Charlotte Mason: Narration or Memorizing for a Test

Testing and Narration in High School

In anticipation of the next Charlotte Mason carnival, I was inspired to do my annual reading of her volume six which I find especially relevant to those of us with older children. I rarely get very far in the book before I am highlighting and making notes in the margin, marking where I want to improve in my own teaching abilities.

Only one more year to officially work on my homeschool mom skills before Mr. B is on to bigger and better things. Guess I better hurry up…

I made it to page 15 in the Introduction before I had to make some notes this time around. What struck a chord with me in this section was the answer to a frequently asked question that I receive from blog readers who ask me how I get by without much formal testing in high school. They wonder how I can truly know if my children are learning the material or if they are just memorizing the facts and narrating them back.

Here is the answer found in Charlotte Mason’s words:

“Lectures were mostly eliminated. Lots of books from many subjects were scheduled for reading during morning school hours. So much work was scheduled that there was only time for a single reading. All reading was tested by narrating either part of the selection or the entire reading, either orally or in writing. Students doing this kind of work know what they read even months later. Their ability to focus their attention is remarkable. They have little trouble with spelling or composition. They mature into well-informed, intelligent people….This is not memory work. In order to memorize, we repeat a passage or series of points or names over and over, inventing little clues to help us. We can memorize a string of facts or words this way, and that memory is useful in the short term, but it isn’t really assimilated….That’s the kind of memory work students use to pass exams.”
Volume 6 page 15 and 16 (Charlotte Mason in Modern English found on the Ambleside Online website)

As Mr. B enters his last year of high school, we will not be taking out precious time to memorize things for an exam. We will continue to work through our books with the underlying Charlotte Mason principle of feeding the mind with living ideas in order to gain knowledge that can be digested and retained. He will tell back what he knows after his reading either orally or in written form.

I am much more interested in this kind of real learning. I see it and hear about it from Mr. B every day. I have no question about whether Mr. B is learning something or not because we have built up the habit of keeping in contact with each other throughout the term. Do we use tests in some subjects like math? Yes, but even then I check with him weekly and have him tell me what he is learning. You might like to read my entry: Keeping In Touch With An Independent Learner.

I encourage you to read Section III of the Introduction of Volume 6 (roughly page 8-22)  for yourself. It will take only a few minutes.

Please visit and share with us at the CM blog carnival! We'd love to have you!I am submitting this entry to the Charlotte Mason Blog Carnival and if you have any entries you would like to submit, you can send them to this email address: [email protected].

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