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If the story had been read as a part of the reading lesson, it would not have impressed the pupil greatly. It was impressive because it was presented as literature.
A clear distinction should be made between reading and literature, especially in the primary grades. In the work of the reading course the pupil should take the lead, being guided by the teacher. If the pupil is to progress, he must master the mechanics of reading - he must learn to pronounce printed words and to get the meaning of printed sentences and paragraphs. The course in reading requires patient work on the part of the pupil, just as the course in arithmetic does, and the chief pleasure that the primary pupil can derive from the work is a consciousness of enlarged power and of success in accomplishing what is undertaken.
In the work with literature, however, the teacher should take the lead. She should open to the pupils the magic treasure house of the world's best story and song. The literature period of the day should be the pupil's imaginative playperiod, bringing relief from the tension of tired nerves. The teacher who makes the study of literature a mechanical grind instead of a joyous exercise of imagination misses at least two of her greatest opportunities as a teacher. First, by failing to cultivate in her pupils an appreciation of good literature, she misses an opportunity to make the lives of her pupils brighter and happier. Second, by failing to realize that the person with a story and a song is everybody's friend, she misses an opportunity to win the friendship, admiration, and love of her pupils. The inexperienced teacher who is well-nigh distracted in her efforts to guide forty restless, disorderly pupils through the program of a day's work might charm half her troubles away by the magic of a simple story or by the music and imagery of a juvenile poem. Her story or poem would do more than remove the cause of disorder by giving the pupils relaxation from nerve-straining work: it would help to establish that first essential to all true success in teaching-a relation of friendship between pupils and teacher.
Culture through literature. He was a wise educator who said, “The boy who has access to good books and who has learned to make them his close friends is beyond the power of evil.” Literature in the grades, in addition to furnishing intellectual recreation, should so cultivate in the pupil the power of literary appreciation that he will make good books his close friends. The child who has heard good music from infancy is not likely to be attracted by popular ragtime. The boy who has been trained in habits of courtesy, industry, and pure thinking in his home life, and school life is not likely to find pleasure in the rudeness, idleness, and vulgarity of the village poolroom. The pupil who is taught to appreciate the beautiful, the true, and the good in standard literature is not likely to find pleasure in reading the melodramatic and sentimental trash that now has prominence of place and space in many book stores and in some public libraries. It is the duty of the teacher, and it should be her pleasure, to cultivate in her pupils such a taste for good literature as will lead them to choose the good and reject the bad, a taste that will insure for them the culture that good literature gives.
Selection of material. In choosing selections of literary worth to present to her pupils
, the teacher should keep in mind the pupil's stage of mental development and she should not forget that the study of literature should give pleasure. Often
pupils do not like what moral writers think they should like, and usually the pupils are right. Good literature is sincere and is true in its appeal to the fundamental emotions of humanity, and an obvious attempt to teach a moral theory at the expense of truth is no more to be tolerated in literature for children than in literature for adults. The childhood of the race has produced much literature with a true appeal to the human heart, in the form of fable, fairy story, myth, and hero story. Most of this literature appeals strongly to the child of today. For several hundred years the nursery rhymes of "Mother Goose" have delighted children with their melody, humor, and imagery. As literature for the kindergarten and first grade, they have not often been excelled by modern writers. The task of selecting suitable material from the many poems, stories, and books written for children in recent years is difficult, but if the teacher has a keen appreciation of good literature and is guided by the likes and dislikes of her pupils, she probably will not go far astray.
Supplemental reading. If the teacher examines the juvenile books offered for sale by the book dealers of her town or city, she probably will discover that most of them are trash not fit to be read by anyone, and she will realize the importance of directing parents in the selection of gift books for children. A good way to get better books into the book stores and into the hands of children is to give the pupils a list of good books, with the suggestion that they ask their parents to buy one of them the next time a book is to be bought as a present. Such lists of books also will improve the standard of books in the town library, for librarians will be quick to realize the importance of supplying standard literature if there is a demand for it.
Story-telling. Most stories are much more effective when well told than they are when read, just as most lectures and sermons are most effective when delivered without manuscript. To explain just why the story well told is superior to the story read might not be easy, but much of the superiority probably comes from the freedom of the "talk style" and the more appropriate use of inflection and emphasis. Then, too, the story-teller can look at her audience and is free to add a descriptive word or phrase occasionally to produce vividness of impression. Some stories, of course, are so constructed that they must follow closely the diction of the original form. “Henny-Penny" and Kipling's Just-So Stories are of this type. Such stories should be read. Most stories, however, are most effective when well told. The teacher, especially the teacher of one of the primary grades, should not consider herself prepared to teach literature until she has gained something of the art of story-telling.
