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Consider this…again

I started this post a good while ago, because now I’m actually nearing the end of this read- through of A Philosophy of Education. But I decided to go ahead and post it anyway. I continue to be amazed at how much I learn from each successive reading of Charlotte Mason’s volumes.


I’m diving into a fresh read of A Philosophy of Education, Charlotte Mason’s sixth and final book. This is the book she wrote at her most experienced season of life—her final years. It takes into consideration what she observed during The Great War (WWI), and the dramatic changes and unrest in British society. That whole social justice thing? You wouldn’t believe how similar it is to questions they were facing in that time and place, with “class” rather than “race” being the dividing factor.

Speaking into that culture at that time, about the subject that was near to her heart—education—Charlotte Mason hopes the British public will take a look at the work and results that she and her colleagues had achieved, and take it up in a wider field.

As I read through just the first few pages of chapter 1, I was struck afresh with the clarity and directness of her message. She doesn’t miss a trick.

Charlotte Mason says that she has

labored for fifty years to find the answer, and am anxious to impart what I think I know.

How about that for a demonstration of genuine humility? She doesn’t give herself the label of “expert” or “guru” or “leading authority,” in spite of her fifty years of labor in her field. She says she has labored to “find the answer,” and there is so much implied by that phrase. It means she was seeking—asking questions—and even at this stage of her journey, she does not impose her ideas on others.

Rather than laying down the law, she extends an invitation (which I borrowed as the title to my first book) to her readers then and to her readers now:

But the answer cannot be given in the form of ‘Do’ this and that, but rather as an invitation to ‘Consider’ this and that.

What a relief to the harried homeschool (or classroom!) teacher. There is not a list of absolutely vital boxes that must be checked off, each and every one, in order to understand and implement a ‘Charlotte Mason’ education. She has given us principles to consider, and when we have thought about the principles, their applications, and the specific suggestions that illustrate them, we’ll be ready to act with confidence.

Action follows when we have thought duly.

That’s one tiny paragraph, but it packs a powerful message. I hope you won’t fall into the trap of thinking that a Charlotte Mason education can be accomplished by the completion of a myriad of specific tasks—“do this” and “do that.” Rather, your educational efforts will draw nearer to her ideal and shape themselves into life-giving practices, as you thoughtfully consider each principle, both for itself and in relation to the whole.

Start with “Children are born persons” and “Education is the science of relations.” If you keep those two principles in the forefront of your thoughts, you’ve got a great beginning and a solid foundation for understanding the rest.

I guess I’ll go finish this volume now. I already know which one I’m going to pick up to read next.

Q & A for Know and Tell

I’ve seen or fielded a few questions and comments that I think might be of general interest. So in case you were wondering…

When is the Kindle version coming out?

I’m sorry—I truly am—but Know and Tell cannot be a Kindle book. Besides my text, there are pages and pages of children’s narrations. We can make it obvious on a static page which is which, but Kindle is much less flexible, as readers control things like font size, and it would be impossible to organize things sensibly. You could be reading along about narration, and suddenly find yourself in the middle of a cheerful retelling about Paul Bunyan.

It may be that we will find another way to make a digital copy available, but that will not be immediately forthcoming.

Why is the book so long?

It looks a little daunting, I know. However, the actual text of Know and Tell is very similar to that of Consider This. I value brevity, too. (Not that you could ever tell that from my blog posts or Facebook comments.) All the extra pages are full of extra things—mostly many, many narration samples generously shared by real homeschooling moms using narration in their homes. There are also a few bits addressed to students, some helpful (I hope) charts, some useful lists, and cartoons. The cartoons, drawn by Jenna Dilts, are charming. All that extra stuff adds to the page count, but I think you won’t mind.

Will this help me develop written narration with my older students?

Well, I do hope so. I meant it to. There are ten chapters in Know and Tell, and Amazon has activated the “Look Inside” feature now, so you can get a sneak preview. The chapter on “Becoming a Writer” is devoted to the later stages of narration—making the transition into composition—and it is nearly one-fourth of the total book.

This is hardly comprehensive. Do you have a question about Know and Tell? Let me know, and I’ll update this post!

