Monday, August 13, 2012

Chapter 4: Narration

"Narration is considered the sum total of Charlotte Mason's philosophy and practice of education" (p.128).

When I first began to explore Charlotte Mason's philosophy, narration was the first thing that struck me. I was intrigued, and also, honestly, a bit scared. On paper, I agreed that children who listen and read carefully should be able to tell back in detail what they just learned. But....would that happen in reality? How could I really know they were learning if we just read and narrated all day?

Maryellen St. Cyr lays out the details on narration in this short section, and also includes some testimony from teachers who have given narration a try in their classrooms. First, narration is retelling and not memorizing and parroting back. The student must pay very close attention on the first read or listen, and then, in his own voice, tell back what he heard and learned. Detail is encouraged, are feelings and reactions. The teacher and other students must respectfully listen and not interrupt. If the student has misheard or remembered something, the teacher can gently correct, or ask the others if they have anything to add.

There are myriad benefits to narration: gives the learner an active role to play, it exercises the mind and provides wonderful food for its growth, it gives plenty of detailed evidence of the student's learning, and it encourages the relationships students have with the author and the text. We are trying to educate with ideas, not information, and we tend to remember the ideas we have intimate connections with, the ones we have worked through and put in our own, accurate words.

There are some wonderful questions for prompting narration in this section as well, but they are mostly geared towards older kids.

As a side note, my big girl had her first day of Kindergarten at home with Mama today, and we began Charlotte's Web. We read one chapter, and my little guy, who is three, joined us, too. Much later in the day, we retold the chapter to Daddy, and I was completely surprised by what the kids remembered. I thought the 5 year old would be able to recall quite a bit, but even Little Man was able to narrate back lots of details, and he was quite wiggly during reading! So, even the tiny ones can absorb and narrate, though I'm not requiring this of either of them, of course, at this young age. It was just an informal thing, but quite telling, especially as it speaks to my initial fears about narration. 


  1. I really got a lot out of this chapter since we just started formal narrations a couple months ago. Their narrations in kindergarten were, like you mentioned, unplanned and unrequired, so this is something new for us. My two oldest are natural narrators, I think--Vincent loves to tell me everything about everything he sees/reads, and Gianna is always eager to try on different writer's voices, with the literary flourishes and new vocabulary she picks up from reading or being read to (something St. Cyr mentions on page 131--I read this point and immediately thought of Gigi). But even though this hasn't been a problem area for us yet, I found this chapter to be really useful in underlining just how important narration is and the particular format it should follow, which is in many ways essential to its importance. Too many crutches (scaffolding on the part of the parent, asking questions or interrupting, giving support clues, reading more than once, etc.) can disrupt or negate the valuable mind-work of narration and make it ineffective as a learning tool. I really liked, for example, the reminder to go over any difficult vocabulary or proper names before the lesson so as not to have to pause mid-reading. I'm also intrigued by the mention of guided questioning-and-answering after narrations are finished; I had always wondered why there were comprehension questions at the end of each chapter in Mason's Elementary Geography when presumably the students would be narrating from the text, but this chapter mentioned that such questions can be used to gently correct narrations (afterward, of course) or raise other points for discussion. I'm going to look into this further, as I would really like to know how much of that kind of thing would be okay to include without intruding on the child's ongoing relationship with the text. And how fun that you guys are doing Charlotte's Web right now too. We just moved on to Little House in the Big Woods. :)

  2. Hi Celeste, I have been reading your blog extensively the past few weeks and trying to implement CM methods in our studies. I know this is an old post but hopefully you will see my comment. I was wondering especially now that your children are older and do independent readings how is narration handled when they do the reading on their own? Do they ever try to read it more than once? Is that allowed if they are the ones reading it rather than me? Do they do the narrations right after their independent readings or do they have to wait? I could see my children trying to keep going back through the readings if they knew that they would have to be narrated for me at the end of the week, do you give them any "rules of narration" in this regard? Thanks for your time.

    1. Hi Leandra!

      They are still held to a single reading: they read the selection, then come to me right away to narrate.

      A couple things keep them from re-reading...

      First, they know that there isn't one right answer, so there isn't the pressure to re-read so that they'll remember it all or get the right answer or anything like that. It is just based on what they took from the reading, so they can be satisfied with what they remember from that first pass through.

      Second, their ability to attend builds over time, so the power of attention they bring to a reading is eventually very strong and thorough. There is no need to re-read because they remember so well what they have read.

      These factors plus my making the single reading just a habit of course have meant this really hasn't been an issue. :)

      I hope that helps!