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Last week we started a new series discussing the Charlotte Mason methods we can use to evaluate, or assess, what our children are learning. If you missed that introduction, you can read it on our SCM Blog.
Today let’s talk about perhaps the most well-known of those assessment methods: narration. In its basic form, narration is retelling in your own words. Such a method may sound easy enough — and in some ways it is a simple and natural method — but it also requires a good grasp of the subject matter.
Think about the difference between watching a math video on borrowing, for example, versus trying to explain it to your child yourself. Narrating takes concentration and understanding. It’s a great assessment tool for us to use.
So how do you “do” narration? Here are the basics with Charlotte’s own words.
Read a portion and ask the child to tell you all he can recall about what was just heard or read.
“She may read two or three pages, enough to include an episode; after that, let her call upon the children to narrate, — in turns, if there be several of them” (Vol. 1, p. 233).
Read the passage or episode only once to reinforce the habit of attention.
“As knowledge is not assimilated until it is reproduced, children should ‘tell back’ after a single reading or hearing . . . A single reading is insisted on, because children have naturally great power of attention; but this force is dissipated by the re-reading of passages” (Vol. 6, preface).
Try to keep interruptions to a minimum; they can quickly dampen a narration.
“The teacher does not talk much and is careful never to interrupt a child who is called upon to ‘tell.’ The first efforts may be stumbling but presently the children get into their ‘stride’ and ‘tell’ a passage at length with surprising fluency. The teacher probably allows other children to correct any faults in the telling when it is over” (Vol. 6, p. 172).
Discourage your child from simply repeating the words you just read.
“Narrations which are mere feats of memory are quite valueless” (Vol. 1, p. 289).
Encourage your child to narrate in his own words, inserting his opinion and any mental connections he might have made.
“A narration should be original as it comes from the child — that is, his own mind should have acted upon the matter it has received” (Vol. 1, p. 289).
So there you have the basics. Keep in mind that narrations can take many forms. The simplest way to begin is by doing oral narration. After the child has a good grasp on oral, he can move to doing written narration. But don’t rule out drawing as a form of narration, or acting, or building and creating. All of those techniques can be great ways of assessing what our children have learned.
If you want some specific suggestions to get you started, check out this list of narration ideas.
And feel free to join the discussion on our SCM Forum’s section on Narration. You can read lots of great tips or post a question of your own.