Practical applications

Practical applications

How to Become a Better Principal — The In-Service Growth of Teachers — Compiled from various sources

Supervision, a duty

It is absolutely necessary that Catholic schools be in the hands of teachers who not only profess the Catholic faith, but have all the qualities demanded by their offices. (Pius XII)

Catholic schools operate in order to provide the best possible education for Catholic children. This means that the teaching in Catholic schools should be second to none, and that children should be learning in Catholic schools better than they would elsewhere. It follows, then, that we must, first of all, know what the teaching is actually like in our schools, and that, second, we must work to improve our teaching. The individual teacher, or course, examines his own teaching from time to time, but the responsibility for judging and improving teaching is the principal’s. All of his activities must be oriented toward this goal. No matter how attractive or satisfying other duties may be, the improvement of instruction must be the all-embracing objective of the sincere principal. We hope that the following pages will help him to fulfill this most important duty.

Principals tend to shrink before the prospect of supervising. Convincing reasons can be advanced for this shyness. Many principals are teaching principals (If they are priests, they are often teaching catechism and Latin), and hence absorbed and weighed down by their own classroom duties. Some principals feel inadequate for supervision, because of lack of formal training in this area. Other principals think that, since all teachers are mature persons, they ought to be able to take care of their own classrooms. Still other principals insist on viewing the principalship as a job for a "head teacher," one who orders supplies and writes checks. And some principals, it must be admitted, are more interested in management, that is, the smooth operation of the school. Certainly management is easier, more "showy," and more flattering. Highly polished floors and carefully chosen planters are easier to maintain than a conscientious supervisory program.

However, the principal is responsible for providing the highest kind of education for the pupils in his school, even if he is a teaching principal. So whatever the reasons to the contrary, he must accept the responsibility to improve instruction, and hence to promote better learning. The principal can do this only through a well-planned supervisory program, using the procedures now known to be effective for improving teaching. "I must supervise" should be the slogan of the principal. Facing this duty squarely, the principal must solve the problems inherent in his own school situation.

All principals must allocate time each week for supervision, their most important responsibility. A practical rule-of-thumb (for principals whose only duties are school-related) is this: at least forty percent of his non-teaching time should be devoted to improving instruction. For the supervising principal, this means at least twenty-three hours a week, and for the teaching principal, eight hours. Twenty-three hours a week is all too short; the supervising principal must budget his time carefully to keep all aspects of the in-service program moving satisfactorily. In eight hours a week, the teaching principal will of course accomplish less, but he can improve the teaching-learning situation through a conscientious use of his time for the detailed weekly schedule. This time for supervision should be planned before any other activity. It should never be a question of how to "get in" supervisory duties; it should rather be a question of how all other duties might be delegated or subordinated so that ample time is given to the duty of primary importance the duty of supervision.

The parallel is clear between the history of supervision and variations in teacher preparation in schools today. When pre-service training has been poor, the principal must resort to some of the earlier authoritarian measures. No matter what the date, ill-prepared teachers need on-the-job training by the principal. In-service growth for these teachers will be vastly different from that undertaken by qualified teachers. In order to prevent inadequately trained teachers from harming pupils educationally, the principal needs to remedy at least the most glaring deficiencies. Authoritarian supervision is not in good repute these days, but poorly prepared teachers require strong, consistent direction as they learn on the job. The orientation program for teachers who have not completed their training will resemble somewhat a student-teaching process.

One of the chief difficulties, then, of the principal as supervisor is the inadequate preparation of some teachers on the staff. Another difficulty is the problem of adjusting the in-service program to the varying needs of the staff. Teachers who are especially capable, weak, colorless, resistant, or old require specific attention in the in-service program.

Faculty meetings

Perfect schools are not so much the result of good methods as of good teachers.(Pius XI)

The essence of a school is a faculty. (Dr. John Senior)

Properly used, faculty meetings are a most effective means of in-service growth. Well-planned faculty meetings provide for the all-over development of the teacher: as instructor, as counselor, as link with the community, and as staff member. Faculty meetings giver teachers the opportunity to share in planning and to work together on problems of mutual interest. Particularly with teachers whose preparation has been somewhat adequate, faculty meetings, develop leadership and skill in-group processes.

But, we may as well admit it; faculty meetings are not loved by teachers! Judged by teachers’ reactions and who is better informed on the subject? faculty meetings don’t accomplish much. At best, faculty meetings are just tolerated in most schools. In case you doubt this, give yourself a shock treatment. Solicit the honest opinions of your staff, or of other teachers whom you know well. If your little written survey is written, by all means have the papers unsigned. You will see that teachers often resent and resist faculty meetings. Your first reaction will be a defensive one: "After how hard I’ve tried… They should want to improve!"

But this shock treatment will set you on the right path. For, you see, teachers don’t think the same things important that you rate top priority. Just think back to the time when you weren’t principal. Did you just love to attend faculty meetings? Did you volunteer enthusiastically for every new job? Did you welcome the chance to have your work criticized? Ask yourself a few penetrating questions, and you will see that your staff is not so very different from you after all. Your point of view has changed; theirs has not. In order to provide the kind of meetings your staff wants and needs, you must realize that faculty meetings can stand improvement. It is the principal’s job as educational leader to arrange for better staff meetings and this requires effort and planning, of course. But have you ever watched a football coach plan with his team, going through the plays for the game just ahead. The planning is meticulous each individual’s strong points are put into focus, co-operative teamwork is arranged, obstacles are foreseen, and morale is kept at a high pitch. To be sure, the situations are different, but planning is basic to any kind of successful empire.

Kinds of Faculty Meetings

The faculty is a hierarchical organism in which each teacher strives, with all his heart and in solidarity with the others, to work for the children through teaching. The unity is based on

  • true theology and philosophy
  • a community of thought
  • a doctrine about education accepted by all. (Fr. Calmel, OP)

The first step in improving faculty meetings is to recognize that there are different kinds of meetings: administrative, supervisory, and social. When a meeting is scheduled, the principal and everyone else should know exactly what purpose the meeting is to serve. An administrative meeting may be called when the principal wishes to impart information to the staff, such as the details of the medical examinations to be conducted in the school the following week. A supervisory meeting is intended to help teachers grow professionally, as in knowledge of certain curricular content, or in teaching skills. A social meeting the purpose is obvious a coffee hour, for example, at the beginning of the year, for staff members to get acquainted.

An entire faculty meeting may be devoted to one of these three purposes, or a meeting may be divided so that all three purposes enter in. The following agenda may illustrate this composite kind of faculty meeting:


  • Opening Prayer
  • Announcements by the principal
  • Teacher panel:"How are we helping the gifted child?"
  • Group questions and discussion from the floor
  • Refreshments

In this faculty meeting, the principal’s announcements are of an administrative nature; they concern administrative policy and school organization. Typical items include routines in the cafeteria, events of the coming week, procedure for marking the new report cards, and other items of similar informational nature. Explanation of each item is given as needed by the group.

The supervisory part of the meeting is the panel discussion on helping the gifted child in the regular classroom. Four teachers have previously volunteered or been assigned! aspects of the topic and have read professional literature in preparation for the meeting. The question period which follows gives other staff members the chance to explore the topic further and to relate it to the local school situation. In applying the panelists’ remarks to their own classrooms, teachers pave the way for better teaching.

The social aspect of the meeting comes with the coffee and doughnuts, or the tea and cookies. The staff relaxes in friendly and informal conversation. Some schools prefer to have refreshments before the meeting, especially when the meeting is held at the end of the school day; other schools prefer to socialize at the end of the meeting.

While a faculty meeting can be comfortably devoted to all three purposes administrative, supervisory, and social to be a good meeting the supervisory aspect should predominate, with staff participation in improving their own teaching. Also, there should be a distinct division of the meeting into parts; one should not have to guess what purpose is being served at any given time. Occasionally, an entire meeting can be administrative, as the orientation of the meeting for new teachers. Or, before a holiday, a completely social get-together is in order. The faculty meetings for the entire year should be so planned that there is variety, and at the same time adequate attention to in-service growth activities.

Features of a Good Faculty Meeting

Time and Frequency for Holding Meetings

Meetings have been tried before school in the morning, during an extended lunch hour, after school, on Saturday, and beginning half an hour before afternoon dismissal. Each time has advantages and disadvantages. It seems that faculty meetings after school continue to be in the majority. Teachers seem to prefer meetings after school, rather than having to adjust to a special schedule.

How often should faculty meetings be held? Meetings involving the entire faculty seem best when held once a month. Planning meetings, in which groups of teachers prepare for the general faculty meetings, will need to be held oftener. Perhaps two or three small-group planning meetings may be held in preparation for a meeting in which teachers present a demonstration of teaching methods. Or, in larger schools, committees may meet to work on topics of special interest, such as materials for enriching the music program. Faculty meetings involving the whole staff should be scheduled in September, and the schedule posted, so that all teachers can arrange to attend the meetings. Ten general faculty meetings are the rule, one a month, with an orientation meeting for teachers before the opening of school in the fall.

In deciding on the hour, the day, and the frequency of the meetings, the principal would be wise to utilize the suggestions of his staff, so that the best co-operation can be achieved.

Place for Holding Meetings

In the newer buildings, there are conference rooms which are delightfully pleasant and well arranged for staff meetings. In the older schools, very often a classroom is the only available place for a meeting. If so, every effort should be made to have the arrangements as comfortable and informal as possible. Particularly are comfortable chairs needed, pupil desks are cramping physically and intellectually. Chairs should be arranged so that all teachers can talk face-to-face, in a circle, or around a table. Ventilation, heat, and lighting should be good, and distracting noises and interruptions should be kept to a minimum. The time spent on the physical aspects of the meeting place will be more than repaid in the improved participation which will result. A chairman of arrangements can assume this responsibility, and leave the principal free for other matters.

Length of meeting

If you poll your teachers about faculty meetings, you are sure to find that long meetings are poor meetings. Particularly are long meetings boresome when the staff cannot estimate how long the meeting will continue. The very uncertainty of a poorly planned meeting adds to its bad effect upon morale. It is important that faculty meetings be carefully planned as to time, and that they begin and end at the time stated. The agenda given earlier can be used to illustrate the time of a good meeting.


  • Opening Prayer
  • Administrative: Principal’s Announcements ( 5 to 15 minutes)
  • Supervisory:
    a) Panel of teachers (30 to 40 minutes)
    b) Questions and discussion from the floor; (10 minutes) applying material to the classroom situation
    C) Summary of discussion (5 minutes)
  • Social: Refreshments (15 minutes)

Total time:1 hour, 15 minutes

For a good faculty meeting, one and a quarter hours seem quite adequate. As mentioned before, the meeting should begin and end on time. Further, each part of the meeting should take only the time allotted to it. A chairman usually keeps the meeting moving on schedule, but a timekeeper may be needed in some instances.

The Agenda

In the Latin, agenda means "things to be done." Applied to meetings, the agenda is a list of things to be done, or topics to be brought up for discussion. In a faculty meeting, ordinarily the agenda should be divided into the three parts already mentioned, with emphasis on the supervisory aspect. Decision-making does not play a prominent role in faculty meetings. Principals are advised not to ask the whole faculty to consider extensively a topic which they have no power to decide.

The agenda is indispensable for an effective faculty meeting. It is the road map of the meeting, the calendar of events, the timetable. During the early part of the year, the principal can propose possible topics for faculty meetings and enlist the help of a faculty advisory committee in choosing topics that will most interest and help the teachers. In selecting topics the principal should sample each of the four areas of teacher competence: instructional skill, guidance, school and community relations, and staff membership. In a large school, it may be good to have a few faculty meetings devoted to primary teachers, while upper grade teachers have their own meetings on topics of interest to them. Of the ten monthly meetings to be scheduled, perhaps seven can be definitely decided upon in September, with three meetings spaced through the year for important local topics that might develop. Another reason for leaving a few months with topics unscheduled is that occasionally the faculty might wish to pursue a topic further, and might arrange for another presentation of the material the following month. Topics should not be continued after the interest has waned, but some topics cannot be adequately handled in a single period.

