Category Archives: Stow’s Pedagogy

Physical and Moral Training

David Stow, 1832, quoted verbatim by Fraser, William (1868) Memoir of David Stow.

Mr Stow published at this time (1832) a little tract on “Physical and Moral Training” in which he forcibly shows the connection of the play – ground with moral culture. We have seen nothing clearer or more philosophical on this subject, nor told with greater simplicity and effect than what Mr. Stow then wrote. The principles he enunciated are, at the present time, by far too little recognised by our best educationists.

“Surrounded thus for several hours a day by such a world of pupils, it is the province of the shrewd, intelligent, and pious superintendent, to watch and direct all their movements; and whilst he daily participates in their juvenile sports, he, in consequence, gradually gains a thorough knowledge of their true dispositions, which at the proper time and season, he applauds or condemns on the principle of conviction, an example of which is subjoined,* which applause or reproof; we repeat is not usually given at the moment the noticeable circumstances occur in the play-ground, but rather when the children have re-entered the school, and are seated in the gallery when the impression made on the culprit, in such circumstances, is much more lasting; and what is also of great importance, the whole of the children have thus an opportunity of hearing a generous action applauded, or ungenerous and vicious conduct condemned, in the party in question.

The play-ground, or gravel part, is surrounded by a flower border, three to four feet in breadth, filled with evergreen shrubs, flowers, berry bushes, cherry trees, &c., &c. The box or flower edging must not be trod upon: and although quite at liberty, two hundred children, under these circumstances, and having such temptations within their reach, with perfect ease to the master, may be trained never to touch or injure any of the fruit or flowers; stoop to smell them they may, but handle they must not. The father and mother of a family, having five or six children, may say, this is what we have never been able to accomplish with our children, and we are sure we have done every thing in our power to establish such a system of obedience, and we have, in a great measure, failed – we wonder, and scarcely believe such a thing possible. Our simple answer to such persons no doubt is – see and believe. But the entire mystery (if any) rests in this. The five or six children of one family being of different ages consequently, in play and pursuits, and of course in understanding, they do not sympathize with each other; the pride or vanity of the elder, prevents their imitating the good qualities (it may he) of the younger branches, whilst, at the same moment, these younger are almost certain to imitate anything bad in the conduct of the, elder;  – but only form a class of six children of the same age, as in the case of an Infant School – apply the same principle of training, and the same or nearly similar results will instantly follow: for with these six of similar ages, there is, or may be formed, a perfect sympathy – perhaps the Infant System, from this very circumstance, might more properly be termed “The Sympathetic System of Training”. Let us ever recollect that, while sympathy is a most powerful engine in training to good, we see every day, amongst our unrestrained youth, its sad effects in training to evil.

A child brought up on this principle, will it is presumed less likely in his early or later years, to pilfer or rob, to pluck flowers or steal fruit, even when permitted to walk alone in a garden unobserved; for the principle ‘Thou God seest me’ is daily impressed on the conscience of the child. Were children generally so trained we would, perhaps, have fewer public buildings defaced or railings broken or cope-stones pulled down than heretofore; were our neglected city children under nine or ten years of age, under this sort of training and, daily taught to respect private property even to the value of a pin, the temporary use of a wooden brick in a play-ground, or of a ball or a marble is it at all likely that we would have such a dormancy of all right principle at present?  Never let us be surprised at the extent of crime, or of the character exhibited by those who have perfectly the opposite principles daily inculcated, and evil examples set before them such being in full accordance with their own natural  inclinations. The Scripture precept is not simply instruct, but train- “Train up”, unswervingly and perseveringly.

For the sake of exercise and health, gymnastic poles, or circular swinging ropes are introduced, one each, with six ropes attached for girls and boys. At this exercise the children never weary; it is perfectly free from danger; it also tends to open the chest and strengthen the arms and wrists. One or all of the six swinging at the one time, continue or leave off at pleasure being propelled onwards by the use of their limbs, and outwards by the centrifugal force, should a fall at any time take place, the shock is always slight and very convenient. Habits of good order and obedience are even induced by this exercise, for those unengaged form a circle around the pole, and sing and count from one to  forty, at which the six engaged must instantly let go the ropes; and they again in their turn, in order to give place to others.

