I wrote a post -Solving the Mystery of Narration- intentionally making the point that narration is not complicated, and truly it is not. Telling back is the complete essence and practice of narration. But, of course, there must be more said on it. And there is… giving us a few more details into how narration should work.
So let’s look at the source, Charlotte, and see what she says, always remembering go back to the simple definition. It is telling back – pure and simple.
“…reading or hearing various books read, chapter by chapter, and then narrating or writing what has been read or some part of it. – Volume 6 p.16
“That is how we all learn, we tell again, to ourselves if need be, the matter we wish to retain… – Volume 6 p.159-160
When – Age of Student.
“Little people should be encouraged always to tell whatever they hear particularly striking to some brother, sister, or servant, immediately before the impression is erased by the intervention of newer occurrences. – Volume 6 p.160
“Until he is six, let Bobbie narrate only when and what he has a mind to. He must not be called upon to tell anything. Is this the secret of the strange long talks we watch with amusement between creatures of two, and four, and five? Is is possible that they narrate while they are still inarticulate, and that the other inarticulate person takes it all in? They try us, poor dear elders, and we reply ‘Yes,’ ‘Really!’ ‘Do you think so?’ to the babble of whose meaning we have no comprehension. Be this as it may; of what goes on in the dim region of ‘under two’ we have no assurance. But wait till the little fellow has words and he will ‘tell’ without end to whomsoever will listen to the tale, but, for choice, to his own compeers. Volume 1 p.231-232
Early School Years.
“When the child is six, not earlier, let him narrate… Volume 1 p.232
“Children in lB require a quantity of matter to be read to them…- Volume 6 p.191
“…probably young children should be allowed to narrate paragraph by paragraph, while children of seven or eight will ‘tell’ chapter by chapter. – Volume 6 p.191
“The seven-years-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. – Volume 1 p.232
“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. – Volume 1 p.232
Takes Time and Work.
“The first efforts may be stumbling but presently the children get into their ‘stride’ and ‘tell’ a passage at length with surprising fluency. – Volume 6 p.172
“… they require a little time to employ their power of fixed attention and that other power which they possess of fluent narration. – Volume 6 p.191
“As we have already urged, there is but one right way, that is, children must do the work for themselves. 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. – Volume 6 p.100
“Properly dealt with, it produces a mental transfiguration. It provides much more exercise for the mind than is possible under other circumstances and there is a corresponding degree of alertness and acquisitiveness. – Wix, Parents Review 28, p. 697-693
What to Narrate.
“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;… Volume 1 p.233
“…let him narrate the fairy tale 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 from some such volume as The World at Home.…Geography, sketches from ancient history, Robinson Crusoe, The Pilgrim’s Progress, Tanglewod Tales, Heroes of Asgard, and much of the same calibre, will occupy him until he is eight. – Volume 1 p.232
“For children under nine, the question of composition resolves itself into that of narration, varied by some such simple exercise as to write a part and narrate a part, or write the whole account of a walk they have taken, a lesson they have studied, or of some simple matter that they know. – Volume 1 p.247
“Children in lB require a quantity of matter to be read to them…– Volume 6 p.191
“Remembering here that knowledge comes to us by way of narration:
“…everyone likes knowledge best in literary form; that the knowledge should be exceedingly various concerning many things on which the mind of man reflects… – Volume 6 p.191
Tell The Student They Will Narrate Before the Lesson Begins.
“The natural provision for the appropriation and assimilation of Knowledge is adequate, and no stimulus is required; but some moral control is necessary to secure the act of attention; a child receives this in the certainty that he will be required to recount what he has read. –Volume 6 p.18
It doesn’t take long for the student to know that every lesson will have its narration and doesn’t need to be re-told.
“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; for we are all too apt to make sure we shall have another opportunity of finding out ‘what ’tis all about.’ …we should do well to save our children by not giving them the vague expectation of second and third and tenth opportunities to do that which should have been done at first. – Volume 3 p.179-180
“I dwell on the single reading because,.. it is impossible to fix attention on that which we have heard before and know we shall hear again. – Volume 6 p.261
“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;… – Volume 6 p.17
“He should be trained from the first to think that one reading of any lesson is enough to enable him to narrate what he has read, and will thus get the habit of slow, careful reading, intelligent even when it is silent, because he reads with an eye to the full meaning of every clause. – Volume 1 p.227
“I have already spoken of the importance of a single reading. If a child is not able to narrate what he has read once, let him not get the notion that he may, or that he must, read it again. – Volume 1 p.229-230
The flow should be a general:
“First this happened, and then this happened, and then this happened, and it ended in this way.” You may have to gently help your student at first to get the hang of this idea. By gently, I mean, don’t drill the student for the sequence and don’t worry if they didn’t get all the events or points. But as your child is first starting to narrate, asking them “Tell me what happened first?” will get them flowing. If they get stuck then ask “What happened next?” and then let them keep going. A few gentle prompts like this and they will soon understand what they are to do when they narrate.
