Friday 15 January 2021

How to Use Narration in Your Homeschool

We narrate all the time. When you tell someone something that happened to you yesterday; that's narration. When you talk about something you saw at the park; that's narration. When you tell a story your father used to tell you when you were a child; that's narration. We do it as part of our everyday conversations, without even thinking about it. So, why not use this skill for learning as well?

I first came across the use of narration as a learning technique while I was at university training to be a Speech and Language Therapist. I often work with children with language difficulties who struggle to narrate. Through therapy, I help them to acquire the skills they need to narrate properly. I do this all the time at work and I also use these same techniques with my children to help them learn just about anything they desire.

Perhaps the biggest advocate of narration in the homeschool environment was Charlotte Mason. Narration was central to Mason's homeschool philosophy and a great emphasis is placed on narrating passages from good books. 

We can use narration in so many ways. But why is it such a good tool for learning? To do narration a child must listen to a passage being read, take it in, process it and then reproduce it in their own words. If a child is able to do this, you can be sure they have understood what they have read. Because of this, there is no need for comprehension questions. The act of narration helps children to develop their attention and critical thinking skills while engaging their long term memory. It is a simple teaching method. You don't need worksheets or special equipment; just a good, living book.

Choose good books

Charlotte Mason spoke a lot about choosing good books in your homeschool. She spoke about reading 'living books' which make the subject come alive. They are usually written by someone who had a deep passion for the subject. They are written in narrative form, like the author is telling you a story. These kinds of books will pull you into the topic emotionally, so that you are more likely to remember facts and events. Living books can be compared to other books, like textbooks, which list facts in summary form. Textbooks are the kind of books Charlotte Mason did not recommend.

Write down key words before you begin

Before you begin reading to your child it can be helpful to write some keywords down on a whiteboard or piece of paper so your child can see them while you read. You could even talk about the keywords before you start reading, making sure they know what each one means. This will prepare your child for what the passage is about. They can listen out for the keywords while you are reading and having that visual there will also jog their memory when it is time for them to narrate.

Don't interrupt or ask questions

While your child is narrating it is important that you don't ask any questions. Interrupting the flow might confuse them and make them forget what they wanted to say. Charlotte Mason said, "The teacher does not talk much and is careful never to interrupt a child who is called upon to 'tell.' The first efforts may be stumbling but presently the children will get into their 'stride' and 'tell' a passage at length with surprising fluency."

Correct errors at the end

If your child has made a mistake in their narration, wait until they have finished before correcting any errors. Make sure to pick up on the things they got right and gently tell them which parts were inaccurate and why. Another option is to see if another child can correct the narration. In my experience, one of the children will automatically jump in at the end and correct the other when if they've notice a mistake. This can be a great opportunity to teach the children how to correct someone respectfully.

Don't repeat

In her book, 'Know and Tell: the Art of Narration', Karen Glass says, 'No individual narration or its content is more important than the process of narrating. This is why we should not allow the lesson to be repeated or reread.' This suggests that the most important part of narration is developing the skills to be able to pay attention, internalise, process and reproduce in your own words, what you have heard. If a child misses something significant, they will learn to pay closer attention next time. If they think they will hear it again, there is no need for them to concentrate and listen well. Therefore, it is important you tell your child that you are expecting a narration from them before you start reading so they know to pay close attention to what they are hearing.

Review past material

Recapping past material is a good way to find out what your child has remembered from the previous lesson. This is a useful thing to do at the beginning of the lesson because it will help them make connections between previous lessons and the present lesson. It can also be helpful to find out if the information has gotten into their long term memory.

Use narration in different ways

Narration is not just for books, we can also narrate the things we see in nature and art. When we go for a walk in nature, we can ask our children to tell us about what they observe. Maybe they notice the leaves moving on the tree or a blue tit flying from one branch to another. Perhaps they notice the colour of the sky and the types of clouds.

We can also ask them to narrate during picture study. Can they describe the picture? What do they like/dislike about it? How does it make them feel? Try doing this exercise when you visit an art gallery or museum as well.

I hope you enjoyed this article and that it made you realise what a great tool narration is for homeschooling. Not only is it an important skill to learn, it is also a simple method to use because all you need is a good book! 

Have you tried narration in your homeschool yet? Do you think it is an effective method for learning?

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