Most of what Iím writing originates from a book by John
Milton Gregory. The Seven Laws of Teaching was written in 1884
but the content is timeless. His work can apply to anyone who ever has
to teach anything at all, whether in the work force or in Sunday school.
I. The Law of the Teacher:
A teacher must be one who knows the lesson or truth or
art to be taught. But will the teacher know the right lesson?
This sounds simple enough doesnít it? If we donít know
it, we canít teach it. Every lesson to be learned has to start with the
teacher. Although we all want to see our children grow to become independent
learners (more on that in later issues) we shouldnít expect our children
to teach themselves from the very beginning. Teaching is serious business
and we donít want to do our children a disservice by shortchanging them.
If youíre fairly confident of your abilities then youíll
want to make sure you spend some time in fresh study to review the material
for yourself. As one teacher said, "I want my students to drink from
a rushing stream, not a stagnant pool." Find the natural progression
of the material. (If you havenít already done so, read the textbook or
other materials yourself. Yes, the whole thing!) You should know why chapter
1 comes before chapter 2 and why concept A needs to be mastered before
concept B. By studying the material ahead of time, youíll allow yourself
a chance to become so comfortable with it that you can use familiar language
and relevant analogies. Find ways to illustrate the subject that will
make it come alive. Whatever you do, donít assume that itís your childrenís
job to do all the studying and not yours.
Some of you may already be thinking, "Oh great. Iím
sunk already because here I am homeschooling and I donít know some of
this stuff that Iím supposed to be teaching!" Donít despair, but
keep the following in mind. First of all, give your inadequacies over
to the Lord who made you and knows your weaknesses. Second, rely on the
Holy Spirit who is our ultimate teacher. Be assured that you wonít thwart
Godís sovereignty in the life of your child because you donít know how
to graph linear algebraic equations. You have several options at this
- Find a teacher and pay them. There is nothing that
says homeschool moms have to teach every single subject all by themselves.
- Find another homeschooler and trade skills. Shared
labor is a great help!
- Use technology. Videos, software, or internet tutorials
can be a lifesaver.
- Learn it yourself. Find a textbook (or 2 or 3) and
commit to the discipline of daily study. Let your kids see you struggle
and persevere. Show them that you value education and youíre willing
to work hard. (As a side benefit, your children will be much less likely
to complain to you about their difficulties after theyíve seen you go
through the same thing they are.) Most homeschoolers donít need an excuse
to buy more books, but just in case you do, let me quote from Gregoryís
"Do not deny yourself the help of good books on the
subject of your lessons. Buy, borrow, or beg, if necessary, but obtain
somehow the help of the best thinkers, enough at least to stimulate your
own thought; but do not read without thinking."
II. The Law of the Learner:
A learner is one who attends with interest to the lesson.
Raise your hand if youíve ever been guilty of this. How
many times have you ever started a lesson with these words "Okay,
time to do math." Or grammar, or science, or history. And you could
be met with sighs, groans, or worse - the junior high eye-roll.
Guess what? The fault isnít entirely with our eye-rollers.
If we as teachers donít understand the value and importance of this law,
then our lessons will never get off the ground.
Let me rephrase this. We canít start teaching until we
have our childís attention. Complete and undivided.
If your child loves every single subject and canít wait
to get started each morning then you donít need to read any farther. If
you could use a pointer or two, then join me as we explore some ways to
encourage our children to pay attention. Iím not saying that moms should
trot out a dog-and-pony show each school day morning. I am saying that
it only takes a little extra effort to make sure that our children are
with us from the beginning. And that effort will pay off! Here are a few
suggestions that have worked for our family.
Use variety. Donít always do every thing the same way
at the same time or even in the same place. Why not head out to the
backyard to read your science book or stand at the kitchen counter to
talk about fractions? If you feel like youíre in a rut, listen to your
childrenótheyíll be the first to let you know!
Use interests as a starting point. Begin the lesson
with a specific example from your childís own life. "Katie, you
know how some weeks you baby-sit for 10 hours and some weeks only 4?
