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The Rational Lesson

In "PNEU Teaching Principles" (Found Here ) we were reminded that in Charlotte Mason circles it is a very important teaching principle for the teacher to not interfere with the child's own connections to books or experiences. The result of not keeping this principle in mind is expressed well in "The Rational Lesson" by S. De Brath.

Teachers endeavor, often with great pains, to give to their pupils the conclusions they have themselves arrived at, and the information they have themselves acquired, but it does not seem to strike them that the more correct and unassailable these conclusions are, the more passively receptive the mind of the learner is likely to become. To have the thinking done for them by the teacher, and to accept with careless assurance the results of that thinking, is a state of affairs which the average pupil regards with much equanimity, but it does not fit him to grapple with difficulties himself, nor for thinking correctly on the available evidence. This desirable consummation can only be attained by the habit of constantly going through the process itself, and in order that the teacher may know how to put the mind through its paces, he must first understand the way in which a mind works (De Brath).

De Brath reminds us that teaching must include a regard for the child's mind when attempting to learn and for a recognition that learning is a practiced skill with which as child needs a rational set of steps in which to achieve it . A teacher must be aware of how the child's mind works in order to create lessons which are reasonable and lessons that are based on this understanding.

He goes on to explain this process by first discussing the types of knowledge a child encounters: general truths and mind-pictures. He then follows with an explanation of how this knowledge is acquired and the teaching stages which, when paired with each stage of acquirement, best support it.

General truths are formed by studying the traits of a concept or idea and removing specific cases, or exceptions, to see what remains common to all. They are articulated primarily through language and include math prinicples, science principles, grammar rules and the laws of nature. He further explains that mind-pictures are images in our minds which we associate with persons, events and dramas of human life or nature that we have never actually seen. They are articulated primarily through art-image or form. It should be noted that art unites both general truths and mind-pictures in that a picture, poem or statue will hold both the truth and the mind-pictures of all that we associate with the art but yet have not seen (De Brath).

The stages for acquiring general truths are as follows:

  • attention

  • observation-made through impressions through the senses

  • generalization-separating the common from the distinctive by using questions such as how are these alike and how are these different?

  • formulation-expression through correct language

If observations are accurate and inferences are logical, then the result is truth and the concept is complete (ibid).

These stages are paired with teaching strategies. Teaching with this approach habitutates the mind to move logically while learning. The stages of teaching paired with the stages of learning general truths are as follows:

  • preparation-direct attention, recall old knowledge and prepare for new knowledge

  • presentation-present the new knowledge for all of the senses

  • association-distinguish particulars and ask what is essential to each

  • formulation-expression in correct language (ibid).

Mind-pictures are created for persons or facts which have not been seen or experienced through the child's own personal senses. It is often something associated with the past, something creative or something created as a model for the future, a model of what is not yet experienced. The stages for acquiring a mind-picture are as follows:

  • attention-recall of similar or associated concepts

  • imagination-mind-pictures of new ideas and thoughts and also a combination of new with preceding ideas and thoughts

  • visualization-seeing combined concepts

He follows with the corresponding teaching stages:

  • preparation-revival of old to establish interest in an association with the new

  • presentation-gives material for new idea

  • association-new with old, collateral images

  • visualization-whole imaginative picture called up (ibid).

Examining more closely the teaching stage of preparation, true for both general truths and mind-pictures, allows us to see that this stage calls for the teacher to capture the attention of the student(s), to recall previously taught lessons and then to redirect attention towards the new idea (ibid). A teacher may capture attention by asking carefully considered questions, demonstating a simple science concept, working a well-understood math problem together, using art, diagrams or images or discussing a literary theme, character or term. It is important for the teacher to capture the students' attention not only to bring their minds in focus for the new lesson, but also to determine what the students already know and understand and what is still to be further taught.

The second stage, presentation, also for both types of knowledge, sets forth the new lesson through various approaches such as experiments or demonstrations, math problems, reading a new section from a book, socratic discussions or writing sentences orally together with an eye towards a new grammar concept.

In the third stage, association, again true for both types, all of the ideas are considered with some ideas grouped by their commonalities and a new whole is created. For example, when examining samples of rock types, a teacher might have the students list the characteristics for each specimen or the reverse with the teacher naming the characteristics and having the students identify the correct specimen (ibid).

Finally, with regard to general truths, the teacher gives the new concept or idea a name based on this new whole that has been created. The students are able to express this in correct language. With regard to mind-pictures a completed picture is visualized, the result of the new whole (ibid).

It is important that the lessons are designed with the age and abilities of the students in mind, that they are given in a logical sequence and that they are connected to prior lessons or ideas. The teacher should pair the flow of the lesson to the natural stages of the child's mind while learning with the end goal being one of helping the child move through the stages needed to reach the essential point-be it a truth or a mind-picture.

A Rational Lesson

Written by S. De Brath

The Parents' Review V 8, 1897, pgs. 119-125

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