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What One Old Dead Guy Taught Me – Part 2

August 13, 2016

The last blog entry dealt with Law One of John Milton Gregory’s Seven Laws of Teaching. The first law principally concerned the teacher: The teacher must know that which he would teach. The second law shifts the focus from teacher to student, or “learner” as Gregory refers to him: The learner must attend with interest to the material to be learned.

Three Levels of Attention

Gregory begins by describing three different levels of “attention,” a distinction which we can all relate to quite well:

  • Passive Attention— “Involves no effort of the will. One simply follows the direction of the strongest stimulus; one is ‘passive’ because one is letting the forces that play about him control the mental life.” This level, Gregory says, characterizes everyone at some times, especially when tired or playful- but particularly characterizes the attention of the little child.
  • Active Attention—“Its first condition is an effort of the will, a determination to do what should be done in spite of allurements to do something else that is pleasanter [sic] and more attractive.”
  • Secondary Passive Attention— Gregory is using the word “passive” in a positive sense: here, “we are ‘absorbed’ in our work… when our learning is so fascinating that it simply ‘carries us with it.’ Attention of this sort frequently grows out of persistent effort—out of what we have just termed ‘active’ attention.”

This third level of attention, Secondary Passive, is a rare and beautiful experience. It’s what happens when hours feel like minutes as a good book sweeps you away. It’s the reason that one college professor’s classes are bursting at the seams every semester while counterparts in his department are left the remaining students. When a learner is inspired toward passion in a given field of study, all distractions begin to fade to the degree that, unlike Active Attention, it no longer requires an effort or a determination- instead, it’s a joy.

The Teacher’s Responsibilities in Law Two

Accomplishing this level of attention is not easy. Gregory points out that it is foolishness for me to expect to do so without putting forth effort. Does it occasionally happen on its own, without effort? Sure. But the rule to live by is that “sustained and abiding interests are to be purchased only at a price—and the price is strenuous effort.”

Thus, Gregory writes that Active Attention is essentially a prerequisite for Secondary Passive Attention. For the teacher, this means that if we really desire our students to develop such levels of passion for the subject matter, we must push them rigorously! We must demand high performance, hard work, mental toil.

Having said that… it is here that the first potential error lies in wait for teachers. I’ll quote Gregory, as he puts it best:

It would be folly, however, for the teacher to interpret this need of effort upon the part of the learner as meaning that the art of teaching consists only of setting tasks and driving pupils to the accomplishment of these tasks—for it is also agreed that the kind of effort that comes from the incitement of driving or the incentive of fear is quite unlikely to develop these permanent and abiding interests. Thousands if not millions of pupils under such treatment have never gotten beyond the stage of active attention; more than this, they have developed a distinct dislike for what they have tried to learn [italics mine].

And so Gregory goes on to stress the responsibility that a teacher has to teach in such a way as to deliberately, purposefully bring his or her students into secondary passive attention. This is done- to put it simply- by creating a thirst for knowledge. He writes that this is achieved by making the stages of advancement gradual, so that students must strive and toil to master each stage in order to experience the thrill of doing so, thereby creating a thirst for more.

It comes down to high standards and a deliberate plan of gradual advancement. But at an even more basic level, the teacher can keep the students’ interest by simply being interesting:

  • “The orator’s gesturing hand, his smiling or passionate look, his many-toned voice often do more to hold the attention of his auditors than the meaning of his speech.”
  • “A sudden pause, with lifted hand, will arrest confusion and cause the pupils to listen and give attention. The showing of a picture, or of some other illustrative material, will attract the more careless and awaken the most apathetic. The sudden raising or lowering of the voice arouses fresh attention.”

I love the simplicity of these reminders. I don’t come away with the picture that is all too common today: a loud classroom (referring to the decoration and the teacher), full of distractions; a teacher whose obvious goal is to be seen as funny or crazy, with the hope that the show he puts on will maintain his students’ attention. NO—not like that at all. This is a picture of a calm, well-prepared teacher who has something important to share with his students, and knows it. The message he’s passing on speaks for itself, and when a student’s attention strays, a very slight and well-placed action is enough to bring it back.

Therefore…

And so, based on this line of thinking, we have some basic rules to follow as teachers. Gregory lists fourteen, but I’ll highlight five that I like the most:

  1. Never begin a lesson until the attention of the class has been secured.
  2. Pause when the attention is lost, and wait until it is regained to continue.
  3. Arouse attention where necessary, but be careful to avoid distractions.
  4. Kindle and maintain the highest possible interest in the subject.
  5. BE ENTHUSIASTIC— enthusiasm is contagious.

Pretty simple, right? Think again. What’s simple is to slip, slowly and sleepily, into habit, reliance on past preparation, hand-outs, busy work… you get the idea. It is hard work to be the teachers we are called to be, to give the students our very best, to deserve their fullest attention. Let us strive to do so, to the glory of God, for the furtherance of His kingdom.

