Narration in High School (Narration Q & A, part 17)

This year we graduated our third child from our home school. All three of our children were taught with Charlotte Mason methods, though I refined my techniques over the years as I researched and learned more. Some of the refinements I made were in how I used narration during the high school years. Here is what I have learned.

Narration Question #58: Is narration enough for high school level studies?

Yes. Absolutely, yes, IF (and that’s a big if) you continue to raise the bar on the types of narrations you ask for as the student progresses. Narration is a powerful and versatile tool that can be used in many ways. High-school-level work should require high-school-level narrations.

Narration Question #59: How much written narration for high school students? How many times per week, per subject? How long? How detailed? If they do a written narration, say, once or twice a week in history, chemistry, government—and they have narrated orally in between—should I be looking for a summary of the whole week’s reading to put it in written form at that point? Or should it be “just” a detailed account of today’s reading like the oral ones? I struggle with this one because I feel like the kids may need the act of writing and recalling periodically in order to cement the knowledge they’ve gained through the week.

We’ve dealt with some of those questions in previous posts. Take a look at Magic Numbers and The Long and Short of It for answers about how many and how long. The level of detail you expect will depend on what type of narration you’re asking for and how detailed your narration question is. (See Raising the Bar.) Some of it will also depend on where the student is in his individual progression with his writing. (See Written Narration: The Next Step in Composition.)

Pre-reading reviews will be crucial to the process of cementing the student’s knowledge from one reading to the next. If the student is experienced in Charlotte Mason methods, he can and should be doing those pre-reading reviews on his own by high school.

Many of the persuasive-type narration questions are more wide-sweeping in their scope. Those types of questions will cover larger portions of the book and demonstrate how well the student is putting together the pieces to make the knowledge his own as he reads. I would recommend using those rather than asking for just a shortened or summary retelling.

Narration Question #60: I am comfortable with narration for Bible, literature, and history, but what do you recommend for an Apologia high school science course? I want to stick with narration (as we’ve done with Apologia General Science) because comprehension of the material has been better than it was in my pre-C.M. days. Still, I am struggling with mistrusting narration for a high school level science course.

Narration is a powerful tool, but it is not the only tool. Not all resources lend themselves well to narration. As much as possible, we want to use living books that are readily narrated, but that’s not always possible as our students get into the upper grades. Some material is not available in story or narrative form and some cannot be covered adequately that way—high school level science courses being one example. That material will be more effectively learned through a combination of narration and note-taking, memorizing and practicing. By all means, do not skip the narrating; use it as much as possible. But supplement it with other helpful techniques as needed.

Narration Question #61: I’m most interested in narration at the high school level. Would LOVE to see samples of students at various levels, both from narration “veterans” as well as beginners.

I just read this narration sample tucked into In Memorium: Charlotte M. Mason, page 172, written by a girl of 15. The class read Ruskin’s Modern Painters for twenty minutes and wrote for the remaining twenty minutes of the lesson. Here are her thoughts on “The Open Sky.”

Who can describe the sky? Those changing moods that vary from glaring noon-day heat to the soft grey dusk of evening. Never the same for two minutes together, but always changing—changing—changing. But it is not always so restless. There may be days when the torn shreds of clouds race forward before the wind, but then there comes an evening when quiet peace reigns. The sun sinks, leaving the west in a blaze of rosy colour which gradually dies away to soft drowsy blue and grey. The stars come out one by one, as though afraid to spoil that glorious peaceful blue with their insistent twinkle, and the soft dew falls to cover the sleeping earth.

And yet, all this beauty leaves many people unmoved. They know the sky chiefly from pictures. If you asked them to describe it, some scrap of blue, framed with gold and hanging in some dusty corner, springs to their mind. They do not think of looking upwards into the vastness over their heads; for they do not see it in pictures. Few artists can portray the feeling of never-ending eternity that the sky has. They paint a hard beautiful blue with solid bunchy clouds. You look at it, and, instead of sailing ever on and upwards, your gaze is brought up with a jerk against a blue board.