Off to a great start.

So yesterday, I launched Know and Tell into the world, and I know lots of you already ordered it and are waiting for it to arrive. No one has actually had a chance to read it yet, but I can tell how many of you want to. Look at this:

You made Know and Tell the number-one new release in its sub-sub-sub-sub category. Thank you for that.

By way of thanks, I’m going to share one of the charts I created for Know and Tell. This is a scope and sequence of how narration works across twelve years of schooling. You can see how each step in the progression continues and builds on what has gone before. Within each stage, you have one new thing to focus on, while your child continues  to polish and develop the skills from the earlier stages. Each step allows plenty of time for building fluency before you move on to the next one.

Much of Know and Tell is, of course, a more detailed look at how you make each stage work, accompanied by lots of narrations from real kids to make it all come to life. I’m really looking forward to hearing what you all think. After you read, will you consider leaving a review at Amazon? Those reviews are helpful to potential readers, but they encourage authors, too. Most of all, I’m hoping to hear that Know and Tell has encouraged you to be consistent with narration, because your children have so much to gain.

Sharing the joy

There is nothing quite like the moment you get to see your book in physical form for the first time. I wanted to share it with you. Don’t get too excited, because this is a proof copy, and that means it has be proofed. But it will not be long now!

18 Books in 2018!

(I know you all want to know how things are coming with Know and Tell—very well, I promise. Update soon!)

Last year, I didn’t plan my reading very extensively—only 3 or 4 books each for fiction and nonfiction.

I do like to let my reading happen organically, but in the end, I wasn’t happy with the total amount I read. Twenty-nine books for the year (okay, it ended up being 30—reread from a favorite crime novelist) is barely finishing one every two weeks. And it isn’t that uniform in reality, because I spent months reading The Brother Karamazov, and probably blew an afternoon on Grace Livingston Hill.

There are lots of “reading challenges” out there, and I was tempted to pick one and join, but in the end, it sends me looking for books that fit someone else’s categories, and I have plenty on my plate already.

So, I decided to arbitrarily pre-plan “18 books for 2018,” and divide them equally between fiction and non fiction. The first few were easy. Of course I have books on my immediate horizon. It’s harder to think about what I might read several months from now, and I suspect that sticking to the list will be harder still. So, this is a plan—not a promise. We’ll evaluate next December and see how it went.

Fiction for 2018

There are just a handful of living authors whose books I will read as soon as possible when they are released. I’m actually behind on a couple, so I’ve purposed to catch up a bit.

Lila by Marilynne Robinson. I started rereading Gilead this year, but didn’t finish. I’ll probably finish that before I read Lila. I read Home in 2016 and don’t feel the need to reread that one.

Somewhere Safe with Somebody Good by Jan Karon. I’m several books behind in Mitford, and this is next up. A new book was released this year, and I can’t even think about reading it!

 

The Punishment She Deserves: A Lynley Novel by Elizabeth George. Elizabeth George has created her own genre—the literary crime novel. I don’t have space here to explain it, but she is brilliant. This book is due out March 20; I’ve already pre-purchased it; and I should just block out two days on the calendar to do nothing but read this book, because that’s what’s going to happen anyway (guess which crime novelist I reread on New Year’s Eve?). If you have never read her, you cannot start with this book. Begin with A Great Deliverance (my reread), and I apologize in advance if you fall behind on cooking, laundry, and homeschooling.

Silence by Shusaku Endo. Yeah, that was the one on last year’s list that I didn’t read. Technically, it’s first in the queue for 2018. But I started reading it, and it mentions torture. There are some things I just don’t want to read about. You already know that vampires are on that list. Torture is another thing. I will try—it’s not gratuitous violence in this book, just reality. But still.

Laurus by Eugene Vodolazkin. This one has been highly recommended everywhere by readers I trust. I want to read it, too.

And then it gets hard. That’s five books, and I only need to plan four more, but I found myself floundering. When you’ve been reading voraciously for over 40 years, you’ve already read a lot of the standard titles on lists, or have decided you just don’t want to (I haven’t been able to work up any enthusiasm for Moby Dick or Catch-22, and maybe I never will.)