The agenda should be copied and distributed to the faculty a few days before the meeting. Sometimes, a short list might be included, giving pertinent references available on the teachers’ library shelf. Additional copies of the agenda should be passed out to the faculty just before the meeting begins.

Two good books where topics of discussion can be found are The Art of Teaching by Gilbert Highet and The Art of Interesting by Francis Donnelly, SJ.

Sharing Responsibility for Meetings

To encourage group participation in faculty meetings, it is a good idea to let the teachers choose the duties they wish to assume. An outline of meetings of the coming year may be passed out to the teachers, who may sign up as they wish. The following excerpt from a schedule of meetings is illustrative.

Team Work in Our Faculty Meetings for the Coming School Year




Chairman of Arrangements


Refreshment Hostess


Panel: "The Gifted Child" (4 participants needed) 1…….






Group Discussion With Leader (see attached reading list and guide sheet) "Our Policy on Homework" Principal as Leader      


Demonstration: "Improving Oral Reading" (2 teachers needed) 1…….



In a faculty of twelve, each teacher would have an opportunity to take part in almost every activity, from participant to hostess. Each teacher would be expected to work in one of the in-service activities, such as a panel or demonstration, or book review. Sharing responsibilities for meetings develops the teachers professionally, and also gives them a sense of achievement. The meetings can be no better than the staff makes them; this puts the responsibility for growth squarely where it belongs. Through his leadership, of course, the principal provides material which the teachers can use, and helps them develop needed skills.

Principal’s Bulletins

Usually, the principal opens each meeting with a prayer, followed by administrative announcements. It is best to have these announcements copied so that each member can have a copy. The principal comments on the notices which are especially important, or which might be misinterpreted. The wise principal does not read each announcement aloud to the staff. This bulletin keeps the announcements from being a monologue on the part of the principal. If possible, the announcements should cover routine administrative notices until the next faculty meeting. The principal’s bulletin is an orderly way of getting information to the staff, without taking too much time from the supervisory aspects of the meeting. At times, the bulletin may list topics to be discussed with the staff, on which decisions must be reached.

In summary, principals can be sure that well-planned faculty meetings pay rich dividends in-group spirit as well as in improved teaching. All that the principal knows of group processes can be utilized in preparing and conducting faculty meetings. In providing for the in-service growth of the staff, the faculty meeting is one of the best techniques.

Classroom observation

In the absence of Catholic Teachers’ Colleges, it is only with great difficulty that we can form teachers suitable for our needs. (Pius XII)

Three important people in education interact during a supervisory visit to the classroom: teacher, principal, and child. Therefore, classroom observation should be viewed as a co-operative endeavor of principal and teacher to help the child learn better. If an improved teaching-learning situation is to be provided for the child, then the principal as supervisor and administrator should utilize all the potential of the classroom visit to achieve this purpose.

Most principals will agree verbally with these truisms, but many will then proceed to object: "That is all well and good, but ." "For somebody else in some other school, maybe in another city, visits to the classroom would be ideal, but ." This attitude on the part of principals is the chief reason why classroom observation is perhaps the least used and hence the least effective technique for the in-service growth of teachers.

Difficulties Involved in Observation

What are the principal’s reasons for shying away from the supervisory visits? The first reason is no time. Teaching principals just throw up their hands; obviously there is not time. Why, they are in their own classrooms all day long. Even non-teaching principals complain of not having enough time. Supervising principals are assigned mainly to the larger schools, and the clerical work is very heavy in large schools. Besides having not time, principals are ill at ease about going into classrooms to supervise. The first-grade teacher certainly knows more about first-grade methods than the principal, who perhaps never taught in the primary grades. No principal can be an expert in all subjects; how can he make constructive suggestions in art, music, science, and all the other areas? The staff would think him aggressive, if he suddenly announced he was going to visit all classes. And, finally, there are so many other things he would rather do than observe in classrooms. The supply shelves need attention; the drapes in the office are getting faded; the janitor isn’t sweeping the stairs; and there are innumerable other little things that nobody else seems to think of. For all of these cogent reasons, the principal just does not observe in classrooms, or he does so very seldom.

Need for Visiting Classes

A principal who has not been holding regular faculty meetings can be converted rather easily; but a principal who does not visit classes it seems that this vice is cast out only with great difficulty. The principal needs first of all to be convinced that he is no longer in the days of the one-room school, where the principal did everything. The principal at that time was teacher, secretary, janitor, librarian, cook, nurse, and supply manager. Even in the two-room school, conditions had not changed much. The principal was only the head teacher, or the one consulted when there was a fight on the playground or coal to be bought.

Today’s principal is not in the same category at all as the head teacher of past centuries. Today’s principal is the instructional leader of the school. Schools are now much larger, it is true, but the main difference is the quality of leadership rather than in the size of the enrollment. As instructional leader, the principal must know firsthand what the instruction is like in his building. Only when he knows familiarly what each classroom situation is like can he attempt to improve instruction. And it follows that the principal must visit the classrooms while teaching is going on to know how classes are being conducted. This is not to make the principal an authoritarian taskmaster, dictating exactly how lessons are to be taught. The real purpose of classroom observation is to insure for each child the best possible education under the circumstances. The principal cannot lightly set aside this obligation under the pretext of more urgent duties; no other duty is as urgent as providing a good education for the pupils entrusted to his care. A good principal observes classes and accepts his responsibility for heading the educational program of his school.

Principals should not think that observations will harm his good relations with the staff and the students. It is a fact that teachers want the principal to come into their classrooms. Studies of teachers’ opinions have repeatedly shown that teachers need the security of having their principal discuss classroom matters with them. Teachers feel uneasy about having no instructional conferences with the principal. New teachers report this dissatisfaction most frequently, but even older teachers dislike being ignored. Teachers resent domination, of course, but a good supervisory visit is a far cry from domination. The children themselves, of course, love to have a visitor. Unfortunately, some pupils go through eight years without knowing the thrill of having a principal interested in their work. When classroom observations are well conducted, teachers profit by them and want them. Children also respond favorably. And the principal? The crux of the matter is that the principal needs to "learn by doing" that supervisory visits are indispensable to a good educational program.

To make classroom observations most profitable, the principal needs to plan carefully what he will do, before the visit, during the visit, and after the visit. This will mean in-service growth for him also, for this planning will keep him "on his toes" professionally.

Preparing for the Supervisory Visit

Before going into a classroom to observer, the Principal has some preliminary work to do. He must first of all schedule the time for the visit, and if he is a teaching principal, this requires real ingenuity. The principal must also familiarize himself with the course of study and textbooks; the teacher’s lesson plans, the pupils’ records, and notes on previous observations and conferences. A preliminary conference with the teacher is invaluable. The thoroughness of this preparation determines to a great extent just how helpful the classroom observation will be.

Results of Classroom Observation

The principal may wonder how he can improve instruction by visiting classes. He can do this in two ways: first, by learning how the teachers are presenting the content and dealing with the children, the principle is in a good position to co-ordinate the program of the school. Co-ordination is one of the chief reasons for visiting classrooms. It is true that the course of study should be followed by all teachers. But newer teachers, and even more experienced ones, omit certain basic learnings or overemphasize units which they like especially. Also, the kinds of homework assignments given and seatwork exercises need to be co-ordinated. Slow-moving pupils need special help in all the grades, a certain minimum of direction consistently given. Group work, for example is needed at all levels. All too often upper-grade teachers keep the entire class together for all instruction. Gifted students need a longitudinal pattern of enrichment activities. And there are many other ways in which the principal can co-ordinate the learning going on in school.

The principal also improves instruction by sharing good ideas among his staff. During classroom observations, the principal sees fine techniques and deft handling of instructional problems. Other teachers would never benefit by these excellent devices unless the principal was there to gather the honey, as it were, and spread it among the staff. Older teachers especially can be drawn upon to help newer teachers through this sharing process. Also, in a negative way, the principal improves instruction by sharing good ideas with teachers who are obviously ineffective. Though one dislikes mentioning it, there are teachers who do not prepare for their classes, who waste time changing from one subject to another, who give unreasonable assignments, who teach according to caprice. Only if the principal visits classes consistently will such teachers be kept in line. In justice to children, visits to weak teachers are obligatory. But visits to weak teachers will be accepted only if all classes are visited.

After thinking over these reasons seriously, the principal should be convinced that he can improve instruction through supervisory visits. At first, the principal will feel inadequate and will be able to make only superficial comments. But after a time, the ideas he gets from the teachers themselves will enable him to function effectively in improving the teaching-learning situation in his school.

Scheduling the Visit

There are certain aspects of scheduling visits that are common to both teaching and non-teaching principals. The first is the amount of time that should be devoted to any individual teacher. A rule of thumb might be to apportion the time available according to the years of experience of the staff member. A teaching principal responsible for seven teachers might allocate his two hours of observation weekly as follows.

Allotment of Time for Classroom Observation


Years of Experience

Amount of Time Per Month

Schedule for the Month



1st week

2nd week

3rd week

4th week





30 min.

50 min.

30 min.

30 min.





10 min.





20 min





20 min.




30 min.

10 min.

50 min.

30 min.





10 min.

10 min.

30 min.




30 min.

30 min.

10 min.

50 min.



8 hours

2 hours

2 hours

2 hours

2 hours

A supervising principal could allocate his two hours of daily observation in a somewhat similar way. For the supervising principal, observations would be more frequent and typically longer per visit.

A division such as that given above is a mechanical one, and should be varied according to the individual needs of the teachers. Weaker teachers may require more of the principal’s time early in the year, while stronger teachers may profitably experience supervisory visits of greater length later in the year, perhaps when preparing for inter-visitation. By following this schedule, a teaching principal would visit each of his seven teachers at least once a month, and would spend about two hours a month in the classrooms of newer teachers. In all, the teaching principal would be spending about eight hours a month in supervisory visits, and would make a total of eighteen visits per month. Certainly, this schedule would do much to establish the principal as an instructional leader in his school, and at the same time, improve his own knowledge of curriculum and methodology.

The length of the visit, then, depends partly upon experience and need, but also upon the kind of lesson to be observed. The supervising principal has greater flexibility in planning his visits, but the teaching principal may be limited to a lesson of no more than fifty minutes, because his own class is to be considered. Several shorter lessons, as, for example, drill lessons, might be observed during a fifty-minute period. The principal should schedule his visits so that most teachers are visited both for longer and shorter lessons. The principal should arrange to be in the classroom before the lesson begins and to remain there until it is finished.

The problem of whether to announce visits beforehand troubles many principals. In general, scheduled announced visits are most beneficial to teachers and children. A posted schedule of visits for the coming week, or month, allows teachers to make adequate preparation for the visit. Principals are after all not trying to trap teachers, but to help them. Seeing teachers when they are prepared usually makes them more at ease, certainly when observations are frequent and routine. Even in the case of a teacher who is extremely timid or nervous, tension should disappear if observations are well planned. The principal is probably wise to adhere to his plan of scheduled, announced observations.

Developing Background for the Lesson

No good can come of an observation if the principal visits the classroom "cold." The principal owes it to the teacher and the pupils to be thoroughly acquainted with the work they have done and the work they are now doing. This means that before an arithmetic lesson, for example, the principal should consult the course of study to get an overview of the material for the grade, and particularly for the present unit. Also, the principal should read through the teacher’s manual for the unit, study the textbook, and the workbook. The principal goes into the classroom to note pupil’s development; intelligent observation presumes that the principal knows the content to be presented and how this content fits into the all-over program for the grade and the school.