Selection of stories. Never attempt to tell a story that you do not like. You are not prepared to interest pupils in a story, however appropriate it otherwise may be, if you are not interested in it yourself. Try to choose stories adapted in structure and content to the age and experience of the children of your grade. For the first or second grade, choose a few simple fables, a few short, simple fairy tales, and a few short, simple nature stories, such as “Peter Rabbit," "How Johnny Chuck Finds the Best Thing in the World,” and “Mr. Possum's Sick Spell.” Remember that a story for the first or second grade should be short.
Two principles. Learn to apply readily the following principles of method: First, use the past tense in telling a story except in direct quotation. The rules of grammar require this, and it is an aid to clearness and effectiveness. For example, do not say, “So he goes” or “Then he says”; but say, “So he went” or “Then he said” (or, for variety, replied, growled, mumbled, etc.). Second, use direct discourse (the exact words of the characters) rather than indirect discourse. For example, do not say, “The Troll asked who was tripping over his bridge”; but say, “WHO'S THAT tripping over my bridge?' roared the Troll.” Direct discourse always gives life and vividness to a story.
Preparation and presentation. When you have selected a suitable story, read it carefully several times to learn the essential details and the order in which they should come. Keep in mind the fact that you are to use the past tense and direct discourse. If the story is a fable, you probably will see that you should add much conversation and description not in the text. A little description of the witch, giant, fairy, or castle may give vividness to your story. If the story is a long fairy tale, you may see that many details may be omitted. If the story is as concise and dramatic as is the version of “The Three Billy-Goats Gruff" in this book, it may be suitable for presentation without any changes. When you have the story clearly in mind as you wish to present it, tell it to the pupils several times, and then have some of them tell it.
Your story, of course, should not be told in a lifeless monotone. Some parts should be told slowly, and others rapidly. In some parts the voice should be low and soft, while in other parts it should be loud and gruff or harsh. The words of the princess should not sound like those of the old witch or the soldier. The daintiness and grace of elves and fairies should be indicated in the delivery.
Corroborative opinion. The many books on the art of story-telling by skilled practitioners and the emphasis placed upon the great practical value of story-telling by all those charged with the oversight of the education of children show conclusively that the story method in teaching is having its grand renascence. The English education minister, Mr. H. A. L. Fisher, speaking recently on the subject of “History Teaching," set forth admirably the general principles back of this revival:
There is no difficulty about interesting children. The real difficulty is to bore them. Almost any tale will interest a child. It need not be well constructed or thrilling; it may be filled with the most unexciting and trivial incidents, but so long as it carries the mind along at all, it will interest a child. The hunger which intelligent children have for stories is almost inexhaustible. They like to have their stories repeated, and insist that the characters should reappear over and over again, for they have an appetite for reality and a desire to fix these passing figments into the landscape of the real life with which they are surrounded.
One of the great qualities in childhood which makes it apt for receiving historical impressions is just this capacity for giving body to the phantoms of the mind. The limits between the real and the legendary or miraculous which are drawn by the critical intelligence do not exist for the childish mind. ... . It would then be a great educational disaster if this valuable faculty in childhood were allowed to run to waste. There are certain years in the development of every normal intelligent child when the mind is full of image-making power and eager to make a friend or enemy of any god, hero, nymph, fairy, or servant maid who may come along. Then is the time when it is right and fitting to affect some introductions to the great
characters of mythology and history; that is the age at which children will eagerly absorb what they can learn of Achilles and Orpheus, of King Arthur and his Knights, of Alexander and Christopher Columbus and the Duke of Wellington. I do not think it is necessary to obtrude any moralizing commentary when these great and vague images are first brought into the landscape of the child's intellectual experience. A little description, a few stories, a picture or two, will be enough to fix them in the memory and to give them body and shape together with the fairies and witches and pirate kings and buccaneering captains with whom we have all at one time been on such familiar terms. Let us then begin by teaching the past to small children by way of stories and pictures.
Dramatization. The play spirit that leads children to play lady, doctor, church, and school will also lead them to enjoy dramatizing stories, or “playing the stories," as they call it. Some stories, of course, are so lacking in action as to be not well suited for dramatization, and others have details of action, character, or situation that may not well be represented in the schoolroom. The teacher may be surprised, however, to see how ingenious her pupils are in overcoming difficulties after they have had a little assistance in playing two or three stories. Unconsciously the pupil will get from the dramatization a training in oral English, reading, and literary appreciation that can hardly be gained in any other way.