Since the other books on my list are 20th century or newer, I want these ones to be more classic.

It’s taken me a long time to decide, and I still reserve the right to change my mind, but the plan is:

The Sorrows of Young Werther by Goethe

A Passage to India by EM Forster—Actually, another 20th century book, but I’ve only read a couple of Forster’s best-known titles, and this is a glaring omission that must be remedied.

I had to look at my beloved Victorian novelists for one choice. I’ve read all the obvious titles, many of them more than once, so I decided to choose something from the bottom shelf. The lesser-known books probably deserve to be, but I’m going to tackle Daniel Deronda by George Eliot.

And what will that one final book for this list be? I still don’t know. Fiction title #9 will be the book that everyone is talking about or comes out as a movie, and so I jump on the bandwagon, grab a Kindle copy, and read it, too. This is bound to happen, right? I have a lot of reading friends. (See The Circle and Wonder on my 2017 list…I’ve seen a lot of buzz about A Gentleman in Moscow and The Awakening of Miss Prim so maybe one of those?)

Nonfiction for 2018

This is dangerous, because I do read fewer nonfiction titles, and I don’t rush through them. I’ve already got two rereads underway (A Philosophy of Education and Coleridge), so planning nine new books is actually a bit unrealistic. There is a very real chance I won’t get through them all.

So, I’m cheating on the first two.

Poetic Knowledge by James Taylor—a reread

The Liberal Arts Tradition by Clark and Jain. Half-and-half. I read 50 percent of the book on Kindle and decided I needed to read it in book form. I have the book now, and I’ll read it through from the beginning.

The Education of the Young in the Republic of Plato by Bernard Bosanquet—this book is part of the “what did Charlotte Mason read?” reading plan.

The Legacy of the Ancient World by William DeBurgh—ditto.

Beauty in the Word by Stratford Caldecott. I’ve been meaning to read this ever since Cindy Rollins blogged about it, and that was a LONG time ago. I fear this is the “most likely not to get read” book on my list, and that’s because I have it on the Kindle and I may not be satisfied to read it that way, but I’ll give it a try.

The Discarded Image by C.S. Lewis—It’s been on my “to read” list for a while.

Early Christianity and Greek Paideia by Werner Jaeger—I went on a bit of a book-buying spree recently and bought this book. I’m putting it on the list, but it’s not first in line, so again, I have fears that I won’t get as far as this one. But I hope I do!

John Milton: Classical Learning and the Progress of Virtue by Grant Horner. Because if I don’t have at least one short, easier book on this list, I’ll be lucky to get half way through it. I picked this one up at the CiRCE conference in 2016, along with another in the same series about Plato. I read the Plato one, and I’ve read Milton’s Treatise on Education more than a few times, but I think it will be interesting to read someone else’s perspective of it.

The Emperor’s Handbook by Marcus Aurelius, in David Hicks’ new translation. Because I need to read something that’s really, truly, authentically classical.

I won’t look at this post again until December 2018, to see how I did (I’ll be writing the titles in my Bullet Journal so I don’t forget them). If my list gives rise to any recommendations, toss them my way. I’m always open to suggestions!

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In the home stretch…

Now that it’s January, I have been flooded by questions about when, exactly, Know and Tell will be available, and that is perfectly fair because I said January, right?

When I said that (in October), I was hoping for earlier rather than later in January, too. However, I should have known better because holidays, winters, business, baking, illness, and etc.

However, I spoke with my formatting editor (i.e. husband) last night and he assures me January is still on. We are that close. Allowing for as-yet-unforeseen complications, we’re committed to having Know and Tell available before January 31. I wish it were sooner, too. I want it to be the very best I can give you, though, and meeting that deadline is going to keep us pretty busy. Back to work for me!

Books and Reading 2017

I did a post like this in 2016, so I took a quick look at that. I am sad that I read fewer books in 2017 (29) than I did in 2016 (33). I actually did a lot of reading this year, but I didn’t read a lot of books. A few of my picks were quite substantial, plus I always think I’ll get more reading done than I actually do. My eyes aren’t getting any younger. If you look at my 2016 post, you’ll see that I shared some of my plans for 2017 reading. I read my top three non-fiction picks, but didn’t get to the others mentioned there. I only read two of my top three fiction choices for 2017, but I did get that Pulitzer winner in.

