Supervised Correspondence Study

by Sidney C. Mitchell - 1940

This article will consider briefly some of the legitimate ways in which supervised correspondence study may be used.

FOR some years educators have seen the positive need for methods of providing a wider variety of subjects in the public schools, particularly on the secondary level. They have sought to satisfy this demand in such a way that these subjects will be taught by specialists. Existing needs have demanded that a plan be devised which will be effective in the smallest high school as well as the largest, and economic conditions have set up the requirement that this wider variety of subjects be provided at a reasonable cost. Among the various methods that have been developed is supervised correspondence study.

The value of supervised correspondence study depends primarily upon whether it is properly used. It is almost surely doomed to failure if suddenly introduced on a large scale as a panacea, if used to teach required subjects in which the pupil has no interest, or if courses chosen are poorly constructed or improperly supervised. On the other hand it may become an important means of broadening the curriculum through individual instruction if it is gradually introduced through a careful guidance program when pupils have the requisite needs, desires, and abilities and a well-constructed course can be found and properly supervised. This article will consider briefly some of the legitimate ways in which supervised correspondence study may be used.


One of the distinctive features of supervised correspondence study is that its effective use does not depend upon the size of the school. It has broadened the educational opportunities of pupils in high schools with enrollments of two thousand or more and it has been employed for the same purpose in one-room rural schools. It has been used effectively in high schools employing two or three teachers and in those of forty teachers or more. No minimum number of pupils is required for instruction in a subject. If there is but one pupil who desires instruction in radio engineering, for instance, he can be accommodated as well as he would be in a group, since each pupil is taught individually.

Properly prepared materials for correspondence instruction are designed to be used by the individual who must work by himself. His progress in a given subject depends upon his own ability and his inclination to get ahead. He is not hampered by others if he chooses to move forward rapidly and he does not retard the progress of others. He gets his assignments directly from his teacher and he recites when he is ready. When he completes one unit of work he goes on to the next without delay.

Can one teacher supervise a group of pupils working in a wide variety of different subjects? The following quotation1 will serve to clarify this point.

When we think of supervised study we are likely to assume that the teacher supervising has a thorough knowledge of every subject being studied. At first thought, for instance, it is difficult to conceive that a teacher who has had no training in the field of mathematics can supervise the work of students of trigonometry. We naturally assume that the teacher will be called upon, more or less frequently, to assist the student when he encounters difficulty, that he must necessarily be well informed on the subject if he is to supervise such study effectively. But let us suppose that the textbook has been so written that every point has been thoroughly explained, that it shows clearly how each step is to be taken, that almost every possible difficulty that the student might encounter has been anticipated by the author of the text, and that frequent revision of the text pamphlet has clarified every ambiguous statement that has come to light.

This is exactly what has been done in the preparation of the best correspondence courses. For that reason, it is fair to conclude that the need of an ever-present teacherto teachis eliminated.

The work of the local teacher then is to supervise the learning process, not to teach subject matter. Since the instructional materials furnish the subject matter, the local teacher's function is to guide and stimulate pupils. Thus one teacher can supervise a variety of courses.


Supervised correspondence study will be found most useful when its objectives are clearly defined. Objectives will vary in different high schools, depending upon the demands of the student body. Those that have been set up in the high school in Benton Harbor, Michigan, are presented briefly below:2

1. To provide vocational training in certain fields in which the cost of such training would be otherwise prohibitive.

2. To provide prevocational training in such fields as require actual work on the job for complete preparation.

3. To provide opportunities for the cultivation of worth-while hobby interests which may lead to an ultimate vocational choice or at least to a valuable use of leisure time.

4. To provide opportunities for "tryout" experiences which may lead to a happy vocational selection.

5. To provide "related training" for those young people who may be serving their apprenticeship in certain trades.

6. To supplement the established program with studies for which the local demand is limited.

7. To provide additional studies for boys and girls who have been graduated from high school but who wish to continue their education without the expense of attending higher institutions of learning.

