Narration versus Questioning

Do you spend time on the internet searching for readymade quizzes and tests to help evaluate your child’s progress? Or perhaps you make them yourself? Do you rely on a curriculum that has done the work for you?

Here is an excerpt from a resource magazine that Charlotte Mason schools published for parents and teachers implementing her methods. This particular quote concerns Narration vs. Questioning.

“Teachers pulse with joy when they find a nice sequence of facts for their scholars to negotiate. I recently witnessed a particularly vigorous display of rapid questioning. Each scholar was on tenterhooks, alert for the moment when the volley of questions might be directed at him. The questioner enjoyed himself and felt his power. With a glance in my direction the glance was a challenge to narration he said: "That's stirred them up a bit: that's made them think!"

But had it made them think? It is quite easy, after a little practice, to question children along a line of thought or through a chain of reasoning and to get them to utter thoughts in expressly the phrases required: but the real thinking is done by the questioner. The questions that are of value are informative, they focus attention on a succession of details one by one. When the questions are recapitulatory they are merely mental jabs.

If the answer pre-determined by the teacher is not forthcoming the pupil is declared to be dull!

We of the P.U.S. say: Let the child himself do that which the teacher usually does for him. Let the child by narration supply both question and answer.”
G.F. Husband

NARRATION is the very heart of Charlotte Mason's philosophy. It is more important than nature, art and music study because it is a powerful way of learning. Mason learned it from the great classical educators such as Quintillian and Erasmus, who lived before her time. Realizing that this proven method had died out in British schools, she set about to revive it.

Quite simply, it is the art of ‘telling back’ what you just read or heard from a book. It seems simple--almost too simple to be of great value in the schoolroom, but don't judge too quickly. Karen Glass aptly explains the benefits of narration:

“Do not be deceived by the superficial simplicity of this method! When you read a story, paragraph, or chapter to a child and ask him to narrate what he has heard, powerful mental "wheels" must spring into motion. The knowledge that he has passively gathered must now be sifted and sorted. His mind must recall the beginning, and then "what comes next," event by event. He must be sure the order of his knowledge is correct, and that nothing important is omitted. Then, he must find words to give shape to his knowledge. It is not uncommon for children to imitate the vocabulary and style of the author himself. Nevertheless, by using the words to tell "his" version of the story, he makes them his own.”

Personally, I've done the research and have tested it extensively on my own children and I stand amazed at the results. I contemplated titling this post NARRATION CHANGED MY LIFE! It's kind of humorous, but it really is true. It has not only greatly simplified my planning and lightened my workload, but it has enabled my children to really learn their subject matter. Whenever I evaluate my children, I notice that their greatest knowledge and amount of love for a subject always comes from the passages they narrated aloud earlier in the year. Usually, if they didn't narrate to me, then later, they couldn't recall what they read very well. Not only that, but frequent narration has caused their verbal skills to surge remarkably and this has naturally transferred over into their writing. Narration has taught them to organize their thoughts and speak with clarity and style. I challenge those who have never tried this method to look into it.

Suggested links for further study: