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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].

“For the Knowledge That is Better Than Silver or Gold” – Our Homeschool Bible Education Plans

Bible Study 10

What better living book than the Bible to help give our children ideas to think about and real life examples to learn from as they grow into lovers of truth? 

“We should be working as hard at understanding the teachings of Jesus as Plato’s disciples did at comprehending his words of wisdom. Let’s take up our notebooks and study the orderly and progressive sequence, the penetrating quality, the irresistible appeal, and the uniqueness of the Divine teaching. For this kind of study, it might be good to use a chronological arrangement of the Gospels. Let’s not just read for our own benefit, although we will benefit. Let’s read for the love of the knowledge that’s better than silver or gold.”
Charlotte Mason, volume 6 page 338

We have always included a study of the Bible in our homeschool even when the children were very young. The true test of a living book, in my opinion, is its ability to influence our thinking in a positive way, to move us to action. The combination of Bible reading and then some sort of interaction with the ideas is a powerful tool in raising a Godly family.

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This is when Mr. A was obsessed with making bubble letters like his big sister.

Preschool – Reading Age (around 5): I would read aloud a Bible account from a children’s Bible Stories book and then I would read the corresponding scriptures from the Bible. We do not use the King James version but one that is a modern translation. (Note: Charlotte Mason prefers the King James.)

The children would then narrate on a level that is appropriate for their abilities, either in drawings and/or short narrations. We gently started memorizing the order of the books in the Bible.

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They would copy the scripture into the notebook and draw a picture to go with it.

Grammar Stage (approx. age 5-9): We started at the beginning of the Bible and each day we would read one chapter together. As soon as they were able, they would read a few verses aloud for the family. We would discuss the chapter after reading it and each person would answer one of the following questions:

  • What do these scriptures teach us about God’s qualities?
  • How does this relate to the overall theme of the Bible?
  • How does this affect my life?
  • How can I share this with others?

We started Bible scripture memorization which at that time was one verse at a time of my choosing. We continued memorizing the order of the books of the Bible by using memory aids and games that I made up.

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Logic Stage (approx. age 10-13): We continue with one chapter a day Bible reading (starting back at the beginning when we finished Revelation) and discussion outlined above but once a week we take time to choose a scripture to write about in our Bible notebooks. This is a short paragraph with our own thoughts and perhaps a plan for applying the counsel in our own lives.

We started the Simply Charlotte Mason Bible memorization system where we were learning multiple scriptures at a time. I can remember telling the boys that I wish I had learned a scripture a week when I was growing up so that I could draw those up to my memory now when I need them. I would remind them when they were discouraged that knowing Bible scripture is like having hidden treasure in your heart. (I think they are now at an age that they can appreciate the effort we have put into this project.)

Rhetoric Stage (approx. 14-18): The plan includes all the components from the Grammar and Logic stage but the Bible is used as a text for Ancient History study where we tie our history learning in with the Bible. This has been the best experience for me as a parent because I can actually see my children mature as we make connections and discuss all aspects of our history study in light of Bible scripture.

We also started memorizing longer and longer passages from the Bible. The boys now are memorizing whole chapters of scripture at a time. This is a process that seems impossible at first but it is so satisfactory when it is accomplished. I see great value in not only having a whole treasure chest filled with “silver and gold” scriptures but complete thoughts from Biblical writers like David, Paul, and Luke.

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Each of us has our own Commonplace Book where we keep track of scriptures that we especially feel a need to remember. I keep mine by category….one category on a page with a list of scriptures written underneath. The boys just keep a journal type listing for scriptures that they feel apply to their lives.

Into Adulthood: My older two children are in their twenties and they have kept up their own personal Bible study in various ways. Meaningful study of the Bible can be a progressive training so that long into the adult years it is as natural as breathing. Treasures better than silver and gold…living thoughts that influence us for the life ahead.

Barb-Harmony Art Mom

Education is a Life: Truly Home Educating

2 23 11 birds and blossoms (1)

An atmosphere that surrounds our thinking, a discipline that leads or days, and a life that happens as we share ideas and thoughts about so many worthy things.

Finally, brothers, whatever things are true, whatever things are of serious concern, whatever things are righteous, whatever things are chaste, whatever things are lovable, whatever things are well spoken of, whatever virtue there is and whatever praiseworthy thing there is, continue considering these things. The things that you learned as well as accepted and heard and saw in connection with me, practice these; and the God of peace will be with you. Philipians 4:8, 9

What has occurred to me lately is that the act of homeschooling is really just our way of life. It is the atmosphere that has grown inside our home and spread to our everyday activities. We don’t have separate lives that we go off to each day and our learning is not confined to specific days and times.

And these words that I am commanding you today must prove to be on your heart; and you must inculcate them in your son and speak of them when you sit in your house and when you walk on the road and when you lie down and when you get up.Deut. 6:7, 8

Our time is spent in praiseworthy pursuits, those that fit our family. I have confidence that this way of educating our children, one that was sown in doubt, is one we now are reaping in confidence. Charlotte Mason was right. Every child is able to learn, to develop good character, and to speak and express themselves with words that are dignified.

3 28 11 Front Yard (21)
Education is no longer so much about the specifics but about the creating of a House of Education.

Here is a quote from a post I wrote a few years ago about “Education is a Life“.

Some days I want to call for a “do over” and start from the very beginning again homeschooling my children, not because I regret the methods I used but rather because I want to savor each year again. Reading the books, sharing the minute details of each day, watching the light bulb moments, watching them grow spiritually, and sharing the adventure all over.

I still feel that way. I hope you feel that way too when the time comes to look back and reflect on your children and their home education.

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