It is helpful to examine also the teacher’s lesson plan book, especially for the subject to be observed. In this way the principal can notice the kinds of lessons taught, the amount of progress made, the testing, and the re-teaching that takes place. Many schools have the policy of submitting lesson plan books to the principal each week; in this case, the principal need only to study more carefully than usual the subject to be observed next.

The pupil’s records furnish essential information. The principal will of course know some of the pupils from previous experience, but having the pupils’ cumulative record provides information on intelligence, achievement, absence and tardiness, progress through school. Ideally, the principal studies the pupils’ records before the classroom visit; but if not, then the records should be available to the principal to glance at as needed during the lesson. A seating plan, arranged for viewing from the back of the room, also helps the principal interpret the lesson.

Finally, before the lesson the principal should review all notes he has taken regarding previous work of the teacher to be observed. Especially, the principal should make sure that he has carried out any offer of assistance previously made. If possible, the principal should have a preliminary conference with the teacher to discuss his aims for the lesson. Either during the conference or at a faculty meeting, the principal can explain the points he notes during an observation.

The beginning principal will develop faster if he concentrates on a single subject matter area at a time. For example, during October all visits during the first two weeks might be to arithmetic classes, during the third week to reading, and during the fourth week to arithmetic again. When the principal feels that he has a rather sure grasp of a single subject, then he can proceed to another subject. It is wise to return several times to a subject already observed in order to maintain familiarity with the area and also to help the teachers maintain their own skill. The principal cannot improve instruction in all areas during a single year, so he would be wise to single out certain areas for emphasis. These areas could well be emphasized also in faculty meetings, so that the entire staff is working on the same general objectives at the same time.

Before each supervisory visit, then, the principal needs to make a general, long-range preparation, and also specific preparation. The better the principal knows the material, the pupils, and the teacher, the more effective will the visit be.

Procedure During Observation

The most important thing about procedure is how people feel about what is being done. In classroom observation, everything the principal does should be motivated by interest, sincerity, kindliness, and professional purpose. If the principal’s motives are not of the highest, no rule of procedure will help him arouse a co-operative response in teacher and pupils. If his motives are genuinely good, then a little clumsiness now and then will not estrange those whom he proposes to help.

The principal should arrange to be in the classroom before the lesson begins. Teachers and pupils usually expect a smile and a word of greeting, though a lengthy talk is out of place. The principal then goes to the back of the room, where he will not distract the pupils, and examines the lesson plan which the teacher has given him. The pupil records and a seating plan are also there, as well as the text and manual. The principal’s attention should be focused upon what the pupils are doing and what the teacher is doing, and not upon any mannerisms of traits peculiar to the teacher. The principal should be alert to what is going on, since both teacher and children react favorably to a responsive observer. A passive observer is annoying, as is one who seems to be oblivious of everything that is going on about him.

During the class, the lesson plan can be used as a guide in following the presentation of the teacher and the text. Pupil records help in interpreting the pupils’ answers and activities. It is usually best not to take any notes during the lesson, because note-taking seem to make most teachers uneasy. However, if the notes are shown to the teacher after the lesson and discussed with him, few teachers mind note taking during observation. Mental notes are necessary, however, as guides to the conference following the lesson. Particularly one should notice how the teacher realizes the objectives of the lesson, and how the lesson leads on to the next day’s work.

Should the principal "take over" when the lesson seems to be going badly? The teacher is making mistakes in presentation of factual information; or he is floundering and not able to get his presentation across; or pupils are noisy and inattentive, or merely listless. The principal may be tempted to take over the class, and show the teacher how it should be done. Except in extreme cases, this temptation should be resisted. If the teacher is unorganized during observation, he probably is at other times also, and intervening will not remedy the condition. More good will result in the long run by an analytical conference afterward, and perhaps a planned demonstration lesson. When a teacher is ineffective, the rule here is the same as for other problem situations: When in doubt, do the kindly thing. Exposing a teacher before his class will not improve his teaching; instead it will remove one prop he may have counted on the principal’s regard for him. An extremely weak teacher should be removed from service, but only after a consistent supervisory program has failed to develop him adequately. So, in visiting a classroom, the principal should consider himself an observer, a visitor, and should not have a mental set which says, "If he can’t do better than that, he should be shown." By all means, in the conference following the lesson, the principal should be frank in his appraisal of weakness, and should make specific plans for helping the teacher.

When the lesson is over, the principal again nods to the teacher, perhaps makes a single pleasant remark to the class, and leaves the room unobtrusively. If the lesson is running overtime, the principle should feel free to leave at the scheduled time, but without interrupting the class, if possible.

Keeping a Record of Observations

With so many details to keep in mind, the principal cannot hope to retain all the important aspects of lessons observed. If these important points are forgotten, then the supervisory visit is less effective. The practical principle arranges to keep a written record of classroom observations, so that he can best contribute to the in-service growth of the teacher.

A simple form such as the following might be kept in the teacher’s folder or in a loose-leaf notebook devoted to supervisory reports. Each report should contain examples of teacher and pupil activity so that the conference can be specific and helpful.

Report on Observation and Conference

Teacher Grade Subject

Observation (date) Time to Observer

  1. Type of lesson
  2. Materials used
  3. Activities
  4. Purposes achieved
  5. Notes for conference

Conference (date) Time to

  1. Topics discussed (other than the above)
  2. Comments and suggestions
  3. Principal
  4. Teacher
  5. Proposed follow-up

A record of classroom observations is essential if the principal is to make good use of his time. When a teaching principal devotes two precious hours weekly to visiting classes, he should be able to show what he has accomplished. A record enables the principal to do this. First, the record shows the pattern of the observations subjects observed, time of day, teachers visited most often, and follow-up recommendations. It is futile just to flit in and out of classrooms spreading good cheer. Observations should be carefully planned; a written record helps to show how this plan works out in practice.

Another good reason for keeping records of supervisory visits is for co-ordination purposes. Faculty meetings ordinarily stress points that can be carried over into classroom practice. The principal should make a point of unifying instruction by keeping teachers conscious of worthwhile conclusions made during faculty meetings. Also, during conferences following visits, teachers make sound comments on the present program in the school and what should be done to help children learn better. These suggestions are lost, hence cannot be implemented, without a written record. At the end of the year, in looking forward to the following September, the principal can summarize the records of his observations and plan helpful continuing work.

By keeping a simple record of observations, the principal will find that he works more efficiently and more satisfyingly. The principle, too, needs the assurance that he is doing a worthwhile job. Written records help to give him this assurance.

Individual Conferences

The amount of sharing of ideas in the individual conference depends upon the situation. With a mature, qualified teacher, a principal can conduct a conference as with a co-worker, interested in the same objectives. It is refreshing for a principal to be able to say sincerely to a teacher, "Let us analyze together the work you are doing with you third group in reading." With almost complete objectivity (but never entirely complete!), the teacher will discuss the pupils’ intelligence test scores and their reading achievement, the materials they are using at the time, and his plans for their future work. If the principal has noticed some expert teaching elsewhere in remedial reading, he may present the idea as a suggestion, but not one which he expects the teacher to use. With new teachers and weak teachers, the principal’s approach would not be, "Here is a teaching technique which you may wish to use." Instead the principal’s attitude would be, "To vary you presentation in arithmetic, I should like you to try this procedure. After my next visit to your class, we shall discuss together how effective you found it."

With beginning teachers especially, but with most teachers from time to time, the principal will conduct a post-visit conference that will be a learning situation for the teacher. Such conferences follow a definite pattern. The factors of time, place, and procedure are very important.

Time for Holding Individual Conferences

To be effective, a conference should be held shortly after classroom observation, but not before the principal has had time to prepare his notes for the conference. The record form given earlier provides most of the information which the principal needs to hold a profitable conference. Usually the conference lasts about half an hour, which is typically enough time for the principal and teacher to discuss the observed lesson. However, occasionally, because of the kind of lesson observed, or the needs of the teacher, a conference may last anywhere from ten minutes to an hour. The conference should not be rushed, but it should conform to the standards given earlier for a good conference. With teaching principals, the conference is held either after school or before school in the morning.

Place for Conferences

The teacher’s classroom provides an informal atmosphere for a friendly conference, and is also convenient because the teacher’s materials are readily available. However, usually the principal’s office is the best place for conferences. There are fewer interruptions there, the tone is more formal, and the supervisor-teacher relationship is more clear. Especially when the conference is with a beginning or weak teacher should an instructional atmosphere be maintained. The principal is a busy person, and though he does not want to stress this fact, he must use his time efficiently in conducting conferences. The place of the conference has much to do with the effectiveness of his allotted time.

Procedure for Individual Conferences

The immediate pre-planning for the conference includes the principal’s reviewing his conference record, both for the lesson just observed and for previous visits to the teacher. All materials needed for the discussion should be on hand; these materials include the course of study, textbooks and manuals, teacher’s lesson plan book and lesson plan for the class observed, pupil’s cumulative records, and any other data that seem pertinent.

In all previous contacts with the teacher and during the conference, the principal deals with the teacher in a friendly, interested, and professional way. Together, they are engaged in an important and serious work, yet a work which is at the same time interesting and challenging. The conference opens with some praise from the principal on the successful aspect of the lesson observed. Then the principal and teacher go over together the points selected for improvement. The principal’s comments and suggestions must be specific and ones which the teacher is capable of carrying out. The discussion must not wander; it should emphasize selected points, though the teacher should have an opportunity to comment and ask for assistance as needed. Follow-up suggestions are made by teacher and principal, and these suggestions are written down in the record of the conference. If it seems desirable, plans can be made for a demonstration record. The conference closes on a constructive and pleasant note.

Demonstration Teaching and Inter-visitation

If there is a lack of teachers trained in Catholic Teachers’ Colleges, it is difficult to imagine how Catholic schools can continue to exist and respond adequately to the high standards that is expected of them.(Pius XII)

When asked what would help them most, teachers generally answer, "Watching a good teacher teach." Principals like to think that faculty meetings, professional reading, and conferences rate first place, but the teachers themselves universally favor demonstration lessons. The principal who observes classes regularly knows how much he himself learns. It stands to reason that other teachers would benefit from observing good teachers at work. Not that demonstration teaching overshadows all other methods for promoting the in-service growth of teachers. Rather, carefully planned demonstrations should be part of the principal’s supervisory program for the year.

When to Use Demonstrations

Particularly with new teachers, or teachers returning to service, demonstration lessons are welcome. In this case, the demonstration, or inter-visitation, should be given early in the year, and repeated as often as advisable to develop certain skills. Demonstrations are also helpful for experienced teachers in illustrating particular techniques as introducing a unit and improving the art of questioning. In conferences and meetings, teachers often ask for help in making their work more effective. A well-chosen demonstration shows the teacher how to translate theory into satisfying everyday practice. Demonstrations are also enlightening to the entire faculty group, as demonstrations on the methods of teaching music at various grade levels. Parents report that their most enjoyable Home and School Meetings were those at which teachers showed how particular subjects were taught in the regular classroom. By instructing a reading group, for example, the teacher shows parents the methods used, and indirectly impresses parents with the good job the school is doing.

With beginning teachers, and those coming back into the classroom after a number of years, demonstration lessons are looked upon as a Godsend. Ordinarily, the principal needs only to plan carefully, and the teachers’ receptiveness is assured. Having an Advisor demonstrate techniques is genuinely appreciated by new teachers. However, with experienced teachers, even though they may not be strong teachers, the principal needs to wait for, or develop, a willingness to observe demonstration lessons. This is puzzling in a way. Experienced teachers want demonstrations, but usually from someone outside of their own faculty group. "No man is a prophet in his own country." The principle must be careful not to offend a teacher by implying that one of his peers does a much better job of teaching geography. Usually, the principal should not suggest that an experienced teacher observe in another classroom unless the teacher asks to do so. The principal’s long-range supervisory program for the year might well include demonstration of techniques to the faculty as a group. Readiness for self-appraisal is necessary, however; the principal needs insight into his faculty before suggesting observations for experienced teachers.

