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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:


  • 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.


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."


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."


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.


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).


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.


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.


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."


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.


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 www.aquinastapes.com).

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.


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).