Since I read so few books, I may just comment on all of them (briefly)

Contemporary Fiction–I always read a few contemporary books each year because I need to reach my yearly quota of weeping and gnashing of teeth, and this is the quickest way.

The Girl With All the Gifts by M.R. Carey.

When I said I had a taste for dystopia and and post-apocalyptic fiction (not the same thing!), this book was recommended to me. In future, I must add a qualifier to everything: no zombie books. I don’t do zombies. This is a zombie book, and also a take on the Pandora myth, with some interesting perspectives on the value of education. Proceed at your own risk.

Sleep Tight by Rachel Abbot

A psychological crime novel—a once-in-a-while indulgence for me.

The Maze Runner (Book 1) by James Dashner

See “penchant for post-apocalyptic literature.” But why must everything be a trilogy or a series? The hints at the end about the sequel set off my zombie alarms, and I doubt I’ll be reading more in the series. I have theories about zombies as a relentlessly recurring motif in modern fiction, but I promised to be brief.

All the Light We Cannot See: A Novel by Anthony Doerr

Ah. That’s more like it. I don’t read all the Pulitzer Prize winners, but I do try to pick one up every couple of years. A book like this restores one’s faith in modern writers. I really enjoy stories that play with time a bit, or are told in a non-linear way, and this book ticks that box for me, too.

 

The Circle by David Eggers

See “weeping and gnashing of teeth.” I kept waiting for the “heroine” to develop some wisdom, or at least come to her senses, but this is a postmodern book, so she didn’t.

Wonder by R.J. Palacio

This and the previous book were read because yes, I saw the movie previews, then discovered they were based on books. I chose the books. This was a hard book to read, because of the subject matter, but I’m glad I did. Modern fiction that doesn’t lead to weeping and gnashing of teeth is good. But come to think of it, I may have shed a few tears over this one for other reasons. (In case it isn’t obvious from this list, I also dip into YA fiction.)

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

A reread. I probably read it the first time over ten years ago, but this year I watched the TV series, prompting the reread. Remember my taste for dystopia?

The Birdwatcher by Kathryn Judson

Modern Christian post-apocalyptic/dystopian fiction. Not every day, but yes.

Classic (or at least vintage) Fiction

Re-Creations by Grace Livingston Hill

The kind of book I read when my mind is, to use Charlotte Mason’s phrase, in need of an elbow-chair.

The Unknown Ajax by Georgette Heyer

Ditto the elbow-chair thing. Also a reread.

Somehow Good by William de Morgan

I cannot remember who recommended this author to me, but this was my first time to read him. It was a more modern take on the kind of thing Mary Elizabeth Braddon (Lady Audley’s Secret) would write. I’d definitely read another of his books.

The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

This was my first Dostoyevsky. Tolstoy is still my favorite Russian author. I found the first 1/4 to 1/3 of the book hard going—I just wasn’t enjoying the book. At one point, I even switched translators (Constance Garner will be my go-to in future), and finally I did begin to get immersed in the story. There will be more Dostoyevsky in my future, too, but I doubt he’s going to shake Tolstoy from my #1 spot.

 

Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen

A reread (I lost count a long time ago). Jane Austen is a life-time favorite of mine. There was a season of my life when I reread all six of her books every year. Now it’s usually only one or two.

Emily of New Moon by L.M. Montgomery

A reread. See “elbow-chair.”

False Colours by Georgette Heyer

Two Heyers and one Austen this year. I must rectify that imbalance.

The Optimist’s Daughter by Eudora Welty

My first Eudora Welty, recommended by a friend. This is just the kind of book I like—absolutely nothing happens (well, not nothing, but the action/plot is minimal); however, the characters are deep and sharply drawn. Character-driven fiction for the win.

 

Our Friend Manso by Benito Perez Galdos

Translated from the Spanish. Recommended to me by a Spanish-speaking friend who read the original.  I enjoyed the story, but I think the translation really let the book down. I had to ask for help understanding some things, and when I did, I realized that in the original language the book is quite nuanced and humorous, but it all comes off rather flat in translation. Reading the original is not possible for me, though, so I must be content.

