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Last time we talked about some ideas for getting started using narration with younger children. Today let’s address some questions about starting the method with older children.
Narration Question #41: In the Fall I will have a 4th and 1st grader. I am going to try to have my 4th grader be more independent and therefore she will be reading more subjects/books on her own and then narrating her books to me. However there will be an overlap of the books they both will hear. I know when you are starting out with narration in 1st grade, it is recommended to start with Aesop’s Fables. Do I still need to do this or can I have him narrate some of the science books that I will be reading to him instead of the Fables?
If your first grader has grown up hearing the books you’ve been reading aloud to his older sibling (and hearing her narrate), you might not need to start with fables. They are conducive to beginners because they contain a whole story in just a paragraph or two. But you could try using the shared book you mentioned and adjust the portions you read according to the children’s experience with narration. For example, you could read a paragraph or two and ask the first grader to narrate; then continuing from there, read a longer portion and ask the fourth grader to narrate. As time allows, keep going with the readings, alternating and mixing up the order of short and long and who you ask to narrate.
Also, make sure you do the short review/introduction before you read in order to set the children—but especially your beginner—up for success. It will help greatly if you give him that framework on which to hang what he is hearing and narrating.
Narration Question #42: How should I begin narration if I am starting with older children who have not done it from the beginning?
If this will be their first exposure to the method of narration, I would recommend you take some time up front to explain what you will be requiring and why. This is a foreign concept to them, and it’s only fair to let them know what to expect. Tell them that you will be reading the passage only once and you expect them to listen carefully and pay full attention. Explain how much time that habit will save and how quickly they will be done with their schoolwork if they acquire it. Tell them the secret of picturing the living book’s passage in their minds’ eyes as they listen, then words will come easily when it is time to retell. Explain what narration is and why you will be asking them to narrate. Present narration as a powerful learning tool that they will be able to use the rest of their lives to help them learn for themselves.
Narration Question #43: How would you begin with older students; middle and high school levels?
If the student is old enough to do the reading independently, which would most likely be the case with this age group, you may want to carve out some time during the beginning weeks to sit with them as they do their silent reading in order to help them set up good habits. In particular, you will want to encourage them to read the passage only once and to give it their full attention. You could even take their longer reading assignments and break them into shorter segments, asking for a narration after each segment.
Of course, be careful of your demeanor as you sit with them. You don’t want them to feel like you are breathing down their necks or impatient for them to finish. Rather, you want your presence to convey an attitude like that of a supportive and encouraging personal trainer.
Narration Question #44: When starting with a middle-school student, what’s the best way to begin? Do I start with oral narration and then move into written? Is it better to start with read-alouds or with books she is reading independently, or both?
I usually recommend doing oral narrations first until the student gets comfortable and fluent in the method, then moving to written. This process allows the students to practice the mental work of composition the Charlotte Mason way. Especially if they are used to writing formulaic, analytical, dry book-report-type assignments, you will want to have a way to help them easily make the transition to thinking in ideas. Telling you their thoughts will be much faster and less frustrating than toiling to get them all on paper only to find out later that it’s not what you had in mind. In other words, oral narration will give you the benefit of listening to the students’ thoughts, evaluating their comprehension, and guiding them through the process of learning how to narrate in “real time.” Once they understand it and feel comfortable with it, they can move to writing their narrations for your time-delayed feedback.
As far as whether to start with read-alouds or independent silent reading, some of that decision depends on the student. If he is most comfortable with reading for himself, allow him to do that with your supportive presence ready at hand. (See answer to Narration Question #46 above.) If your student would feel more comfortable learning this new skill by listening to you read aloud, do so until he finds his feet and is ready to take over the reading for himself.
Next time we will take a closer look at written narrations and answer your questions about that topic. I hope this Narration Q & A series is helping you think through the ins and outs of this powerful yet simple method.