The Efficiency of Narration

At Ambleside, the primary way in which our students assimilate new information is through narration.  Charlotte Mason taught that narration is an art in which, "the child narrates, fluently, copiously, in ordered sequence, with fit and graphic details, with a just choice of words." (Home Education)  After each reading at Ambleside, we close our books and 'tell back' or narrate.  I have been witness to the fact that any child can narrate well and with ease once they have had a bit of practice.

Often, people will remark, "Do you really narrate everything?  Doesn't that take up too much time?"  Yes, it is time consuming, but I've recently been struck by the thought that narration is a far more efficient tool than most for guaranteeing comprehension and assimilation.  Take, for example, the 'comprehension work sheet' given after each chapter in many classes.  This tool is often used in more traditional schools to measure whether a child has been paying attention and has understood what was read.  This too takes time.  Narration covers this, as one child narrates, each pays attention and fills in details.  The teacher knows in a matter of minutes whether they gave their attention and comprehended the reading.

Let us also consider the teacher who makes such careful efforts to teach children concepts such as hero/heroine, plot, climax, resolution, etc - each of these is comprehended so naturally by children who have the habit of attention and are skilled in narration.  The above vocabulary words can be grasped in a single lesson by the child who can recall author's language, order and details with ease.

With the hours we spend strengthening vocabulary for standardized tests, we could have been narrating well-written books full of beautiful language that is studied as part of the lesson, and is repeated in narration.

When we empower our students with the skill of narrating well, we give them much more than assimilation alone.  We magnify their power of attention, multiply their vocabulary and greatly increase their joy in learning.  Narration is not only more efficient than other methods, I believe it is essential to genuine learning.