Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Better than Worksheets, Quizzes, Tests!

One of the beauties of home schooling is that we can utilize different methods of education for our children than the school system does. After we realize that home schooling isn't school at home, we open ourselves up to a phenomenal wealth of possibilities. The more I read about education, the more I find myself identifying with the Charlotte Mason Method. There are so many gems within it, and today I want to share one of them with you. It frees you and your child from the mundane grind of endless busywork, worksheets, quizzes, and tests. Best of all, it helps students to truly own their knowledge and keep it, rather than regurgitating it temporarily only to lose it later.

What I'm referring to is narration. 
What exactly is narration? It is the telling back of what the student knows. "As knowledge is not assimilated until it is reproduced, children should 'tell back' after a single reading or hearing: or should write on some part of what they have read" (Vol 6, Preface and p. 155)  

In practice, it goes something like this:
  1. Select quality literature. (Charlotte Mason insisted upon using living books.)
  2. Tell the child to pay close attention to the reading. He will be expected to tell it back in full afterwards, after only one reading. Younger students have their lesson books read to them, while older students (around fourth grade) read their lesson books for themselves. 
  3. Read the lesson once. You may jot down key names or words. 
  4. Ask the child to tell back all he can remember. (The more he practices, the more he'll remember and the better he'll become at telling it in a sequential fashion.)
  5. Later on throughout the year you may have the child narrate what he knows on the subject again, taking the place of tests. Older students (around fourth grade) may do their narrations either orally or written. More experienced students may try a variety of narration ideas
What's the big deal? 

Narration cultivates the habit of giving studious attention to ones' reading, the first time through. Many of us as adults soon forget what we've read, and chances are that's because we don't have a strong habit of giving our absolute attention to what we read. When a student knows he will be required to narrate after just one reading, he knows that he must focus his absolute attention on it. This is one reason Charlotte repeatedly reminded educators to insist on only one reading of the text.  "I dwell on the single reading because, let me repeat, it is impossible to fix attention on that which we have heard before and know we shall hear again." (Vol 6, p. 171) By doing so, her students were able to  "master a few pages in a single reading, so thoroughly that they can 'tell it back' at the time or months later." (Vol 6, p. 291)

Narration is far superior to worksheets and tests. Narration gives you far more insight into the depth of your child's understanding than a worksheet ever could. Instead of regurgitating a few key facts or memorized points, the student must actually take what he's read and make it his own before he can communicate it back. This gives the educator an excellent means of assessing the child's learning. If he can tell it back, there is no doubt in what he knows. If he can not tell it, he doesn't not really know it.

The regular use of narration may take the place of several separate subjects. Narration strengthens a child's ability in both listening comprehension and reading comprehension. In fact, it eliminates the need for a separate program or workbook with pre-made reading comprehension questions. Instead, reading comprehension is fully integrated into the regular subjects, like History, Geography, Bible, Science, Literature, etc. Narration is also excellent for building vocabulary skills and good practice for public speaking. And its importance in the development of written composition can not be emphasized enough. Oral narration is a precursor to it, while written narration is composition in practice.

Narration builds the skills necessary for students to develop as writers. In fact, I find that narration is central to the whole of Language Arts. Language Arts, by its very definition, is the ability to communicate with others using proper speech and writing. This is exactly what students practice through narration.

Let's consider, for a moment, the wide spread complaint among professors that college students are sorely lacking in writing skills. They may clamor for the need of stronger English Composition classes in high school but I think the problem is rooted deeper than that. Before you can write well, you must be able to organize your thoughts and speak well. Before you can speak well, you must have something to say. Instead of forcing children to write or speak before they have something worth saying, they're required to narrate quality literature instead. This practice builds a vital skill of thought organization and presenting ideas in an orderly fashion. As they progress, narrations may include open ended questions like what they would have done if they were in the character's place, or how they may have felt in their situation. By the time they're ready for written narration (composition), they're so practiced in oral narration that it comes naturally to them. Couple their skills with something to say and they're ready to launch into the world as writers. 

Quality literature is essential. The first step in narration is reading quality literature, which can not be emphasized enough. How better could a person develop their thinking and speaking skills than by listening to the best speakers by reading the best books? This integral step is missing in our school systems, since they've ditched classic literature. Herein I find another gem of the Charlotte Mason method. When students are immersed in carefully chosen, quality literature for every subject, they can not help but to absorb it. They begin by hearing the best books that have been written. They build their vocabulary and use it in their daily narrations. And unbeknownst to them they're learning the art of written composition long before the subject is thought to be introduced to them. 

Tips For Narrating

Keep in mind these important tips when narrating:
  • "Probably young children should be allowed to narrate paragraph by paragraph, while children of seven or eight will 'tell' chapter by chapter." (Vol 6, p. 191) 
  • Do not interrupt the child while he narrates. Don't correct his grammar or facts. If a correction needs to be made, wait until the child has finished narrating, and make it afterwards. But don't go overboard so as to interfere with the child's relation with the book. 
  • Let the child notice the content himself and determine what he thinks the author meant. This is of much more value than letting a book guide or other official study aid point you to arriving at someone else's pre-conceived ideas or interpretations, which short circuit your direct communication with the author. Also, don't overwhelm the child with your own thoughts and talk on the passage.
  • If you have several children together, you have have them take turns narrating portions of the reading. 
  • Children may begin narrating at age six. Before then, it shouldn't be required. 
  • Around the fourth grade, the child can begin writing some of his narrations. (Consider note booking!) However, oral narration should still be the leading method as it is such good practice for public speaking.
  • After narration is complete, then you may choose to discuss any moral points, personal points of view, or application that you want to bring out. Then, if desired, let the children illustrate their lesson. 
  • Besides using narration as a daily review of lessons, it may be used for term exams. "At the end of the term an examination paper is sent out containing one or two questions on each book... (younger children) narrate their answers, which someone writes from their dictation." (Vol 3, p. 272) 
  • Allow the child to show his personality and add his own embellishments in his narrations. "Indeed, it is most interesting to hear children of seven or eight go through a long story without missing a detail, putting every detail in its right order. These narrations are never a slavish reproduction of the original. A child's individuality plays about what he enjoys, and the story comes from his lips, not precisely as the author tells it, but with a certain spirit ad coloring which express the narrator. By the way, it is very important that children should be allowed to narrate in their own way, and should not be pulled up or helped with words and expressions from the text." (Vol 1, p. 289) 
  • Drawing or acting out a favorite scene are also forms of narration.
  • Other important aspects of the Charlotte Mason method go hand in hand with narration, like carefully choosing high-quality literature. If you need help, try the Charlotte Mason Bookfinder! It's important that the book is very interesting to the child. And one criteria for selecting a book is whether your child can narrate it. (And yes, the Bible is an excellent book to read from and have children narrate too!) 
  • If you're reading from a book that requires you to edit out certain portions, read it aloud to the child rather than giving it to him. 
  • If you'd like to read more of Charlotte Mason's method, check out her book called Home Education. For those needing help figuring how to do Language Arts the CM way, I found the book  Hearing and Reading, Telling and Writing quite helpful. 

*** Go back to my Reading Resources page! ***


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