A large quantity of wooden bricks are also introduced, whereby the future mason, or barrowman, or architect, may each exert intellectual skill, or muscular vigour. Casting the eye around the play-ground, some will be observed admiring the flowers in silence, others swinging or waiting their turn – others engaged building or carrying bricks; and in this, it is striking to observe how real superiority is tacitly acknowledged on the part of’ the children themselves and how many seem to have no higher ambition, day after day, than the office of barrowman, in carrying materials for the triumphal arch – the bridge – the castle – or rural cottage. Others, again, may be seen forming figures with gravel stones amidst the sand, perhaps some very humble followers of Sir Isaac; whilst others may be observed sitting on the school-door steps, in abstract reverie, if not in utter thoughtlessness. The whole of the parties above described may be influenced comparatively easily, but many – many, indeed, are to be found who are sadly too animal in all their propensities, and regarding the hoped – for effect upon whose habits it may always be said – teaching is nothing, ‘whilst training is everything. The play-ground, in its effects upon moral character, and in promoting habits of order, obedience, and cleanliness, forms full three-fourths of the value of what is peculiar to the Infant System; – other schools may, as here, teach Christianity, and cultivate the understanding; but it is the peculiar province of what is termed the Infant System, with its superintendence, out-doors as well as in-doors, to train physically and morally, and this may be applied to children above six as well as below it; always however, keeping this in view, that the earlier the better, and that prevention is at all times, than cure.

Schools or seminaries, therefore, of whatever description, whether for children under six or above that age, without an enclosed play-ground, are destitute of the best, if not the only opportunity of training children morally and physically.

*A child of a family commits a fault – he may steal his neighbour’s toy for example, or “take it” (as stealing in embryo is too often called) ; this propensity will be checked by a mother or father, in every variety of shape, according to their capabilities and temperament. Under favourable circumstances, the parent feels indignant at the exhibition of such a crime, in one so near and dear to him. The feelings excited (however much they may be under control), are instinctively perceived by the keen eye of the child, and in a greater or lesser degree, shut the avenues to the little one’s heart; and both parties being under excitement, what passes on such an occasion in the way of check or advice too frequently goes for nothing. There is less danger of such feelings in an experienced Infant Teacher, whose regard and attentions are necessarily divided amongst an hundred pupils, And we shall again suppose, that one boy steals his play-fellow’s toy – it may be a ball or a spinning-top – this happens in the play-ground, freely at play, and it is only when perfectly at liberty that infant character is truly exhibited: the teacher sees this or is told of it; he takes no notice of the circumstance at the moment, but on entering the school as usual, he commences the process of examination, by telling a story about a boy who stole his neighbour’s top or something else; in a moment the culprit’s head hangs down – it is unnecessary to mark him out – he is visible to all. Ninety-nine out of the hundred, (if we accept the injured party) sit in cool judgment upon the case, and at the master’s desire are requested to award the punishment due to such an offence.

In the meantime he forgets not to remind the child and all present that although he had not observed him, God assuredly had; or rather, the teacher draws out this statement, from the children themselves, – the  pannel at the bar, of course, remaining perfectly acquiescent. The question is again put, ‘what punishment?’ Some of the more furious boys, whose energies but to be regulated order to make noble characters, bawl out, ‘Beat him – cuff – him – thump him;” all the rest, in the meantime keeping silence conceiving such punishment sufficiently severe.

The master, however, will ask another question or two, rather than fulfil the commands of this unmerciful jury. Is this boy in the habit of stealing your play-things” No. “Do you think this is the first offence?” Yes. “Ought a child to be punished as severely for a first as for  a second or third offence?” No.  “What then shall we do to this boy?” Instantly the girls will cry out ‘Forgive him, forgive him, don’t beat him.’ Now, mark the natural effect upon all parties: the guilty is condemned by his fellows; the milder feelings are brought into play – and all have principles of truth and justice. Without wasting words, by carrying  out the probable conversation, or stating the various ramifications which this circumstance, and similar of daily occurrence amongst children, may present – for not only may the playthings have been stolen but a lie told to hide it, and even blows given by way of defence, all of which require distinct modes of treatment if not early checked, will harden the conscience and strengthen the evil propensities of our common nature – whatever effect such an examination may have on the guilty individual it will be most salutary upon all 1others. The feelings are thus moulded down to give way to principle; and whilst all see what really is (unfortunately) an everyday exhibition in the world, and what, perhaps, too latently exists in themselves, such exhibitions are made in circumstances which naturally call forth, not imitation, but abhorrence.