And that each family on our block pays you the same rate? Well, if you
were to make a mathematical equation based on your earnings, the number
of hours would be different in each equation. That number varies, so
we call it a variable."
Make sure you have their attention first. If you have
a flair for the dramatic, put it to use here! One morning I announced
to my little ones that we were going to begin our Bible lesson. Then
I proceeded to make a big show of getting our Bible off the shelf, placing
it on the living room floor, and standing on top of it. Goofy? Yes.
But did I have their attention? You bet! We sang "The B-I-B-L-E"
and talked about what it means to "stand alone on the word of God."
It was a great lesson.
Appeal to the senses. How many of you have used "object
lessons" to convey Biblical truth to your Sunday school classes?
Learning at home is no different. All of us have things around our homes
that we can use to make a lesson or truth come alive. Sit down with
a basket in your lap as you begin to tell the story of Moses in the
bulrushes. Grab 2 or 3 toy cars and some blocks before your science
lesson on friction and inclined planes. Get in the habit of thinking
along "object lines" and ask yourself "What can I hold
in my hands to create interest?"
Be enthusiastic! If youíve done your homework, if you
really know your subject, then youíll have a genuine excitement about
passing along that knowledge to your children. Iím not saying that your
enthusiasm has to carry the day, but that it can be a good starting
point for inspiring attention. "Ok kids, follow me as we learn
about one of the most exciting, most important, most valuable things
youíll ever need to know about........" Smile and say it like you
mean it. Iíll bet itís contagious!
Finally, letís look at some things that could be working
against us. Are there unnecessary distractions in your school room, or
dining room, or wherever you are trying to teach? Our environment can
do a great deal to enhance or harm our ability to learn. Each of our children
are different in their "distraction thresholds". Pay attention
to what those are. Are your children used to taking part in activities
that donít require sustained, focused attention? Too much time in front
of the television, computer, or video game can train children to pay attention
only for 30 seconds at a time or less. A constant barrage of images and
other stimuli does nothing to teach children to attend and focus on the
task at hand. Finally, we as teachers need to know when to quit. We may
be having the best learning experience ever, but when their little brains
have had enough, they shut down. If we try to keep going, itís usually
unproductive for all concerned.
III: The Law of the Language
Continuing our series based on John Gregoryís book, we
come to the third law. Simply stated, the language used in teaching must
be common to both teacher and learner.
Thankfully, for most homeschoolers this isnít a problem.
We only have to get through to one student at a time instead of a classroom
full of 25 or 30. Still, we want to make the best use of our teaching
time and this principle is a necessary one.
For starters, before launching into a complicated or detailed
explanation, find out what your child knows about the subject beforehand.
You may find your job just got a lot easier! When presenting a new concept,
be sure to use plenty of familiar illustrations. Use simple terms and
try to present the new idea before you give it a name. If you begin with
the unknown term, you may find youíve lost them before youíve gotten started.
Hereís an example. Which would you rather listen to?
"Ok kids letís talk about photosynthesis. Repeat
after me pho-to-syn-the-sis. This is the process by which plants manufacture
their own foodÖ.. blahÖ.blahÖ..(the eyes have already glazed over by
"Ok kids, you know how we have to feed Fluffy her
cat food every day? And you know that the people in our family all eat
3 meals a day. But did you ever wonder how plants get their food? We
donít go outside and feed all the trees, flowers, and blades of grass.
Weíd never finish! But guess what? When God created each growing thing,
He gave them a way to make their own food. Imagine that! They never
need to worry about going to the grocery store or cooking dinner. This
special ability is called photosynthesis. Now letís look a little more
closely at how it worksÖÖ."
Be sure to encourage your children to talk. If you find
yourself lecturing too much, itís time to stop! Of course we want our
children to learn to listen when appropriate, but listening to them can
give us the insights we need to be better teachers. Listening to them
can reveal where there is a break in communication so we can fix it then
Finally, donít mistake interest for understanding. How
many of us have looked at our childrenís angelic little faces, seen their
rapt attention, smiled inwardly at how their brains are swelling with
knowledgeÖ. only to be brought up short with a question like, "Mommy,
where did that one gray hair over your ear come from?" Where indeed!
