Thursday, May 22, 2008

Should A Child Read His Typed Narrations Before Exams?

Recently, I had a very thought-provoking email exchange with some other CM mothers regarding the practice of typing narrations and letting the children read them as a means of keeping the stories fresh in their minds and aiding retention. The children were allowed to read these typed narrations at any point during the school term. In our own home we have not allowed the children to read any typed narrations until after the term's exam week has been completed. We also do not allow the children to flip through their school books and read bits and pieces of former readings. One of the mothers asked me to expound on our views in this area, so I did :) I've edited it somewhat, but here is my repsonse:

From the Introduction to Volume 6 (this is the passage that led me to believe that the stories must not be reviewed before exams):

"The quantity set for each lesson allows only of a single reading; but the reading is tested by narration, or by writing on a test passage. When the terminal examination is at hand so much ground has been covered that revision is out of the question (she means review); what the children have read they know, and write on any part of it with ease and fluency, in vigorous English; they usually spell well...

...Has an attempt been made before on a wide scale to secure that scholars should know their books, many pages in many books, at a single reading, in such a way that **months later** they can write freely and accurately on any part of the term's reading?"

It was the "months later" part that stood out to me. I can safely say that Miss Mason definitely discourages reading any passage twice to the children. I would also confidently say that she insists upon a single reading because she wants the children to develop the mental habit of careful attention. In the passage above it also seems very clear to me that Miss Mason intended for that attention to be so complete that it would result in a child's ability to vividly retell a story months after hearing it only one time. This ability was one of the primary habits she emphasized.

In our desire to develop these abilities of attention in our children, it seems wise to ask what may hinder the habit of attention and what may develop that same power to its fullest. Obviously, a child is going to think about a passage after he hears it. He might draw a picture of it in his free time or act it out in his playtime. We do want the child to consider the stories and the readings. We want him to assimilate the knowledge and bring it to bear on his imagination. But, it seems to me that the child should have **one chance to get it into his mind**. Once it's there he may mentally go over and over it and, as Charlotte described, "digest" it, but all of his dealings with knowledge must be stemming from that one, initial exposure to the reading.

If a child has been reading and re-reading a typed out page of his own narration - which is, essentially, a synopsis - of the story, what does that do to his power of attention? When his exams role around is there a chance that he has memorized his first narration to some degree by going over and over it? From page 17 of Volume 6 Miss Mason writes, "For this reason it is important that only one reading should be allowed; efforts to memorise weaken the power of attention, the proper activity of the mind." I know there is no intentional memorizing taking place, but could the child be memorizing unintentionally? Could he actually be narrating his narration at exam time and not the initial reading? Will he be digesting the story *in his mind* as much if he can go back and read a summary of it whenever he wants? Will he be relying solely on his memory and habit of attention when he chews on the material or will he be using a printed summary as a kind of mental "crutch" to keep ideas fresh? These are all hypothetical questions, of course, but they get us thinking about the "why" of the Single Reading Rule and the "how" of fostering a habit of attention in our children.

I'm pleased with the way the children are learning to attend so completely to the readings following this practice of "no review". It never ceases to amaze me. Miss Mason assures us that it's not just a certain kind of child that can do this; every child has it in him. But, if she's convinced me of anything, it's that my own careful attention to her methods and the children's habits is key. We not only have to be purposeful about what we are intentionally doing, but we must also be purposeful about what we are preventing.

I have no idea if these ramblings will be helpful to anyone, but I hope so. These thoughts were on my mind anyway, so I decided to share them :)