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Thursday, November 22, 2018


Karen Glass, of course, literally wrote the book on narration: Know and Tell (now out on Kindle!)  If you have that, use it!  If you are waiting for it, below are some quotes, references, and practical advice from my homschooling and tutoring practices.

My own children are grown now.  I do some tutoring for ESL students, and I use Miss Mason's methods with them.

When we first begin narration, and any time I think they are flagging in attention or I think the reading is more complex, I read a single paragraph, then stop and ask them to tell me what we just read about. Other times I read that single paragraph and ask them to tell me one thing they remember from the paragraph. This single paragraph at a time narration is a baby step towards longer readings and narrations over larger sections of the books.
Sometimes we vary the narrations, depending on the book. They might narrate by drawing a picture from the reading and telling me about it, by acting out a brief skit (I set the timer and give them maybe five minutes to plan the skit- otherwise, they spend the rest of the day planning and never performing), by setting up a scene with blocks (Horatio at the Bridge made a particular excellent building block scene) or dollhouse dolls- there are all sorts of ways a child can narrate. They can reenact a scene with Beanie babies. I might ask them to tell me just one thing they remember from a paragraph. Then I might start asking for two things. Sometimes if I am reading to several children, I will ask each child to tell me one thing from the reading. I start with the youngest and work my way up so that the youngest are not left empty headed, saying, “But they already said what I was thinking of!”
Some young learners find it stressful to narrate at first- it’s harder than we realize. So do go gently, but I believe narration is of vital importance to the CM method, and the child who doesn’t narrate his reading  is really missing out on an important processing tool.  You can have children take turns narrating quietly to you (they shouldn't hear the other's narration.). You can have one child narrate and let the other offer corrections or additions as his own narration.  The student should *never* know that they will not be called on to narrate. You can finish a reading and say, "Get ready to narrate," and give them a minute to think about what they will say and then call on one student. 
Incidentally, these baby steps also  work when processing from all oral narration to some written narrations. We usually begin by asking the children to write down two sentences about the reading, then five. Or I will ask them to make a list of what they know about one of their favorite characters. In the nature readings I might ask them to make a list of what that critter eats or is eaten by, or describe where it lives. Gradually, we work our way up.
The form of narration is not as important as the process, especially at the beginning. The most important point is that they need to review the material in their own minds, prioritize it, organize it, think about it, and select episodes or other material that they want to tell about. When you ask them that seemingly simple question, “Tell me what we just read about,” this is exactly what happens.

You don't save time by skipping narration.

In reflecting on our years of homeschooling (29 years), here are some things I wish I had known about narration from the beginning.
We didn’t always narrate every single reading as consistently as we should,  but  when we didn't do narration, we don’t get nearly as much out of the books.
Slow  and steady wins the race, although my own inclination was to race through as many books as possible, trying to cram everything we can into a school-year, with periodic breaks from utter exhaustion.
When I did this, it was as effective as  trying to give a thirsty child a drink from a fire hydrant. He gets water all over him, but it doesn’t actually quench his thirst, and that water evaporates quickly.
When I tried to leave out things like narration to get done quicker,
it’s the same reaction- my kids got books all over them, but they did not get so much inside which is where it counts.
My thinking is that it’s more important to read fewer books, but narrate them all, than to read more books and not narrate. Still, there are ways to do this more efficiently.
Some of my children have been prone to narrating longer than
the reading actually took- for them, sometimes I have set a timer and that’s all the time they have to narrate. I tell them they have a few seconds to gather their thoughts, and then start the timer and say, “GO!” They narrate as much as they can before the timer beeps.

 We do not repeat narrations- meaning they do not each give a narration, each having to listen to the others- this is not a successful or effective way to narrate- there’s a great article on this at the Parents’ Review page on AMbleside’s website.
However, we do not take turns with narrating either, by which I mean if A narrated last time, B will narrate the next book. No, this isn’t effective because part of the beauty of narration is the help it gives in paying attention. Unless every child must know that there is a good chance that she will be called upon to narrate after every single reading,it loses some of its effectiveness. If Child Two knows she won’t be called on to narrate because she did it last time, then she’s prone to listen just a little less carefully than otherwise. I don’t mean this is deliberate at all, I think it’s just a natural result- if we know we won’t be called on, our attention is just naturally a little less sharp than if we know we might be.
So every time we read a book all the children listening know they have an equal chance of being called on every single time. Sometimes I pick a number between one and ten to choose our narrator. Sometimes I have a different colored bead or button for each child in my pocket or in a basket, and I just draw the button, and that child narrates. Her button goes right back into my pocket, so she might be called on four times in a row- This also saves a few seconds or minutes each time, as there is no arguing about it not being somebody’s turn.=)
Sometimes a narration is not a generic ‘telling back,’ but a more focused telling of some smaller part of the reading. I might ask a child to tell me five things from the story, or tell me what the animal we just read about eats, or to tell me something (anything) this story reminds them of- another story, something that has happened to them. Sometimes I have them draw a picture from the story. Sometimes I have them act out a skit. Here again, the timer is your friend. Set your timer and give them five minutes (or less) to plan their skit- otherwise, mine could spend all day planning a major production. This is a good one to use when you have to switch out laundry or start lunch- they are getting ready to do their skit while you are doing something else anyway.Then have them act out their skit.

