What are the benefits of oral exercises and is it really a better education, and worth the time?
Most of the time in traditional educational settings, like the classroom, teaching is oral: lessons, lectures, reading aloud. I believe that as much as possible a child should be taught orally. They should be hearing the lessons being taught while looking at their book, the board, or the teacher. The more ways a thing is learned: visually (the child seeing or reading it), auditorily (the child hearing it spoken), vocally (the child speaking it), kinesthetically (the child writing it), the better it will be learned and the quicker it will be mastered.
All lessons, no matter what subject should encompass at least two ways of learning, and most are—the lesson is read and the exercises are written. If there are flashcards, the child should do them out loud, even if he is doing them by himself. This will add the third way of learning. And if the lesson, or at least parts of it, are taught by a teacher, then all four ways of learning have been utilized for a single lesson.
When you have so many children, some subjects have to be self-taught and read silently to oneself. My children read all of their lessons themselves, even math, grammar, and Greek. This is just the practical side of running a big homeschool, but if you have few children, read the lessons with the child.
What I want to discuss in this post, though, is why the child should be doing exercises orally instead of writing them out on paper.
In our homeschool, Latin is done entirely orally. We read the lesson out loud together and all exercises and drills are done orally. For Prima Latina, Latina Christiana, and sometimes in First Form, all quizzes and tests are even done orally. I mentioned this in my How to Teach Latin articles.
I used to do math exercises orally with my oldest up until the middle of fourth grade, and I think that’s probably why he is so good at it. Though it is quite a time investment, I wish I could devote that time to all my children. He is my best overall student, probably because of all the personal tutoring he received in his first school years and all the books that were read aloud to him (and his siblings).
While my children may read the lesson themselves now, the workbooks for history, geography, literature, science, and religion are done orally with me.
We do grammar orally, too, other than copying rules—I still make them write those out. Parsing sentences was something that children could do orally in the 1800s, as well as spelling. We do spelling orally for the most part as well, especially in first grade when children can’t write very well or very quickly, but most of my children have done spelling completely orally.
Now, why do I teach this way? Is it worth the time investment? Here are my reasons for doing workbook exercises orally.
1. Instant correction.
When exercises are done orally, wrong answers can be instantly corrected, and if necessary, lessons can be retaught or remedial work done right away so that the child learns faster.
When writing out work on paper, there is a lag between the time when the child is writing it out incorrectly, you are grading it, and the child sees the graded mistake. I grade the work my children do by the end of the day of the assignment, usually within an hour or two of it being completed. But I know some people, especially with older children, don’t even look over school work until the end of the week or later. So if corrections are taking this long to happen, there is very little learning that will go on.
Also, if you do not even discuss the mistake with the child, they may not even see the mistake, let alone correct the defect in their mind that led to the mistake in the first place.
I know that sometimes when I hand back papers, my children don’t even look at them, but just tuck them away in a folder, never to be seen again. So I always try to talk to my children about their mistakes or make them correct written work, especially math, so that they can see where they went wrong.
As we talked about above, learning takes place in the writing, so if there is not instant correction, the child may remember the mistake or at least have a harder time learning or memorizing the correct answer.
2. Teaches oratory, or proper speaking.
If you can speak well, you can write well, but not vice versa. Speaking well does not just happen, nor is it the product of education generally, nor is it just a natural ability that some possess. Oratory, the art of speaking well, requires learning and practicing the skills required to speak well. Every lesson in any subject that you do with your child can be a small lesson in speaking well: from speaking loudly and clearly enough to be heard to inflecting statements downward and questions upward, from using complete sentences and correct grammar to speaking in a connected and thoughtful way, collecting the thoughts before speaking and not saying “um” or “like”.
3. Teaches reading aloud.
Just like with speaking, if you can read aloud well, you can read to yourself well, but not vice versa. I had high reading comprehension in school but could not read aloud to save my life, as they say; I was aways stuttering and stumbling over words when called upon to read in class. I read aloud well now after much practice reading to my children when they were younger. Reading aloud requires a lot of practice in order to do it well, and each oral lesson with the children is an opportunity for them to read aloud the questions and other text in the workbook. (This skill can also be practiced by having older children read aloud to their siblings.)
4. Increases memory.
Doing education orally is hard; it is much harder than writing down the answer, because it really makes the children have to think things through and rely on their memory. Using the memory strengthens the memory, therefore increasing the child’s capacity to memorize more material and memorize it faster. And, finally, memory is an essential skill for great speakers.
5. Better education
This point is a culmination of the preceding four reasons to work orally with your child. If they are instantly corrected; taught public speaking skills, and subsequently good thinking and writing skills; taught how to read aloud, and subsequently how to read to themselves; and have an increase in and strengthening of their memory, they will have a much better education than a child who just completes workbooks by himself all day.
Giving your children an oral education is time consuming, but only to a certain extent. You would have take the time to grade all the written material if the child did not complete the exercises orally. Most importantly, doing the lessons with the child is excellent quality time as a parent that the child and you will cherish.
And, since I advocate for learning the Greeks, I will leave you with this, which Plato once remarked in Phaedrus:
“If men learn this [writing], it will implant forgetfulness in their souls. They will cease to exercise memory because they rely on that which is written, calling things to remembrance no longer from within themselves, but by means of external marks.
“What you have discovered is a recipe not for memory, but for reminder. And it is no true wisdom that you offer your disciples, but only the semblance of wisdom, for by telling them of many things without teaching them you will make them seem to know much while for the most part they know nothing. And as men filled not with wisdom but with the conceit of wisdom they will be a burden to their fellows.”
If you like what you’re reading, share this with a friend, and don’t forget to subscribe so that you don’t miss my next post on what homeschool really looks like! Give your child the best education possible. Give them a Fundamentally Classical education, and make sure to work with them orally!