Reading intelligently is a skill. It is a skill which requires practice, because as the complexity of literature and the response to that literature increases, so must the students' abilities along with it. Before a student can read intelligently, several foundational skills should already have been established.
An ability to focus and sustain attention is needed.
A foundation of literature for new connections to be built upon is important.
An imagination, one that has been nurtured over the years, allows for the movement from this world to another.
Oral narration practice trains the mind in keeping an orderly flow of ideas.
Observation skills train the child to be alert to distinguishing characteristics and details and then practice in classifying and arranging them.
These skills should have already been developed so that the student does not need to use large amounts of attention and energy in sorting out the general flow of ideas from a selection in literature, freeing him/her up to look more closely at the subtleties and details. The details are what separate reading from intelligent reading.
The lower years are spent in building up these very skills listed above, as well as others which will lend itself towards the development of the intelligent reader. Keeping a focus on synthetic responses to literature in these years is important, so the emphasis should be on increasing the body of knowledge and looking for how this body is interconnected.
Imagine that you've dropped a pebble in a still pond. Do you see the concentric circles which flow out from the center? Building skills in this curriculum would look like this if a model were to be made of it. Students in the lower years start in the center with simple narrations such as retellings or creative responses. Each year, as the student grows and develops, the narrations begin to add to the center base with narrations which increase in their complexity, matching the increase in the complexity of the literature. The center is not neglected, so retellings still have a fundamental place in this model. Narrations will include: preparation for reading the work, a question or brief conversation connecting the reading to previous readings, the reading itself, a narration following the reading, an opportunity in the closing to have a conversation of the work and perhaps, as needed, a parting thoughtful comment by the teacher on some point to further consider. As the lower years student begins to reach the end of this level, literary devices will be introduced.
The upper years continues to build on the foundation put in place from the lower years. At this time, the student's skills in narration, observation, attention and other skills are well in place and this curriculum will add more knowledge of literary devices: what they are, what role they play, how to find them in literature and where to include them in their own writing. A commonplace notebook, literary terms notebook, essays and even the Great Ideas Discussions will include opportunities to work with these new literary terms. Also, the grammar of poetry will be studied more intently and then applied to poetry read. For some select books each year of the upper years, the students will also keep an active reader notebook. This notebook will allow students to write down unknown words or phrases, questions that arise while reading, quotes that are interesting and other thoughts the reader might have while reading a literary work. These practices aid in creating an intelligent reader.
Charlotte Mason and members of the PNEU found multiple ways for students to narrate which greatly expanded on their skills in discerning author techniques, noting and applying literary terms, making comparisons, studying character and recognizing the deeper themes in literature and these same variations can be found in this curriculum. These skills and variations in practicing these skills make up the core of the intelligent reader and this, in turn, creates intelligent writers too.