David Stow, 1832, quoted verbatim by Fraser, William (1868) Memoir of David  Stow.

Stow: Picturing out in words


Stow, David: 1844. Scottish Sabbath School Teachers’ Magazine Vol. 1, 1844, The Edinburgh Sabbath School Teachers’ Union, James Gall and Son, Edinburgh pps 116-120 

IN conducting a Bible lesson, it is peculiarly necessary that terms and figurative words and phrases be pictured out in words to the mind otherwise no lesson can be drawn. Such as, for example, ‘Glory,’ both in the abstract and the conventional meaning. ‘Saviour’ in the abstract – a Saviour, who can save me from danger, and the Saviour, who can save me from death or hell.  Also ‘Redeemer’, ‘wisdom’, ‘wise’ ‘ faith’ ‘way’ &c. &c., ‘helmet of salvation’ –  ‘shield of faith’ – ‘kingdom of heaven’ – ‘rivers of pleasure’ – ‘fountains of living waters’ – as well as innumerable, emblems which must be understood, in other words, pictured out familiarly to the mind, both in their natural history and accepted sense, before any practical lesson can be drawn. Such passages as ‘I will refine thee as silver is refined’ – ‘The path of the just is as the shining light that shineth more and more unto the perfect day’ – ‘Iron sharpeneth iron, so doth the face of a man his friend’ – ‘As the dog to his vomit, and the sow that is washed to her wallowing in the mire’ – ‘As an eagle stirreth up her nest, fluttereth over ‘her young,’ &c., ‘so the Lord did lead them,’ &c. Like a tree planted by a river’ – ‘They who wait upon God shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings as eagles’ – ‘As the hart panteth after the water-brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O God’ – ‘Like grass which groweth up in the morning,’ &c. ‘Be wise as serpents, and harmless as doves’ – ‘Keep me as the apple of thine eye’ – ‘Hide me in the hollow of thine hand’ – The righteous shall flourish like the palm tree’; ‘he shall grow like a cedar in Lebanon,’ &c. &c.

Such words and phrases might be quoted without end, every page of Scripture being full of figurative expressions; and although it is not necessary to enter minutely into the science or nature of the objects on which the lesson is based; yet as much must be given as to enable the Bible learner to draw the lesson for himself. This being done in a week-day elementary school (for there is not time in Sabbath schools or from the pulpit) then the reading of Scripture will become more luminous, and sermons from the pulpit better understood. Some clergymen, it is true, have the power of simplifying their discourses so as to interest the young at the half-yearly addresses to Sabbath schools; but how frequently do we find the utmost listlessness,  …. because the speaker is preaching over the heads of the children. A previous course of ‘Bible Training’, however, would have rendered the children attentive and intelligent hearers. We know one clergyman who was induced to preach to the children of his parish one afternoon every month; he informed the grown persons belonging to his congregation of his intention, and that he would be happy to see them also. After a year’s trial the clergyman declared that not only was the church more crowded with adults, but he had reason to believe more good was done by these addresses than by the others he delivered. It is perhaps the most difficult of all attainments to simplify to children; but if we cannot come down in our phraseology, let us bring them up to ours by a systematic course of school training.

Figurative words and phrases, which all come within the range of our senses, we have seen, are capable of being pictured out; but, as we have already stated, there is a limit. We cannot describe, for example, the eternity or omnipresence of Jehovah. Paul was caught up to the third heavens; ‘and heard words which it was not lawful to utter’, or which he was not able to utter and why so ? because they were expressive of things and ideas, the reality of which no human language could convey; they were above our range of vision, and of course our modes of expression.

Knowledge makes but slow progress in the world, and our ideas are oftentimes incorrect and confused, in consequence of using words and phrases, the meaning of which is not clearly apprehended.