What One Old Dead Guy Taught Me – Part 2

The last blog entry dealt with Law One of John Milton Gregory’s Seven Laws of Teaching. The first law principally concerned the teacher: The teacher must know that which he would teach. The second law shifts the focus from teacher to student, or “learner” as Gregory refers to him: The learner must attend with interest to the material to be learned. Three Levels of Attention Gregory begins by describing three different levels of “attention,” a distinction which we can all relate to quite well:
  • Passive Attention— “Involves no effort of the will. One simply follows the direction of the strongest stimulus; one is ‘passive’ because one is letting the forces that play about him control the mental life.” This level, Gregory says, characterizes everyone at some times, especially when tired or playful- but particularly characterizes the attention of the little child.
  • Active Attention—“Its first condition is an effort of the will, a determination to do what should be done in spite of allurements to do something else that is pleasanter [sic] and more attractive.”
  • Secondary Passive Attention— Gregory is using the word “passive” in a positive sense: here, “we are ‘absorbed’ in our work… when our learning is so fascinating that it simply ‘carries us with it.’ Attention of this sort frequently grows out of persistent effort—out of what we have just termed ‘active’ attention.”
This third level of attention, Secondary Passive, is a rare and beautiful experience. It’s what happens when hours feel like minutes as a good book sweeps you away. It’s the reason that one college professor’s classes are bursting at the seams every semester while counterparts in his department are left the remaining students. When a learner is inspired toward passion in a given field of study, all distractions begin to fade to the degree that, unlike Active Attention, it no longer requires an effort or a determination- instead, it’s a joy. The Teacher’s Responsibilities in Law Two Accomplishing this level of attention is not easy. Gregory points out that it is foolishness for me to expect to do so without putting forth effort. Does it occasionally happen on its own, without effort? Sure. But the rule to live by is that “sustained and abiding interests are to be purchased only at a price—and the price is strenuous effort.” Thus, Gregory writes that Active Attention is essentially a prerequisite for Secondary Passive Attention. For the teacher, this means that if we really desire our students to develop such levels of passion for the subject matter, we must push them rigorously! We must demand high performance, hard work, mental toil. Having said that… it is here that the first potential error lies in wait for teachers. I’ll quote Gregory, as he puts it best: It would be folly, however, for the teacher to interpret this need of effort upon the part of the learner as meaning that the art of teaching consists only of setting tasks and driving pupils to the accomplishment of these tasks—for it is also agreed that the kind of effort that comes from the incitement of driving or the incentive of fear is quite unlikely to develop these permanent and abiding interests. Thousands if not millions of pupils under such treatment have never gotten beyond the stage of active attention; more than this, they have developed a distinct dislike for what they have tried to learn [italics mine]. And so Gregory goes on to stress the responsibility that a teacher has to teach in such a way as to deliberately, purposefully bring his or her students into secondary passive attention. This is done- to put it simply- by creating a thirst for knowledge. He writes that this is achieved by making the stages of advancement gradual, so that students must strive and toil to master each stage in order to experience the thrill of doing so, thereby creating a thirst for more. It comes down to high standards and a deliberate plan of gradual advancement. But at an even more basic level, the teacher can keep the students’ interest by simply being interesting:
  • “The orator’s gesturing hand, his smiling or passionate look, his many-toned voice often do more to hold the attention of his auditors than the meaning of his speech.”
  • “A sudden pause, with lifted hand, will arrest confusion and cause the pupils to listen and give attention. The showing of a picture, or of some other illustrative material, will attract the more careless and awaken the most apathetic. The sudden raising or lowering of the voice arouses fresh attention.”
I love the simplicity of these reminders. I don’t come away with the picture that is all too common today: a loud classroom (referring to the decoration and the teacher), full of distractions; a teacher whose obvious goal is to be seen as funny or crazy, with the hope that the show he puts on will maintain his students’ attention. NO—not like that at all. This is a picture of a calm, well-prepared teacher who has something important to share with his students, and knows it. The message he’s passing on speaks for itself, and when a student’s attention strays, a very slight and well-placed action is enough to bring it back. Therefore… And so, based on this line of thinking, we have some basic rules to follow as teachers. Gregory lists fourteen, but I’ll highlight five that I like the most:
  1. Never begin a lesson until the attention of the class has been secured.
  2. Pause when the attention is lost, and wait until it is regained to continue.
  3. Arouse attention where necessary, but be careful to avoid distractions.
  4. Kindle and maintain the highest possible interest in the subject.
  5. BE ENTHUSIASTIC— enthusiasm is contagious.
Pretty simple, right? Think again. What’s simple is to slip, slowly and sleepily, into habit, reliance on past preparation, hand-outs, busy work… you get the idea. It is hard work to be the teachers we are called to be, to give the students our very best, to deserve their fullest attention. Let us strive to do so, to the glory of God, for the furtherance of His kingdom.


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