  7. Proportion the steps of the lesson to the ages and attainments of your pupils. Do not discourage your children with lessons or exercises that are too long, or fail to rise to the expectations of older pupils by giving them lessons that are too easy.
  8. Find illustrations in the commonest and most familiar objects suitable for the purpose
  9. Lead the pupils themselves to find illustrations from their own experience.
  10. Make every new fact or principle familiar to your pupils…
  11. Urge the pupils to make us of their own knowledge and attainments in every way that is practicable, to find or explain other knowledge. 
  12. Make every advance car and familiar, so that the progress to the next succeeding step shall in every case be on known ground.
  13. As far as possible, choose problems which you give to your pupils from their own activities, and thus increase the chances that they will be real and not artificial problems.
  14. Remember that your pupils are leaning to think, and that to think properly they must learn to face intelligently and reflectively the problems that arise in connection with their school work, and in connection with their life outside of school.

  1. It is not unusual for teachers to set their pupils to studying new lessons, or even new subjects, for which they are inadequately prepared or not prepared at all…
  2. Many teachers neglect entirely to ascertain carefully the pupils’ equipment with which to begin the subject.
  3. A common error is the failure to connect the new lessons with those that have gone before in such a way that the pupils can carry over what they know or have learned into the new field…
  4. Oftentimes past acquisitions are considered goods stored away, instead of instruments for further use.
  5. Too often elementary facts and definitions are not and thoroughly familiar.
  6. Every step is not always thoroughly understood before the next is attempted.
  7. Some teachers err in assigning lessons or exercises that are too long for the powers of the pupils, or for their time, making impossible an adequate mastery of principles that may be needful for future progress int the subject.
  8. Teaches frequently fail to lace their pupils in the attitude of discoveries. Children should learn to use what they have already been taught in the discovery of new problems.
  9. A common fault is the failure to show the connections between parts of the subject that have been taught and those that are yet to come.

Since self-learning is the best kind of learning, the teacher's job is to stimulate a desire to learn in the student and create the conditions that foster real learning. "Like a skillful engineer who knows the power of his engine, [the teacher] chooses to stand and watch the play of the splendid machine and marvel at the ease and vigor of its movements. It is only the unskilled teacher who prefers to hear his own voice in endless talk rather than to watch and direct the course of the thoughts of his pupils... Questioning is not, therefore, merely one of the devices of teaching, it is really the whole of teaching. It is the excitation of the self-activities to their work of discovering truth."

  1. Adapt lessons and assignments to the age and attainments of the pupils.
  2. Select lessons which relate to the environment and needs of the pupils.
  3. Consider carefully the subject and the lesson to be taught, and find its point of contact with the lives of your pupils.
  4. Excite the pupil's interest in the lesson when it is assigned by some question or by some statement which will awaken inquiry. Hint that something worth knowing is to be found out if the lesson is thoroughly studied, and then be sure later to ask for the truth to be discovered.
  5. Place yourself frequently in the position of a pupil among your pupils, and join in the search for some fact or principle.
  6. Repress your impatience which cannot wait for the pupil to explain himself.
  7. In all class exercises aim to excite constantly fresh interest and activity. State questions for the pupils to investigate out of class. The lesson that does not culminate in fresh questions ends wrong.
  8. Observe each pupil to see that his mind is not wandering so as to forbid its activities being bent to the lesson in hand.
  9. Count it your chief duty to awaken the minds of your pupils and do not rest until each child shows his mental activity by asking questions.
  10. Repress the desire to tell all you know or think about the lesson or subject; if you tell something by way of illustration or explanation, let it start a fresh question.
  11. Give the pupil time to think, after you are sure that his mind is actively at work, and encourage him to ask questions when puzzled.
  12. Do not answer too promptly the questions asked, but restate them, to give them greater force and breadth, and often answer with new questions to secure deeper thought.
  13. Teach pupils to ask What? Why? and How? -- the nature, cause, and method of every fact or principle taught them; also Where? When? By Whom? and What of it? -- the place, time, actors, and consequences of events.
  14. Recitations should not exhaust a subject, but leave additional work to stimulate the thought and the efforts of the pupils. 

  1. Do not attempt to force lessons by simply telling, "I have told you ten times, and yet you don't know!" A teacher of this sort is unable to remember that knowing comes by thinking, not by being told. 
  2. It is another mistake to complain of memory for not keeping what it never held. If facts or principles are to be remembered, the attention must be concentrated upon them at the time, and there must be a conscious effort to remember.
  3. A third violation comes from the haste with which teachers require prompt and rapid recitations in the very words of the book.

“The work of education, contrary to common understanding, is much more the work of the pupil than of the teacher.” The student must find a way to apply what he has learned and make it of some practical purpose. The earnest student must be able to 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?”

  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 press 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.

  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 not incentive to try his own power of expression. Thus he is taught to feel that the words are everything, the meaning nothing.  
  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.

“Other things being equal, the ablest and most successful teacher is one who secures from his pupils the most frequent, thorough, and interesting reviews… Not merely to know, but to have knowledge for use — to possess it fully, like money for daily expenditures, or tools and materials for daily word — such is the aim of true study.”

  1. Consider reviews as always in order
  2. Have set times for review. At the beginning of each period review briefly the preceding lesson.
  3. At the close of each lesson, glance backward at the ground which has been covered. Almost every good lesson closes with a summary. It is well to have the pupils know that any one of the m may be called upon to summarize the lesson at the close of the class period.
  4. After five or six lessons, or at the close of a topic, take a review from the beginning. The best teachers give about one-third of each period to purpose of review.
  5. Whenever a reference to former lessons can profitably be made, the opportunity thus afford to bring old knowledge into fresh light should be seized.
  6. All new lessons should be made to bring into review and application the material of former lessons. 
  7. Make the first review as soon as practicable after lesson is first learned.
  8. In order to make reviews easily and rapidly, the teacher should hold in his mind the material that has been learned, in large units or blocks, ready for instant use. He is thus able to begin at any time an impromptu review in any part of the field. 
  9. New questions on old lessons, new illustrations for old texts, new proof for old statements, new applications of old truths, will often send the pupil back with fresh interest to his old material, thus affording a profitable review.
  10. The final review, which should never be omitted, should be searching, comprehensive, and masterful, grouping the different topics of the subject as on a map, and aiding the pupil to a familiar mastery of the material which he has learned.
  12. Do not forget the value of handwork in review.
  13. Do not forget the value of handwork on the material of previous lessons. Let this be done frequently; the pupils will soon learn to come to their classes with questions ready to ask, and with ready answers for other questions.


  1. The first violation of the law is the total neglect of review
  2. The second is the wholly inadequate review. This is the fact of the hurried and impatient teacher who is often more concerned with getting through the work of the term or semester than making the work the pupils’ own.
  3. The third mistake is that of delaying all review work until the end of the semester or term, when, the material of the course being largely forgotten, the review amounts to little more than a poor relearning, with little interest and less value.
  4. The fourth error is that of making the review merely a process of lifeless and colorless repetition of questions and answers and often the very questions and answers which were originally used. This is review in name only. 
I probably highlighted more from this book on a percentage basis than any other book. I just need to memorize it!!

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