In Which We Talk More about When and How (Narration Q & A, part 9)

I love this comment that Megan shared on our blog!

I did my first oral narration with my 9 year old son today after watching (and being SO encouraged) by the living and learning DVD set. He did pretty well, but most importantly, he enjoyed it and twenty minutes later came up to me and said, “the stuff I told back to you is stuck in my head!”

What an encouragement that narration really does work! If you are new to our Narration Q & A discussion, I hope you will take a few moments to read the other posts in this series. You will find many practical pointers to help you get started.

Today let’s address a few questions on when narration should be done and take another look at the big picture.

Narration Question #26: Should narration be done immediately after a reading, or later in the day?

In Charlotte’s descriptions and sample lessons, the teacher requested the narration immediately after the book was read. (And by the way, the time limit that Charlotte mentioned for a lesson like that included the time for the narration. So if you have a 20-minute history lesson, that time limit should include both the reading and the narration.)

So yes, narration should be done immediately after the reading, but not only immediately after the reading. Read on.

Narration Question #27: Does narration include asking questions to refresh memory when you continue reading a book another day?

Yes, part of the preparation for a new reading is to help students recall what happened last time that book was read. This pre-reading review does not need to be as thorough or as long as the one that is given immediately after a reading, but it should recall enough to help the student find his bearings and realize how the next part of the book relates to the previous part.

Be sure to word the pre-reading review questions as narration prompts and not as direct questions on the content. I’ve found it helpful to say something like, “Last time we read about how Benjamin West kept clipping fur from his cat. What do you remember about that?” or “Last time we read about how Benjamin West needed hair to make his paintbrushes. What do you remember about that chapter?”

Charlotte also asked students for long-term narrations. At the end of every term (12 weeks), she would have exams. The exam questions were narration questions over the books that had been read.

So the students used narration immediately after a reading, before the next reading in that book, and at the end of the term.

Narration Question #28: I’m discouraged with narration and my 9-year-old. I’m using a classical education textbook and the sample narrations it gives don’t resemble what my daughter narrates back to me. Hers are far less perfect. I am wondering how structured you think narration instructions should be? Is it too structured to ask a 9-year-old to narrate the story in no more than three sentences—and in one go? We often have to do a “rough draft” narration first, and then revise (as they are written narrations). I worry that the frustration is building and possibly spoiling a love for writing, no matter how patient I am with trying to help her develop her narration skills.

I think your instinct is guiding you rightly. Especially in the first few years, narrations should be oral and should allow the student plenty of leeway to deal with the big picture. Written analysis, in a Charlotte Mason approach, is not introduced until the student has years and years of experience freely dealing with the larger ideas and concepts.

Summaries require a lot of analytical thinking in parts; but good analytical thinking in parts requires a lot of understanding of the whole. Give your daughter the freedom to look at the whole picture for several more years and tell you what she sees there. Celebrate and affirm what she knows rather than forcing her to pick it apart and present it as a mandatory dissected tidbit. You will reduce the frustration level and restore her joy in learning.

Your Complete Charlotte Mason Language Arts Handbook

If you are eager to dig deeper into narration, you might want to take a look at Hearing and Reading, Telling and Writing. This Charlotte Mason Language Arts Handbook is a compilation of everything Charlotte said in her six-volume set about the various components of language arts. It is filled with her ideas on narration! In it you will find

  • Everything Charlotte said about oral narrations,
  • Everything Charlotte said about written narrations,
  • Narration questions Charlotte used with her students,
  • Sample narrations from Charlotte’s students of various ages,
  • Sample poetry written narrations from Charlotte’s students,
  • Plus, her ideas and practical tips for all the other aspects of language arts.

Discover just how powerful the method of narration can be and gain more confidence using it with Hearing and Reading, Telling and Writing: A Charlotte Mason Language Arts Handbook.

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