Review in a Charlotte Mason Education

From Wikipedia: “Spaced repetition is a learning technique that incorporates increasing intervals of time between subsequent review of previously learned material in order to exploit the psychological spacing effect. Alternative names include spaced rehearsalexpanding rehearsalgraduated intervalsrepetition spacingrepetition schedulingspaced retrieval and expanded retrieval.”

This is basically the design behind SCM’s memory verse card technique.  Also from Wikipedia:

“In the Leitner system, correctly answered cards are advanced to the next, less frequent box, while incorrectly answered cards return to the first box for more aggressive review and repetition.”
You can read more about it here.  Many online programs and apps utilize the method and program the spaced repetition or graduated intervals into their system.
While listening to a Pimsleur ‘learn Korean’ program I realized that similar spaced repetition is actually built into Charlotte Mason’s method.  Unfortunately, because we don’t realize these built in review points are there, sometimes people try to pretty up the method and make it more ‘fun’ or ‘entertaining’ and accidentally make it less effective.   It’s not that one or two mistakes can ruin the whole program, but the value of these review points are cumulative so the benefits accrue over time, and when we consistently miss some of them, we are shortchanging our kids and ourselves.
  This is something I’ve thought about from time to time in a desultory fashion, but I missed many of those spaced intervals until this last week when the Pimsleur recording I was listening to really started my thinking down this track in a more comprehensive way.
Here are the recollection intervals I see in the CM method:
Narration is obvious.  Every school reading except poetry is narrated.  Skip a narration and you are skipping the first and most important of the reviews.  So much is happening in this first review, and most of it is below the surface so the observer thinks it’s boring.  But what we cannot see is happening is the brain attempting to scan and retrieve the information it has just read or heard, to look for key details, to select them on the basis of importance or interest, to organize them into a logical sequence, and then, hardest of all, to reproduce them for others to read or hear.   We may only get a single garbled sentence from that, but that sentence is not the whole, there are many little idea fishes swimming in the deep where we cannot see them.  But when we substitute our questions for the narration where the students own mind must ask and answer the questions, we hinder this review process- especially in the younger years. It interferes less with their own thought processes when they are older, but when they are younger they need to first be given the time and space to think, select, and then tell on their own.  You can ask other questions after they have had the chance to narrate as best they can.
 
Short Reads: Don’t keep reading. The short readings, stopping while the children are still interested is another vitally important link here, and it is, regrettably, one most often missed.  Parents assure themselves and others that their children ‘remember the books just fine’ and they ‘are able to narrate well’ so they don’t see a problem with continuing to read, or letting the child finish in a few days what should have been scheduled over a period of weeks.  How well they narrate or discuss the books is not the point.  We want them to spend time really ruminating, digesting, and thinking deeply about the stories.  When they have to stop reading a book while they are still keenly interested, they can’t stop thinking about it, so the review is a spontaneous reaction to the hunger for more that is burning inside.  They will be reviewing what happened, who was involved, the small, nuanced turns of phrase or details that seem insignificant when lost in the pleasure of devouring too much of the book in too short a time.  They are thinking about, pondering, wondering, and going over the material in their minds again and again.  This is a powerful way to review the material, spontaneous, under the child’s own power and it requires no external implements or questions.  It’s a glorious thing when a child is this deeply invested in his own education and he does not even realize how much work he is doing.Take full advantage of this and don’t trade it in for something else.
 
Several books are naturally reviewed each week when the children incorporate their stories and learning into their free play.  This is one area where it does help if the children can spend time with others who are enjoying the same kind of education and reading the same books.So for this type of review to happen, we need to be sure the children have free time for imaginary play, and the inclination for it.  That may mean fewer screens and more boredom, boredom is often a necessary motivator for good imaginary play.
       Spontaneous review initiated by the children is not just for imaginary games, either.  I have witnessed some young children engage in some energetic and spontaneous review of the Burgess Bird Book when a bird landed on the birdfeeder outside their grandmother’s window and there was a difference in opinion as to what type of bird it was.  A vigorous intellectual debate followed full of logical arguments and supporting facts to scaffold each small person’s point of view.  This quite serious scientific discussion was between a person of 4 and her 7 year old brother, btw, and it was an astonishingly thorough review.