How to Use Demonstrations Most Effectively

It is a waste of time to release teachers to observe in classrooms unless the program has definite aims and expected outcomes. Teachers will not improve their teaching just by relaxing and examining the art display in someone else’s classroom. The principal must plan well, if this activity really serves to improve teaching.

First, the principal should plan with the demonstrating teacher. Because the teacher is willing to spend a good deal of effort to help other teachers, the principal should try to foresee difficulties that might arise, and also to make the experience profitable for the teacher himself. Through his own observations and conferences, the principal knows what the teachers need and would like to see. This information, together with the teacher’s own interest and skill, determines the type of lesson and the subject matter. Together the principal and teacher work out the lesson plan: the aims, content and procedures. The lesson selected should be in correct sequence in the course of study, and the materials used should be typical. The lesson should cover only a limited amount of material; demonstrations are often spoiled because the teacher attempts too much. There should be no exhibitionism; the experience should be as normal as possible, prepared for but not rehearsed. Before a teacher gives a demonstration, the principal should see him present the same kind of lesson. In this way, the lesson will be made most beneficial to the visitors.

Besides the lesson itself, there are other aspects of teaching which observers will note: the attractiveness of the classroom, pupil papers, efforts at character development, such as courtesy, pupils’ speaking in a clear voice, the teacher’s deftness in moving form one part of the lesson to another, and the general tone of satisfaction and work which permeate the classroom. It is good to prepare an outline of points which the teacher should include in his preparation. Sometimes it is helpful to work out a guide for the discussion following the lesson – questions on the aspects mentioned above.

Second, the principal plans with the visiting teachers. At times, a demonstration may be given for a single observer; but wherever possible, more than one should be present to warrant the expenditure of the demonstrating teacher’s time. Whatever the number, the principal holds a briefing session before the lesson. The principal and demonstrating teacher show how lesson relates to the ongoing unit of work: the lessons that prepared the class for the day’s work and the lessons that will follow. The lesson plan for the day is explained in some detail, and a copy of the plan given to the visitors. The visiting teachers are given pertinent facts about the class, and also a seating plan. The visitors may ask questions about the lesson and the class. The procedure for conducting demonstration is next explained: how visitors are to enter and leave the room, how they are to observe but not interrupt the class.

After the lesson, the principal and demonstrating teacher hold a follow-up conference with the visitors. The purposes and activities of the lesson are reviewed: the visitor’s questions are answered. Application is made between the lesson and the observers’ work in their respective classrooms. In the case of beginning teachers, plans are made for follow-up observations of the techniques or procedures presented in the demonstration lesson. The visitors should take notes on the lessons observed, and file these notes as part of their professional growth record. The demonstration teacher should be prepared for some adverse criticism, or questions on other ways of achieving the aims of the lesson. Through experience in conducting conferences and in giving demonstrations, the teacher can learn to deal effectively with such questions.

A demonstration lesson should be prepared for and followed up in this manner. When so conducted, it is a time-consuming activity. Obviously, teachers who present demonstrations in this manner are bound to increase their professional stature. That is their reward. Those who come to observe will necessarily learn new techniques and procedures, and may also be rewarded by finding their own teaching similar to that observed. Properly conducted, demonstration lessons, or inter-visitations, are a valuable in-service growth activity and not old-fashioned in the least.

Professional Reading

We must have the courage to repeat to teachers how indispensable it is that they should cultivate themselves. It is by reading that a man shapes himself and not be reciting textbooks.(Charles Péguy)

We like to think of the Catholic schoolteacher as a well-read person. Many principals’ offices and teacher’s lounges display an attractive array of professional literature. Yet, the truth of the matter is, as teachers themselves confess, they don’t read enough. In fact, the principal need only look back over his own reading habits to know that reading needs encouragement.

The inventive principal doesn’t abandon all hope of stimulating reading among his staff. Instead, he tries a variety of devices, and keeps on trying, for reading is essential to self-improvement. First and foremost, if teachers are to read, there must be a pleasant place, comfortably furnished and well lighted. Right along with this, there must be an array of interesting material. These books should be on various topics reference books in the various subjects, particularly religion, and fresh and interesting books on professional subjects. It is practical to have there a complete set of the textbooks used in the school so that teachers may see how the work of their grade compares with work in earlier and later grades. Many parochial school principals have found fiction attractive to their teachers, as well as a good biography or two. The school library is not meant to supplant the local library, but it is a well-known fact that a book at hand is more likely to be read than a book on the shelves of a distant library.

In addition to providing a pleasant library corner and selected books and magazines, the principal needs to invent devices for getting the material used by the staff. In preparation for faculty meetings, the principal assembles a kit of interesting and helpful pamphlets, articles, and books, all marked for easy consumption. A faculty committee can keep alive a bulletin board devoted to encouraging reading clippings of articles and pertinent book reviews, all of which must be on the faculty bookshelf if they are to be helpful. During a teacher conference, the principal has occasion to suggest references, but he must be sure that the material is simple, pertinent, and ready at hand. Lay teachers in one school had the commendable practice of buying one recommended book each semester. Then they exchanged books among themselves. Then these devoted lay teachers donated the books to the faculty library.

Principals have long used the device of marking an especially good article, and routing it among the teachers, or sending it to a teacher who might be especially interested. A guest speaker at the faculty meeting can do much to stimulate professional reading, particularly if he suggests specific books and articles.

Like any other device for self-improvement, professional reading needs to be motivated. The strongest of all motivations is the influence of a principal who reads. There is an irresistible force in being with a principal who has read the books and magazines himself, who knows them intimately, and who uses them. The principal who reads is likely to have a faculty who reads.

Most of this material was drawn from The Catholic Elementary School Principle, by Sr. Mary Jerome Corcoran, OSU, PhD.

Guidelines for the teaching of english in the secondary school — compiled from various sources

Goals of the English Program

The primary characteristic of classical education is the use of the language curriculum, based on the study of literature in English (also in Latin and in foreign languages). Far from weakening the importance of this curriculum, modern conditions seem to cry out for its return as a humanizing instrument. A growing carelessness and vulgarity of speech, confusion of thinking, and the passivity of the mind fostered by our present forms of entertainment are the intellectual ills of the age. The remedies will contain the two ingredients which are the outcomes of a humanistic training — culture and discipline.

The first outcome of the language curriculum is culture. It is the appreciation which comes from carefully reading and understanding and sharing the best and noblest thoughts of good and noble persons. Certainly, youths in secondary school are made to grow through contact with selected literature, with a cultured teacher for guide and interpreter.

The second outcome of the language curriculum is discipline. It comes from consciously forming habits and performing acts according to a pattern. The rules of language supply the pattern. If we force the student to express himself in exact terms, we shall drive him to perceive objects precisely and to think exact thoughts. Briefly, that is the purpose of the language discipline in high school.

The Need for a Classical Curriculum

To be true to our traditions, we must plan positive measures to support and promote our classical program. It is not enough, for instance, to give the classical program equal weight and emphasis with the scientific program. The balance is already cast heavily to the advantage of the latter, and just to restore the equilibrium we have to strike hard for the humanistic program. This is so because of the technological cast of the age and because of the extraordinary efforts that are now being made to recruit scientists and engineers.

Furthermore, there is now more reason than ever in our past to uphold the humanistic elements in our secondary-school curriculum, because not all our graduates elect a liberal college program. For many, the chief humanistic influence will have to be applied in high school, for they will not be subjected to it in college.

The every-day writing and speaking of large numbers of Americans has reached an abject level of carelessness and obscurity. The fast pace of American life, with its tendency to abbreviate, the relative passivity introduced by its pictorial forms of communication, the manifold appeals to man’s sensory nature and impulses — all these discourage the wise cultivation of the rational processes and the appreciation of beauty. It is well for us to realize that we must counteract these influences before we can hope to make our young men susceptible to spiritual forces. One of the most effective ways we have of preparing the ground for the spiritual seed is the training in English by which we discipline the mind and awaken an appreciation of the true, the good, and the beautiful.

Developing Writing Skills

Training in English need not be stereotyped or antiquated if the teacher thoroughly understands the nature and idiom of his own language. The best British and American authors of the past century prove that modern writing can be good literature. But the use of slang, sport-coined words, and streamlined speech under the guise of modernity and the plea of developing a direct language, is all too often an excuse for total ignorance of fundamental laws of linguistics and authentic idiom.

Unfortunately, we ourselves have been corrupted by the linguistic vices of the times. Teachers should realize that one of their most effective influences in the formation of the student is personal contact. Greater reserve, refinement, and distinction of speech at all times on the part of our own teachers would enhance in the students’ eyes the objectives of a good English course. Teachers need an occasional reminder of this.

Again, teachers in every subject must be seriously concerned with the use of at least correct written and oral expression in the work of their classes. In a very real sense every teacher is an English teacher.

In each school the objectives of the English course should be carefully worked out, clearly and explicitly stated, and proposed for the conscious aim of teachers and students.

In broad terms it may be said that the purpose of the composition phase of the courses should be a sure mastery of the mechanics of expression, grammatical correctness, and a familiarity with the general forms of composition — narration, description, exposition, argumentation.

Grammar and Composition

It is futile to attempt to teach the forms of composition to students who do not have a grasp of the functions of the parts of speech or the construction of a sentence. The foundation of our first-year students being what it is today, it is surely necessary to review English grammar during the first year, especially for students coming from other schools. Not to do so will be to balk the attempts of teachers in the upper classes to make any real progress in composition. This training in grammar must be adapted to the actual condition of the students in each class; but it is to be hoped that it will not consume so much time that the composition which is the proper work of high school will have to be neglected.

The formula for composition is about one part theory to three parts practice. Too often the prescription is reversed. Too often teachers talk endlessly of rules and definitions when the boys should be exercising themselves in the application. Furthermore, the correction of exercises is indispensable. The teacher should organize his classes so that the correction of papers will be a regular feature. Yet the effort at correction will be largely wasted unless the student is put to revising and rewriting the composition in the light of the corrections. It is more effective to have one exercise written, corrected, and rewritten than to have two distinct exercises written once and done with.

The Study of Literature

The purpose of the study of literature is primarily the appreciation of literature. Other schools put more emphasis than we do upon the acquisition of literary information, the history of literature and a formal study of the literary types (essay, short story, poetry, and the like). Our main goal should always be to gain, through our contact with beautiful texts, an understanding of human nature.

In summary, the objectives of high-school courses are almost the exact counterpart of what are felt to be the major deficiencies today: firm and accurate knowledge of grammar and syntactical construction; steady and notable progress throughout the four years in richness and accuracy of expression, clarity, and firmness in expressing simple judgments in successive sentences, without jumbling them together; a sense of coordination and subordination; the power to achieve force in expression by the syntactical structure, not by underlining or other graphic and artificial means; the definite beginning of artistic appreciation of literature.

Advice for Teachers

Let us make some important remarks about the laws of learning. There can be little doubt that our students generally fail to receive the maximum return from their classical training. The proportion of return will depend directly upon the way the courses are taught. Classical courses in themselves do not have some magical virtue for training the mind. In other words, transfer of training is not automatic. The mind can be trained and developed, but not in the sense that a body muscle is trained and developed. Mental training consists in communicating ideals and methods. Training received in one field can be transferred to another field, but only under certain restricted conditions.

An ideal is "an idea which has been linked up with a series of concepts, images, and sentiments; an ideal means practically a force." Each field of study has its ideals; each has its methods and its skills. If the ideals and methods are specific, the habit acquired will be specific; if they are general, the habit will be general. The specific ideals and methods of one field will not carry over into another; but the general ones will — if they are properly taught. Teaching these general ideals and methods properly includes teaching how to make the transfer from one field to another. This principle is very important, and its frequent neglect minimizes many of the potential outcomes of the classical curriculum.