8. To cultivate those special talents or aptitudes of high school boys and girls which are commonly ignored because of lack of adequate facilities.

9. To provide educational opportunities for those young people who, because of physical handicaps, are unable to attend school.

The unique contribution of supervised correspondence study is that of satisfying the wide variety of individual pupil needs which the school could not otherwise meet. It may have an important place in the high school regardless of size, but it will meet a wider need, even including college preparatory subjects, in the small school. The range of pupil interests which may be served is indicated by some of the courses now available: accounting, advertising, agriculture, air conditioning, architecture, art, automobile, aviation, building trades, business management, chemistry, civil service, college preparatory, commercial, criminology, drafting, dressmaking and design, electricity, engineering, foremanship, heating and ventilation, home economics, invention, journalism, landscape design, law, liberal arts, manufacturing trades, mining, music, navigation, nursing, pharmacy, photography, physics, radio, railroad, refrigeration, salesmanship, steam and gas engines, surveying and mapping, telegraphy, telephony, textiles.

A number of specialized courses are available in some of the above fields. Many of them are short enough for pupils to complete one or more in high school. Others are longer and only a beginning can be made, but the experience in school helps the pupil to complete the course after leaving school. It is apparent that many of the vocational needs of high school boys and girls may be met with courses from the above list.


Many young people would learn a trade or an occupation if there were some means of obtaining the necessary "related training." Correspondence study could provide this training. For instance, a place might be found for a boy in a "one-man" machine shop. The proprietor could teach him the skills and tricks in the manipulation of the various machine tools as well as the techniques of the bench, but he might lack the inclination or the ability to teach him the mathematics of the shop. He might have some notion of the relationship of the draftsman, the pattern maker, and the moulder to the machinist and his work, but it is doubtful whether he would be able to organize that knowledge in a form which would be intelligible to the apprentice. Courses have been prepared especially for the use of such youth. This is true of many occupations, and a plan of apprentice training can be developed in most communities. The greatest difficulty in meeting the vocational needs of youth through such apprenticeship opportunities is to find some agency which will assume the responsibility for bringing youth and opportunities together. Sooner or later the school must recognize this as its responsibility.

Vocational interests sometimes grow out of hobbies. The boy who draws pictures of the teacher, using his geography as a screen, may become a great artist or a successful cartoonist or a commercial designer. The youngster who likes to tinker with an old automobile or the family clock, who likes to work with mechanical things, may be a potential genius in the field of invention. The girl who gets enjoyment out of dressing dolls or decorating a toy house may become a successful dress designer or interior decorator. Hundreds of young people exhibit special interests through their hobbies, and what could be more logical than to give them encouragement in these tendencies through the curriculum. Supervised correspondence study opens the way to the cultivation of hobbies to an almost unlimited degree.

Other needs which can be effectively met by supervised correspondence study are those of the physically handicapped, of adults, and of individuals living remote from schools. Increasing attention is being given to the educational needs of the physically handicapped who cannot fit themselves into the regular program, and supervised correspondence study has an important contribution to make to this group. Adults who cannot adapt their time or energies to the usual routine of the school may continue their education by means of correspondence courses provided through the school. Children living in remote places are yet another group who may be served. Australia and New Zealand have developed extensive correspondence study programs for the children of ranchers, forest rangers, and miners where no school is accessible. Experience, both in this country and abroad, indicates that supervised correspondence study has a unique place in the public school in that it provides for individual differences and needs.

1 Mitchell, Sidney C. Supervised Correspondence Study for Individual Pupil Needs, p. 10. The International Textbook Company, Scranton, Pa. 1939.

2 Adapted from Mitchell, Sidney C., op. cit., pp. 83-86.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 41 Number 4, 1940, p. 318-322 ID Number: 8803, Date Accessed: 10/16/2021 7:54:49 PM

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