Monday, July 28, 2014

The Art of Narration...

"Narrating is an art, like poetry-making or painting, because it is there, in every child's mind, waiting to be discovered, and is not the result of any process or disciplinary education.  A creative fiat calls it forth."   
- Charlotte Mason (Home Education, Part V, section IX, page 231)

Narrate is a verb meaning to give a spoken or written account of.  Narration is one method of a Charlotte Mason education.  It's taking what is heard, mixing it with mindful thoughts and experiences, then telling back or giving an account of, either spoken or written, in your own words.  Comprehension and understanding are a result of narration.  As the child narrates, they must compose their thoughts in order to convey them in an organized meaningful way.  One must understand something in order to tell it back in your own words.  In this way, narration is also preparation for public speaking and composition.   

Let's take a look today at Charlotte's writings on the method of narration....

The simplest way of dealing with a paragraph or a chapter is to require the child to narrate its contents after a single attentive reading, - one reading, however slow, should be made a condition....
- Charlotte Mason (Vol. 3, School Education, Chapter XVI, p. 179)

They must read the given pages and tell what they have read, they must perform, that is, 
what we may call the act of knowing.  
- Charlotte Mason (Vol. 6, A Philosophy of Education, Book I, Chapter VI, p. 99)

As knowledge is not assimilated until it is reproduced, children should "tell back" after a single reading or hearing: or should write on some parts of what they have read.  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, and also, by questioning, summarising, and the like.  
- Charlotte Mason, (Vol. 6, A Philosophy of Education, Book I, Chapter X Preface, p. 155) 

When the child is six, not earlier, let him narrate the fairytale which has been read to him, episode by episode, upon one hearing of each; the Bible tale read to him in the words of the Bible; the well-written animal story; or all about other lands....The seven-year-old boy will have begun to read for himself, but must get most of his intellectual nutriment, by ear, certainly, but read to him out of books.....The points to be borne in mind are, that he should have no book which is not a child's classic; and that, given the right book, it must not be diluted with talk or broken up with questions, but given to the boy in fit portions as wholesome meat for his mind, in the full trust that a child's mind is able to deal with its proper food.  

The child of eight or nine is able to tackle the more serious material of knowledge; but our business for the moment is with what children under nine can narrate.  

In every case the reading should be consectutive from a well-chosen book. Before the reading for the day begins, the teacher should talk a little (and get the children to talk) about the last lesson, with a few words about what is to be read, in order that the children many be animated by expectation; but she should beware of explanation, and, especially, of forestalling the narrative.  Then, 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.  They not only narrate with spirit and accuracy, but succeed in catching the style of their author.  It is not wise to tease them with corrections; they may begin with an endless chain of 'ands,' but they soon leave this off, and their narrations become good enough in style and composition to be put in a 'print book'!

This sort of narration lesson should not occupy more than a quarter of an hour.  

The book should always be deeply interesting, and when the narration is over, there should be a little talk in which moral points are brought out, pictures shown to illustrate the lesson, or diagrams drawn on the blackboard.  As soon as children are able to read with ease and fluency, they read their own lesson, either aloud or silently, with a view to narration; but where it is necessary to make omissions, as in the Old Testament narratives and Plutarch's Lives for example, it is better that the teacher should always read the lesson which is to be narrated.  
- Charlotte Mason (Vol. 1, Home Education, Part V, Chapter IX, p. 232-233) is important that only one reading should be allowed; efforts to memorise weaken the power of attention, the proper activity of the mind; if it is desirable to ask questions in order to emphasize certain points, these should be asked after and not before, or during, the act of narration.  
- Charlotte Mason (Vol. 6, Introduction, p. 17)

There is much to glean in these passages from Charlotte's writings regarding narration including:

- Children should narrate after a single reading.
- Children should not be required to narrate before age six.
- Children before age nine should have required narration books read aloud to them. 
- Children must be given living books that are interesting to them, on level for their intelligence, and written with beautiful literary expression.  No twaddle. 
- The Bible should also be read and narrated.  
- The readings should be consecutive, flowing through the book from beginning to end.  
- The parent/teacher should encourage the child to talk a little about the previous day's reading prior to reading, without explanation or giving away that day's reading.  
- The parent/teacher can use key words written for the child to see prior to the reading to trigger careful listening.
- The reading should allow for short lessons, 2-3 pages, enough to include an episode, and narration, with a total time not taking over 15 minutes.   
-  Do not interrupt a child's narration for corrections.  If you must ask questions or want to talk about a moral point, wait until after the narration is complete.  Do not ask direct questions related to content of passage.  However, you can invite the child to narrate a specific event it it's missed in the original narration.  

Some other thoughts on narration are...
- Beginning narrators should begin with a paragraph and work up to a chapter.  Aesop's Fables are a great place to begin oral narration. 
- After age ten and if a child has mastered oral narration, they may transition to written narration. 
- Even older children new to narration should begin with oral narration.  They should not be expected to move onto to written narration until they have mastered the art of narrating orally.    

Narration does require an act of knowing.  I recently tried it myself with Riley and it took some time to not only remember the passage, but to organize my thoughts in an orderly, intelligent manner.  If you have not tried narration, I encourage you to give it a shot and share your experience by leaving a comment below.  I'd love to hear your thoughts! 

For further reading on living books, see this post.   

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