Sometimes I ask them to tell me just one thing, anything at all, but just one thing, from what we read. I tend to do this with stories like Parables from Nature, which are complex and perhaps not so easy to retell as a story. Takes the pressure off the children, and sometimes they give more thorough narrations with this question than when I ask for them to tell me as much as they can!
There are some books my younger children read where one of them narrates every single paragraph. We just read through these books much slower. They  read Beowulf for Children, for instance, and this is one that got a narration after each paragraph. This means that we sometimes only read two paragraphs at a sitting, sometimes three, never more than four. That also means we took a long time to finish this book, but that’s okay. They retained more this way. So we  only spenti fifteen minutes at a time on it, but we don’t even read so much as a page a day. Sometimes I have found this most helpful at the start of a book that might have more difficult language (Pilgrim’s Progress, for instance), but after a few weeks they are understanding it better and we no longer need narrate after each paragraph.
I wouldn’t do this with every book, but Beowulf for children is so totally narratable that it works very well for this.
More information on narrating:
From Volume I: "Method of Lesson.––In every case the reading should be consecutive from a well-chosen book. Before the reading for the day begins, the teacher should talk a little (and get the children to talk) about the last lesson, with a few words about what is to be read, in order that the children may be animated by expectation; but she should beware of explanation and, especially, of forestalling the narrative. Then, she may read two or three pages, enough to include an episode; after that, let her call upon the children to narrate,––in turns, if there be several of them. They not only narrate with spirit and accuracy, but succeed in catching the style of their author. It is not wise to tease them with corrections; they may begin with an endless chain of 'ands,' but they soon leave this off, and their narrations become good enough in style and composition to be put in a 'print book'!
This sort of narration lesson should not occupy more than a quarter of an hour.
The book should always be deeply interesting, and when the narration is over, there should be a little talk in which moral points are brought out, pictures shown to illustrate the lesson, or diagrams drawn on the blackboard. As soon as children are able to read with ease and fluency, they read their own lesson, either aloud or silently, with a view to narration; but where it is necessary to make omissions, as in the Old Testament narratives and Plutarch's Lives, for example, it is better that the teacher should always read the lesson which is to be narrated."

And again:

Questions on the Subject-Matter––When a child is reading, he should not be teased with questions as to the meaning of what he has read, the signification of this word or that; what is annoying to older people is equally annoying to children. Besides, it is not of the least consequence that they should be able to give the meaning of every word they read. A knowledge of meanings, that is, an ample and correct vocabulary, is only arrived at in one way––by the habit of reading. A child unconsciously gets the meaning of a new word from the context, if not the first time he meets with it, then the second or the third: but he is on the look-out, and will find out for himself the sense of any expression he does not understand. Direct questions on the subject-matter of what a child has read are always a mistake. Let him narrate what he has read, or some part of it. He enjoys this sort of consecutive reproduction, but abominates every question in the nature of a riddle. If there must be riddles, let it be his to ask and the teacher's to direct him the answer. Questions that lead to a side issue
or to a personal view are allowable because these interest children––'What would you have done in his place?' "

"Children play with Moral Questions.––There is no part of education more nice and delicate than this, nor any in which grown-up people are more apt to blunder. Everyone knows how tiresome it is to discuss any nice moral question with children; how they quibble, suggest a hundred ingenious explanations or evasions, fail to be shocked or to admire in the right place––in fact, play with the whole question; or, what is more tiresome still, are severe and righteous overmuch, and 'deal damnation round' with much heartiness and goodwill. Sensible parents are often distressed at this want of conscience in the children; but they are not greatly in fault; the mature conscience demands to be backed up by the mature intellect, and the children have neither the one nor the other. Discussions of the kind should be put down; the children should not be encouraged to give their opinions on questions of right and wrong, and little books should not be put into their hands which pronounce authoritatively upon conduct."

From Volume III:
 Let the pupil write for himself half a dozen questions which cover the passage studied; he need not write the answers if he be taught that the mind can know nothing but what it can produce in the form of an answer to a question put by the mind to itself.

Younger children would not be asked to write so much, but if you have a reluctant narrator, the child might be more interested in being told, "You are going to give Mama a test after the reading, so listen and be ready to ask me some questions about this story when we are done."