Every word is a figure representing some object or objects, or more technically, ‘every word either represents an object or a combination of objects, and may therefore be pictured out in words representing objects. We literally know nothing but from or through the medium of visible objects., The first step, therefore, is to store the mind with a knowledge of objects, and words expressive of these objects. Once present to the mind a variety of objects, and, little by little use of words representing the qualities, relations, and combinations of these objects, the mind may be trained from the known to the unknown.

Pestalozzi introduced the use of objects and prints, in popular education. ‘The Training System’ has added the picturing out in words, by analogy and familiar illustrations of every abstract term, figurative word, and figurative phrase. Mere objects and prints exhibit only one condition or point of the subject they represent, whereas picturing out in words may be carried ad infinitum.

All words being figurative, and all phrases and collocations of words being figures, the most complex may be reduced to simple elements. Of course there is a limit when we come to facts which we cannot thus picture out, and these become objects of faith, an example of which we shall shortly give. But the rule of analysis which we adopt is applicable to every thing within the range of human perception and reason.


In regard to abstract terms, no explanation can convey the idea of a stone or an egg, for example, until they are presented to the senses. A fish must be seen before we know what a fish is; but having seen one we may be easily trained to know any fish. The same in regard to a bird; but having once seen, even a humming bird, we may. be trained to know the appearance, size, and qualities of an eagle.


We might analyse innumerable figurative words requiring a reduction from complex to simple terms before the idea intended by the use of the word can be formed in the mind. We might take the word abstract itself as an example, as denoting something having a previous existence in one condition, and being drawn out of that condition into another and distinct condition. I may abstract a stone from a quarry, or heap of rubbish, or an apple from a basket and thus from simple we may proceed to complex ideas – such as the idea of what a man is who is engrossed with one subject, or who is so peculiar in his modes of thinking as to ‘be drawn out’, as it were, or aside, from the generality of mankind.

In education, many terms are used which, although verbally explained, yet not being pictured out by analysis and familiar illustrations, the real meaning of such terms is not present to the eye or the mind, and is consequently not understood. Latin grammar, for example, might be, rendered a less dry study, and more interesting, were the boy not permitted to use any term which had not first been pictured out to his mind, such words as participle, perfect, indicative, pluperfect, subjunctive, &c. &c. – why a noun is declined, and a verb conjugated. And the same in English grammar: objective, possessive; &c. We know of nothing more puzzling to the student than the use of terms not previously pictured out. This, however, being. done, which is the natural and training, mode, study becomes a pleasure, every term in use having evidently a meaning. It is, a principle of the training system, that no abstract term, or figurative word, be used, or any passage committed to memory, until each particular term and the whole subject be analysed and familiarly illustrated; the exercise of the understanding thus preceding the exercise, of the memory.

In reading a book, or listening to a lecture or sermon, should even one figurative word or phrase be used which has not been pictured out to the mind of the auditory, that word or phrase maybe a barrier to the understanding of the whole subject; hence the slow progress of knowledge in the world as we have already stated, and the necessity of a previous school training; and a picturing out, by analyses and familiar illustrations of all figurative words and phrases used in elementary, scientific, and Scriptural education. Picturing out to the mind is still more necessary, when not merely one figurative word is used; but when a number are presented in a single sentence. For example, Dr Buckland, in giving proofs of design in the effects of disturbing forces on the strata  of the earth, thus expresses himself : ‘Elevations and substances, inclinations and contortions, fractures and dislocations, are phenomena, which, although at first sight they present only the appearance of disorder and confusion, yet, when fully understood, demonstrate the existence of order, and method and design, even in the operations of the most the turbulent among the mighty physical forces which have affected the; terraqueous globe. We know; such sentences are read in schools, without one word having been pictured out; the dictionary, with its verbal explanation, alone being accessible to the pupil; and grown-up persons peruse the same words without attaching any definite idea to, them; and finding no definitions, or rather familia illustrations, of technical phrases in a dictionary, the sense of the author is lost to them, from the neglect of picturing out every word they met in their early education. Complex terms, before being used, ought uniformly to be reduced to simple terms; and although the following might be considered an extravagant case yet, as we know it to, be an actual occurrence, we give it as an additional illustration of our point, and showing the necessity of a systematic mode of picturing out. The following may be considered an extravagant case, yet as we know it to be an actual occurrence, we give it as an additional illustration of our point, showing the necessity of a systematic mode of picturing out.

After the public examination of a school in a certain manufacturing town in Scotland, a learned gentleman present was invited to put a few questions to the children, whoe previous appearance did great credit to their teacher, a man eminently qualified for the office he held. The gentleman proceeded – ‘ Children look at me – and answer a few questions – answer me this –  Is it not a fact, that mutation is stamped on all sublunary objects? The children, of course, remained silent. Mutation to them was a mere sound without meaning; stamped (it being a town where muslins are manufactured) only suggested to them the idea of stamping gauze or jaconet for tambouring; sublunary had never come under the catalogue of their reading, and the term had not been analysed or explained – to them the word was therefore quite incomprehensible; and as to objects; in connection with the other unpictured out words they naturally thought of lame beggars who were carried from door to door on ‘a hand-barrow,’ it being common to term all disabled persons objects -‘ such and such a one,’ they were accustomed to say, ‘is quite an object.’

Amidst such a heterogeneous mass of sounds and imperfect ideas, as might be expected, no answer was given; and of course the examinator thought them stupid children. The question commenced with ‘is it not a fact?’ Had the answer been ‘No,’ then they would have contradicted their examinator; but had it been ‘ Yes,’ an approving smile would, no doubt, have followed from the audience, accompanied with the expression, ‘Very right, children,’ -the children remaining, however, as ignorant as before. The verbal answer would have been correct, but neither the individual words nor the phrase as a whole having been pictured out, or presented to the mind, no idea whatever was conveyed

We believe the credit of many an excellent teacher suffers by the ill-put questions of such unskillful (sic) and complex-minded examinators. Any word used by a speaker or teacher and not clearly before the mind of his pupils, is without meaning; to the person speaking it may be perfectly understood, but to those  addressed he speaks in a foreign. tongue.

For the sake of those who have not practised the system, we may state that picturing out is not always literal but is frequently used conventionally. For example, a blind man cannot ‘see’ colours, and yet the variety in colour may be pictured out, or rendered present to his mind, in words by comparison. It is true he cannot see red or green with his bodily eyes, but by touch, or by words describing the difference in feeling, he knows which article is red or green. Wee have heard a man, blind from birth, that a cow which had been presented to him, was the finest he ever saw; and this mental sight, we also observed, had been acquired by the butcher by the same process, not by sight, but by the sense of touch. The same may be stated in regard to sound. A deaf man cannot hear music but he may feel it; and can discover, to the extent of his sensibility, the distinction of sounds. We hear persons say, I never saw such a wind. Why? I was almost blown down; and yet all language, secular or sacred, is formed to convey ideas of things that strike our senses; sight or feeling (conventionally at least) representing the whole. Picturing out to the mind’s eye, therefore, we understand to mean, rendering a thing present to the mind, whether it be a simple or complex idea.


Taken from: Scottish Sabbath School Teachers’ Magazine Vol. 1, 1844, The Edinburgh Sabbath School Teachers’ Union, James Gall and Son, Edinburgh pps 116-120

The teaching of reading and writing

When Stow refers disparagingly to the ‘ab, eb, ib, ob, ub’ method of teaching reading he reveals an authentic understanding of the problems of learning the phoneme-grapheme relationship which he recognised as essential to independent reading.  No doubt he is drawing on his own experience of elementary education alongside the debates which must have been considered in the Sabbath Schools.  Most present authorities would accept that, as here, the short vowel should be introduced first: indeed, the Edgeworths [footnote]Richard and Maria Edgeworth (1767-1849) (Father and Daughter)[/footnote]suggested diacritical marks to help children distinguish between the short and long vowel sound.  He may also be critical of the blending approach whereby the vowel is attached to the final consonant causing the eye to read from left to right and then return to the initial consonant: connecting the initial consonant with the vowel enables a smoother progress to the remainder of the word. However, his main criticism is the rote learning of meaningless sounds out of context, an approach which continued until the early 1970’s. [footnote]Cf ‘Beacon Readers, (various authors) first published by Ginn and Company, 1965 (now Blackwell, Oxford) and still available[/footnote]His instructions to trainers to begin with the children’s own names; with the sounds (which he terms ‘powers’) rather than names of letters; and with phonically regular words, where appropriate, [footnote]Stow exemplifies ‘Hat’ rather than ‘rough’ and ‘wrought’[/footnote]combined with a phonic approach to spelling are all helpful [footnote]Cf Schonell, Fred J. ‘The Essentials in Teaching and Testing Spelling’ first published in the 1930s and still available.[/footnote]Furthermore, the insistence on basing the child’s reading vocabulary on her/his oral vocabulary is well made: unless the sequence of graphemes, which we call print, can be meaningfully related to a mental image, reading is literally senseless.[footnote]‘To exercise, in fact, the memory of the understanding as well as the memory of sounds’, The Training System, 10th Edition, p271[/footnote]

