Recalling Information Proves Most Effective in Learning

The New York Times published an article stating test-taking (a means of retrieving information about recently learned material) has proven to be the most effective means in long-term memory retention. I find the article interesting, not because of the test-taking, but by the results from different experiments that were conducted using various popular learning methods, including the popular mind-mapping idea.

From my standpoint and own experience in our homeschool, and stated in the research, the test-taking or practice of retrieving information can also take the form of oral and written narration, including writing notebooking pages on the topic recently stated. It is the practice of retrieving the information on your own (without looking at a reference) that appears to transfer it from short term memory to long term memory.

Here is the link to the article http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/21/science/21memory.html?src=me&ref=general

This scientific study hasn’t told me anything I haven’t seen in our own homeschooling experience using oral and written narration and our notebooking methods! It did confirm for me and reassure me that we are on that right track!

Other Uses of Narration – End of Semester Exams, High School Essays, and Timelines

I love using  Charlotte Mason’s methods. I don’t profess to be an expert or even a “pure CM’er.” I am, though, a homeschool mom of two boys with very different learning styles, personalities, and talents. I have tried many different materials (my shelves and closets will back me up on this) and different teaching and learning methods. Now, after a number of years, I feel like we have found something that works for us. I enjoy using alot of Charlotte Mason’s ideas, techniques, and philosophies – but unless I make them my own and tweak them so they are my comfortable way of doing things or my boys’ way of learning, these methods would not work as effectively for us as they do.

So, with fair warning to all those looking for “pure Charlotte Mason”, I would like to share with you some ways that we use narration in our homeschool that may be a little different than what Charlotte Mason might have had in mind.

Last week, I wrote about oral and written narration. I also included links that suggested creative ways to use narration other than completing notebooking pages.

This week, I would like to introduce the use of timelines and end of semester (or quarter) exams and high school essays through narration.

We do not avoid all forms of tests; it just hasn’t been a goal. We learn for the enjoyment with another goal of mastery, not a letter grade on a test. We do have however, oral quizzes periodically on vocabulary words, Spanish and Latin words, and science ( for my older son using Apologia) ( he makes flash cards for himself – he and I orally quiz from those in preparation for written tests for this program.)

You are probably beginning to see we use oral narration as a major technique in our assessment and evaluation. There are times it does not apply, as in math beyond simple computation skills and math facts. But alot of the time, oral narration is such a great means to evaluate your child’s knowledge and thinking skills, while giving him the practice in organizing and expressing his thoughts in a logical and coherent manner.

Our big evaluations or assessments are usually in our history study. We include literature, history, science, math, art, and music in our history study, so our periodic assessments include alot of subjects.

Our assessment takes the form of an oral narration as we place timeline figures onto our chronological timeline. We have long rolls of butcher paper with a line drawn through the middle. The top portion focuses on the western hemisphere and the lower half focuses on the eastern hemisphere.

Around what would be quarterly, we place timeline figures for what we have studied that quarter. As we place them chronologically, we take turns orally narrating what we have learned about that person or event. When a person is done, another does his own narration and adds new information or puts the information in his own words. By the end of the year, we have had about four oral exams covering most of what we have read in almost all subject areas.

We add to this timeline every year. When we are done homeschooling, each child will have a timeline from the creation of the world to the present day. We also will have revisited each time period at least twice and added to it with more timeline figures and narrations. You can use this idea for our timeline, or you can do the same kind of review and oral narration with a Book of Centuries.

The other use of narration is for high school essay preparation. As my older son gets closer to high school, while he does his oral narration, I will ask him a question or two that requires him to use higher order thinking skills to develop his answer. The question pertains to what we have read aloud or what he has read alone, but he needs to interpret or analyze the reading to develop his answer. Sometimes the question addresses the reading and makes a comparison or contrasting statement, or asks for a cause and effect analysis of two events we have read about or two time periods we have studied.

This practice prepares my son to think about what he has read and then organize his thoughts, so he can coherently explain them. Then he can write them down after giving me his answer and we have discussed it from different angles.

This also gives us the opportunity to practice different kinds of essay formats, depending on his answer. For example, to write an answer that includes a comparison and a contrast of an event requires a different format than a paper where he describes a cause and effect.

To give you some ideas of questions to ask to get your older children orally narrating and writing more complex narrations, I’ve included some links where you can find some.

HippoCampus has different subject areas, some AP. If you click in the chapter sections and look at their discussion questions, you might get ideas for questions when reading about the same subject.

studentsfriend.com discusses use of thinking skills in the study of history and geography and looking at causal relationships among other types of questions.

constitution challenge – this site focuses on the constitution and is for grades 5-8, and poses questions in a game show format, but includes the idea of orally narrating your answers while using some higher order thinking skills.

Enjoy experimenting with the Charlotte Mason method and try out different ways to use her philosophies and ideas in your home school; you might be surprised by the results. I know I was! And, I like to think she would be pleased. My kids are and that’s what makes learning so enjoyable for us.

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Charlotte Mason and the Art of Narration

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This week’s focus is on narration, Charlotte Mason’s art of narration to be more specific. When I first heard of the word narration before I started using Charlotte Mason’s methods in my homeschooling, I would have an image in my head of a child standing by a desk at the teacher’s request, reciting answers to questions of a homework assignment while the teacher looked on with a stern manner.

Today, I picture my children and I lounging on our sofas in our livingroom reviewing what we last read, reading our next chapter in our “living book” selection, and then my children relating to me with their own personal versions of what we just finished reading. I much prefer this second picture. Narration has now become my favorite part of our school day, aside from just reading together.

There are two forms of narration we will focus on – oral and written. First we will discuss the oral form of narration.

From the time our children can start forming words (and then even when they just “babble”), they are born narrators. Children love telling stories and relating to you what they have seen or experienced. How many of you have read a book over and over again to your child at his request, and then later heard that same child retell that story to himself, a toy, or to another person later on. Or, if you miss a word or page, they immediately let you know what you left out. My older son loved the story of “The Little Train that Could.” After having heard it routinely, by 3, he was narrating it with all of the different train voices to his stuffed animals – even using the words “as he puffed off indignantly.” (Which is quite funny hearing it from a 3 year old in the voice you might hear coming from a proper crotchety old gentleman.)

Anyway, to get back to narration – it is the art of being able to retell what you have just read or heard. This is a wonderful art to give to your children. It helps them organize their thoughts, use words and sentence structure they heard in the read aloud, express themselves in words and expression, recall information and details, and gives them confidence in their speech. When we first began narration, I was surprised that my usually verbal older son found it more difficult to narrate a read aloud than my normally quiet younger son. But, it was a habit that had to be formed. And we did. Bit by bit, until it  became a natural and normal action for each of them.

If you are just beginning with narration, before you begin reading aloud, let your children know they need to pay close attention to what you are saying because they will be expected to remember and tell you what they heard when you are done.  Start with reading aloud a short chapter that’s not very complex in its content. When you are done, ask who would like to tell you what they remember hearing in the read aloud. Let your children, one by one, tell you what they remember. Do not concern yourself with the proper order of events or specific details; just get them used to speaking to you about the reading. If they find it difficult to get started, ask a specific question about something that happened and ask them to tell you what happened next. This should get the ball rolling and for the next couple of weeks, continue your narration in this way as they get more comfortable and can narrate more details to you.

As your children grow more comfortable with the art of narration, you can ask them to try to retell what they have just heard in the order of what they heard and then move on to more specific details – by asking a question to draw their attention to that detail. You will be surprised how quickly and naturally your children will follow this habit. We narrate our history or science readings at least three times per week, now that we do longer readings and narrations. At the beginning, they were shorter and four to five times per week. You can adjust this to your family’s needs and the ages of your children.

The second form of narration is the written form. I also love this in our homeschooling! This is where you can really have some fun and develop notebooks on what you are studying.

After your children have become comfortable with their oral narrations, they should be ready to try written narrations after some of their oral narrations. You don’t have to have a written narration after every reading and oral narration. We usually write down the most interesting topics to us or what I may feel are the major or most important ideas, events, or people in our study.

