Narration: What You Need To Know About Evaluating Your Homeschooled Student’s Learning

Preview: Learn how to use the simple and effective strategy of narration to evaluate your homeschooled student’s learning.

How do you know what your child is learning in your homeschool? What type of assessments should you use? Do they need to take tests? Most home educators ask these questions as they think about how they want to evaluate their homeschooled child’s academic progress.

We use a combination of approaches in our homeschool to evaluate our student’s progress. While we incorporate some objective measures, most of their learning is evaluated using narrations. Narrations allow me to understand what they understood, where the gaps are, and how they are connecting what they just learned to previous learning. Plus, narrations provide an excellent foundation for writing essays and thinking critically.

Learn how to use the simple and effective strategy of narrations to evaluate your homeschooled student's learning.

In this article, we’ll explore two different types of assessments you can use in your homeschool-objective and subjective. And we’ll dive deeper into how you can use narrations to evaluate your child’s learning. We’ll discuss when you should begin using narrations, the difference between oral and written narrations, and how to teach editing skills with written narrations.

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Should I use objective or subjective assessments in your homeschool?

Before we debate the merits of objective vs. subjective assessments, let’s first define an assessment.

According to the Glossary of Educational Reform, assessment is the wide variety of methods or tools that educators use to evaluate, measure, and document the academic readiness, learning progress, skill acquisition, or educational needs of students.

Assessment can be accomplished in many ways. Most homeschool parents use a combination of objective and subjective evaluations, so let’s explore each in more depth.

Objective Assessments

Objective assessments measure what a child learned and didn’t learn based on a standard measure of success. Examples include:

  • Grades based on a rubric
  • Standardized tests with multiple choice, true/false, and fill-in-the-blank questions
  • Calculations for math or science homeschool
  • Completed lab reports

Objective assessments are easier to prepare and grade. Most curriculums provide tests or rubrics you can use. But the drawback to using objective assessments is that they usually do not encourage students to achieve excellence. Instead, students are motivated to study “to the test” and do just enough work to satisfy the requirements.

Struggling learners might not perform well on objective assessments due to their learning difficulties. Based on the objective assessment results, they may believe they are incapable of doing well and achieving excellence.

Subjective Assessments

Subjective assessments demonstrate what your child learned and how he connected with the material. He is not compared to a standard measure but is evaluated based on improvement over time and demonstration of his understanding of the material. Examples include:

  • Short answer responses
  • Essays
  • Hands-on projects
  • Drawings
  • Reenactments

Subjective assessments are more challenging to grade since there is no standard measure of success, but they provide a broader evaluation of what your child is learning.

All types of learners benefit from utilizing subjective assessments. Struggling learners have an opportunity to shine as you hear from their perspective what they learned. They also usually benefit from demonstrating their understanding of the material in a hands-on or verbal way instead of the more common written exam format. Gifted learners are encouraged to pursue excellence and move beyond a “study for the test” mentality.

The Bottom Line

Back to our original question – Should you use objective or subjective assessments in your homeschool? The short answer is both, and both methods have benefits and drawbacks.

In our homeschool, we primarily use subjective assessments in the form of oral and written narrations during elementary and middle school. By high school, we begin incorporating more objective assessments so my children can learn how to take a test. Most evaluations in high school are still subjective, although they have transitioned to more written narrations (essays) with a few oral narrations still sprinkled in.

My general advice is to primarily use subjective assessments in your homeschool and incorporate objective evaluations when required (such as a state homeschool requirement) and when your children are ready to practice taking exams (generally in middle and high school). To learn more about incorporating narration into your homeschool assessments, keep reading.

What is narration?

Narration is a subjective method of evaluating what your child has learned. It is telling what you heard, read, or studied in your own words and can include how you feel or how what you learned compares to something else you know. Narration can be oral, written, or hands-on.

The goals of narrations include

  • Evaluating what your child learned
  • Forming relationships with what he read
  • Processing and owning what he learned
  • Improving his attention and memory 
  • Improving his vocabulary and use of language

The purpose of narration is to help your child learn to think, communicate, and write clearly.