His knowledge of just some of the issues in the teaching of reading, may begin to explain Stow’s apparent reluctance to teach reading, at least to very young children. Obviously, he knew that the ability to read was an essential skill for further education, job opportunities and, for Stow, a personal knowledge of the Bible.  He was also aware that parental expectations of schooling primarily centred on the teaching of reading. Why then should he advocate delaying the process?

At least part of the problem lay not only in the very poor teacher:child ratio but in the wide age-range within each school sector and the even greater differentiation in the children’s previous experience of school.  Whilst children, limited in some degree by age-range and educational background, could at least listen to ‘lessons’ taught orally by one trainer, the use of reading to acquire knowledge necessitated segregation by reading ability, a costly process. ‘Under The Training System’, he writes, ‘three-fourths of the information received by the scholars passes to them direct from the master, without the intervention of books’.[footnote]Op cit, p. 269[/footnote]

Unfortunately, his solution to this problem continued well into the 1960s. Firstly, the trainer was taught to enunciate words very distinctly, particularly those unknown to the children: indeed, training was given in elocution to ensure the correct placement of teeth and tongue. (This process also emphasised a standardised accent which Stow felt was beneficial to the children and minimized the variety of trainers’ pronunciations.)[footnote]With teachers from 37 English, Scottish and Irish counties and from the colonies, to say nothing of the ‘abominably sour and acrid dialect all along the banks of the Clyde’ working in the five Model Schools, this was an interesting issue. Cf ‘the Training System, 10th Edition, pp. 270, 271[/footnote]Rightly, particular attention was to be given to conjunctions and prepositions which, being abstract, are less-easily matched to a mental image. Thus, with a clear diction, the trainer read a sentence to the children, pausing between each word, initially at length and then with a reduction in the amount of time between each word, until the whole sentence could be read at either a conversational or declamatory pace depending on the context. The trainer and children then read simultaneously. Finally, the trainer selected individual pupils to repeat the sentence. This laborious process came perilously close to the rote learning he despised; must have bored to frustration those who learned quickly; and humiliated those who were pounced upon to read individually.

These problems aside, the emphasis on oral work has a distinctly fresh appeal. Stow persuasively argues that the oral interaction between trainer and pupil is more effective than that mediated through the means of print (books, work cards, work sheets etc.). Moreover, speaking so self-evidently precedes reading that the emphasis both in time in class and over the years should be on listening and speaking rather than reading. From the time a child answers a question, he argues, s/he should learn to speak out confidently and clearly.  Even for most adults, he maintained, the ability either to converse openly and/or articulate intelligently was, initially at least, more likely to attract attention than the ability to read itself.[footnote]‘Distinct and impressive reading (audible) and speaking are valuable to persons in every sphere of life – the mechanic, the housewife, the merchant, the schoolmaster, and the lawyer – in the pulpit, at the bar and in the senate’ The Training System, page 266[/footnote]And while personal reading for the acquisition of knowledge was important, reading for communication and to convey information was more so, especially in an age when many could not read accurately for themselves. Thus, for Stow, learning to speak (or elocution) was as important as learning to read.