Sometimes a book lends itself to this and sometimes the the book may not be sequential or they may just want to tell you their impressions. Let them do it. But always use a sequential framework as the norm. Some children stray too many times into their own perceptions or thoughts on a reading. If this is happening consistently, in the narration draw them back to the sequential process by asking at the beginning of the narration time “Tell me what happened first in the book.” When they have finished ask if they have any thoughts or impressions to tell you because you find them interesting or some such encouragement. You don’t want to squelch their personal thought, but a sequential telling back is needed on a regular basis.
“There is much difference between intelligent reading, which the pupil should do in silence, and a mere parrot-like cramming up of contents; and it is not a bad test of education to be able to give the points of a description, the sequence of a series of incidents, the links in a chain of argument, correctly, after a single careful reading. This is a power which a barrister, a publisher, a scholar, labours to acquire; and it is a power which children can acquire with great ease, and once acquired, the gulf is bridged which divides the reading from the non-reading community.” – Volume 3 p.180
Individual, Original, Personal.
“These narrations are never a slavish reproduction of the original. A child’s individuality plays about what he enjoys, and the story comes from his lips, not precisely as the author tells it, but with a certain spirit and colouring which express the narrator. By the way, it is very important that children should be allowed to narrate in their own way, and should not be pulled up or helped with words and expressions from the text. A narration should be original as it comes from a child—that is, his own mind should have acted upon the matter it has received. Narrations which are mere feats of memory are quite valueless. – Volume 1 p.289
“There is much difference between intelligent reading, which the pupil should do in silence, and a mere parrot-like cramming up of contents;… – Volume 3 p.180
“Because it is individual, the student may pull in knowledge from other sources along with using the feel and words of the author as noted in the quote:
“They ‘narrated’ what they had read and in the course of their narration gave a full paraphrase of The Elixir, The Pulley, and one or two other poems. No point made by the poet was omitted and his exact words were used pretty freely. – Volume 6 p.64-65
“The narration is usually exceedingly interesting; the children do not miss a point and often add picturesque touches of their own. – Volume 6 p.163
“…they are able to ‘tell’ each work they have read not only with accuracy but with spirit and originality. How is it possible, it may be asked, to show originality in ‘mere narration’? … the children narrate; they see it all so vividly that when you read or hear their versions the theme is illuminated for you too. – Volume 6 p.182
I would add the following idea: in traditional schooling students are required to have the same, ‘correct’ answers for tests. But also in the daily work, leading up to the point of examinations, students are prepped for out-putting the same, ‘correct’ answers. In a CM Education, individual ‘answers’ are fostered through narration both in daily lessons and at exam time.
“Again—except for the fine power of resistance possessed by the human mind, which secures that most persons who go through examination grind come out as they went in, absolutely unbiased towards any intellectual pursuits whatever—except for this, the tendency of the grind is to imperil that individuality which is the one incomparably precious birthright of each of us. The very fact of a public examination compels that all who go in for it must study on the same lines. – Volume 2 p.216
How Much to Narrate.
“Then, she may read two or three pages, enough to include an episode… – Volume 1 p.233
“… The simplest way of dealing with a paragraph or a chapter is to require the child to narrate its contents… Volume 1 p.179
“Children cannot of course themselves read a book which is by no means written down to the ‘child’s level’ so the teacher reads and the children ‘tell’ paragraph by paragraph, passage by passage. – Volume 6 p.172
“…narrate the fairy tale which has been read to him, episode by episode… – Volume 1 p.232
“…young children should be allowed to narrate paragraph by paragraph, while children of seven or eight will ‘tell’ chapter by chapter. – Volume 6 p.191
When to Narrate.
Generally, narration comes right after the reading. This is true especially for younger children. Older students should at times delay a narration. This helps strengthen attention and remembering. One way to strengthen a younger students attention and remembering is to ask them about an event or something they did earlier in the day. This delayed narration will strengthen their delayed narrations for printed material.