Narration builds many valuable skills such as:

  • reading comprehension
  • assimilating information
  • organizing information into a logical sequence
  • organizing thoughts into meaningful sentences
  • communicating those thoughts

These skills are helpful when learning about new topics and areas of interest, writing essays and research papers, composing arguments, and thinking critically about issues.

Your child can narrate all of his subjects. Some examples include:

  • Math—explain how to work a concept or tell about a living math book
  • Literature, history, science, geography, character, Bible—narrate the story in your own words
  • Composer study—describe how a piece made 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, how does the picture make you feel
  • Travels—describe a famous landmark you visited, pretend to record an interview with an expert telling about a historical site

At what age should my child begin narrating?

Narration is not easy, so be patient if your student has trouble at first. By practicing it yourself, you can better understand what your child experiences when he narrates. Narrate a passage from a book you are reading to yourself or someone. It’s challenging but so worth it. Your comprehension, understanding, and memory will improve as you incorporate more narration into your reading.

Most children are ready to begin oral narrations by age six. Rejoice with your child and encourage him when he offers a narration before age 6, but don’t require it.

All students over the age of six should participate in narrations. For a lesson I will read aloud, I explain before I begin reading that they will be expected to narrate, or tell you what they heard, when I finish reading. This explanation primes the pump so they are listening attentively. Before I start the reading, I ask what we read last time. This is another form of narration that requires them to demonstrate retention over an extended period. After completing the day’s reading, I ask for a narration from the youngest student to the oldest.

When beginning narration, choose a short passage to allow your children to develop the skill of listening, organizing information logically, and retelling what they heard or read. A good book for beginning narration is Aesop’s Fables (we like the Milo Winter illustrated version). We have also had success with beginning narration by using the Bible. Avoid reading a whole chapter before asking for a narration. If your student has trouble with narration, you might need to use an easier book until he gains proficiency.

As students gain proficiency, you can increase the length of the passage before asking for a narration. You may need to shorten the length of the passage your child reads before narrating as the reading level increases in difficulty.

Should I use oral or written narrations?

Most narrations should be oral and can include drawing a picture or reenacting a scene. Around age nine or ten, introduce written narrations, beginning with one written narration per week. Older students may write more narrations each week after some practice.

As difficult as it will probably be, resist the urge to correct written narrations. You can teach grammar and editing later, 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 if you have trouble seeing the content because of grammatical and spelling mistakes.

Don’t 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.

How do I teach editing skills with written narrations?

After practicing written narrations for a year, begin editing one written narration each month. Instead of marking the whole page, focus on one or two types of corrections each month. Here’s a general format we follow for editing narrations.

First, my daughter reads through her narration and looks for changes she can make, such as capitalization and punctuation.

Next, I’ll point out one or two changes she should make. I base these suggestions 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 several reasons.

  1. She would become discouraged if we tried to correct all of the mistakes in one piece. An older student who has been editing written narrations for a while should be able to handle more corrections at once.
  2. 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.

As your child gains proficiency, you can begin incorporating other editing tools. My daughters began using Grammarly in middle school to edit their narrations. I require they check their essays and narrations with Grammarly before submitting them to me for editing.

How can I add variety to narrations?

It can become monotonous to repeatedly ask, “What did you hear in our reading today?” Most of the time, we keep our narrations simple, but I try to add some spice and variety in how I ask for the narration. Sometimes I ask for a different focus from the reading. Other times, I ask my children to tell me how what we read relates to something else they previously learned.

Narrations are an excellent time to employ the boy scout motto always to be prepared. Having supplies ready for narrations means you are not searching for them when it’s time for a narration. We keep a “narration station” near where we complete lessons so the girls can grab whatever supplies strike their fancy. The narration station includes items such as notebooks, colored pencils, markers, index cards (white and various colors), adding machine tape (for timelines), and simple premade booklets (fold 4 blank pieces of paper in half and place between a piece of folded cardstock then staple the middle).

It is also helpful to have a handful of narration ideas ready. Sometimes, I plan narrations for specific assignments. Other times, I look through my master list of narration suggestions and choose one that is appropriate.

You can download my master list of 149 narration suggestions. The suggestions are also formatted so you can print them on cardstock, place them in a jar, and have your child pull one out.

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