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Narration's Many Faces

Narration has another side to it that is often neglected. While we are always quick to note that narration involves the act of reading and then narrating after the selection has been read, we often forget that listening and speaking are a part of this act as well. It is true that narration builds skills in paying attention, taking in new information and then sorting through this information as it is retold. But, a vital part of all of these smaller parts of this larger act called “Read and then Narrate” includes listening to and then speaking of this new information.

Speaking is not just about producing words and sentences, but draws from inside the minds of children-pulling from memory, prior knowledge, thought organization and much more. It is obviously connected to listening, for without having listened then children cannot connect their own thoughts to what has already been said.

Reading and then narrating is not just a lesson; we are showing them through repetitive practice that they must listen and then respond to the knowledge “conversation” through speaking, sharing their own personal connection to it and assimilation of it.

Here are the definitions from Merriam-Webster to some related words:

  • assimilate: to take into the mind and thoroughly understand

  • speak: to say words in order to express your thoughts, feelings, opinions, etc., to someone : to talk to someone

  • communication: the act or process of using words, sounds, signs, or behaviors to express or exchange information or to express your ideas, thoughts, feelings, etc., to someone else

  • listen: to hear something with thoughtful attention : give consideration

  • discuss: to investigate by reasoning or argument; to present in detail for examination or consideration

I’ve highlighted one or two particular words in these definitions. Notice the emphasis on words such as understands and attention with the words highlighted: thoroughly and thoughtful. Note the verbs used such as express, exchange, investigate and present. Also, see how interrelated all of these words are to each other. Clearly there is much more to listening and speaking then the surface meanings of these words; it is a significant part of how we communicate with each other. And what is narration but a form of communication?

It is important for a parent or teacher to be aware of this and keep it at the forefront of his/her thoughts when a narration is taking place. Often any troubles a child might be experiencing with regard to narration occur because of some lack of attention to these faces of narration.

Consider these questions:

  • How well is your child listening to the reading? (Some problems occur because the reading selection is too long or too complex, etc. Sometimes the environment is distracting. Be sure to rule these out as needed.)

  • How well are you listening to your child? (Be sure to consider the environment-is it too loud or disrupting to the narrator? Give your child your undivided attention.)

  • How comfortable is your child with speaking? (Consider the idea that more time might be needed to compose his/her thoughts. Practice in speaking can be gained through informal conversations throughout daily life.)

Narrating after a reading gives a child a moment to speak and be heard, contributing to a stronger parent/teacher and child relationship. We are better listeners because of it and our children feel heard.

Here is a related excerpt from a previous post on narration:

Narration: A Different Perspective

As children adjust to the style and schedule of narrating, then their joy in narrating will usually grow in proportion. My children have almost entirely grown up with narrating. Their perspective on narrating is quite different from children who do not care for it. My children consider narrating an opportunity, as it is a moment for them to share their thoughts and feelings over a selection. They, like most children, want to be heard. To be heard is to feel understood. This is one aspect of narrating from which all children can benefit. I realized that both of our girls did not like to see a day go by when they did not feel as if they had segments of time from both my husband I where we gave them our undivided attention. What do children want when they want our undivided attention? They want us to listen to them. When my daughters narrate to me, they have my undivided attention and I am listening.

As fluency grows, perhaps in the upper elementary ages, we can then encourage a discussion or conversation on the topic at hand, directly following the narration. This interchange of ideas and thoughts, often begun by the children themselves, are vital in developing their minds, working on skills such as, speaking, listening, thinking and reasoning. This should unfold easily, without undue stress or frustration, in the elementary years. It is not necessary to discuss after every narration, but only as time, interest and a natural extension of the moment presents itself.

This is presented in the PNEU article “Thoughts on Narration” which reads that “At about this stage a lesson should often end with some serious discussion arising from questions asked by the children or by the teacher. One has to be careful not to allow opinions to be formed on too little knowledge; it is an opportunity to show children how dangerous such carelessly formed opinions can be. This teaching develops as the children move up through the school” (Wix, Helen).

This discussion should take place after a complete narration has been given and usually only when a child is fluently narrating. This is not a discussion that you lead, but one where you might put forth an open-ended question and then allow your child to follow in the direction they wish to go with it. We are not using this discussion as a time to insert thinking questions, as Ms. Mason would rightfully not agree with this “It tacitly prohibits questioning from without…” (Mason Vol. 6). It is rather a time for expanding on new knowledge, probing it further. The focus is always on giving your student opportunities to assimilate the knowledge at hand.

In the upper years, this should begin to become a regular part of the narration process, folding this in as a natural extension. The more an older student begins to wrestle larger ideas and practices presenting their position on them through oral discussions and conversations, the better prepared he/she will be when then writing them.

From “Thoughts on Narration” we further read, “By the time children reach the top of the school narration has become an ingrained habit, has led to observation and thought, to an ability to relate what was learnt last term, last week, yesterday with ‘this’ that we are now considering. Such co-ordination grows from remembered past narrations over a wide field. Some note in to-day's reading awakes an echo in some other subject or lesson and so the power to compare and contrast and illustrate by example is developed. This should lead to a valuable use of analogy, and application of past history to modern times and modern problems” (Wix, Helen).

A Mind in the Light Curriculum includes this aspect of narration extension in its upper years through the Great Ideas Discussions. These are not designed to take place after every reading but only those which lend themselves towards further discussion. The questions are meant to emphasize points and ponder different perspectives and not to be set forward as the only way to think on something. Charlotte Mason tell us that “…if it is desirable to ask questions in order to emphasize certain points, these should be asked after and not before or during the act of narration (Mason Vol. 6).

Listening, speaking and discussion are three acts which happen so regularly and so easily that they feel automatic, particularly to adults who have practicing this for much longer. They are and should be habitual to even young children, but they should not be taken for granted. They are foundational in the act of communication and are just as likely to be the root of a problem as to be the source of a benefit. These faces of narration should be attended to not only because they aid in narration, but also because practice in these skills build better minds.

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