“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. – Volume 1 p.233
“This method of closely attentive reading of the text followed by narration is continued in each of the Forms. – Volume 6 p. 211
How Long Should It Take.
For a young student including the reading:
“This sort of narration lesson should not occupy more than a quarter of an hour. – Volume 1 p.233
What the Teacher Does or Does Not Do.
“The teacher’s own really difficult part is to keep up sympathetic interest by look and occasional word, by remarks upon a passage that has been narrated, by occasionally shewing pictures, and so on. But she will bear in mind that the child of six has begun the serious business of his education, that it does not matter much whether he understands this word or that, but that it matters a great deal that he should learn to deal directly with books. – Volume 6 p.172
The next quote is from a section discussing composition. Composition is one of the end products of narration, which CM states right after this quote.
“Our business is to provide children with material in their lessons, and leave the handling of such material to themselves….They should narrate in the first place, and they will compose later, readily enough;…—Volume 1 p.247
“…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. – Volume 6 p.17
“The teacher does not talk much and is careful never to interrupt a child who is called upon to ‘tell.’ – Volume 6 p.172
“If the lesson has been misunderstood, narration will show where, and when that is finished it is the teacher’s part to start a discussion in order to clear up misconceptions, etc. – Parents Review 36, p.780-782
“The teacher probably allows other children to correct any faults in the telling when it is over. – Volume 6 p.172
“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’! – Volume 1 p.233
“Corrections must not be made during the act of narration, nor must any interruption be allowed. – Volume 6 p.191
QuestionING. Do Not.
“Direct questions on the subject-matter of what a child has read are always a mistake. Let him narrate what he has read, or some part of it. He enjoys this sort of consecutive reproductions, but abominates every question in the nature of a riddle. – Volume 1 p.228
“There should be no misconception. [Narration] is not a teacher’s device designed to find out if the child has completed a given task. It is not an act of verbal memory. – Boardman, Parents Review 38, The P.U.S Method of Narration and Its Purpose p.470
“When a child is reading, he should not be teased with questions as to the meaning of what he has read, the signification of this word or that; what is annoying to older people is equally annoying to children. Besides, it is not of the least consequence that they should be able to give the meaning of every word they read. A knowledge of meanings, that is, an ample and correct vocabulary, is only arrived at in one way—by the habit of reading. A child unconsciously gets the meaning of a new word from the context, if not the first time he meets with it, then the second or the third: but he is on the look-out, and will find out for himself the sense of any expression he does not understand. Direct questions on the subject-matter of what a child has read are always a mistake. Let him narrate what he has read, or some part of it. He enjoys this sort of consecutive reproduction, but abominates every question in the nature of a riddle. If there must be riddles, let it be his to ask and the teacher’s to direct him to the answer.- Volume 1 p.228
“Questions that lead to a side issue or a personal vies are allowable because these interest children—‘What would you have done in his place?’ – Volume 1 p.228-229
“Narration, however, if of many kinds, though always the answer to the question (put mentally): ‘What comes next?’ – Wix, Parents Review 68 p.61-63
“…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. – Volume 6 p.17
“As to the interesting extras that the teacher can add, they may either come at the beginning, to arouse interest or curiosity or, generally better, at the end in those few minutes so jealously saved for questions, remarks, etc., which round off the perfect lesson. – Wix, Parents Review 68 p. 61-63
“…and it is not a bad test of education to be able to give the points of a description, the sequence of a series of incidents, the links in a chain of argument, correctly, after a single careful reading. This is a power which a barrister, a publisher, a scholar, labours to acquire; and it is a power which children can acquire with great ease, and once acquired, the gulf is bridged which divides the reading from the non-reading community. – Volume 3 p.180
“We do not question the children, for this disturbs them with the anxiety of finding out what answer we expect. And we refrain from interrupting a narration to correct mistakes. Our aim is to accustom the children to narrate in due order a passage that has been read to them only once. – C. Mason, Parents Review 1916, A Liberal Education for All No. I. Theory
“For example, to secure a conversation or an incident, we ‘go over it in our minds’; that is, the mind puts itself through the process of self-questioning which I have indicated. This is what happens in the narrating of a passage read: each new consecutive incident or statement arrives because the mind asks itself,––”What next?” Volume 6 p.17
“…knowledge is acquired only by what we may call “the act of knowing,” which is both encouraged and tested by narration, and which further requires the later test and record afforded by examinations.- Volume 6 p.291