You can also have a child draw a scene from the story and then explain it to you, or set up a scene with blocks or other toys and then explain it to you- this is actually a double narration, but they don't know it.

You may use props- One of my Korean students recently gave me an excellent and lively narration of Aesop's Fable of the two travellers and the bear using only a pen, a pencil and an eraser to reenact the tale. The eraser was the bear.  The pen played dead in a most convincing way, and the pencil rested safely behind the tree's ear (the young narrator)!

Since Volume VI is an overview intended to present Mason's methods to those who were not familiar with them, it also has information useful to parents of quite young children, such as this:

"Children are in Form IA from 7 to 9 and their reading is wider and their composition more copious. They will 'tell' in their examinations about the Feeding of the Four Thousand, about the Building of the Tabernacle, How Doubting Castle was demolished, about the burning of Old St. Paul's, How we know that the world is round and a great deal besides; for all their work lends itself to oral composition and the power of such composition is innate in children and is not the result of instruction. Two or three points are important. Children in lB require a quantity of matter to be read to them, graduated, not according to their powers which are always present, but they require a little time to employ their power of fixed attention and that other power which they possess of fluent narration. So probably young children should be allowed to narrate paragraph by paragraph, while children of seven or eight will 'tell' chapter by chapter. Corrections must not be made during the act of narration, nor must any interruption be allowed."

Also from Volume VI:
But, it will be said, reading or hearing various books read, chapter by chapter, and then narrating or writing what has been read or some part of it,––all this is mere memory work. The value of this criticism may be readily tested; will the critic read before turning off his light a leading article from a newspaper, say, or a chapter from Boswell or Jane Austen, or one of Lamb's Essays; then, will he put himself to sleep by narrating silently what he has read. He will not be satisfied with the result but he will find that in the act of narrating every power of his mind comes into play, that points and bearings which he had not observed are brought out; that the whole is visualized and brought into relief in an extraordinary way; in fact, that scene or argument has become a part of his personal experience; he knows, he has assimilated what he has read. This is not memory work. In order to memorise, we repeat over and over a passage or a series of points or names with the aid of such clues as we can invent; we do memorise a string of facts or words, and the new possession serves its purpose for a time, but it is not assimilated; its purpose being served, we know it no more. This is memory work by means of which examinations are passed with credit. I will not try to explain (or understand!) this power to memorise;––it has its subsidiary use in education, no doubt, but it must not be put in the place of the prime agent which is attention.
Long ago, I was in the habit of hearing this axiom quoted by a philosophical old friend: "The mind can know nothing save what it can produce in the form of an answer to a question put to the mind by itself." I have failed to trace the saying to its source, but a conviction of its importance has been growing upon me during the last forty years. It tacitly prohibits questioning from without; (this does not, of course, affect the Socratic use of questioning for purposes of moral conviction); and it is necessary to intellectual certainty, to the act of knowing. For example, to secure a conversation or an incident, we 'go over it in our minds'; that is, the mind puts itself through the process of self-questioning which I have indicated. This is what happens in the narrating of a passage read: each new consecutive incident or statement arrives because the mind asks itself,––"What next?" For this reason it is important that only one reading should be allowed; efforts to memorise weaken the power of attention, the proper activity of the mind; if it is desirable to ask questions in order to emphasize certain points, these should be asked after and not before, or during, the act of narration. (emphasis added)

Parents' Review Articles (these were so eye-opening to me when we first started putting the PR articles online for free use by all interested in CM's methods):

This list of resources was compiled by AmblesideOnline Auxiliary member Kathy Livingston and is in the forum where it is updated as needed.  This is the sort of useful information available in the forum, where you will also find thoughtful discussions:

Ambleside Online Narration Discussion

Ambleside Online: Some Thoughts on Narration - An article by Donna-Jean

Narration for the Newbie by Carroll Smith

A narration cube

.pdf   Narration Cube.pdf (Size: 63.51 KB / Downloads: 451) 

A narration jar

.doc   Narration Jar Ideas 1109.doc (Size: 23 KB / Downloads: 450) 

Six steps of the narration sequence

.docx   Six Steps of The Narration Sequence.docx (Size: 11.41 KB / Downloads: 586) 

.pdf   Six Steps of The Narration Sequence.pdf (Size: 8.63 KB / Downloads: 435) (bookmarks)

Archipelago: Narration Helps

Archipelago: Narration Through the Ages

Afterthoughts: 31 Days of Charlotte Mason: Narration by Karen Glass

Afterthoughts: Narration and the Single Reading

What is narration and how do you do it?  Bookmarks made by Veronica Smith.

.pdf   AONarrationBookmark.pdf (Size: 2.2 MB / Downloads: 77)

Note: Narration has also been found to be a highly effective tool in evangelism!


   Education for All, a new Charlotte Mason e-zine. In this issue: Handicrafts, toys, imagination, nature study, and more!

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