For the full fruition of the study, students must be taught not only the process, but also the applicability of this process to other life problems and they must have some practice in making the transfer. This training will consist partly in teaching students to recognize the similarity between the old situation and the new, partly in exercising them in applying the ideals and methods.

To put this principle another way, the training of the human faculties cannot be mechanized. The mind is not a muscle. The memory, the judgment the power of observation, the taste, can never be trained in one field in such a way as to be found in the same degree in other fields. The transfer or the generalization of an acquired habit is in proportion to the generalization of the method or of the assimilated idea.

All learning must proceed from the known to the unknown. If a man cannot correlate an unknown thing with something familiar to him, he cannot get at its meaning. Therefore the teacher must know and use the learner’s "apperceptive mass" in order to teach him. The apperceptive mass is the sum of his experience contained in the phantasms, concepts and emotional associations which have been registered in his consciousness. One of the chief problems of the teacher is to draw upon the student’s apperception in such a way that when he proposes a new idea of a new object, the student will be able to associate it with some idea or mental image he already has. Because inexperienced teachers have not yet gauged the level of mental development of a class, they sometimes "talk over the students’ heads," that is they do not make enough connections with the apperceptive mass. New teachers will do well to analyze consciously the thinking process of their students until they develop "resonance" with it.

The Importance of Motivation

The affective aspects of learning should not be neglected. Interest and motivation are indispensable to genuine learning. Learning should be directed toward goals which are meaningful to students and accepted by them. They cannot make a wholehearted effort if they do not know what they are expected to accomplish and what value that accomplishment will have; still less so if they do not desire the outcome.

In order to form a habit, the essential thing is not the repetition of the act, but the assimilation of a value (moral, intellectual, aesthetic). Mere drill, without purpose, drill which lacks a "desired end" in view, will not develop a habit. However, merely imparting of ideals, exhortation, or even inspiring example, without some drill in the practical realization of the ideals will not produce a habit, either. The result is that no habit can be formed in an environment which is hostile, artificial, or incapable of arousing the immanent powers of the soul.

The essential task of the educator consists in unveiling the values which are hidden under the various forms of creation. These values are true, the good, the beautiful, which are vibrant in all creation and which appear under a particular aspect in the great works of literature. These are all reflections of the Creator. This is the most effective motivation. It is for this reason, too, that enthusiasm is the great gift of the teacher.

Our aim is to form students — to build intellectual and moral habits. It is impossible to do this by any process in which the student remains passive. Right here is the explanation of the reason why our teaching sometimes fails. Too often the teacher reads a textbook to uninterested students. There is no formation of habits. The teacher can set up the model for performance, he can inspire the student to perform, he can coach him as he performs; but the student must perform the actions himself if he is really to master the process. Good methods are methods which enlist the active participation of the student. The teacher’s function is to create the mental situation and to stimulate the immanent activity of the student. It is good to compare the teacher’s position with that of a master craftsman teaching a craft to apprentices.

Guidelines for the teaching of english in the elementary school — Compiled by the SSPX

Once, someone asked Mother Janet Erskine Stuart1 "why have we spent so long upon the teaching of English in the short time at our disposal?" and she answered:

"Because it is the fundamentally important subject to learn:

  • As an instrument necessary for all else.
    – For accurate expression in science and mathematics — for the true use of words, the gate to philosophical studies — for the beautiful use of words — literature is human thought and feeling beautifully expressed.
  • As a discipline of mind.
    – To make us know what we think, what we mean, and what we mean to say. It clarifies our ideas like nothing else.
  • As a discipline of character.
    – It is a help to truthfulness, to moderation, to patience (the quest of the right word), to self-control — ‘Prune thou thy words.’
  • As an artistic training.
    – It helps the formation of taste, which is judgment exercised in the matter of beauty.
    – To learn what to admire, and what to condemn, is much and also why to admire, and why to condemn."

So, we can now answer the question:

What is the goal of the english class?

  • The goal of the English class, through the use of beautiful texts, is to gain an understanding of human nature.
  • This knowledge acquired through good literature will be a powerful help for our spiritual life (teachers should read what Dr. David Allen White has written on this subject).
  • It also helps us become accustomed to express beautifully, either orally or in writing, ideas and sentiments which are accurate and personal.
  • The goal of the English class is not to form scholars or specialists, but to acquire some mastery of our own tongue.
  • As a consequence, spelling and grammar do not come first in teaching English. They have to be understood as tools, never disconnected from the expression of ideas. Language is an instrument to communicate thought.

1. Reading aloud to the class

Language is primarily spoken. This is why the teaching of language, as an art imitating nature, must use the spoken or phonetic form of words as the primary means for teaching reading. Reading aloud should be the first way of testing reading comprehension, of making the learner familiar with the role of punctuation marks, or engaging the learner in the full emotional experience that literature ought to yield, or providing an appreciation for the cadenced and hence ordered character of all works of the mind. One can teach a pupil to put a period at the end of a sentence by first identifying the end of a sentence as a place where one drops one’s voice.

Not only should the students read aloud, but the teacher should also read to the class. This can be done at the end of the day. The children always look forward to a good story. It is also an excellent way to train them to thoughtful listening. Once, Father Finn, SJ, was given a difficult class. He found that the best way to obtain discipline was to read them a story as a reward for good behavior.

Reading aloud can be an excellent homework assignment as well. Parents and other siblings can easily listen for five minutes a day. This is an excellent way to show children that reading is important to the family, too.

Mother Stuart used to give a reading class to her teachers. She wrote that such a class gives:

  • "Some understanding of the importance of reading well aloud, and of what is important in it.
  • Courage to admit to our hearers that we have some feeling of sympathy with what we are reading (a thing some appear to feel bound in honor to keep as a dark secret).
  • Some realization of the effects of good reading in developing things that have their springs very deep: self-control, patience, consideration for others, active thought for them, positively and negatively. We have to remember that we read for them, not for ourselves, and so must not put too much of our personal idiosyncrasies into our reading lest it may jar on them. It teaches the necessity of consideration for our author and our audience and forgetfulness of ourselves."

As Dr. Otto Willman2 says, reading aloud is a:

"valuable asset of instruction and a capital of which the teacher should make the most profitable use. The teacher, who can do justice to a story, approaches in power the rhapsodist. The pupils will not only listen to her, but will hang breathlessly upon her every word as upon a rhapsodist’s. In this way the teacher will not only win their interest, but infuse into their soul sympathy with what is great and noble, and enthusiastic devotion to high ideals."

2. The role of grammar

Grammar is the study of a language, spoken or written. First, of the elements which constitute this language: this is morphology. Secondly, of the functions and relations which link the elements to one another is syntax.

Grammar could be called a descriptive knowledge. What is the object of this description? The elements of the language and their arrangements, therefore the structure of the language, its constructions, the diagrams, the models in which human thought is expressed, since language is the body of the thought.

The study of grammar, while indispensable, is secondary in the study of any language, beginning with our own. Before all else, through the contact with great works of literature, the goals of the English class are to root us in a tradition, and to make us discern the true nature of man. It is also to teach us how to express ourselves. Besides, even to express ourselves correctly, the study of grammar does not suffice in itself; it is an auxiliary, and nothing more. Reading great writers teaches us more on this level, owing to a prolonged and frequent contact with beautiful language.

As a consequence, we should seldom if ever isolate the study of grammar from the study of a text. It is very important to connect this technical study of the language to the expression of thought, since grammar is but an instrument.

However, we must be careful never to do grammatical exercises taken from a poem. A poem is a work of art; but in dissecting it into subjects, direct objects, adverbs, prepositions, etc…. one destroys it. It is a destruction of the music of the words, and an annihilation of its transcendence, that is, what it tells us beyond words. As G.K. Chesterton says:

"Pleasure in the beautiful is a sacred thing; if a child feels that there is an indescribable witchery in the wedding of two words he feels it alone, as he feels his vanities and his dreams, in places where he cannot be badgered or overlooked or philosophically educated. The act of insisting upon his analyzing the holy thing, I think, without the smallest doubt or the smallest desire to exaggerate, is as insolent as asking him to dissect his favorite kitten or account for his preference for his mother."

3. The study of spelling

The Dominican teaching sisters have made the following remarks about the important subject. It does not seem good to have the student memorize lists of words isolated from a text, for the sole benefit of enriching a collection of completely disincarnate vocabulary.

Of course, it is necessary to learn spelling, but we should never dissociate this study from a text, where words are included in a sentence and the sentence in a text. When we understand the text well, it helps to understand the words used to express the thought. The "context" is indispensable to the true understanding of the word. It will also help to memorize the spelling of a word. When this word is seen in the context of a beautiful sentence, this beautiful sentence has a better chance to strike our mind, and thus to inscribe itself more deeply in our memory, rather than if it is in the middle of a list of dry and disconnected words, without soul or life.

To study our language does not mean to dissect it into a multiplicity of material elements, separated from one another. Such a study, far from leading to a better comprehension of the language, presents the danger of reducing it to something merely material, whereas its fundamental role is to convey thought. Language allows a mind to communicate with another mind. It is a matter of spiritual communication, which needs words, and yet transcends words. This is especially true in the case of poetry, or with knowledge in the supernatural domain of the Faith and of revealed Truth.

4. Dictation, in general

Dictation is very useful in teaching correct writing. The children work from models of beautiful writing. They see and study correct spelling and punctuation and are able to enjoy excellent writing of various styles. Laura Berquist3, the renowned educator, has analyzed well this topic, which is of great importance for a classical education.

Prepared Dictation

In a prepared dictation, the teacher goes through the passage with the child, line by line, noting and giving a reason for every capital, comma, semicolon, colon, period, question mark, exclamation mark, and quotation mark. Difficult spellings are gone over as well. The teacher then dictates the passage to the child, who writes it from the dictation. This way the student gives concentrated attention to the mechanics of writing in a situation where he is writing material that has been put together because it goes together, as opposed to material artificially put together to try to highlight examples of writing mechanics.

Unprepared Dictation

In an unprepared dictation, the teacher reads an entire passage that the child has not studied beforehand (although it could be a text from his reader that he has seen before). As soon as the student finishes the first set of words, the teacher reads the rest of the sentence, waits for the student to write it and then moves on to the next set of words. The dictation doesn’t take long this way, but it does provide a model of good writing and practice in spelling and punctuation.

In summary, the unprepared dictation is administered as follows:

  • Teacher reads whole selection.
  • Students repeat what was said.
  • Teacher reads selection again in little sections as students write.
  • Teacher repeats whole selection one last time as student reads work and corrects it, if necessary.


Another form of dictation is called auto-dictation. The child has to write a text from memory. A good example of this might be a poem or a song that has been learned previously.

Value of Dictation

Dictation is useful to cultivate attention and to teach spelling in an interesting way, not mechanical but integrated into the study of literature. It should be done on a daily basis in the elementary school (frequency should be dependent on grade level).

5. The importance of good literature

The reading of beautiful texts is irreplaceable for culture. To explain a text is to unfold it or to open it, respecting its contents and communicating with the true values it contains. This nourishes our students. We should treat literary work as literary work, as work belonging first to art, presenting first a vision of beauty. We have to allow ourselves to be enchanted, captivated by the work, without forgetting to keep our head and reason. Because a literary work is not a philosophical thesis, it speaks to our intelligence through our sensibility, which it can rouse, touch or make vibrate. But we cannot read it only from the purely esthetic point of view, which is impossible, because there are moral values involved necessarily. Thus we have to be attentive to the values of Christian life. For in every literary work of any grandeur, the question of the conception of man is involved. Creators of characters, speakers of words, inventors of harmonies, makers of situations, the great writers are all of that. Without that, they would not be great writers.

Teaching the classics in the English speaking world presents however one problem. Dr. John Senior4 has expressed it well:

"The upshot of the difficulty is that the heart, indeed, the very delicate viscera, the physical constitution and emotional dispositions as well as the imaginations, of children will be formed by authors who are off the Catholic center and some very far off; and yet, not to read them is not to develop these essential aptitudes and faculties."

