Monday, February 1, 2016

Ten Daily Exercises at the Heart of 16th Century 
Protestant Classical Schools
Johann Sturm was a highly influential German educator during the 16th century Reformation.  He referred frequently in his writings to schools, advisors, and individual teachers and scholars to ‘the method’, a collection of exercises he established in his schools and promoted elsewhere. His chief interest was in developing the liberal arts, and particularly the language arts, in his pre-university students. His goal was the training of a “wise and eloquent piety”.  

To accomplish this he emphasized daily drill in reading, grammar, exposition, writing, and public speaking. Younger students spent most of their time digging deeply into grammar and the meaning of words, while work for older students branched out to include the writing and delivery of frequent public addresses. While significant time in classrooms was no doubt taken up with teacher explanations, ‘the method’ clearly shows that Sturm placed a premium on students being constantly and actively engaged in a variety of exercises meant to develop their ability to think, to write, to discuss, and to speak truthfully, wisely, and persuasively.

Sturm championed these methods in his role as teacher and leader of the movement to found schools in newly-reformed Protestant cities.

1. Psalms
·       singing psalms as a group and as a school
·       3x daily: morning, mid-day, evening
·       Sung and ‘invoked’
2. Daily Recitations
·       students reading aloud
·       read the psalms that are sung, and other important                     pieces (e.g., creeds, prayers, etc.)
·       emphasis on pronunciation and improving voice and              delivery, including body language 
·       short pieces (‘homilies’) to be recited or read
·       brief, serious (e.g., devotional reading)
·       either from written document, or prepared and                      memorized
·       emphasize purity of speech, clarity of meaning
4. Writing
·       daily practice: “never lacking a written composition or pen, or minus a pack of paper”
·       three-fold writing practice:
            -hand-writing (elementary grades, mainly)
  -diaries/journals: note-taking, commonplace books,                   notebooks for language, words, quotations, examples; these are “the custodians of memory”
   -stylistic examples: parts of orations and declamations;              arguments; well-constructed letters and narratives
5. Declamations
·       practice speeches, hypothetical situations; praise,                  censure, etc. (upper progymnasmata and suasoria                  exercises)
·       emphasize knowledge, custom, and eloquence
6. Disputations
        ·      debates and discussions
7. Conversations
·       integration of, and immersion into, Latin whenever                  possible
·       during the day, in class, out of class (e.g., breaks, after            school)
    8. Demonstrations
·       didactic and socratic instruction
·       discourse and demonstration
·       e.g., proofs in mathematics, expositions of literature and        poetry, etc.
    9. Comedies and Tragedies
·       dramatic performances and readings
·       recite passages from memory
·       work in groups to perform, present
    10. Games
·       “All the above exercises should be held with games”
·       use jests and games
·       teach Latin in the games
·       field trips: “Get out of cities to view the fields, and                gardens, to dig our plants, to ask their names”, etc.

For more on Johann Sturm, see Johann Sturm on Education: The Reformation and Humanist Learning, Lewis K. Spitz and Barbara Sher Tinsley, Concordia Publishing House

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