Sunday, December 10, 2006

What is Narration?

What's Narration?

"Narration is the child telling back what they read, hear, see, and let this action of the mind be habitual. The small ones go over in their minds their pictures, their tales, their geography, and other readings. As they do so, they use their own words, they 'tell back' aloud, giving each incident, each point in their own way. If there are several children, they take turns, until the whole is told back." - Charlotte Mason

In the simplest terms, narration is the child "telling back" to his mother the events in a story or a section of a book. The material may have been read aloud together or read by the child independently, but it must only be read once. The child must learn to attend completely the first time. Charlotte Mason recommended that the children begin narrating their lessons at age 6, but she advised mothers to allow a year or two for the child to really become a strong narrator.

Young children often have a difficult time composing their own writing. Somehow the process is just too cumbersome. Not only does the child have to think of what they want to say, they also have to think of how to spell, punctuate, and form the letters. Composition is quite a lot to master all at once. In Charlotte Mason's method, narration is the beginning of composition. Telling comes - more or less - naturally to children. In oral telling, the difficulties of spelling, grammar, handwriting, and the like are left out of the business. All the child needs to focus on is the content of the book or lesson at hand. In narration, ideas are his main concern. The child is learning how to deal with real knowledge firsthand.

When Charlotte tested her students at the end of each term, the tests were in the form of narration - oral for the younger students and then written for students over age 9 or 10 (after overall years of oral practice). The directions prompting narration are similar to what we would think of today as essay questions. Aren't these the questions you always dreaded? They are generally considered to be the hardest kind. Multiple choice questions give you suggestions, true or false give you a 50/50 chance, fill in the blank provide contextual clues - essay leaves you all alone. All you can tell is what you know. In CM's schools, children did not pass or fail, nor were they compared to other students. Grades, as we know them, were not given for narrations. Each child was simply instructed to tell to his best ability. Attention to detail, truthfulness, and completeness were encouraged. The exams at the end of the term were an assessment largely meant to test the teacher's success, not merely the student's.

In our home, we have noticed that when my husband and I enthusiastically "tell" about something we have read, the children are eager to listen. When I am reading through a book with the children, I like to tell Sam about it at dinner. Frequently, one of the children chimes in to add this part or that. There is the beginning of narration.

Example often helps clarify where instruction fails, so here are a few sample narrations from Charlotte's own writings (appendix to Volume 3):

Q. Tell the story of Naaman.

A. (aged 6 3/4):––

"Naaman had something the matter with him, and his master sent a letter to the King of Israel, and the king was very unhappy and did not know what to do because he thought that he wanted to come and fight against him, and he rent his clothes. And he said, 'I can't cure him,' so he sent him to Elisha, and he told him to take a lot of presents and a lot of things with him. And when Naaman came to Elisha's door, Elisha sent Gehazi to tell him to dip himself seven times in the waters of Jordan, and he said to himself, 'I surely thought he would have come out, and I thought a lot of people would come out and make a fuss'; and he went back in a rage. And his servant said to him, 'Why didn't you go?' And he said, 'My rivers are much the best.' So his servants said, 'If he had asked you to do some great thing, wouldst thou have done it?' So he went and dipped himself seven times in the water, and when he came out he was quite all right again. And when he was coming home they saw Gehazi coming, so Naaman told them to stop the horses, and so they stopped, and Gehazi said, 'There are some people come to see me, please give me some money and some cloaks,' and they were very heavy, so Naaman sent some of his men to carry them, and when he came near the house he said to his servants, 'You can go now.' Elisha said, 'Because you have done this you shall have the leprosy that Naaman had.'"

Q. What have you noticed (yourself) about a spider?
C. (aged 7 3/4):––

"We have found out the name of one spider, and often have seen spiders under the microscope––they were all very hairy. We have often noticed a lot of spiders running about the ground––quantities. Last term we saw a spider's web up in the corner of the window with a spider sucking out the juice of a fly; and we have often touched a web to try and make the spider come out, and we never could, because she saw it wasn't a fly, before she came out.

"I saw the claw of a spider under the microscope, with its little teeth; we saw her spinnerets and her great eyes. There were the two big eyes in one row, four little ones in the next row, and two little ones in the next row. We have often found eggs of the spiders; we have some now that we have got in a little box, and we want to hatch them out, so we have put them on the mantelpiece to force them.

"Once we saw a spider on a leaf, and we tried to catch it, but we couldn't; he immediately let himself down on to the ground with a thread.

"We saw the circulation in the leg of another spider under the microscope; it looked like a little line going up and down."

Q. Tell about the North-West Passage. (Book studied, The World at Home.)

E. (aged 7):––

"People in England are very fond of finding things out, and they wanted to find out the North-West Passage. If people wanted to go to the Pacific Ocean, they had to go round Africa, by the Cape of Good Hope, or else round South America by Cape Horn. This was a very long way. They thought they might find out a shorter way by going along the North Coast by America, and they would come out in the Pacific Ocean. They would call this way the North-West Passage. First one man and then another tried to find a way. They found a lot of straits and bays which they called after themselves. The enemy they met which made them turn back was the cold. It was in the frozen zone, and the sea was all ice, and the ice lumps were as big as mountains, and when they came against a ship they crashed it to pieces. Once a man named Captain Franklin tried over and over again to find the North-West Passage, and once he went and never came back again, for he got stuck fast in the ice, and the ice did not break, and he had not much food with him, and what he had was soon eaten up, and he could not get any more, for all the animals in that country had gone away, for it was winter, and he could not wait for the summer, when they would return. A ship went out from England called the Fox to look for him, but all they found was a boat, a Bible, a watch, and a pair of slippers near each other. After looking a lot they found the North-West Passage, but because there is so much ice there the ships can't use it."

For Year One, our planned narrations will cover Bible, history, nature study, missionary biography, and geography. We may require narrations for a few of our literature selections as well, particularly if I think the book is harder to follow than is average.

Hope this post has been a blessing to you :) For more on narration, just click the tab below this post.