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Sunday, March 31, 2013

A Few Important Words About Copy-work

From the Indiana School Journal: Volume 30, page 685, c. 1885

I. General Aim.--The aim or purpose of language work is, in general terms, to train the mind. Specifically it is to give the pupil the power of thinking clearly upon any subject, and of expressing his thoughts in good English as he thinks them. It is also the aim to gain the pnwer of interpreting the written page as easily as the spoken language is interpreted.

II. Work Of First Year.--The work of the first year is to be done incidentally in connection with every lesson given. In the first place all errors in oral language should be corrected at the instant they are made if the aim of language work is to be realized. The corrections should be made at first by the teacher; because the pupils at this stage have not sufficient knowledge of language to enable th;m to know what expressions are erroneous and what correct. But the teacher should, during this year, lead them to form the habit of criticizing errors, and should require that all criticisms should be made by them to the extent that they are able, in accordance with the principles that the mind grows by self exercise. The regular and general lessons may be made an exercise-ground in language.

The pupil should be led to tell in good English what he knows about a subject, and then by judicious questioning be led to see more. The first aim in this kind of work, should be power to think and knowledge of the object; second, power in the use of language.

Constructive work in language should also be begun in the first year. It should, however, be very simple. The following is the order in which language studies come in the scale of difficulty: (considering language work as a whole, not merely the first year's work,) oral expression, copy-work, dictation, putting the thought of another in the pupil's own language, original composition. 

It will be seen from the above that copy-work is the simplest form of written language work. This should be done in the first year, first from black board, because it is easier to take it from the board free from all distracting associations than from the book. The work should be increased in difficulty by taking it finally from the book.

In the entire work of the first year the teacher should be content with a single expression for a single idea or thought, e.g., "The earth is round like a ball," is sufficient, although they might be taught it is spherical, globular, or an oblate spheroid. This is in accordance with the thought that it is the nature of mind in acquiring knowledge (1) observe a particular, (2) generalize, (3) compare, (4) many particulars, (5) classify, (6) name and define Student.

From The Theory of the School pg.280-281, Howard Sandison, 1886
In the light of these principles the stages in spelling are four.
1. Copy-work, the simplest form of spelling.
2. The reproduction, in dictation exercises, of words previously learned, a more difficult form of spelling.
3. The spelling of the necessary words when the thought is fixed upon the idea which is being expressed, a still more difficult work.
4. The analysis of difficult combinations with a statement of the reasons for their difficulty, work the most complex of the four kinds.

A pupil should be required to copy accurately and readily before he is given the more difficult work of reproducing from memory. "That which we know thoroughly," was said by Jacotot, "contains the explanation of the unknown." "The end is in the beginning." 

Success in teaching spelling depends upon thoroughness. It is not the amount of time but the manner of doing it. The vague forms are to be made perfectly distinct forms to the eye by writing before passing to others.

"The end is in the beginning."
To develop power to reproduce from memory: After a word has been copied from the board, erase it, and have it reproduced from memory. Do the same with two words, three, a short sentence, etc. Regulate the work by the pupil's power to do it accurately. Train him to do exactly what he is asked to do.

When he can copy and reproduce readily and accurately, he is prepared for the spelling of words that are used to express his original thought, i.e., the words used in composition. 

During the time the pupil is acquiring facility in copying and reproducing, attention should be given to developing his powers of observation and description by lessons on color, form, animals, etc., and by inducing him to talk freely on all subjects that come within the range of his observation.

After a period of using words in the expression of original thought, the pupil is prepared for the fourth stage--the stage of difficult combinations.

The difficulty of English spelling arises from the variety of combinations employed to represent the elementary sounds. For example, the short sound of e may be represented in eleven different ways, as is shown by the words web, head, again, aesthetics, any, nonpareil, leopard, bury, friend, guess, says.
This difficulty is to be overcome by--
1. Concentrating the attention upon only such words as involve difficult combinations.
2. Mastering tables of equivalents for elementary sounds. For example:
The name sound of a is represented in twelve ways: In many words by a, as ale; by ai, as ail, and by ay, as bay. In a few words by ey, as they; ei. as veil; ea, as break; ua, as gauge; ao, as goal; aa, as Aaron; e and ee, as melee; aye, (meaning ever.)
3. Analysis with open book, in order that both the eye and the ear may be addressed. For example, the word police. The pupil pronounces and spells the word from the book, thus: "Po-lice, police; it is a difficult word because the name sound of e is represented by i, and not by one of the more frequent modes--e, ea, ee, ei, ie. There are twelve ways to represent this sound. The word is more difficult to spell, because the sound of 's' is represented by ce." 

The first stage occupies the first year; the second, the second year; the third, from the beginning of the third year to the end of the seventh year; and the fourth, the eighth year.


  1. Wow! I am so happy to see you started this blog. I follow your other blog faithfully. I expect this will be a big help to me and others as we try to use McGuffey and maybe you will include tips for Ray's? Thanks so much for sharing your talents! God bless, trish

  2. Mom you should right a new post soon.

  3. Thank God for you!! I just received my first reader in the mail today, and I was quite stumped as to what exactly was to be done with it. This will be my first year homeschooling my first grader. Thank you Sherry!

  4. This is a very helpful article. I am especially encouraged by the part that suggests,
    "attention should be given to developing his powers of observation and description by lessons on color, form, animals, etc., and by inducing him to talk freely on all subjects that come within the range of his observation."

    I also appreciate the reminder that the point of copywork is thoroughness, good habits, and following instruction exactly, not so much about grammatical rules.
    I love how this method of education focuses on character training, with an excellent education as a side effect!