You will find lots of sample narrations from Charlotte’s own students (of all ages) in her original writings in the back of Volume 3 (School Education) and on pages 195 and following of Volume 6 (Philosophy of Education). You might also like to read these sample narrations from current-day students posted on our SCM Forum.

Narration Question #62: How do high school students learn to write the various forms of papers?

The main forms that come to mind are the research paper and the five-paragraph essay. You may think of others, but either way I would share these three tips.

First, rather than jumping directly into How, I would recommend you start with Why: Why does my student need to learn to write those two forms of papers? Not all students will need to—mainly only those planning on taking college level courses.

Second, if you have determined that your student does, indeed, need to learn how to format a research paper and a five-paragraph essay, keep in mind that it doesn’t take twelve years to learn those formats. They can easily be learned in a short amount of time. If the student knows how to write in an expository, descriptive, and persuasive way, he has already achieved the biggest part of the goal. All that would be left is to fashion his composition into the expected format.

Third, look for a concise resource that will walk your student through the process of learning those formats. Longer is not necessarily better; straight-forward and to-the-point is best. Remember, he already knows how to write; he is just learning the format that will be expected. Ideally, the resource will use good literature in its lessons or will allow you to assign your own topics for writing and you can give assignments based on the student’s regular good-living-book readings.

In the past we have recommended two short courses from Analytical Grammar: Teaching the Essay and Teaching the Research Paper. Those short courses have recently been revised and are now both included in their new Beyond the Book Report, Season Three resource, along with the personal essay, the SAT essay, and preparing an oral presentation with digital slides.

One comment

  1. We used Teaching the Essay last year with my 7th, 9th & 11th graders to learn the basic 5 paragraph essay. It worked well (my only issue with it is that the essays become very “formulatted”: This sentence should say this… this sentence should say that… After learning the basics, my students found that to be a bit constraining or repetative, so we have broadened the instructions- more of “write what you want to say, just make sure you have a topic sentence and use a conclusion/transition sentence for each paragraph”. Other than that, great intro to essay writing) This year we are using Advanced High School Essay Writing from to focus on the different types of essays (Persuasive, compare/contrast, etc.) We are now moving on to using these types of essays in our SCM history narrations. This year we are studying Modern Times. We recently finished The Story of Thomas Edison. I required only oral narrations as we read through the book, but told my jr/senior high daughters that there would be a written narration incorporating the whole book when we finished it. This was their written narration/essay prompt: “Thomas Edison said: “Opportunity is often missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work”. This seems to be a good representation of Edison’s life, as he never seemed to miss an opportunity. Do you agree? Write a 5-paragraph essay expressing your opinion, supporting it with examples from our reading.” (This would fall in the explanatory/persuasive essay category; Also very similar to an SAT type essay question). This week, we read two speeches, one by Booker T Washington and one by W.E.B. Dubois, two African-American men who had the same goal of racial equality but two very different means of going about it. The girls had to write a compare/contrast essay comparing & contrasting the views of Washington & Dubois, concluding with their opinion of each man’s position. These were ideas I came up with as we read through the selections. Now that we have learned the various forms of essays, I can be looking for ways to incorporate them into the narrations they would be doing anyway, instead of adding “English Class” essays. (We do those over our literature selections). A great source for written narration/essay prompts is “Historical Essay Questions” from Westvon publishing company. They sell a very reasonably priced eBook with general essay questions covering different time periods, focusing on specific events and people. I have found them to be very compatible with SCM topics. I have found homeschooling High School to be a learn-as-you-go experience. I will be graduating my oldest daughter from high school in the spring, and it has taken me those 4 years to work some of the kinks out (I’m sure they’ll be more with the next two!). But she received her acceptance letter to her first-choice college a couple of weeks back, and I feel that she is ready to take on college level work and the self-teaching required of it. So, it is possible to Charlotte Mason homeschool high school, and trust the Lord to guide along the way.

Comments are closed.