Friday, July 24, 2009

Quintilian -- Beginning Literacy

Of the proper method of teaching (young) children, continued from last time:

Yet I am not so unacquainted with differences of age as to think that we should urge those of tender years severely or exact a full complement of work from them. For it will be necessary, above all things, to take care lest the child should conceive a dislike to the application which he cannot yet love, and continue to dread the bitterness which he has once tasted, even beyond the years of infancy. Let his instruction be an amusement to him; let him be questioned and praised; let him never feel pleased that he does not know a thing....
This fits in with what other ancients have said about early instruction.

Now, he apologizes for the smallness of the advice that he's about to give, but says that small things really matter in the early days.

He thinks that recognizing letters is more important than rote memorization of the alphabet:

For that which I see practiced in regard to most children by no means pleases me, namely, that they learn the names and order of the letters before they learn their shapes.
He thinks that giving letter shapes as toys to children is a good practice, so that letter recognition becomes second nature:

I do not disapprove, however, the practice, which is well known, of giving children, for the sake of stimulating them to learn, ivory figures of letters to play with, or whatever else can be invented, in which that infantine age may take delight, and which may be pleasing to handle, look at, or name.
His advice for early writing ability is to trace along the equivalent of stencils, ie engravings in wax boards (reminds me a bit of Montessori)

But as soon as the child shall have begun to trace the forms of the letters, it will not be improper that they should be cut for him, as exactly as possible, on a board, that his stylus may be guided along them as along grooves, for he will then make no mistakes, as on wax (since he will be kept in by the edge on each side, and will be unable to stray beyond the boundary). By following these sure traces rapidly and frequently, he will form his hand and not require the assistance of a person to guide his hand with his own hand placed over it.
He recommends learning and overlearning phonics (at least, this is what I gather by "syllables" -- several sounds taken together)

For learning syllables there is no short way. They must all be learned throughout, nor are the most difficult of them, as is the general practice, to be postponed, that children may be at a loss, forsooth, in writing words.

Moreover, we must not even trust to the first learning by heart; it will be better to have syllables repeated and to impress them long upon the memory; and in reading too, not to hurry on, in order to make it continuous or quick, until the clear and certain connection of the letters become familiar, without at least any necessity to stop for recollection. Let the pupil then begin to form words from syllables and to join phrases together from words.
He warns against rushing the child to read much before he's gained sufficient fluency:
It is incredible how much retardation is caused to reading by haste; for hence arise hesitation, interruption, and repetition, as children attempt more than they can manage; and then, after making mistakes, they become distrustful even of what they know. 33. Let reading, therefore, be at first sure, then continuous, and for a long time slow, until, by exercise, a correct quickness is gained.
On early copywork and memory work:
I would express a wish that even the lines that are set him for his imitation in writing should not contain useless sentences, but such as convey some moral instruction. 36. The remembrance of such admonitions will attend him to old age and will be of use even for the formation of his character. It is possible for him, also, to learn the sayings of eminent men, and select passages, chiefly from the poets (for the reading of poets is more pleasing to the young), in his play-time.
On the value of memory:

Memory (as I shall show in its proper place) is most necessary to an orator and is eminently strengthened and nourished by exercise; and, at the age of which we are now speaking, and which cannot, as yet, produce anything of itself, it is almost the only faculty that can be improved by the aid of teachers.
Finally, as to early elocution:

It will not be improper, however, to require of boys of this age (in order that their pronunciation may be fuller and their speech more distinct) to roll forth, as rapidly as possible, certain words and lines of studied difficulty, composed of several syllables, and those roughly clashing together, and, as it were, rugged-sounding; the Greeks call them χαλινοί (chalinoi). This may seem a trifling matter to mention, but when it is neglected, many faults of pronunciation, unless they are removed in the years of youth, are fixed by incorrigible ill habit for the rest of life.

1 comment:

  1. This is a topic that's been on my mind lately...


I would love to hear your thoughts on this!