One of the most essential, though least interesting, parts of the work of instruction, is the revision of what has been previously taught. Every teacher must lay his account with a large measure of this kind of work.
Very few persons are able by one repetition to retain what they have learned. Our knowledge of the properties of external nature—that fire burns, that lead is heavy, and snow cold, and iron hard—familiar as it appears to us now, and easy of acquirement, was not gained with one effort, but by almost innumerable practical lessons; and repetition from week to week will be found indispensable to the accuracy and permanency of even the commonest facts and doctrines of religion. A child will not remember that God made him, that Jesus Christ is the Saviour of sinners, that Adam was the first man, or Eve the first woman, merely because he has been told all these particulars once. A hymn or a text, though committed with perfect accuracy, will soon fade from the memory, unless the impression of it is revived by frequent repetition. For a teacher, therefore, to omit revision, as sometimes happens, on account of its irksomeness, is to take a sure method of forming in the memories of his scholars an incongruous mixture of the most extraordinary materials. Names, dates, places, and facts, will be jumbled together without order; there will be little certainty in referring to any one event; and the real information possessed will be very imperfectly at the scholar's command. It is a law of nature, which we ought not to overlook, that all information which is to form part of the permanent treasures of the understanding, must be frequently repeated; and, instead of fretting at this necessity, or harshly blaming our scholars for their forgetfulness, let us calmly resolve to do our duty faithfully.
Repetition is equally necessary to a practical acquaintance with the great lessons of morality and religion, as to a familiarity with the facts on which these lessons are grounded. Perhaps if a child at any one time knew that it was wrong to steal, however his moral sensibilities in after life might be blunted to the wickedness of theft, he would always retain a conviction of its evil; but the conviction would not avail for any practical purpose, without careful and oft-renewed instruction. Every duty and every doctrine must be set forth again and again, till they become laws of our scholars' moral life, which they obey as implicitly as the ordinary physical laws of our-being; till the duties of prayer, and love, and faith, grow into moral instincts; and the doctrines of the goodness of God, and the death of Christ, and the certainty of immortality, are the necessary aliment of the. soul.
The following are the principal parts of a lesson which require revision :— .
1. Everything committed to memory. It is less difficult for children to commit a lesson to memory, than to retain it after it has been committed. The best way to secure both is to have regular periods of revision. If a hymn contains eight verses, and has formed four lessons, the fifth lesson may consist of a repetition of the whole hymn. If a series of doctrines, proved by one or two texts each, has formed an exercise for several successive weeks, the same doctrines, taking two or three at a time, may be profitably revised. This should be repeated until the hymns or texts become perfectly familiar, and are cited by the children with spontaneous ease. Some teachers may think this will be a great waste of time, but in truth it is the only way to save time and labour. The apparent progress may be less, but the real advance is greater.
2. The outline of the lesson. Where the lesson is a passage of Bible history, care must be taken to leave on the memories of the scholars a distinct outline of the successive events, and their mutual relation. A child who has had the passage of the Red Sea for his lesson, ought to be able, without hesitation, to run over the whole narrative from the time when the angel of God, who went before the camp of Israel, removed and went behind them, until Moses and the Israelites sang their triumphal ode. But it will not be possible for him to do this unless, after the passage has been taught in the usual way, the outline is treated by itself, and the child is asked, What took place first?—The angel of God went behind the Israelites. What next ? and so forth, through the passage.
Where the lesson consists of a parable, or a doctrine which has been branched out into its several parts, these should be treated in the same way. Thus, a child ought to be able to tell us at once, that in the parable of the sower, four kinds of ground are mentioned ; that the first was the wayside ; the fourth, good ground; the third, thorny ground; and the second, stony ground. He should be able to tell us these particulars in whatever order we ask them. Or if the lesson were on 2 Peter i. 5-7, he should remember the order in which faith, virtue, knowledge, and the other Christian graces stand. In short, the heads and particulars of our lessons should be carefully repeated by themselves; for if once they are firmly lodged in the mind, the illustrations by which we have explained and enforced them, will be easily remembered too ; but if the thread of connexion is broken, we are in great danger of allowing that which was strung on the thread to slip also.
3. General outlines of history. It is a very useful exercise, when the Bible has been taught in its more strictly practical and personal bearings, to train a child to a familiarity with its general outlines. It is no mean acquirement for a person to be able to state with ease the date of the deluge; the periods when Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob flourished ; the number and order of the plagues of Egypt; the duration of the residence of the Israelites in Egypt; the date of the reigns of Saul, David, and Hezeltiah; the number and names of Christ's parables; the general outline of the life of Christ, and of Paul. There may be a great amount of piety and personal religion with very scanty information on all these topics; but he who would have his scholars grow up to be men in understanding, and who wishes to enable them to turn his instructions to good account, will not neglect the careful building and repairing of these to a lis of knowledge, by which the waters which would otherwise be diffused and lost, are confined and rendered available.
4. It will be found advantageous, before the conclusion of a lesson, to ask a summary of it from the class, so that they may see at one view the different topics which have been discussed. It is better to require such a summary while the lesson is fresh on the memory, as the sooner we repeat anything after having heard it, it is the more useful.
The same summary should be repeated on the following Sabbath, previous to a new lesson. A few questions should also be asked upon such points as were most difficult, or least known, in the lesson of the previous week. These summaries and outlines may be profitably repeated at stated periods, more or less fully, as may be found necessary. Nothing will require to be oftener repeated than dates, and names of persons and places.
It is a very good method of revising a lesson, to ash a number of irregular questions upon it, to fix it in the mind. When a lesson has been gone quite through, the order in which the questions have been asked should be reversed. A person will sometimes remember a fact in its connexion, which he does not remember for its own sake. Thus, many who can repeat the multiplication table fluently, were they suddenly asked, How many are eleven times eleven? would be at a loss, and would require to run along the line—eleven times one are eleven, eleven times two are twenty-two, till they came to the sum wanted. The next subject is Catechising.