We use tests very sparingly in our homeschool. There are a few subjects that are best evaluated with tests and it is important for homeschool students to know how to take tests.
However, since narration allows me to understand what my students know and lays a foundation for essays, narration is our primary evaluation tool. Here’s a look at why you should use narration, how to incorporate it in your homeschool, and narration suggestions to add variety.
What is narration?
In a Charlotte Mason education, narration is the primary method of evaluating what your child has learned. It is telling what you heard, read, or studied in your own words. It can also include how you feel or how it compares to something else you know. Narration can be oral, drawn, dramatic, or written.
Why should you use narration?
It builds so many valuable skills such as:
- reading comprehension
- assimilating information
- organizing information into a logical sequence
- organizing thoughts into meaningful sentences
- communicating those thoughts
What should you narrate?
- Math—narrate how to work a concept just learned or tell about the living math book just read
- Literature, history, science, geography, character, Bible—narrate the story in your own words
- Composer study—how did it make you feel, what did you like, what instruments did you hear, show an interpretive dance
- Picture study—describe the picture, where are the people in the picture, what colors did the artist use
- Travels—describe a famous landmark you just visited, pretend to record an interview with an expert telling about a historical site
Who should narrate?
Narration is not easy, so be patient if your student has trouble at first. To understand what you are expecting of your student, I would encourage you to read a passage from a book you are reading and narrate it to someone. It’s hard, but so worth it.
I practice narration, usually in a notebook, whenever I read anything other than literature.
Do not require narration until age 6, but rejoice with your child and encourage him when he offers one before age 6.
All students over the age of 6 should participate in narrations. Tell your students before you begin reading that they will be expected to narrate, or tell you what they heard, when you finish reading. Ask for narrations from the youngest student to the oldest. When beginning narration, choose a short passage. Older students can narrate longer passages after practice.
If your student has trouble with narration, you might need to use an easier book until he gains proficiency.
A good book for beginning narration is Aseop’s Fables (we like the Milo Winter illustrated version). We have also had success with beginning narration by using the Bible. (Several suggestions for Bible reading plans include Family Bible Reading plan and printable from Cultivated Lives (Heather Haupt), Penny Gardner’s Old Testament readings, Penny Gardner’s New Testament readings.) Do not read a whole chapter before asking for a narration.
Oral Narration vs. Written Narration
Most narrations should be oral, which can include drawing a picture or reenacting a scene. Around age 9-10, introduce written narrations. Begin with only one written narration per week. Older students may write more narrations each week after some practice.
Resist the urge to correct written narrations. There will be a time for teaching grammar and editing their writing, but for now keep the focus on expressing their thoughts on paper. It can be helpful to have your student read the narration out loud to you if you have trouble seeing the content for the grammatical and spelling mistakes.
Do not be surprised if you find your once-verbose oral narrator only writes a few sentences. This is a big transition and it will take time to improve written narration skills.
Editing Written Narrations
After practicing written narrations for a year or so, you could have your student edit one of his written narrations each month. Instead of marking up the whole page, we try to focus on one or two main corrections each month.
My daughter first reads through her narration again. She often finds many changes she can make such as capitalization and punctuation.
Next, I’ll point out one or two changes she should make. I base these on what I saw repeated in her written narrations over the past month. For example, we might focus one month on capitalizing all proper nouns or how to handle dialogue.
There will still be many more changes she could make, but we only focus on one or two each time for a couple of reasons.
First, if we tried to correct all of the mistakes in one piece she would become discouraged. (An older student who has been editing written narrations for awhile should be able to handle more corrections at once.)
Second, have you noticed that when you learn something new or are exposed to a new concept you are more aware of it in other settings? The same principle applies here. Each time we focus on a different grammatical rule she becomes more aware of that rule in her other writings and I see the mistake less often. If we tried to cover too many rules at once she would probably not remember most of them and not incorporate those changes in her writing.
It can be boring to always say, “Tell me what we read today.” To keep it interesting we use a combination of ideas. Sometimes we use a narration jar to add variety.
You could also use a narration cube.
Penny Gardner has information about a narration cube and how to create one.
Ambleside Online has another option.
And having supplies ready for narrations means you are not searching for them when it’s time for a narration. We have a “narration station” near where we complete lessons so the girls can grab whatever supplies strike their fancy.
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