Questions About Using Original Thought in CM-Style Narrations and Placement

Dear Carrie

Would you recommend PHFHG or CTC for my son who struggles with using original thought in his narrations?

My 6th grade dyslexic son has overcome his reading difficulties and is now an excellent reader. However, he has trouble with verbal expression. When we read a passage and I ask him to narrate, he gets a deer in the headlights look. We did WWE for 2 years, and it led us through a guided narration with shorter passages. At first, he only had to write 1-2 sentences. He did alright until the passages became longer. It is the original thought that is difficult for him. I really want to switch to Heart of Dakota, but would Preparing be too easy? He can handle all the reading in CTC or RTR. But, I worry about the narration and writing. He just has to put A LOT of effort into writing anything. It seems like CM-style narration is different than classical narration, and I’m not sure how that impacts placement.

Sincerely,

“Ms. Please Help Me Understand Original Thought in Written Narrations and How That Impacts Placement”

Dear “Ms. Please Help Me Understand Original Thought in Written Narrations and How That Impacts Placement,”

I just want to encourage you that Charlotte Mason-style narration is a skill that takes time to hone. It is not a skill that is developed overnight or even in a single year. Think of it as a slow burn that takes time to build but does eventually become a raging fire! Even if you’ve had practice in the past with a classical-style of narration, it will take to transition to a CM-style of narration. As you’ve already realized, CM-style narration does incorporate original thought. So, first I’ll explain how original thought is part of CM narrations. Second, I’ll share some placement suggestions for your son.

How CM-Style Narrations Encourage Original Thought

One way we assess kiddos through HOD is with CM-style oral and written narrations. Written and oral narrations CM-style look very different from child to child. This is different than written narrations done classical style, which result in more of a summary (meaning most kiddos’ narrations will look very similar when done summary-style). These are two different types of narrations. One is a summary, with certain key points being required. The other is a true written narration CM-style, where the child sifts and sorts through information, choosing what to write about and borrowing words and phrases from the author to write in the author’s style (without having certain key points that MUST be included for the narrations to be “correct”).

The sifting and sorting of what to include in CM-style written narrations is left to the child.

In this way, a classical style summary can have a specific answer key. A CM-style written narration wouldn’t even know where to begin with an “answer key.” Instead, each child is to draw out or seize upon different points to express. This is why in HOD’s guides, we may ask leading questions to get the child thinking about what he/she read. However, we leave the sifting and sorting up to the child, as far as what to write and how to write it. The key idea within our guides on written narration days will provide you as the parent with a summary of the reading. This is so you can see if your child is on-topic in his/her narration. However, it is not intended that the child include all those points in the key idea within the narration.

A balance of summary and descriptive styles of narration is important. But, it is also important to understand the difference between simply summarizing and narrating.

We do have children practice orally narrating in both summary style and descriptive style in our upper HOD guides. We consider it important to have a balance of both styles of narrating. However, we also consider it important to understand the two different styles of narrating. There is much more to narrating than simply summarizing what was read. Otherwise narrating in general can quickly become an exercise in outlining key points and can completely lose much of what makes CM-style narrating meaningful.

We tend to use ongoing books for written narration practice and R & S English for summarizing practice.

Since summarizing lends itself well to outlining, and these skills are both important, we teach these areas through Rod and Staff English in conjunction with science or history passages that are more factual. This is because a summary lends itself well to being written from just a portion of a book. In contrast, a written narration is instead intended to pull from a more continuous ongoing story, rather than just an excerpt. So, we tend to use ongoing books for written narration. Knowledge gained as the child continues reading the same book provides insights that can then be drawn upon and pulled together as connections when writing the narration. This process requires a different set of skills than those required to write a summary from a passage plucked from a source, where the goal is a summation of the key points in the particular excerpt or passage instead.

We see narrating CM-style as being very different from summarizing and outlining.

We delineate that summarizing and narrating are two different skills with two different styles. It is important to note that narrating CM-style is a very different skill from summarizing or outlining. I do skim the text as my child is orally narrating to me, holding the book in hand. This helps me see if the child is including ideas, names, places, etc. from the text, but it also shows me that the connections are those which the child has made! I hope this helps as you ponder how oral and written narrations are handled within the HOD guides.

As far as placement, I would lean toward Preparing Hearts for your son.