We should be careful not to exaggerate the difficulty. "The worst failure in English classical literature is indirect, that is its omissions — the conspicuous absence of Our Blessed Mother and the Blessed Sacrament and, following from the loss of these principal mysteries, all the rich accidentals of Catholic life, the veneration of saints and relics, the use of medals, scapulars, holy water, Rosaries… These omissions must be compensated for by a rich, Catholic and especially Latin liturgical life."

We think that we should not deprive our students from the treasures contained in Robert Louis Stevenson, Walter Scott or Charles Dickens simply because these authors are not Catholic. "English literature has been done and can’t be done again, the best since Greece and Rome, full of beauty, good and truth — and Protestant. As the Children of Israel took Egyptian gold and silver vessels on the Exodus, so it is with us and classic books which, although Protestant, are doubly Catholic to a Catholic because he feels the pain of what they lack."

In addition to such classics as Treasure Island or Robinson Crusoe, children should become familiar with such authors as Fr. Francis Finn [available from ANGELUS PRESS] or Hilda Van Stockum.These Catholic writers (and several others like them) are able to form a Catholic mentality in our students and this is why they should be included in our literature lists (Br. Schuster's essay, "The Role of Catholic Literature".

The reading of the authors from the past reveals to us the mystery of man and the context of a civilization which is past, allowing us to understand better the world in which we live. It would not be good to study only contemporary authors. Even to understand these authors and to grasp their impact, it is good to read them with reference to the great works of the past. But we need to see clearly that reading the authors of the past interests us insofar as their works bear a message which is still valid, inasmuch as they are expressing eternal values and thus they are in a way, authors of the present.

6. The superiority of "living books" over textbooks

School readers that contain excerpts of whole books have several drawbacks. The first one is taken from the human nature of the teacher. a As Fr. Drinkwater5 says:

"School Readers, in essence and origin, are an attempt to make it possible for children to learn something without teachers, or without competent teachers; and they tend to create the conditions they presuppose. Thus, if I were a teacher teaching some subject by means of a School Reader, I should be under a constant temptation to say, ‘Get out your reading books’; and the end of it would be that the children would know only the book and not the subject."

The second drawback is taken from the human nature of the student. There is no doubt that he will get more out of reading the complete story from beginning to end than out of reading a fragment of it. Well chosen books stimulate thought in a manner which cannot be attained through readers. A good book read by an entire class during a couple of months is always a great learning experience. As a teacher was saying, "After reading such a book, my students are always different (for the better)". The various themes contained in the story are discussed together. Often the students will remember having studied such a book several years ago whereas they will not remember the excerpts in an anthology.

A third drawback is that the School Reader tends to create a positive distaste for books:

"If it is all readable, any child of ordinary curiosity has read it all from cover to cover in the first week or two; and to return to it regularly during a whole term, or whole year, is neither work or play, but mere irredeemable boredom which soon induces on the one hand the habit of day-dreaming, and on the other, that hatred of everything in book form with which most pupils leave school." (Fr. Drinkwater)

Does this mean that we should do away with English textbooks? No, especially since some readers (Faith and Freedom, National, Cardinal, De La Salle etc…) contain some good stories (that are for the most part well written) by which the children are able to be nourished. So we can use these textbooks in an intelligent manner, selecting the best excerpts for study in the classroom and using the rest as supplementary reading. A teacher who has several grades in one and the same classroom or several reading levels in one and the same grade will also find these readers helpful. But we should always use besides those readers several well-chosen classics to study as a class. These 3 or 4 books have to be adapted to the grade level of our students. There are several lists available to help teachers select the best books for their pupils. Great literature is the best way to form the minds of children, and this can only be done through reading living books and not just textbooks.

In the choice of books, we will not only include classical literature but also some works by recent Catholic writers because of the special value of Catholic literature. Every teacher should read the wonderful essay on this subject by Brother George N. Schuster.

7. The art of questioning

One of the best ways to stimulate thinking in the intellects of our students is through skillful questioning. As someone said, "The teacher’s fish-hook is the interrogation point, for with his questions he angles in the minds of his scholars for facts, conclusions, inferences and judgments — the results of all mental processes. …But to be most effective, questions must be well made."When the teacher does most of the talking, the minds of the students are apt to remain more or less inactive. Nothing wakes up the mind more quickly and thoroughly than a direct question. To put his pupils on the alert, to hold their attention, to arouse their curiosity, to fix truth in their memory and to apply it to their conscience, to keep them active instead of passive — for all these ends the teacher will find nothing more helpful than the practice of frequent questioning. Training the pupil to think is one of the chief objects of education; and in trying to answer questions the pupil is set thinking in order to supply the missing element.

Since good questioning is so important for effective teaching, teachers will strive to acquire this intellectual craft. Mother Stuart told her teachers that "To acquire the art of questioning was to cultivate a habit of clear expression of thought. One questions as one talks. Good questioning, like good expositions, is the outcome of habits of clear thought and precise expression. Here, as elsewhere, general life-habits dominate school-work."

Fr. Kirsch6 gives good advice in this matter. If the teacher asks a question he expects an answer, and it is evident therefore that the question should be so worded that an answer is possible. It is a waste of time to ask a pupil questions that he cannot be expected to answer either because he has never learned the matter, or because the subject is altogether beyond his capacity. A really good question requires some hard thinking on the part of the teacher as well as the pupil: on the part of the teacher, because she must seek to ascertain before questioning, what that pupil can be expected to know; on the part of the pupil, because he must set his mind working in order to find the answer.

The teacher must insist that the pupils answer what was asked for, and not something else that may pertain, perhaps only in a remote way, to the matter in hand. Nor should the teacher be satisfied with half an answer, or tolerate the practice of pupils who hide their ignorance by beating about the bush. If the pupil cannot answer, or gives a wrong answer, the teacher should try, in most cases, to lead him to discover the correct answer. If this is impossible or if it involves loss of time, then another pupil should be invited to give the answer, though the teacher must still make sure that the first pupil will get to know the matter.

It is a point of special importance that the answer be given in a complete sentence. We all know from experience how much easier it is to give one word answers instead of a complete sentence. But consider what is missed, what valuable opportunities are lost for language training if the teacher is satisfied with single words or with half sentences. The teacher must furthermore demand grammatical correctness. What improvement shall we ever expect of our pupils if we allow them to use slang expressions or ungrammatical speech in the schoolroom?

Let the teacher give much time and effort to the acquiring of the difficult art of questioning. Nothing impresses a visitor to a schoolroom more favorably than the teacher’s ability in this regard. The character and quality of classroom instruction can, with comparative accuracy, be discovered by a study of the character of the questioning. It is, indeed, a pleasure to visit a class where the pupils vie with one another in answering whatever question has been asked, for this rivalry is a visible proof of the alertness of the children and the teacher’s skill. But the best evidence of the teacher’s skill is her ability to let a few questions start the class in giving a connected treatment of a subject.

It is a good rule to make one question go as far as possible, and for the teacher to come prepared with a number of pivotal questions. Strayer remarks: "A half dozen thoroughly good questions often make a recitation a most stimulating exercise, while the absence of this preparation on the part of a teacher not infrequently results in the ordinarily listless period which may actually be harmful to the child’s intellectual growth."

8. The case against workbooks

Cardinal Newman7 gives this definition of the instruction given in the elementary school: "a discipline in accuracy of mind". The great Cardinal then explains that the problem of modern students is the "haziness of intellectual vision" caused by "shrinking from the effort and labor of thinking." The consequence is that when they grow up, our students "will have no consistency, steadiness, or perseverance; they will not be able to make a telling speech, or to write a good letter, or to fling in debate a smart antagonist, unless so far as, now and then, mother-wit supplies a sudden capacity, which cannot be ordinarily counted on. They cannot state an argument or a question, or take a clear survey of a whole transaction, or give sensible and appropriate advice under difficulties, or do any of those things which inspire confidence and gain influence, which raise a man in life, and make him useful to his religion or his country."

How can we develop the intellects of our students? We have to arm ourselves with patience. Rome was not built in a day, and buildings will not stand without foundations. If our students are to be taught well, they must be taught slowly, and step by step. A good teacher will not be afraid to spend time on a particular page if he sees that it is stimulating the minds of his pupils. Quality comes before quantity.

One of the problems of modern education is the abuse of workbooks. When used in a systematic way, they tend to lead the child to develop automatic reflexes so that he fills in the blanks without thinking. Very little true learning is accomplished. The exercises tend to be artificial, the sentences meaningless and personal effort is therefore not encouraged. In traditional education, the students were using a notebook in which they were writing dictations, compositions, diagramming etc… They were not just filling in the blanks but writing whole sentences and whole paragraphs. Penmanship was thereby greatly improved. Students were also proud of their notebooks. A workbook is thrown away after use whereas a beautifully kept notebook (poetry, history, religion) can be kept throughout life.

The shortcomings of multiple-choice questions are evident enough: shaky knowledge is sufficient to recognize the answer, guessing yields rather good results, intelligent discrimination among the answers may enable one to find the correct solution even if one did not know it. It is therefore no true way of assessing a child’s solid knowledge. Oral questions are often the best way to really find out if the child has grasped a particular point.

Does this mean that workbooks are never to be used in our classrooms? No, in fact they may be necessary in certain circumstances (several grades in the same classroom, etc…). Obviously, they should only be used with great moderation. Good teachers will much prefer oral exercises or using the blackboard and the notebook. Workbooks favor laziness of the mind since they do not require much intellectual effort. We do not want our students to fill out worksheets in a mechanical way, but to think accurately.

9. The place of poetry in the curriculum

We should foster in our students a love of the beautiful and true and a corresponding distaste for what is ugly and false. Children’s sense of beauty can be encouraged in various ways. The so-called fine arts include music, painting, literature etc. Attention to such things will aid in the kind of intellectual formation that is the object of a classical education because it will strengthen and inform the imagination, which must be developed in the right way to do its job well. Laura Berquist has stressed in her writings the importance of poetry for education (cf. also Dr. David Allen White's series on "T.S. Elliot: The Wasteland" available from

Poetry is one of the forms of the beautiful that is relatively accessible to children. Children respond to patterns of sound and enjoy the rhythm of poetry, if they are introduced to it before someone tells them they shouldn’t like it. Poetry is naturally pleasant to the ordinary child, and pleasure is a sign teachers should never ignore.

Mother Stuart, speaking of the cultivation of the love of the beautiful in children, explained that it tended to make them thoughtful, not childish, and awakened the true human element in them, making them grow up. "It has been suggested that beauty gives to children what suffering gives to older people something completed, accomplished in the best sense."

Children are very good at imitation because it is the way God intends them to learn. We need to keep this in mind for all areas of our children’s development, moral and intellectual. Children need models of right behavior and of excellence in all the scholastic areas that are appropriate for them to pursue. The right use and richness of language is an area that is most appropriate for the formation of children. For this reason they should be exposed to the best examples of the use of language that we can give them. Beautiful word patterns and sounds, the right choice of words, and methods of producing particular responses can be imitated by children who have had good models. Language development is significantly enriched by exposure to good poetry.

Additionally, in all of the fine arts, one of the chief benefits of appreciation is seeing the world through the eyes of the artist. His gift of observation is given to the student when the work is studied. For this reason a painting can be better than a photograph in drawing the viewer’s attention to certain aspects of a particular scene, for example, the lighting or the composition of the figures. Similarly, poetry can be a better way to draw attention to certain truths or to make some facet of an experience stand out. Excellent poetry will both direct the student’s attention to these aspects of reality and model the best way to share that experience.

Also, poetry appeals to the emotions, as does music, and like music, beautiful and rightly ordered poetry can habituate or train the soul to the right kind of internal movement. Familiarity with truly good poetry will encourage children to love the good, to hope for its victory, and to feel sad at its demise. The opposite habituation is very clear to see in children who watch or read stories in which the grotesque is taken for granted. They cease to be shocked by what is really disgusting. That is a great loss to the soul.