We also get a bit of review in whenever we read other living books.  Living books are not one dimensional.  They are multifaceted, rich with allusions, metaphors, ideas that carry across to other situations and conversations, with connections!  Because education is the science of relations, there will usually be connections to be made. After the narration is complete, you can ask the child ‘Does this remind you of anything else?” and there is an additional review point as they quickly scan the treasure boxes of their memories, review the material inside their own minds.  Whether they pull something out to share or not, the question itself has relevance and the brain stores it away, reminded to look or similarities and patterns-which is easy since our brains are pattern finders anyway.  One book, one thought, one idea, one connection leads to another, to another, like beads on a string.

Introducing the next reading of the same book: Where were we?  What do you think will happen next? Another review interval comes when we return to the same book and introduce a reading by asking “Where were we?” and the children remind us of what we read about last.
“Keeping”– all those little tools for keeping, the timelines, the commonplace book, and even nature notebooks.   Children review their readings again when they make entries on their timelines, in century books, or on century charts.  They are to choose their own entries, and, again, in our efforts to pretty this up and make it somehow more appealing, we dilute the power of this review by providing lovely, ready made figures we’ve purchased or printed out.  When they choose the people and events themselves, they are reviewing a larger portion of the week’s work as a whole.  When they have to select and sketch the details to include, they are doing a great deal of close review in their own minds, thinking more deeply about the character or event they have chosen and asking themselves the questions about what details would best convey why this person belongs on the timeline, who they were and what they did.
Charlotte Mason says the mind can know nothing except the answers to the questions it puts to itself.  When we supply the ready-made figures, the children are not the ones asking and answering those important questions.
There is additional review whenever they do mapwork, finding places from their reading on maps, marking them on a large wall map, looking for them on a globe- as they search the maps and globes they will be reminded of places they have read about previously.  This is not the strongest of the review opportunities in their days, but it is yet another small linking bead in the chain they are building.
With Shakespeare we also often have the children work through the book by using paper dolls,  peg figures, or other objects to work through the plays.   Like the timeline figures, they will be doing more work and reviewing in their minds if they are the ones doing the work of deciding on the figures, sketching them out (however poorly), selecting the little details to add that most represent these characters.  Sometimes in our homeschool we sketched the characters on the front of an envelope and then on the back we would write out a bit of character description, adding a little more each time some new aspect of that character was revealed.
Copywork and Commonplace Books: Like mapwork, copywork is another lowkey, perhaps not vitally significant opportunity for review, but it is, nevertheless, one more small opportunity for their minds to review.  Miss Mason suggests that the children should select their own copywork. I really don’t see much harm in the parent making the selecting (particularly if  the student is inclined to dawdle or stress over choosing).  It isn’t like the work of narration or the fantastically deep thinking that happens when we stop reading while a child’s interest is still sharp.  But if you want a small additional opportunity for your child to do some extra reviewing in his own mind, midway through each day ask your student to choose something from yesterday’s reading to use for copywork.
The exams, of course, are the ultimate review at the end of the term.  I did not give exams enough attention when I was homeschooling.  They are yet another chance for the students to perform some intensive mindwork and deep review of the material, really internalizing and assimilating it.  This is why often the first few exams feel like failures- the students haven’t used this tool often enough yet for it to provide them with that motivation for deeper attention- often for perfectly good reasons.  But don’t give up too soon.  Keep doing the exams even if you think they aren’t working.
Who is doing the work? The more often your child is doing the work, selecting the details, choosing, and organizing, the more often he is doing the work of chewing on, thinking about, reviewing, and really absorbing the information in a truly meaningful way, moving the ideas from short-term to long term memory, improving his understanding.

Whatever tools we use- charts, timelines, maps, guided scrapbooks, projects, century books, colouring pages, all those pretty free or almost free printables are tools Charlotte Mason would have classified as “Disciplinary Devices.”  They are not necessarily wrong in and of themselves.  They do, however, merit some careful thought before we use them.  Some of them are fine in extreme moderation.  Some of them are always problematic, depending upon how scripted they are, how much of their use is just a template with the project designer asking the questions and choosing which information and ideas the child can write or draw about instead of the child.

Just as our lecturing and explanations of the books should not come between the book and the child, these ‘disciplinary devices’ also “must not come between Children and the Soul of the Book.–… but let us be careful that our disciplinary devices, and our mechanical devices to secure and tabulate the substance of knowledge, do not come between the children and that which is the soul of the book, the living thought it contains.”

Take full advantage of all these wonderful, free opportunities for the children to come mind to mind with the living thoughts and ideas inside their books themselves, and then to revisit those living ideas without external scripts telling them what to think, do, record, and remember.
 
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