Nonfiction

Essays on Educational Reformers by Herbert Robert Quick

One of the books on the history of education used in Charlotte Mason’s “education course” for parents (and teachers). It runs from the Renaissance to Froebel and Pestalozzi. I found this a fascinating read–I am convinced that CM must have enjoyed Quick’s sense of humor, plus he was involved in the founding of the PNEU, though he died not long after. This book also introduced me to some historical educators I was previously unacquainted with. And there’s a whole chapter on Comenius. 500+ pages of educational history and philosophy—what’s not to like?

A Touch of the Infinite by Megan Hoyt

Megan’s (I call her that because she is a friend) new book is outstanding. If you are a Charlotte Mason educator or  just want more music in your homeschool, Megan has opened the door wide. Music is a weak area for me, so I really appreciated her enthusiasm and love for music that just bubbles from every page, combined with a keen understanding of CM’s philosophy of education and appreciation for the synthetic nature of it all. Highly recommended for improving your “science of relations” with music.

Ourselves by Charlotte Mason

A reread for me, but I have not read this book as frequently as her others, so it was nice to have it fresh in my mind this year. As always, every reading of one of CM’s volumes offers new insight. I never get tired of reading her.

Minds More Awake by Anne White

This was another reread. I really enjoy Anne’s (she’s a friend, too!) down-to-earth style. She grapples with Charlotte Mason and pulls metaphors out of the most unlikely places (crockpots and buried telephone cables?), but the title is so apt. Reading this book is like putting on a pair of new glasses—everything is so much sharper and clearer than you’d realized.

On the Art of Writing by Arthur Quiller-Couch

I’ve worked my way slowly through the “Q” books because of Helene Hanff’s 84 Charing Cross Road book. I discovered, too, within the last year or two, that they were included in some PNEU programs for older students.

The Girl Without a Voice by Casey Watson

One of my very earliest forays into education was reading about special education teachers who helped traumatized children. (Remember Lovey? If you don’t because you’re that much younger than I am, don’t tell me.) I’ve been reading books like this since I was a teen, although it’s just an occasional thing now.

School Education by Charlotte Mason

My second volume of 2017—obviously, a reread.

The Story of Charlotte Mason by Essex Cholmondeley

Part biography/part educational treatise. A reread, but also—probably only the second time I’ve read it. My primary interest in Charlotte Mason is in her ideas about education, not her life or biography. In fact, there’s a new biography out, and I’m not much tempted to read it, as a biography written from historical research must be much less personal than this one, based upon interviews (in part) with people who actually knew her. In the end, I just don’t care as much about her life as I do about her ideas. So this book is really a win, because it’s about both. (Also extremely hard to find and expensive now. Sorry.)

In Memoriam by the PNEU

A collection of Charlotte Mason testimonials, mostly. I blogged about this a good bit after I read it.

An Introduction to the History of Educational Theories by Oscar Browning

A second major book on the history of education in the same year is a bit much, even for me. This book was also part of CM’s education course, but this one starts with Plato and Aristotle and ends with a chapter on “The English Public School”—ie, the “classical” schools as CM would have known them. If you were going to choose one, I think the Quick book is more readable, but this one is more comprehensive. Also, I’ve always wondered if CM was acquainted with Quintilian (my English translation is too recent for her to have read it), and now I know that she was at least acquainted with him through this book, because he features largely in the chapter about the Romans, and some of the specific things in Quintilian that remind me of Mason are mentioned, so maybe that’s not a coincidence.

Norms and Nobility by David Hicks

A reread, but an intensive one, as I was leading a book study on the AmblesideOnline forum. You can access all my study posts here (forum membership needed, but it’s free and easy). This is a modern classic, and a really great foundation for shaping an understanding of classical education that is much more than superficial.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s Treatise on Method, edited by Alice D. Snyder

I’m going to have a lot to say about this book in 2018, so for now, I’ll just say that I devoured it the first time, I’m reading it for a second time more slowly, and I plan to read it a third time, quickly again, before I begin to formulate my thoughts.

