As we wrap up a school year and plan for the next one, the question lurks in the back of our minds: How much does my child remember?

Some assessments are built right in to the subject, like math and spelling. You can tell right away how much your child remembers by watching him solve an equation or spell a dictation exercise.

But what about history, geography, science, and other subjects that we simply read together? How do we find out whether the child is remembering what we’ve read?

Charlotte Mason used three tools in her schools to assess what the child remembered: narration, pre-reading reviews, and end-of-term exams. By using those three tools, the teacher could evaluate short-term memory, intermediate memory, and long-term memory.

We can do the same.

Over the next few weeks we’ll take a closer look at each tool. Today let’s focus on a couple of basic principles that we should keep in mind for all three.

Principle #1: The Goal

In the Charlotte Mason method, the goal of assessment is to find out what the child knows while respecting him as a person. Our goal is not to interrogate the child in order to find out what he doesn’t know. It is also not our goal to spur the children into a competition to see who has the best score among them.

Our goal in assessing a child is to find out what he, as a person, has assimilated and made his own; what is now a part of himself and his life — what he knows.

So if we want to find out what the child knows, rather than what he doesn’t know, we need to word our questions carefully. Which brings us to Principle #2.

Principle #2: The Wording

Ask open-ended questions that invite the child to tell. Charlotte often used the phrase, “Tell all you know about . . . .” A question of this type can be used for narration, for pre-reading reviews, and for end-of-term exams — all three.

On the flip side, then, avoid questions that have one- or two-word answers (for example, true/false, multiple choice, fill in the blank). Such questions tend to limit what the child is allowed to tell about and often require the child to guess what the teacher is thinking.

Charlotte cautioned,

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 to the answer (Vol. 1, p. 228).

As we plan for upcoming lessons, let’s be careful not to play “Guess What I’m Thinking.” Instead, let’s invite our children to tell us what they know.

Next time, we’ll look more closely at narration and the important role it plays in assessing what a child remembers.