When your children are very young, younger than 8, 9, or 10, (Charlotte Mason and other Charlotte Mason homeschoolers begin written narration around 10.) you can do the written narration for your child. Do you remember from your school days, those big pieces of flimsy tan paper with big lines and dashes in the center, with a big empty space on top for a picture? And, you would practice writing your words and sentences with those fat pencils and then when you were done, you got to draw or paint a picture of your story? Well, with written narration for your youngest child, you can have him orally narrate his read aloud to you, while you write his words down for him. When he is done, he can draw a picture or pictures to go along with his story. You, then, read his story to him as point to each word you are reading. This will connect what you are saying to each word as you say it. Read this story to him routinely and then have him read it to you. It’s okay for him to memorize it and “practice read” it to you.

My younger son wanted to be like his older brother and “write his own book” too, so he started writing his sentences down after his oral narration also. For both my sons, this was another case of forming a habit. It was slow going for both of them. But, as they stared at the ominous blank piece of paper, I would ask them to repeat to me what they had narrated to me from our read aloud only moments ago. Then I would say, “See, you have the words you want to use; now just write down the sentence you just told me.” It took them awhile to get over the intimidation of that blank piece of paper even though they had just repeated to me their oral narrations. First, your children might only be able to write down one or two sentences the first few times they have to write down their narrations. But, just as we did, your children will grow accustomed to the idea that after narration to you, they will write down their narration on paper. You will soon see them writing five sentences, then whole pages and eventually ask for another piece of paper if it is a topic they are particularly excited about. Depending upon the topic we are reading or my sons’ interests, I may choose a notebooking page with a large space for a picture, because I know they will really want to spend time drawing their narration. Other times, if it is more dry and not as creative, I may give them a notebooking page with a simple picture already on the page or a small square where they draw a little picture of their own.

There are quite a few pages throughout the internet with blank notebooking pages, pages with specific formats or pictures depending on the topic you are studying, and pictures of completed notebooking pages you can look at to get ideas for your homeschool. You can keep these pages in some kind of notebook binder or slip the pages into sheet protectors and then put these into a notebook. Either way you have something of a keepsake and study guide of your year together. Your child has something he can look back at and be proud of, and you have something you can use in a portfolio assessment at the end of the school year if you are required to do that in your state.

For middle and high schoolers and narration, their oral and written narration can go beyond just retelling and summarizing what they have read. This is where their writing can really come naturally from their oral narration and their writing gets interesting. You can have them write different forms of essays in response to their reading, just as they would need to on any exam they take for college admission or in college. Great preparation! They can write descriptive narrations of what they have read, personal narrations – even taking on the role of a character in history, science or a literary piece they have just read. What about a compare/contrast paper between two books or other literary selections they have completed? Or a process paper after reading a book or two on a topic of interest to them. ( My son is constantly reading books and magazines about fishing – his summer is going to be spent putting a book together with everything he has learned as a 4-H project.) What about a definition paper? Start out by defining a word as it means to him or the dictionary and explore in detail what that word or concept really means through detail and examples if you have read a book about democracy for example, or courage, or faith. Are you getting the idea. I find, though, the key for my guys, including my oldest, is to let them tell me about it first. Let them organize their thoughts out loud and bounce ideas off you – even if you don’t speak and they can hear their ideas out loud. Their ideas flow much better in this informal situation before sitting down in front of that ominous blank piece of paper.

You will soon notice, as I do, that your children will be unconsciously narrating to themselves as they read to themselves or after you have read something to them. My guys will have conversations between themselves, without me or my prompting, about what we have been reading. Or, like my younger son did today, while he was reading his science book (Exploring Creation with Astronomy) to himself, he was actually narrating what he was reading back to himself – but in a song he made up- while he was reading it. These are moments that will definitely make you smile and you know that you are doing something right!

Here are some sites with more information about narration:

Charlotte Mason’s Original Homeschooling Series

Narration Ideas beyond Retelling and Summary

Narration Ideas including Narration in Lapbooking

Here are some sites with assorted notebooking pages:

Notebookingpages.com

Homeschoolhelperonline

Hold that thought notebooking pages

notebooking nook

jeannie fullbright – exploring creation science series

Cindy Rushton – the notebooking queen

Hope you find these ideas helpful and if you have any questions, please feel free to ask or share any great tips you might have in our comments section! Thanks! Please share our post with anyone you might think may be interested in narration or notebooking.

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