Books-in-Progress

I’m in the middle of several things that won’t be finished in 2017.

A Philosophy of Education by Charlotte Mason

I read this so many times in 2015, when I was preparing Mind to Mind, I thought I’d never want to read it again. But of course, that’s not true. I’m about halfway through it.

Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton

I’m just reading this one slowly and taking time to think about. I had hoped to finish it, but my Kindle says I’m about halfway through this one, too. (Wish I had a physical copy—I prefer real books for nonfiction.)

The Extraordinary Visit of Benjamin True by Jack Pelham.

I just started this one because I know the author’s wife. It’s not my usual fare (politics!), but I’m a pretty eclectic reader and intend to read to the end. I suspect it will be laced with philosophy, and fiction laced with philosophy is my jam.

I think there are two or three other books that I read partially this year, but I’m not still reading them, so they aren’t “in progress,” and who knows if I’ll get back to them?

Statistics: Grand Total: 29

Fiction: 17

Nonfiction: 12

Rereads: 11 (This might be too many. Hmm.)

In translation: 2

In the end, this is so long —a whole year’s reading condensed into one post!—I’m going to have to do a separate post about what I’m planning for 2018. Look for that in a day or two, and feel free to make recommendations. Congratulations for reading through the list! If it’s not obvious from my comments above, I’m happy to follow recommendations from friends, but please remember—no zombies!

 

 

 

 

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Know and Tell—Is it too late to start narration?

For those of us who begin using Charlotte Mason’s methods with our children from the beginning, we start narration at age six and watch the process unfold in due course. However, many families begin homeschooling later, with older children, or they switch to Charlotte Mason’s methods after using another method, and find themselves wondering how to begin narration with a child who is ten, or twelve, or fourteen.

Will that work?

I’ve devoted a chapter in Know and Tell to beginning narration with older students, but the quick answer, I am happy to tell you is—yes! Narration can be introduced with older children and still be an effective method. The reason for this is that narration is based on a normal human activity—“telling”—and we can begin working on that art at any point in our lives.

Fortunately, this means that you can also “begin again” if you need to. Sometimes things happen and we drop narration for a while—maybe even a few years. It can be reintroduced, and our children can  build fluency even after a lapse. I hope to encourage you to give narration a chance to do its work, and not to feel that it’s too late. A child of eleven or twelve needs a period of exclusively oral narration to develop that skill, but it need not be years long before introducing written narration as well.

In Philosophy of Education, Charlotte Mason makes a proposal for continuing education that would have had children as old as age 14 beginning narration—both oral and written. She assumed that they would appreciate the opportunities that narration would give them.

We go to work with a certainty that the young students crave knowledge of what we call the ‘humanities,’ that they read with absolute attention and that, having read, they know. They will welcome the preparation for public speaking, an effort for which everyone must qualify in these days, which the act of narration offers. (Philosophy of Education, p. 124)

I take that as a hint that when older children begin narration, they need to understand the reasons for it for themselves. To that end, I’ve included a short essay addressed to older children beginning narration—you can let them read it, or use it as the model for your own conversation with your students.

Narration is an effective method, even when it is begun with children older than age six. In Know and Tell, I’ll give you some strategies for starting at later ages, so that your students can begin the relationship-building practice of narration and enjoy all of its benefits.

Fluency in Narration

If you pick up a crochet hook or a pair of knitting needles for the first time, and try to maneuver a fiddly bit of string with those unfamiliar tools, it will seem difficult. Your concentration on one step makes you forget something else, and your hands feel clumsy as they try to perform the required gyrations. The early results might look like a tangled mess. However, if you keep practicing, the process becomes almost effortless. The hook or needles becomes an extension of your own hand, your motions are rhythmic and confident, and the string is transformed from mere string into a cozy scarf or a warm hat. You have become a fluent knitter (or crocheter).

In Know and Tell, I use the word fluent in connection with narration quite often. Fluency at each stage of narration is the goal. Charlotte Mason said that children who were taught using her methods—excellent books which were always narrated—learned to “express themselves in forcible and fluent English and use a copious vocabulary.” (Philosophy of Education, p. 28)

She was aware that fluency was not automatic and instant.

