Why Narration?

vol 1 pg 173
“It is not too much to say that a morning in which a child receives no new idea is a morning wasted, however closely the little student has been kept at his books.”


daily ideas

“I am anxious to bring this idea of a discovery before the reader because our methods are so simple and obvious that people are inclined to take them up at random and say that extensive reading is a “good idea which we have all tried more or less” and that free narration “is a good plan in which there is nothing new.” It is true that we all read and that narration is as natural as breathing, its value depending solely upon what is narrated.”
Volume 1, page 233, the lessons are always read “with a view to narration;”

From In Memoriam, a description of the class:
“The way this habit of close attention is acquired is really very simple. The teacher takes a subject which interests the children and reads part of a page in a clear and interesting manner. All listen, for they know that the next step will be that one of them will be called on to stand up and narrate to the others what all have just heard read.”

And this explanation of narration’s importance (though it is not the only way to use books):

“It is such a temptation to us ordinary folks to emphasise some part at the expense of the rest and so turn a strength into a weakness. There is only one way to avoid this danger. That is constantly to read and re-read Miss Mason’s books, constantly to remind ourselves of her first principles–for from now onwards Miss Mason’s work is in our hands; we dare not leave un-made any effort to keep the truth.

May I take Narration, the corner stone, as an example?

In such a book subject as history, does P.N.E.U. teaching consist merely in reading a set portion once through and then allowing a certain number of children–out of perhaps a class of fifty–to narrate as best they can? Is it not possible that such a lesson, repeated ad infinitum would result in a rigid system?

What is narration? Miss Mason tells us it is “the answer to a question put by the mind to itself.” Then might there not be times when narration might be a drawing or even a sketch map?

Are we perhaps in danger of systematising the method by insisting that reading and narration are in themselves for ever all-sufficient? We know we may never omit that part of the lesson in which the child puts to his mind a question and answers it, in which he himself performs the definite act of knowing, in which his mind is fed. But should we, for example, never also set questions for the older children of a thought-provoking type? Let us see what Miss Mason says. In “School Education” after giving an account of narration she adds: “But this is only one way to use books; others are to enumerate the statements in a given chapter, to analyse a chapter, to divide it into paragraphs under proper headings, to tabulate and classify series, to trace cause to consequence and consequence to cause, to discern character–and perceive how character and circumstance interact . . . The teacher’s part is, among other things, to set such questions and such tasks as shall give full scope to his pupil’s mental activity . . . Let the pupil write for himself half a dozen questions which cover the passage studied. These few hints by no means cover the disciplinary uses of a good school book.”

So we evidently may require–at least from our older pupils–something more than narration. But, we must never forget that without narration the mind will starve; whatever disciplinary exercises we use, they should be in addition to and never instead of narration.”

And here:

“If they read but once, and then must narrate, concentration is intense. You can see the children thinking. And what is read once and then narrated becomes a part of the child s knowledge, and is usable thenceforth.”

And here:
“Of late years, Miss Mason, in her far-seeing wisdom, laid more and more stress on narration, for she had discovered in it the foundation stone of learning, which provides, when the right books are used, the food without which the mind cannot grow or thrive. But we cannot reduce Miss Mason’s method to lowest terms; we cannot say “P.N.E.U. teaching is narration”; for though it is not possible to do Miss Mason’s work without it, it is eminently possible to practise narration of a sort and yet be far indeed from her ideal.”

Volume 6, page 212 about a French lesson: “Miss Mason’s methods… were exactly followed during the lesson. There was the book of recognised literary merit, the single reading, and the immediate narration.”

Volume 6 again, page 260-1:

“Now we have proved that children, even children of the slums, are able to understand any book suitable for their age: that is, children of eight or nine will grasp a chapter in Pilgrim’s Progress at a single reading; children of fourteen, one of Lamb’s Essays or a chapter in Eöthen, boys and girls of seventeen will ‘tell’ Lycidas. Given a book of literary quality suitable to their age and children will know how to deal with it without elucidation. Of course they will not be able to answer questions because questions are an impertinence which we all resent, but they will tell you the whole thing with little touches of individual personality in the narrative. Perhaps this is the key to the enormous difficulty of humanistic teaching in English. We are no longer overpowered by the mass of the ‘humanities’ confronted with the slow process of getting a child to take in anything at all of the author he is reading. The slow process is an invention of our own. Let the boy read and he knows, that is, if he must tell again what he has read.

This, of telling again, sounds very simple but it is really a magical creative process by means of which the narrator sees what he has conceived, so definite and so impressive is the act of narrating that which has been read only once. I dwell on the single reading because, let me repeat, it is impossible to fix attention on that which we have heard before and know we shall hear again.”

See also We Narrate and Then We Know

You may wish to look over some of our other posts on Charlotte Mason and language arts

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