John Wood was an Edinburgh Advocate and became Sheriff of Peebles. He began visiting the new Sessional School in Leith Wynd in 1819 where a number of his apprentices were being taught.
He started to teach the children himself and it from this experience that he developed his own method of teaching: the Intellectual or Exploratory method. The children, in groups of nine to twelve, were drilled by the monitors in the lessons of the day. The schoolmaster then examined the pupils who answered questions about their reading thereby testing their comprehension and understanding of words. He wrote textbooks that supported reading through the use of ‘interesting and instructive’ passages from the Bible and about natural history. The children responded positively to his methods and as word spread visitors came to observe his teaching methods.
At the Market Street Sessional School, as ‘a voluntary worker’, he refined his monitorial system. Monitors attended before the pupils to prepare the schoolroom and to receive instruction. There was a head monitor, monitors and assistant monitors, all paid accordingly.
However, it was the role of the teacher that Wood believed needed most reform. He considered that the schoolmaster should be at the centre of the learning, not at his desk, but ‘always on the floor among his pupils, and almost always in the act of teaching’. When a pupil had finished a specified task they could go and read a book from the schoolroom’s library. But with a number of groups going on in the same schoolroom at the same time the conflicting activities led to much noise and distraction.
A central characteristic of Wood’s approach was that teaching was not just a technical task: the personal qualities of the teacher, and his understanding of his pupils, were central to his success.
He left the Market Street School in 1840 and emigrated to the USA.
[John Wood (1840); Account of the Edinburgh Sessional School, Oliver & Boyd 5th edition, Edinburgh]