The first efforts may be stumbling but presently the children get into their ‘stride’ and ‘tell’ a passage at length with surprising fluency. (Philosophy of Education, p. 172.)

Just as the first attempts at handling a pair of knitting needles might result in a hopeless tangle, first efforts in narration might not be very impressive. It is a temptation to assume the method doesn’t work, or that it is not the right method for a particular child. It is easy to get discouraged and give up on narration. However, if we will be patient, and continue using narration (or knitting needles) consistently, the effort will result in…fluency.

Fluency is also built in incremental steps. It doesn’t happen all at once, or overnight. A young child practices until he fluently narrates a paragraph, while an older child may be able to narrate a whole chapter.

They require a little time to employ their power of fixed attention and that other power which they possess of fluent narration. So probably young children should be allowed to narrate paragraph by paragraph, while children of seven or eight will ‘tell’ chapter by chapter. (Philosophy of Education, p. 191)

It takes several years for children to build oral fluency when they begin at age six, but if you start narration with a ten- or eleven-year-old, oral fluency may be achieved within six or twelve months. We should focus on oral fluency before introducing written narration.

Fluency in written narration also takes time—years!—to develop fully, and fluent written narration should not be confused with formal composition. In Know and Tell, I’ll sort this out more thoroughly, and give you a plan that will allow your child to take the time they need to build fluency. Just knowing that the early stumbling steps or tangled threads will resolve into fluent narration if you persevere is encouraging. Very few people are proficient with a crochet hook the first time they pick one up, but if you look at the lovely things a skilled crocheter can make, you know that they did not quit when their first efforts resulted in a mess.

Do the same with narration—keep working on it until fluency is achieved—and your children will delight you with the results.

Narration—The Foundation for Composition

This is the big question, I think. How does simple narration—oral, and then written—grow into formal composition?

I have been through this process three complete times, and while I couldn’t possibly say that the way I’ve done it is the only right way, I know it works. I’m in the midst of the process with my youngest child right now, and I find myself calmly confident that following certain incremental steps will take us from the first clumsy written narrations to fluent written narrations to actual composition and essay-writing.

Over the years, I’ve shared my process piecemeal, in response to specific needs and questions, but in Know and Tell I’ve gathered a description of the entire process into one place.  I have one chapter devoted to developing simple written narration, but the longest chapter in the book (by a wide margin) is the chapter that lays out the process of developing written narration into composition, step by step. I’ve even provided three different time-lines for the process, so that you can fit the plan into three, four, or five years—beginning in 8th, 9th, or even 10th grade.

I’ll walk you through the process of teaching your students to edit and polish their work, provide structure to their writing, and preserve their own writing voice as they learn to write in traditional forms. Know and Tell is not a fully-developed writing curriculum, but it will show you how to develop writing without a curriculum, and explain when adding such a curriculum to your efforts, if you want to, will be most effective.

In Know and Tell, I’ll be showing you how you can gradually increase the length of written narrations, and then begin to shape them into compositions and essays. I’ve laid out the steps in a natural progression that will preserve your student’s own writing voice. Very prescriptive writing programs often result in stilted writing. I’ll be encouraging you to help your student structure her writing while retaining a more natural style. You might think you want your student to be able to write a five-paragraph-essay (and you do), but please read this:

https://www.insidehighered.com/blogs/just-visiting/kill-5-paragraph-essay

From the article: “There may be no greater enemy to quality writing than the 5-paragraph essay.”

When we use narration as the foundation for composition and writing, we have a strong, natural foundation that can forgo the stilted, artificial process of building an essay with sentence-by-sentence rules. Did you know that you can explain the idea of a five-paragraph-essay (beginning, middle, end) to an accomplished narrator in about fifteen minutes, and they will probably be able to write one? Mature students are ready to think about the structure of their writing, and a minimum of instruction will give them a grasp of what is expected, and then they are free to focus on content, and saying what they want to say. This is why students who learn to write through narration impress their college professors.

In Know and Tell, I’ll suggest a few critical resources to use that will build your student’s writing skills, but it is the daily writing, and eventually rewriting and polishing, that will grow your narrators into writers.