Young children are good at memorization; they pick up jumping-rope rhymes and doggerel verses without effort. We should encourage this inclination and ability by having the children memorize fine poetry, among other things. This will strengthen the imagination and memory, as well as prepare the children for the subsequent stages of intellectual development. Since poetry draws attention to specific aspects of experience, regular exposure to poetry will reinforce children’s observational powers.

Continued practice in memorization will stretch the faculty of imagination. Like any power of the soul, repeated use of the power will improve it. Children who memorize regularly find it easy to do, and a good memory is a real asset to the intellectual life. We should start by reading the poem to our students.

If the poems are short and adapted to the grade level of the students, it seems possible to memorize one every week or at least every two weeks. Once the poem is learned, the child should enter it in a "Poetry Notebook", which could contain illustrations. The poem can be photocopied when the child is too young to write well (e.g., first grade). As the student gets older, he should write the poem in his notebook himself. Soon he will have his own personal anthology, full of poetry he knows and enjoys.

10. The teaching of composition

Creative writing encourages personal thought, originality and imagination. It is good to acquire skill in expressing one’s own interior world on paper. It also helps to be able to describe persons, events or situations accurately. Good writing is possible only when the student really knows his subject. This is why composition themes should at least up to 6th grade be about familiar and concrete things: first his personal experience, e.g., how I spent last Sunday, what I saw on my way to school. What I did yesterday evening after my homework etc… Essays for children need to give clear boundaries and expectations.

After the child has learned to write about his own doings he may be given subjects dealing with his family or neighbors, e.g., how my father planted a tree in the garden, how my mother baked a cake. Last, the teacher may move to more difficult subjects. e.g., what episode of Our Lord’s life was last Sunday’s gospel about, what my favorite book is and why.

The classics the students read for literature offer plentiful material for composition work. These books stimulate their interests so it should be easy to find subjects which will arouse their enthusiasm and therefore bring out good writing. In 7th and 8th grade, students can be initiated to write a real "dissertation", e.g., what motivation such character had, how they judge his actions, what would have happened if he had acted differently etc. It is then that the teacher can form their judgment and help them have a Catholic perspective on life.

One important point in teaching composition is this: if we really want our students to improve their writing skills, we need to correct their first draft so they can write a second draft with the benefit of our guidance. It is the only way for them to acquire the "craft" of writing. They are apprentices and the teacher is the master craftsman. He shows them how to do the work. The introduction should give a preview of what the composition is about, clearly indicating the topic and the student’s purpose in writing about it. The body must consist of paragraphs which are well articulated so that the current of thought flows smoothly throughout the whole composition. The conclusion is often a brief summary of the composition. The teacher should make helpful suggestions in correcting the first draft so that the second draft will incorporate them into their work.

Mother Stuart told her teachers "that she would reserve to herself the pleasure of giving them a weekly class in English composition". They met in her room on Wednesday evenings, a subject was given to be developed in a paper of about five hundred words, and returned to her by five o’clock the following Tuesday. At the next meeting these papers were read aloud, and criticized first by them, then by her, and finally revised according to a scheme which she prepared each week.

A short outline had to be written at the head of each essay, however brief. Sometimes entire paragraphs were remodeled by her and handed to them with their next paper. This continued for nine weeks. She was quite merciless in the criticism of certain faults, such as exaggeration, inaccurate statements, phrases that had no thought behind them, meaningless adjectives, and above all what she called "cheap writing" a superficial, easy manner of handling a subject without having "thought to a finish", as she said once, apologizing for giving an answer after very short notice. She always gave them the reasons for her rejection of a word, and substituted others with a note of interrogation, submitting them to their approval.

Good writing, whether for teachers or for students, is an excellent tool for the formation of the mind.

As a summary, here is a checklist for the principal who is evaluating one of his teachers:


  • Is the teacher reading aloud to his class everyday?
  • Is phonics (in younger grades) incorporated in the English class?
  • Have the students been given the assignment to read aloud to their parents?


  • Is the teacher effectively teaching grammar?
  • Have the students a good knowledge of the parts of speech?
  • Are they proficient in the art of diagramming sentences?


  • What is the spelling level of the students?
  • Does the teacher make the effort of correcting the spelling mistakes of the students in their notebooks?
  • Is the study of spelling integrated into the different parts of the English program or is it disconnected (spelling lists)?


  • Are dictations done regularly?
  • Are they corrected with diligence?
  • Are the poor spellers getting extra help from the teachers?


  • Are the students led to appreciate good literature?
  • Is the teacher instilling a love of reading in his students?
  • Do the students have many good books to read at home?


  • Are readers (consisting of excerpts) the only books used in the classroom or is the teacher also using complete works of literature?
  • Are these books well chosen so as to nourish their minds?
  • Does the teacher possess a good knowledge of these books so that he can share this knowledge with his students?


  • Does the teacher ask enough questions to his students?
  • Are these questions well prepared so as to lead the pupils to think?
  • Does he try to involve every student in the discussion or only the bright outgoing ones?


  • Is the teacher using workbooks in a way which defeats the purpose of education?
  • Are workbooks encouraging the teacher’s laziness so that he no longer teaches but merely corrects the fill-in-the-blank exercises?
  • Is the teacher developing penmanship through the students’ writing whole paragraphs in their notebooks?


  • Are the students memorizing poems on a regular basis?
  • Are they able to recite them with expression?
  • Is the teacher explaining these poems to the pupils so that they may be led to enjoy them?


  • Are the students given a composition on a regular basis?
  • Are the subjects well chosen?
  • Is the teacher correcting the first draft so that the student can write a second draft with the benefit of his teacher’s observations so as to improve his writing skill?


  1. Mother Janet Erskine Stuart (1857-1914) Superior General of the Sisters of the Sacred Heart (teaching order founded by St. Madeleine Sophie Barat). She is the author of several books, amongst them The Education of Catholic Girls.
  2. Dr. Otto Willman, German writer, author of The Science of Education (translated by Fr. Kirsch).
  3. Laura Berquist — American educator with a Thomistic formation, author of Designing Your Own Classical Curriculum. She advocates a return to the tradition of the liberal arts.Most of the material on dictation and poetry is taken from her excellent book The Harp and the Laurel Wreath.
  4. Dr. John Senior (1923-1999) Professor at the University of Kansas, author of The Restoration of Christian Culture (see Reading list for Educators). He is famous for helping to inspire many students to convert to Catholicism (an estimated 200).
  5. Fr. Francis Drinkwater (born in 1886) English writer, author of many articles on education. He showed in them a great desire to improve teaching methods and was subsequently made Diocesan Inspector of schools by the Archbishop of Birmingham.
  6. Fr. Felix Firsch, OFMcap. Professor at the Catholic University of America, author of The Catholic Teacher’s Companion in 1924 (see Reading List for Educators).
  7. Cardinal John Henry Newman (1801-1890) English writer, author of The Idea of a University (see Reading List for Educators).

Suggested literature program (for the Elementary School) — Compiled by the SSPX

The books selected for this program fulfill three requirements:

  1. They are interesting to read. "A good book is a magic gateway into a wider world of wonder, beauty, delight and adventure." (Gladys Hunt). Sometimes it is the story itself which is fascinating, sometimes it is the characters which are capturing our imagination and sometimes we are enjoying the book because we are transported to a faraway place we would never know otherwise.

  2. They are well written. Their authors manifest excellent gifts of imagination coupled with a superior grasp of language use and pleasing style. Fine literature must cause the following: "Vocabulary is built, reading and spelling skills are greatly aided, and repeated exposure to various models of good writing help the reader learn to put his or her own thoughts into an effective written form." (Elizabeth Wilson)

  3. They convey ideals in harmony with our Catholic Faith. Sometimes the author is Catholic and the story will stir within the reader love for supernatural virtue as in Fabiola. Often the author is not Catholic but nevertheless writes so as to promote good natural virtues. When a child identifies with a character who manifests courage, kindness or honesty, all these qualities are reinforced in the child’s soul. "A good moral education addresses both the cognitive and affective dimensions of human nature. Stories are an irreplaceable medium for this kind of moral education — that is, the education of character." (Vigen Guroian)

The LIST is only a suggestion. A book suggested for 7th grade will likely be suitable for 8th grade and vice versa. Other books may be substituted if need be. Some of the titles are old "classics" (Winnie the Pooh, The Wind in the Willows, Treasure Island, etc…). Some are from recent authors (Charlotte’s Web, The Good Master, The Door in the Wall, etc…). We included two series about the "wild west" (The Little House on the Prairie and Little Britches) so that children will appreciate their American roots. Some books have one central theme which is developed throughout the book (family life in Cottage at Bantry Bay, choice of a vocation in Shadow of a Bull, zeal for the Faith in the Outlaws of Ravenhurst), some others have several ideas in the same story.

The reviews have been written by a variety of teachers. Some are more complete than others. However, they should all be helpful. We hope that this list will be improved with the help of teachers and parents. We conclude with these words of the famous Father Francis Finn, SJ: "One of the greatest things in the world is to get the right book into the hands of the right boy or girl. No one can indulge in reading to any extent without being largely influenced for better or for worse."

Children's literature: K – 2nd Grade

Nursery Rhymes

No pre-school or kindergarten is complete without a good Mother Goose, a generous collection for the teacher, with all the old songs that we ever heard of, and some that we do not know, like Whittington's Bells. Long before the child's hands are strong enough to hold a volume of any size, or his eyes ready to focus on pictures, the routine of bathing and dressing and eating is enlivened by rhymes, chanted, recited or sung. Was there ever a child who would not chuckle over, "This little pig went to market" or "Dance, Thumbkin, dance", who would not find the putting on of shoes less tedious with, "Shoe the old horse, shoe the old mare"; would not forget that he was tired of poached egg, when each spoonful approached ceremoniously with "Knock at the door, peep in, lift the latch and walk in!"

The practice of avoiding friction wherever possible in training up the young in the way they should go has saved much wear and tear on the nerves of both teacher and child. Here Mother Goose is an ever present help. Not only is the attention of a rebellious little individual diverted from destructive activity, frustrated energy is turned eagerly and positively to the enjoyment of droll situations and dramatic happenings, and incidentally to the learning of new words and lively expressions. For instance, when a child fell, one mother, in order to cheer him up chanted to him: "Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall. Humpty Dumpty has a great fall etc...." Immediately tears gave place to laughter.

When people tell me that children do not care for this kind of thing, I remember that a writer once suggested the source of the trouble when he said: "Do you know what is wrong with people who never read nursery rhymes? I will tell you. When little boys and girls grow bigger and older, they should always grow from the outside, leaving a little child that once they were within them. But some unlucky people grow older from the inside, and so grow old through and through. "

Nursery rhymes are alive and sparkling, not by grace of the printed page, but because they come by human speech passed along from one generation to another, a sort of daisy chain linking the human family in loving enjoyment of living and playing together.

There is the greatest fun in pointing up familiar things and everyday occasions with verses of this kind, which, because of the pattern of words and the singing of rhymes, are easily and happily tucked away in the memory.

A teacher once said (I think it was during the second World War): "The only thing I can be sure of is that we must give them beauty in every form we can discover. For my own part, I am teaching every class as if it were for the last time."It seems a far cry from Mother Goose and poems in praise of everyday things to civilian morale and the welfare of children in time of war. But if poetry is a part of one's own inner resources, what could be more natural than to share its "merry serviceableness" ? Not every child will respond: some may not have the kind of perceptiveness that poetry requires. But I think it a pity to leave out of any child's experience the chance to discover what delight and comfort it can be.

