How to Teach Effectively

Recently, I was asked if studying history with the Principle Approach®(1) is too dry for children. Since I teach with it, my opinion is a resounding no, not at all. And, I believe that’s true when it comes to teaching one-on-one as well as in a homeschool co-op. But, I do think that there are ways on how to teach effectively. This is something that I’ve been growing in throughout my experience of teaching our children. Let me share some things about it with you!


Really, as with any subject and with philosophy and method, it comes down to the teacher. What is the relationship between the teacher and the student? Is it one of respect? How does the teacher teach? Is it with a love of learning? Specifically, these questions are addressing a parent and a child. However, it isn’t limited to these relationships.

But back to the question at hand by a reader, what about when it comes to teaching the children of other parents? . . .

Homeschool Co-ops and Teaching

The relationship between a parent and a child is one thing. But, the relationship between a teacher and a student whom isn’t the child of the teacher is another. When it comes to homeschool co-ops it’s important to set the standard of behavior for participation. And a good way of doing this is to have students and their parents sign a Classroom Constitution. This constitution is an agreement between the teacher and the parents that explains what is to be expected of the teacher and of the students. Plus, it’s gaining the consent of the student. In this way, if anything goes awry, there is the Classroom Constitution on which to fall back.

To help keep things orderly and running smooth in homeschool co-ops that I’ve ran, I personally have had the standard that parents must be present and next to their children to help guide them while I teach. Also, the children have to answer to their parents. It has always worked very well. So, this is something to consider.

That all said, no matter what curriculum is used, there are ways to teach effectively.

Teaching Effectively Takes Some Learning

For part of my training in becoming a Principle Approach® Master Teacher, I’ve been learning from a book titled The Seven Laws of Teaching by John Milton Gregory. I highly recommend it to homeschooling parents. (In fact, I recommend the Principle Approach® Master Teacher Certification Course by the Foundation for American Christian Education.)

John Milton Gregory

Who is John Milton Gregory? To begin with, his life dates are July 6, 1822 to October 19, 1898. We learn that he marries Louisa Catherine Allen and together they have four children. His service is as regent at the University of Illinois (known then as the Illinois Industrial University). This Christian husband and father is noted for being committed to helping women in education. In his 1782 University Report he writes:

“No industry is more important to human happiness and well being than that which makes the home. And this industry involves principles of science as many and as profound as those which control any other human employment” p. 160

In 1874, he hires Louise Catherine Allen to develop a program in domestic science.

Gregory helps the University of Illinois to be the first university after the Civil War to admit women.

Education is Two-Fold

John Milton observes that as infants, children have the attributes of an adult, but he or she does not yet have the powers of an adult. He also observes that as an infant, individuals are ignorant as they have not yet acquired ideas. In his conclusion, he states that the notions of education rest on these two facts: 1) the development of capacities, and (2) the acquisition of experience.

In summary, he narrows down the education of children to be two-fold: 1) the art of training, and (2) the art of teaching. But, he notes that these two are inseparable.

Training breaks down to:

  • Physical
  • Mental
  • Moral

Isn’t it interesting that he doesn’t say emotional? Is he ignorant of that? Or is he aware that one’s physical, mental, and moral life will have an outer working in one’s emotions? In other words, that emotions were not to rule the individual. Can you find a Biblical principle to support this idea?

Our oldest daughter is working in a Christian school. She notes that since the “emotional awareness” has been taught to the younger children, they have been acting out a great deal more. And, the children have been over-exaggerating their emotions and physical actions to go with them.

Yes, God has given us emotions and they are important. But, they are not to drive us and to rule over us. It’s an easy thing to research this on one’s own just using a concordance and a Bible.

The Seven Laws of Teaching Help Parents to Teach Effectively

In his book, John Milton states:

“The first object of teaching, then, is to stimulate in the pupil the love of learning, and to form in him habits and ideals of independent study.”

In short, the seven laws (rules) of teaching are:

  1. A teacher must be one who knows the lesson or truth or art being taught. This means that the teacher needs to know thoroughly and familiarly the lesson you wish to teach—teach from a full mind and clear understanding.
  2. A learner is one who attends with interest to the lesson. Gain and keep the attention and interest of the pupils upon the lesson. Do not try to teach without attention.
  3. The language used as a medium between the teacher and learner must be common to both. Use words understood in the same way by the pupils and yourself—language clear and vivid to both.  (I’ll expand here: this includes defining the vocabulary of the subject so that your students understand correctly the words being used.)
  4. The lesson to be mastered must be explicable in the terms of truth already known by the learner— the unknown must be explained by the means of the known. Begin with what is already well known to the pupil upon the subject and with what he has himself experienced—and proceed to the new material by single, easy, and natural steps, letting the known explain the unknown.
  5. Teaching is arousing and using the pupil’s mind to grasp the desired thought or to master the desired art. Stimulate the pupil’s own mind to action. Keep his thought as much as possible ahead of your expression, placing him in the attitude of a discoverer, an anticipator.
  6. Learning is thinking into one’s own understanding a new idea or truth or working into habit a new art or skill. Require the pupil to reproduce in thought the lesson he is learning—thinking it out in its various phases and applications till he can express it in his own language.
  7. The test and proof of teaching done—the finishing and fastening process—must be a reviewing, rethinking, reknowing, reproducing, and applying of the material that has been taught, the knowledge and ideals and arts that have been communicated. Review, review, review, reproducing the old, deepening its impression with new thought, linking it with added meanings, finding new applications, correcting any false views, and completing the truth.

Breaking it Down Further

Each law is broken down further in his book. In addition, he explains nuggets of wisdom for the teacher. For instance, in his chapter on The Laws of Teaching, he cautions teachers:

These rules, and the laws upon which they are based, underlie and govern all successful teaching. If taken in their broadest significance, nothing need be added to them or taken away. No one who thoroughly masters and uses them need fail as a teacher, if he also has qualities that enable him properly to maintain the good order necessary to give them free undisturbed action. Disorder, noise, and confusion may hinder and prevent the results desired, just as the constant disturbance of some chemical elements forbids the formation of the compounds which the laws of chemistry would otherwise produce. But good teaching in itself, will often bring about good order.

In effect, much comes down to the teacher. Therefore, wrapping it back around to teaching in a homeschool co-op, the teacher can grow in his or her teaching strategies in order to have effective teaching. That said, the student has the responsibility to own his or her education and to show respect to the teacher. If a teacher in a homeschool co-op chooses to allow rowdy children into the group, it may be important to consider requiring the parents to be present next to their student. The more self-governed a student is, the less external control there needs to be.

Footnote 1: The Principle Approach® is a registered trademark of The Foundation for American Christian Education.

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