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Teaching Literature: Subject by Subject, Part 9
I’ve been cleaning off my bookshelves these past couple of weeks, trying to cull out duplicates. Now, usually duplicate copies of a title are not a problem in a household of readers, but when the shelves are full and you need more space . . . sacrifices must be made.
Most of the duplicates in my collection are literature books that have been added to our home library over the years. And as I pull each book off the shelf, my mind reflects on the characters inside. They are like old friends to me now. I have to keep reminding myself that I do still have a copy; it’s not like I’m getting rid of all those close companions completely!
That’s what good literature will do for you and for your children: it will come alive to your emotions, fire your imagination, and plant seeds of ideas in your mind. It will form a vibrant connection to your heart and affect who you are becoming.
Remove the Middle Man
If there is one way to destroy the joy of a good living book, it’s to shred it to bits with analyzing. Well do I recall some very good books that were assigned for reading in my high school years, my enjoyment of them as I read, and the subsequent letdown from all the tedious dissecting of hidden meanings, possible symbolism, and overly-detailed structure. Not to mention vocabulary lists, plot summaries, and character evaluations. It felt like the book and its characters were no longer alive in my mind; they had become specimens under a microscope. It’s hard to form a relation with a specimen.
Charlotte Mason was an advocate of removing the middle man. She encouraged her teachers to introduce great minds—authors, artists, and composer—to her students and then get out of the way. So it makes sense that the methods she used for literature were simply reading and narrating.
Read Living Books
Choose a well-written living book—one that makes the story come alive; one that feeds the mind with good, loving, and noble ideas; one that touches the emotions and fires the imagination; one that has withstood the test of time—and read it. Enjoy it. Live in it. Don’t inhale it as fast as you can; take your time and savor it.
We have always had a family read-aloud book going since my children were small. I chose classic children’s literature to begin with and moved on from there to harder classic literature books. One chapter a day most days; some days less. The time of day that we read has changed as children have grown and schedules have changed. But the shared experience has remained, and I wouldn’t replace it for the world.
With so many good books available and limited time for family read-alouds, I also assign some literature books to the older students to read on their own.
If you would like some suggestions of titles for all the ages, check out the Literature section of our free SCM Curriculum Guide.
When my older children are assigned to read a literature book independently, I ask them for a narration. And lest you fear that they will never know how to do any kind of analysis on a literary classic, let me explain that you can encourage deeper thinking and evaluation by how you word narration questions. Make sure you keep the questions open-ended, but feel free to ask them to explain any comparisons between this book’s main character and another one they have read, or ask them to contrast the plot in this book with another one. In other words, don’t shy away from discussion, but give them the benefit of the doubt that they are gleaning much on their own and don’t need or want you to dissect things for them.
For the books that we read aloud as a family, I do not require a narration. I want us to simply enjoy those classics together, to share the experience, to build memories, and to store up common ideas that knit our hearts together. These books become lifelong friends, and we are all the richer for having read them.
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I am thouroughly enjoying this series – eating it up! I was wondering where Charlotte recieved her educational training and inspiration? Does anyone know about this? Were these methods used earlier? They are similar yet much different than the classical methods.
Charlotte Mason enrolled in the Home and Colonial Society for the training of teachers when she was 18, then taught for about ten years at the Davison School, Worthing, in Sussex, where she developed her philosophy of education and refined it. From there she taught teachers at the newly formed Bishop Otter College, Chichester, before founding her own Parents’ Educational Union and subsequent schools. She was an avid reader and observer, and I’m sure her ideas were influenced by the methods and philosophies that she read about as well as the practical scenes that she witnessed in the people around her. Some of the methods were in use in other variations, and she tweaked them a bit to work better; others she adapted or rejected according to her philosophy. She never considered herself to have “discovered” or “invented” the ideas involved in her philosophy, but more “collected” them into one cohesive whole. She would have been considered a classical educator in the pre-trivium sense of the word.
I’ve noticed when reading through “The Well Trained Mind” (classical education book – for those that didn’t know) how similar some of the ideas are. Bauer even mentions Mason in it also.
I will probably be using both methods to educate our children, there is so much overlap! Thanks for the great resources you provide on this website, I will be using it extensively to educate my children!
I am loving this series! Thank you!!
You mentioned asking questions during narration. I just let my children tell back what they have read; I have never asked questions. Should I start asking questions or continue as we have been doing it?
Some children can use a little prompting to get them started in their narration or to draw out more information. And sometimes it’s nice to mix things up with a fresh approach. If you do use questions, keep in mind that they should big, open-ended questions. Those promote a higher level of thinking than fill-in-the-blank questions or questions that can be answered with a simple yes or no.
We have a whole page of narration ideas that you might find helpful.
Thanks so much, Doug. I’ll check out the link.
Yes, it’s helpful to mix things up sometimes. Also, in my post I was referring specifically to older children who would be most likely writing their narrations; especially during exam week, when they are thinking back to the book as a whole, you could add some literary analysis-type open-ended questions to encourage a different slant on their narration.
You are correct in thinking that direct questions on the content are a no-no. But that doesn’t disqualify all questions. And of course, discussion questions are always welcome after the narration has been given.
I have actually been wondering about this topic as I recently saw that Charlotte Mason’s geography book asked questions with specific answers to be given. They seem fairly direct, not like the usual CM style. Maybe she had the children narrate first to her what she read and then asked these questions?
I would assume so, yes, Alicia.
I need clarification regarding the use of literature with a variety of ages. If you have older and younger children – should the olders be reading their own list AND listening in on a read-aloud? If so, should the read-aloud be from the list of books for the youngers who are also listening in or does it matter?
Some of that answer depends on whether your older ones have already read the books listed for younger ones. If not, they might enjoy listening in when those are read aloud to the youngers after lunch or at bedtime. If they have already read those books, there would be no need for them to read/hear them again unless they want to.
One more question – is there anything you suggest as a resource for the mom or older student to develop knowledge of literary terms and criticism skills to apply during oral or written narrations?
We like to recommend the literature selections as books to enjoy together more than to analyze and criticize. However, if you need to have your olders learn how to do a literary essay, you might check out the short course, Teaching the Essay, from Analytical Grammar.
Thank you for the audio versions! I am both a busy mom and an audio learner so these are a blessing to me!
One more thing…I felt so much freedom in your comment about taking the book slowly. We never get through as much of a book as I would like or as quickly as I would like. There are so many great books. I need to be reminded that it is better to do fewer books well!
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