In its narrower sense, the term working method denotes the method employed in pursuit of a goal, e.g. the acquisition or transmission of knowledge and skills.
Sometimes the working method to be used is obvious. Co-operation cannot be learned without practice, nor can one learn to plan an assignment and report on it plainly and coherently without applying a working method which makes this necessary, and one can never learn to assume responsibility for the common satisfaction unless responsibility is conferred and the appropriate demand is made.
In a number of cases the working method employed is a means of attaining something else, e.g. certain skills or insights. As a means to an end, the working method employed must be subjected to constant appraisal, so as to ascertain what is most efficient in different contexts, for different age groups, in different school environments, for different teachers and for individual pupils.
Experience hitherto has suggested that, for the sake of efficient learning, the working method employed should be governed by the following principles.
Work on different fields of subject matter should take as its starting point the pupils' image of reality. The teacher must try to build on the pupils' innate curiosity, allowing them to formulate and seek the answers to their own questions, and presenting problems which arouse their spirit of inquiry. Work should therefore start with something topical or near at hand. But it is equally important that teaching should then take the pupils further and broaden their apprehension of reality in time and space. Reality is not confined to society and the natural environment; it also includes emotional experience, cultural life, questions of belief, and ideals of different kinds.
If work in many cases can emanate from problems posed by the pupils themselves, schools will have good prospects of training the pupils in problem solving. They should realize the importance of acquiring sound knowledge as a means of making further progress, selecting the important knowledge in the context, drawing logical conclusions, testing each other's arguments and, finally, putting forward a solution.
Alternation between observations, theory and practice is often the best working method. In this way the pupils can acquire knowledge by investigating, observing and experiencing for themselves. They can learn to sift their observations critically, to range and deploy them in wider contexts. They can endeavor to draw conclusions from them, and they can learn to perceive relationships in society and the natural environment. They can then be given an opportunity of testing their theories and applying what they have learned.
With a working method of this kind, the teacher plays an active part in inducing the pupils to work critically, to realize the value of their observations, to reflect, to ask questions, to learn to sift, arrange and present subject matter. The teacher must also play an active part in directing the pupils' investigations into essential fields and in preventing them from getting bogged down in minutiae.
The active role allotted to the teacher highlights the importance which should be attached to discussions and co-operation between teacher and pupils. The teacher must not limit his contribution to merely organizing the work situations and then allowing activities to be guided by previously produced assignments. A working method of this impersonal kind is foreign to the aim of compulsory school to help its pupils achieve a process of all round development. But a working method involving alternation between observations, theorization and practice does not by any means suit every situation. Nobody can obtain direct experience of everything, and pupils must therefore also be familiarized with a working method whereby they share the experience of others. They must learn to make use of books, libraries and various media.
One should, however, beware of the tendency for verbal information to get the upper hand. Schools have sometimes limited observations and experiments and omitted practical exercises in order to save time. A one sided working method of this kind can easily cause school fatigue where many pupils are concerned. Practical exercises must be given generous scope in ordinary school work, in projects and in depth studies. The knowledge which the pupils acquire must be applicable to concrete tasks of different kinds or to discussion, creative activities and personal development. Practical exercises are the only way in which pupils can make knowledge their own property and acquire consolidated and meaningful insights.
Courses must therefore not be encumbered with general introductions covering wide fields of knowledge and leaving the pupil with no time for applying their new-found knowledge to assignments of different kinds.