Remember, when dealing with a learner of any age, they
can feel like tourists in a foreign country and itís up to us to be their
guide. Speaking more slowly or loudly wonít help. Weíve got to find the
IV: The Law of the Lesson
Continuing our series based on John Gregoryís book, we
come to the fourth law. The Truth to be taught must be learned through
truth already known.
Learning is all about making connections. We take the
"new stuff" that weíre being taught and we seek to connect it
to the "old stuffí that we already know. Once that happens weíre
on our way! Obviously, the more "old stuff" we already have
in our brains, the easier it is to find a way to make those connections.
As a teacher then, before we present a lesson to our children, we first
need to have clear in our own minds the "truth to be taught."
What is this lesson trying to accomplish? What are my teaching objectives?
Most importantly, how can I find a way to integrate this to what my children
already know? Letís face it, our kids are growing up with a "remote
control mentality." Itís easier to tune out or change channels than
to do the hard work of learning. As teachers, we can encourage our kids
to "stay tuned" as those connections are formed. Someone once
said that "learning is the process of overcoming confusion".
Making connections lessens that confusion.
Where are the connections? First of all, remember to connect
within the subject area itself. Remember to talk about past lessons, chapters,
and units. Look to the future as you explain how this topic will help
prepare for future learning. Next, find ways to relate the lesson to other
subject areas. As Christians, we live in a universe, not a multiverse.
It doesnít matter if youíre a "unit study person" or not - everything
in Creation can be connected. Finally, make connections by making the
problems to be solved real and relevant. Show how the skill can translate
to practical, everyday application.
Thinking through these laws, principles, and questions
takes time but donít be discouraged. Sure itís easier to just take the
book off the shelf and "do the next lesson." But weíre teaching
children, not books!
V: The Law of the Teaching Process
Simply stated, this law tells us to "Excite and direct
the self activities of the pupil, and as a rule tell him nothing that
he can learn for himself."
The first law, the Law of the Teacher, spoke to qualifications
(knowing our material). This law speaks to function: get out of the way!
Jessica Hulcy, author of Konos, is fond of saying that every homeschool
mother needs 2 thingsóa gag and a set of handcuffs. How many times has
this happened to you: excited about your next unit or chapter you rush
around collecting all the interesting manipulatives, novels, projects,
supplements, or timelines, only to have your child greet them with a "ho
hum"attitude. What happened? Easyóyou were thrilled at the chance
to learn something perhaps you missed in school the first time around.
You loved going on the treasure hunt to collect the materials. You were
the discovery learner. Great. Now itís time for the kids to learn the
You can use your excitement and newfound knowledge to
start your students on a treasure hunt of their own. What is it that you
want them to learn? Think of the different questions and activities that
will give them something to chew on, to think about, to experiment with.
Donít ask all the questions - let your students think of some! Donít answer
all the questions either. Discovery means they find the information out
for themselves, and that doesnít always mean that mom is the sole source.
Remember, telling doesnít equal teaching. Just because "Iíve told
you 10 times alreadyÖ." may not mean that itís been assimilated.
Give your kids lots of time and patience. Thinking takes time!
So who needs teachers? Our kids do! They need us to help
them make sense of all this knowledge scattered out there. They need us
on hand to help guide the discoveries. The word curriculum comes from
the Latin "to run". We help set our childrenís course. We canít
guide, direct, or test their learning if we donít know what that course
VI: The Law of the Learning Process
Following up on our last point, the Law of the Teaching
Process, comes the Law of the Learning Process. This law states that "The
pupil must reproduce in his own mind the truth to be learned."
One way to think of the thought process is like this:
First your student learns the words (the grammar) of a subject. Next he
seeks to understand what they mean. If this happens, then he moves on
to being able to restate that meaning in his own words. (If any of you
use the narration method of checking reading comprehension, you're already
doing this!) Then, ask yourself if your child can "prove" the
new concept. Of course this depends on age level and maturity, but can
they begin to draw connections beyond what they've just been taught? Finally,
knowing when and how to apply the new truth is a good measure of success.