This said, Stow recognised that to be fully educated inevitably necessitated an ability to read. Published textbooks were used; as they grew older, children were grouped around a reading post, according to age, to be taught often by student-trainers rather than the master in the gallery; both the Glasgow Infant and Educational Societies published magazines which parents could purchase to use at home; and ‘a taste for private reading’ [footnote]The Training System, 10th Edition, p. 277[/footnote]was encouraged. Stow’s definition of the good reader nicely illustrates his understanding of genre, characterisation, awareness of audience, fluency, the necessity to read with energy rather than speed, and to be articulate without histrionics.  ‘To read well, then, is as it were, to personate the author, enter into his feelings, and make the impression on the audience which his words ought naturally to convey: to be distinct and yet not discontinuous, impressive and yet not dramatic, varied and yet not affected.’[footnote]Ibid, pps. 267, 270[/footnote]

 The teaching of writing

By the time children reached the age of six, on transfer to the Junior School, the teaching of phonics was extended to the spelling of phonetically-regular words.  An archetypal ‘First-Spelling Book’[footnote]Unfortunately no longer in existence[/footnote]was produced consisting, generally, of familiar, monosyllabic words used in easily-illustrated sentences. Again, Stow’s acknowledgement of the frequency of irregular words bears out the authenticity of his advice: trainers should supply the non-phonically regular words so that the gist of the sentence is maintained.  Unfortunately, he reversed this argument concerning the importance of the sentence by suggesting that letter formation began with lines (straight, diagonal, circular), then letters, then words and then sentences – a process which appears logical to the trainer but meaningless to the child. He is on happier ground in relating the shape of each letter to a familiar object – a boy’s hoop (circle), a girl’s skipping rope (semicircle), school pillars (straight lines) – an approach which is still widely used.  The teaching of the sounds (or ‘powers’) of the letter rather than the name is also now regarded as standard along with the practice, as we have seen, of forming distinct sounds with the teeth, lips and tongue.

The ‘First Spelling Book’ appears, from the extracts quoted in ‘The Training System’, to  have provided a series of sequential, developmental lessons accompanied by useful collections of words exemplifying the spelling rule, for example ‘vigour, clamour, fervour, rumour’. [footnote]The Training System, 10th Edition, p. 283[/footnote]Trainers were advised to ‘picture out’ every tenth or twelfth word to save time, but not, inevitably, the tediousness which came to be associated with this approach.

As the skill of writing progressed, children were to be given the necessary skills  – how to sit, use blotting paper, and keep between the lines. His description of how to hold a pen is arguably a model of the old adage of ‘automating the hand to liberate the mind’:

‘We recommend, that the pen be held so that the knuckles point perpendicularly to the ceiling. We believe this secures the greatest uniformity of style of any other position, the little and ring finger resting easily on the paper, not merely on the tip of the little one; left arm nearly close to the side, as a rest for the chest, and right elbow angled outwards (not in, as of old); shoulders and spine pretty nearly erect. The old method of the right elbow being kept close to the side, naturally tended to form curved or divergent lines, instead of parallel ones. A bold, round hand at the commencement is of course the best security for acquiring a distinct legible current hand, and the mode of sitting and holding the pen now recommended, we believe, easily secures this.’ [footnote]Ibid pps. 288-9[/footnote]

 Writing, of course, involved the learning of grammatical rules in which Stow followed the general practice of introducing nouns, adjectives, the definite and indefinite article and verbs – always by picturing out the meaning through reference to familiar objects. Since his list of grammatical terms included ‘relative, demonstrative, nominative and objective’ perhaps his concluding comment that, ‘not being clearly understood this branch of education is uninteresting’ [footnote]Ibid p. 297[/footnote]was more apt than he intended.

Spelling, grammar and etymology preceded composition, an activity so well established that Stow did not feel the need to expound the process in detail. His main deviation from the norm was the emphasis on oral composition before written. While this approach is commendable, the general tenor of his advice raises issues of relevance, interest and differentiation. Children, even in the Senior Department, must have found the approach pedantic and tedious:

    1. Read the material along the principles already stated.
    2. Picture out the general meaning.
    3. Spell the sentence progressively, each child by turn or simultaneously.
    4. Parse it.
    5. Fix upon one or more etymological roots.
    6. Then form sentences as described under the heading ‘Mental Composition’.

Then, and only then, could the children turn to written composition.