Meaning, per se, is a rather secondary consideration in our choice of poetry for sharing, for it is one of the subtlest and most valuable properties of great poetry that it speaks to the feelings rather than to the intellect. What for the moment has no applicable meaning for the child, because of his limited experience, is often committed readily and joyously to memory for the music of the words and the haunting quality of the images. Years later, it will flower in all the nobility of its intention, to illuminate and enrich experience. James Stephens' The Poppy Field, for instance, suggests a more penetrating sense of relative values than will concern the small listener, but a seed is dropped, along with the flowers. This is one of the concrete reasons why we feel that poetry is an essential to the full development of the child's spiritual faculties: memory is in the early years both receptive and tenacious, and if it is stored with "images of magnificence" there will be the less room for what is cheap and ugly. Then, too, familiarity with the language of genuine poetry gives breadth and color to the child's speech, and this in itself stimulates a sharpened perception of external beauties and spiritual truths.


A Child's Garden of Verses is a volume that must stand upon a shelf apart; it has to stand alone, for there exists in no language any book that may be placed beside it. None but Robert Louis Stevenson has left behind him, in one small rhyming volume, the key to that locked door which lies between most men and the impenetrable garden of their childhood. There seems to be three main impulses that stir a poet when he sings of children or of childhood. The first is love — the love of one child or the wide love that embraces all children. The second is Childlikeness — for there remains alive in many of us (thank God) an indestructible child which will at times play pranks or burst into song. The third is memory - memory so keen that we, in certain moods, reconquer our childhood's very self.

In this wonderful book, it is as if we were listening to the voice of a child who becomes our playmate all through these lovely poems: "Of speckled eggs the birdie sings and nests among the trees" — we prepare to run out and play with our little friend, but he has already left the garden and wandered away to the sea: he beholds ships and hears the children sing in distant lands... So we take refuge in a homelier scene. "When I was sick and lay a-bed, I had two pillows at my head..." Yes, we have all known this. Leaden soldiers or china dolls, we have all peopled the hills of the bed and found comfort in the pleasant land of counterpane: "I was the giant great and still, that sits upon the pillow-hill, and sees before him, dale and plain, the pleasant land of counterpane. "

We have begun to discern the music; as we turn the pages to and fro, fresh pulsations and fresh rhythms seize us. Listen, here is a windy night: "Whenever the moon and stars are set, whenever the wind is high, all night long in the dark and the wet, a man goes riding by. Late in the night when the fires are out, why does he gallop and gallop about?"

How the child loves the wind! "I saw you toss the kites on high, and blow the birds about the sky; O wind, a-blowing all day long, O wind, that sings so loud a song!"By this time we know how to sing with our playfellow: "Green leaves a-floating: castles of the foam, boats of mine a-boating — where will all come home?" He loves the wind, but he loves the water too. "Winds are in the air, they are blowing in the Spring, and waves are on the meadows like the waves there are at sea. Smooth it slides upon its travel, here a wimple, there a gleam. O the, clean gravel! O the smooth stream!"

This child has two kingdoms: the narrow world of home, familiar, kind, and the wide world of his dreams. He was born to rove, the sort of fetter of home can only bind the fragile limbs, they cannot restrain the ardent spirit. While around the fire his parents sit, away behind the sofa back he lies in his hunter's camp, singing: "These are the hills, these are the woods, these are my starry solitudes." The home is dear, its security enfolds him. Dear is the hearth; he sings of "Happy chimney-corner days, sitting safe in nursery nook..." — the firelight flickers through his songs: but from the lights and shadows of home he escapes passionately to the wide world beyond: "The lights from the parlour and kitchen shone out, through the blinds and the windows and bars; and high overhead and all moving about, there were thousands of millions of stars."

The child knows how to escape from solitude: "When at home alone I sit and am very tired of it, I have to just shut my eyes to go sailing through the skies." A seeker of delight, he finds it everywhere; alone, he founds a kingdom down by a shining water-well, singing: "I made a boat, I made a town, I searched the caverns up and down. This was the world and I was the king; for me the bees came by to sing, for me the swallows flew." Was ever a child so happy? All the beauty of life out of doors kindles song in him; he sings of the grass: "Through all the pleasant meadow-side, the grass grew shoulder-high, till the shining scythes wed far and wide and cut it down to dry." He sings of the hayloft: "O what a joy to clamber there, O what a place for play, with the sweet, the dim, the dusty air, the happy hills of hay." And when he parts from such joys he parts tearless, exultant: "And fare you well forevermore, O ladder of the hayloft door, O hayloft where the cobwebs cling, good-bye, good-bye, to everything."

What child ever opened a wider heart to the good joys of God's earthly bounty? He sings of, "Happy hearts and happy faces, happy play in grassy places." — he proclaims his faith in happiness: "the world is so full of a number of things, I'm sure we should all be as happy as Kings." O joyful child! Like the soldier he hid underground. "He has lived, a little thing, in the grassy woods of spring. He has seen the starry hours. and the springing of the flowers." — he has heard "Under the May's whole heaven of blue, strange birds a-singings or the trees, swing in the big robber woods, or the bells on many fairy citadels..."He is so happy that he cries to the other children of the world: "Little Indian, Sioux or Crow, Little frosty Eskimo, Little Turk or Japanese, O don't you wish that you were me. "

Fairy tales

The great Jesuit priest Father Daniel Lord explained how his mother introduced him to all the wonderful books of childhood: "She read me all the good stories: Grimm's, Andersen's... What time it must have taken to read me all she did! And what patience! mine was a childhood punctuated with frequent but not desperately serious illnesses. My throat had its yearly spell, and as I lay and languished with croup and sore throat and wearisome convalescence, she read me intelligently and delightfully the world's masterpieces." Reading aloud stimulates the children's interest in learning. A learned Carthusian monk gave this sound advice: "the contact of the child mind with the adult mind, through affectionate story telling and play, is a most important stimulant to mental growth. Evidence points out that this is not merely a hurrying up of growth which would take place anyway in due season. It is a real contribution to the child's intelligence. Should it be entirely lacking in the formative years of infancy and childhood, the child would not attain the mental level to which he might otherwise have risen."

Fairy tales have an important formative value for the mind of children, especially for their imagination. Once again, we must give our children good literature in order to cultivate their souls on the natural level. "Grace does not destroy nature, but elevates it." says St. Thomas. Fairy tales are made of the same permanent stuff, laughter and pain, desire and satisfaction, love and hatred etc... that constitutes human life. These books, when read to children, open doors into more aspects of human personality that of which their infant philosophy had dreamed. Little boys and girls do not learn from abstract theories or general principles but from concrete examples and particular incidents. Priests know this fact very well: often after a sermon the only thing that struck the mind of their young listeners was the saint's story they told to illustrate their point, while the other considerations have quickly been forgotten.

As G. K. Chesterton says, "There is the lesson of Cinderella, which is the same as that of the Magnificat, exaltavit humiles. There is the great lesson of Beauty and the Beast; that a thing must be loved before it is loveable. There is the terrible allegory of the Sleeping Beauty, which tells how the human creature was blessed with all birthday gifts, yet cursed with death; and how death also may perhaps be softened to a sleep".

"By portraying wonderful and frightening worlds in which ugly beasts are transformed into princes and evil persons are turned to stones and good persons back to flesh, fairy tales remind us of moral truths whose ultimate claims to normativity and permanence we would not think of questioning. Love freely given is better than obedience that is coerced. Courage that rescues the innocent is noble, whereas cowardice that betrays others for self-gain or self-preservation is worthy only of disdain. Fairy tales say plainly that virtue and vice are opposites and not just a matter of degree. They show us that the virtues fit into character and complete our world in the same way that goodness naturally fills all things." (Vigen Guroian)

But even apart from the educational value of stories, they should also be enjoyed just simply because they are enjoyable. An irrepressible desire which dominates the human heart at every age is the thirst for happiness. God Himself imprinted this desire in our hearts, that longing for eternal bliss which we will one day enjoy with Him in Heaven. God wants us happy! "Rejoice in the Lord always: again I say rejoice" (Phil. 4:4). Children, especially, feel this thirst for happiness. For their physical and moral development, they need to play, to enjoy themselves and to be happy. Good books fill children with gladness. They just love to hear a good story. The works of Hans Christian Andersen, Charles Perrault and the brothers Grimm are a goldmine for the teacher.

Aesop’s fables

One of the sad results of modern philosophy is the loss of good old common sense. Man is no longer in touch with reality, with the nature of things. Our children are growing up in an artificial world of TV, videogames and computers. Instead of contemplating the beauty of God's creation, they are fascinated by man's inventions. Through the mass media, they are brainwashed into thinking that there are no longer stable definitions, that what was true yesterday can be false today, in short that the whole world is in constant evolution or rather complete revolution. As examples, we witness the tendency among women to get into positions against their feminine nature, like soldiers in combat troops, or worse we shudder at the increase in unnatural sins amongst men (cf. the "gay" movement).

We see everywhere illogical thinking. We remember a few years ago going near a cave and seeing a sign at the entrance:$5000 fine for trespassing. Now what was the reason? Well, there was a colony of bats (endangered species) and noise could scare the young and cause their death. And as you all know, there is no fine for the killing of human babies. Now this is one example, among many, of the absurdity of our modern world.

Do not think that the modern mentality does not affect our children. In a subtle way their minds are being corrupted by this pernicious doctrine, i.e., that there is no absolute truth, that everyone can have their own opinion, that man is the measure of reality and not reality the measure of man. Parents should realize the perversion of modern philosophy which leads people to live in a kind of false dream.

How can we preserve the minds of our children from this corruption? The intellect is the noblest faculty of our soul, the one which will one day, as we hope, contemplate the Divine Essence in Heaven. How can parents restore common sense and straight thinking in their children? One of the things which will help towards these goals is Aesop’s Fables.

Fables are different from Fairy tales. As G.K. Chesterton puts it: "There can be no good fable with human beings in it. There can be no good fairy tale without them." In other words, for a fable all the persons must be impersonal, almost like mathematical abstraction. The fox in a fable will move crooked and the sheep will march on, because it is in their very nature. Things are what they are and do not change all of a sudden. The wolf will always be wolfish because that's the way he is. The imprudent lamb should have known better. Some years ago, we read in the papers of people being mauled by grizzly bears in a United States National Park because they tried to pet them. Well they had seen too much TV. A grizzly is not a Teddy bear. This is a perfect illustration of how people can lose the sense of reality.

Through a fable, the child realizes that there is a real world, that there are laws in the world, laws which exist independently of his mind, and which he is unable to change. The fairy tale on the other hand, revolves around human personality (it is also good for children, but for other specific purposes than the fable). If there is no charming prince to find Sleeping Beauty, she will simply sleep. If no valiant knight was there to fight the dragons, we would not even know that there were dragons.

As GK Chesterton points out, fables, unlike fairy tales, are destined to teach us very simple truths like "pride goes before a fall" or "slow and steady wins the race". This is why their characters are always animals, so as to be more themselves and only themselves. A fox is foxy and will therefore move crooked. Do not expect otherwise. He is the symbol of crookedness. Whereas if we had taken men, maybe occasionally a shrewd man would forget his shrewdness and show delicateness. With animals there is not this problem, they perfectly incarnate their particular qualities or defects and nothing else. This is why they are perfect tools to introduce the child to the wonderful world of reality: A mouse is too weak to fight a lion, but too strong for the cords that can hold a lion. A fox who gets the most out of a flat dish may easily get least out of a deep dish. These simple but profound truths are important for the formation of the mind in early childhood.

Fables help the child to acquire common sense, in the same way as observing nature: A cow is a cow and only wants to be a cow. Things (including man) have a fixed nature which does not change. What was true yesterday is still true today and will be true tomorrow. There are certain laws in Creation and you cannot violate them without destroying yourself. (The AIDS disease is a sad illustration of this fact).

When you buy Aesop's fables for your classroom, make sure you choose one with nice illustrations (Some of the recent editions have modern drawings of far less artistic value than the ones of Arthur Rackham or others).