When the pupils have learned a story thoroughly, they are ready to make plans for playing it. The stage setting may be considered first, and here the child's imagination can work wonders in arranging details. The opening under the teacher's desk may become a dungeon, a cave, a cellar, or a well. If a two-story house is needed, it may be outlined on the floor in the front part of the schoolroom, with a chalk-mark stairway, up which Goldilocks can walk to lie down on three coatsthe three beds in the bedchamber of the three bears.
The pupils can probably soon decide what characters are necessary, but more time may be required to assign the parts. To play the part of a spider, bear, wolf, fairy, sheep, or butterfly does not seem difficult to a child who has entered into the spirit of the play.
The most difficult part of dramatization may be the plan for conversation, especially if the text version of the story contains little or no direct discourse. The pupils should know the general nature of the conversation and action before they begin to play the story, although they need not memorize the parts. Suppose that the fable "The Shepherd's Boy" is to be dramatized. The first part of the dramatization might be described about as follows:
The shepherd boy, tending his flock of pupil-sheep in the pasture land at one side of the teacher's-desk-mountain, looked toward the pupil-desk-village at one side of the room and said quietly, “It certainly is lonely here. I believe I'll make those villagers think a wolf has come to eat the sheep. Then perhaps they'll come down here, and I'll have a little company and some excitement." Then he jumped around frantically, waving his yardstick-shepherd's crook, and shouted to the villagers, “Wolf! Wolf!"
The villagers came rushing down to the pasture land,' asking excitedly, "Where's the wolf? Has he killed many of the sheep?"
“Oh, oh, oh," laughed the boy, “there was n't any wolf. I certainly did fool you that time.”
“I don't think that's very funny,” said one of the villagers.
“Well, we might as well go back to our work,” said another. Then they went back to the village.
After they had gone, the boy said, "I guess I'll try that joke again."
If the teacher puts much direct discourse in a story of this kind when she tells it to the pupils, the task of dramatizing will naturally be made easier.
Some stories lend themselves in the most natural manner to dramatization. An interesting example of such a story may be found among the tales dealing with the Wise Men of Gotham. These Wise Men are referred to in one of the best known of the Mother Goose rhymes. It would seem that the inhabitants of Gotham, in the reign of King John, had some reason of their own for pretending to be mad, and out of this event the legends took their rise. The number of fishermen may be changed to seven or some other number to suit the number in the acting group. Here is the story:
On a certain time there were twelve men of Gotham that went to fish, and some stood on dry land.
And in going home, one said to the other“We have ventured wonderfully in wading. I pray God that none of us come home to be drowned.” “Nay, marry," said the other, “let us see that, for there did twelve of us come out.” Then they counted themselves, and every one counted eleven. Said the one to the other, “There is one of us drowned.” They went back to the brook where they had been fishing and sought up and down for him that was drowned, making great lamentation.
A stranger coming by asked what it was they sought for, and why they were sorrowful. "Oh!” said they, “this day we went to fish in the brook; twelve of us came together, and one is drowned.” Said the stranger, “Tell how many there be of you.” One of them, counting, said, “Eleven," and again he did not count himself. “Well,” said the stranger, “what will you give me if I find the twelfth man?” “Sir,” said they, “all the money we have got.” “Give me the money,” said the stranger, and began with the first, and gave him a stroke over the shoulders with his whip, which made him groan, saying, “Here is one,” and so he served them all, and they all groaned at the matter. When he came to the last he paid him well, saying, “Here is the twelfth man.” “God's blessing on thy heart,” said they, "for thus finding our dear brother.”
As an aid to inexperienced teachers, it seems well to suggest in a summary how a selection of material suitable for each grade might be made from the material of this book. The summary, however, should be regarded as suggestive in a general way only. No detailed outline of a course of study in literature for the grades can be ideal for all schools because the pupils of a given grade in one school may be much more advanced in the knowledge of literature and the ability to understand and appreciate it than are the pupils of the same grade in another school. Many literary selections, too, might appropriately be taught in almost any grade if the method of presentation in each case were suited to the understanding of the pupils. Robinson Crusoe, for example, may appropriately be told to second-grade pupils, or it may be read by fourth-or fifth-grade pupils, or it may be studied as fiction by eighth-grade