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The art of narrating—telling back what you know in your own words—can be a challenge for most every student. But for those who struggle with auditory processing or speech issues, narration can be even more challenging—for both student and parent.
Doubts can arise: Should I require him to narrate at all? Is he capable of this or am I asking him to do something he cannot do? Am I challenging or frustrating my child?
While each parent knows his or her child best, I can share what my experience has been. My youngest is fifteen, but it has only been in the past few years that I’ve required a narration from her. She has autism and developmental delays that affect her language skills, both auditory and speech. So I waited until she was able to use sentences in spontaneous conversation around the house first. I figured if she wasn’t able to compose a sentence in her own words in an informal setting, she shouldn’t be pressured to do so in a lesson setting.
We’ve certainly had our ups and downs, but I wanted to share with you what has been working well lately. Maybe it will give you some ideas for your own situations.
Steps in Narration with Delayed Language Skills
Here are the steps I’ve been using when we read and narrate from a book.
Choose a short story; only a few paragraphs. We have worked up to a page or two for history selections, but for Bible and science, we are still keeping it at a few paragraphs.
Ideally, the selection will contain a complete idea or event even when it is broken into sections. For example, we recently read about how Samoset brought Squanto to help the Pilgrims. That large event, which historically covered several days or weeks, we broke into smaller events for the readings. The first reading was about Samoset’s coming; the second reading was about his telling them he had a friend named Squanto, whom he would bring to help them. The third reading was about Squanto’s coming; the fourth reading was about Squanto’s showing the Pilgrims how to plant corn with little fish in the soil.
Short selections are especially crucial to help our language-strugglers gain confidence and practice the habit of full attention.
Show a picture or object that illustrates some aspect of what you will be reading about. If there is a picture in the book, I’ll show it to her and we’ll discuss what we see. I try to use this exercise to build a sense of assured anticipation but not give spoilers. If there isn’t a picture in the book, I’ll find one on the Internet or use simple objects around the house.
We recently read a poem about four children standing on the edge of the pond, looking at four waterlilies. So I found a photo on the Internet of four waterlilies floating in some water. It took about two minutes to find it. I drug the image onto my desktop so it would be right there when I was ready for it. Double-click to open it, and we’re off and running with no distractions or delays while I try to find it again in my browser. (This little tip can prevent a lot of frustration. Don’t ask me how I know.)
Today we were going to read about an oak tree that shed its leaves and covered some flowers for the winter. So before we read, we went outside to look at a tree in the front yard that had shed its leaves on the flowers below it. We talked about how the leaves made a blanket to keep the flowers from freezing, and she made a relation with other objects that freeze that she is familiar with.
In this step I’m trying to prime the pump and use her stronger visual skills to get her started. Once she has a schema, a mental picture of the context, of what she will be hearing, we’re ready to move on.
Write on the white board two or three key words from the selection. Last week, for example, we read the Bible account of Jesus’ clearing the temple and overturning the money-changers’ tables. I picked the words “Jesus,” “temple,” and “greedy people,” because I knew she understood the concept of “greedy.”
After we look at the picture, I have her read the key words aloud to me and I tell her that those words will be in the story. She should listen for/look for them and include them in her narration too.
Read the selection. Read at the pace that works best for the child, but be careful not to sacrifice inflection and enunciation. You can read slowly and still read expressively. Then again, be careful not to go overboard and get melodramatic, overdoing all the emotions in the story. Try to read as you would to any other student, just slower as needed.
Ask the student to tell the story, being sure to use all the key words on the board. Since my daughter has slow processing, especially when trying to use language, I have a spiral notebook in which I write each sentence after she gives it. It seems that the extra time it takes for me to write gives her more processing time to come up with another sentence. If, on the other hand, I simply sit and look at her and listen while she’s trying to narrate, she feels pressured to come up with the next sentence more quickly and usually shuts down. But if I nod and smile at her first sentence, then shift my gaze to the notebook, and slowly and carefully write it, she doesn’t feel as “put on the spot” and can usually come up with another sentence or two while I’m busy writing the first one. I consider a two- or three-sentence narration a victory!
Looking over those steps, it strikes me that they are very similar to the steps of a narration lesson that Charlotte Mason gave for all children. How nice that the framework is the same! We can simply adjust a bit here and there as each child needs.
It looks like the main adjustments I’ve made have been in the length of the selection we read; giving pre-reading visual context, even for familiar objects; looking away and giving extra time to compose each sentence without pressure; and the length of narration that I expect.
Those of you who are working with language-delayed children, how have you adjusted here and there to better fit your child’s needs in narrating?