Does this sound like hard work? You bet! Learning is work to our childrenóone
of the hardest jobs they'll have.
"Work? Jobs? But I thought learning was supposed
to be fun!" Remember that "fun" is a by-product. It's not
the overarching goal. First and foremost, we owe it to our children to
develop in them a profound regard and thirst for the truth. This means
that we help them learn where to go for answers. We're after independent
investigators here! During and after these investigations, keep asking
your child to express the meaning in his own words. You're not insisting
on a word-perfect retelling of the text, and this can't be rushed. In
fact, you may find that the book is not always right. Can you find reasons
and evidence to prove otherwise?
Remember the first time you tried to manage a needle and
thread? (Feel free to substitute any fine motor skill here!) It felt strange
and awkward and you wondered if your fingers would ever know where to
go on their own. As many times as you watched an expert manipulate the
tools of the trade, in your own fingers they became clumsy. The Law of
the Learning Process is like that. We're spending time with our children
helping them get a handle on a new concept or skill. We're helping them
to become so familiar with it that they can not only "handle"
it, but they can eventually use it comfortably and with confidence.
This particular law is so closely related to the previous
one that they often seem to be happening simultaneously. The Law of the
Teaching Process says that we shouldn't tell our children anything that
they can find out for themselves. Now, as the learning process is taking
place, they are taking those new discoveries and expressing them back
to us. As our children continue to investigate, we keep requiring them
to express and refine their discoveries. When they can restate the new
truth or concept in their own words - bingo! The light bulb has gone on.
What are some practical ways to apply this law? Remember
to keep your expectations in line with your child's maturity level. A
simple narration (retelling) of a story may be plenty for a kindergartner.
A first or second grader might be asked to draw a simple picture with
a caption. Ask your child to restate that day's spelling or phonics rule,
or better yet enter it into a notebook. After a math lesson, have her
use manipulatives to "teach the teacher" what was learned. The
key here is to find ways to summarize at the end of each lesson. This
will come into play as we talk about the final law in the next Helping
VII: The Law of Review and Application
This law states that "The test and proof of teaching
done must be made by review and application." In other words, if
it's important enough to teach, it's important enough to test. When most
of us hear the word "test", we immediately think of something
that has a score or a grade attached to it. Those are often valid ways
of measuring, but I'd like for us to broaden our idea of "the test"
to include the dictionary definition: "an event or set of circumstances
that proves or tries a person's qualities." These events, or review
sessions, can be a lot of fun!
Instead of reviews consisting of dull and deadly drill
sessions, turn them into a game. Use computer drills, flashcard races,
make your own board games, and be as creative as you like. If you're not
a crafty sort of person, that's okay. Get a timer and a bag of M&Ms
(or reward of your choice) and you're on your way. Review time doesn't
have to be boring. Have set times for review to make it a natural part
of your schedule: at the end of the lesson, end of the day, end of the
week, and end of the semester and year. The worst thing you can do is
wait until it's too late. (And once a year is too late!) Use these planned
review times to review your child's notebooks where he or she has been
recording and summarizing the lessons learned.
All reviews don't have to be formal ones. Any time you
look for opportunities to use what has been previously learned that's
review. Any time you can find ways to apply previous learning that's review.
Remember, the art of learning is simply connecting new stuff to old stuff.
Review helps to set those connections.
Teaching and learning should not be analogous to a gas
pump and a car. Teachers don't just pour in everything they know until
the little red needle hits the full mark. Likewise, knowledge isn't measured
by how many isolated facts you can memorize and repeat. Instead, aim for
real understanding when you teach your children. Measure success not by
test scores, but by how well they can apply what they've been taught.
The Seven Laws of the Teacher
For those of you who have persevered through this series,
congratulations! I hope this summary gives you a helpful way to remember
what we've been discussing. If you're new to EHO, you may want to read
the back issues and find a copy of Gregory's wonderful book for yourself!
Summing it All Up..
*T eachers know their stuff
*E eager students pay attention
*A ble to understand each other
*C onnect the known to the unknown
*H elp children to find out for themselves
*E xpress and explain it
*R eview and apply it