As far as your placement questions go, with the thoughts you’ve shared so far about your son’s writing especially, I would lean toward Preparing Hearts as being a good placement. While it is possible that your son could handle the reading and the independence of CTC, my concern lies in the amount of written work and writing instruction. With all children, but even more so with those who have learning challenges, it is so important to challenge them without challenging them to the point of frustration. This is the balance we are seeking for your son. Plus, the switch to a more CM-style curriculum can take a bit of getting used to as well, so we want to give him every opportunity to thrive. I think that Preparing Hearts would do this, and there are many important skills in Preparing that will literally prepare him for the rigors of CTC.

I would recommend the Extension Package and the studied dictation in Preparing.

With this thought in mind, I would recommend the Extension Package of Preparing rather than the Deluxe Package (because your son is a strong reader). I would also recommend that he do the studied dictation in Preparing to help with his lack of proofreading skills and to help him pay attention to including punctuation in his writing. The exercises in studied dictation do eventually carryover into the child’s writing. Again, this takes time (at least a full year) to see results.

I’d also recommend DITHR for help with analyzing various story elements and with digging deeply into literature.

I would also definitely add DITHR for literature study for your son, doing either Level 4/5 (if he has not had much in the way of formal literature instruction) or Level 6/7/8 if he has had quite a bit of formal study in analyzing literature. You could then add the appropriate level book pack to suit his reading level. I would lean toward either the Level 5/6 Boy Set or the Level 6/7 set. You will see wonderful graphic organizers all throughout DITHR, which really do help with analyzing various story elements and with digging deeply into literature. However, these organizers are not to be narration helpers, and literary analysis and narration are two different skills. Instead, to help with narrating, we have step-by-step directions and guided questions to set the stage for a narration and get it started on the right foot. This method is very CM-oriented.

I’d recommend Rod and Staff English 4 or 5, as well as an upped level of math.

For grammar, I would lean toward either Rod and Staff English 4 or English 5. You will be completing an entire level of Rod and Staff through Preparing, so there will be plenty of grammar and writing instruction there. You will also have a once weekly writing lesson through the poetry of Preparing Hearts. Last, you’d need an upped level of math. Preparing does schedule Singapore 2A/2B, 3A/3B, and 4A/4B, or you can use your own math.

Your son could do his own history and science readings, based on his age.

You could also have your son do his own history and science readings, based on his age. Take care not to allow him to read ahead though, even if he wants to, as you will get better narrations with slower more thoughtful reading (of a higher level). This is the approach we take to reading in all areas and is definitely a trait of a CM-style education. You can see as you look at this plan that there will be plenty of writing and steady challenge across the guide, rather than making it too heavy for your son and ending up dropping needed things (which is often what happens when we get too much rigor or change all at once).

Blessings,
Carrie

Please Explain Where Summarizing Comes into Narration

Dear Carrie

My question is, where does summarizing come in?

Dear Carrie,

I understand the point of oral and written narrations is to have my children retell as much as they can. Also the point is to “borrow” some of the author’s language from the reading. I’ve read a couple threads on that! However, I feel like I still push for more of a summary (give me the main points) than I should. I am trying to get it right. Especially with my younger two who will catch on to this more quickly if I start out the correct way! My question is, where does summarizing come in? Is that helpful to be able to gather the main points from your reading as well? Please forgive me if I sound silly, or the answer is obvious, but if you could explain it to me? I’d love to hear!

Sincerely,
“Please Explain Where Summarizing Comes In”

Dear “Please Explain Where Summarizing Comes In,”

This is a good question, and I’ll do my best to answer from my perspective to show the direction Heart of Dakota takes with this! To me, Charlotte Mason style oral narration, which later becomes written narration, focuses on the child making sense of what was read by sharing what stood out to him/her in the reading. Children are to originally do this by borrowing words and phrasing from the author and eventually by moving toward more ownership of their narrations (still narrating in the style of the author’s writing but not really reciting word-for-word anymore what the author said).

Summarizing is a different skill than oral narration or written narration.

Rather than looking for a certain series of main points, the child is to share what struck him/her from the reading, making the narration process personalized to each child, rather than looking for a one right answer type of narration where everyone’s narration looks the same. The skill of orally narrating in this manner leads very well into written narration done in this same manner. So, written narrations aren’t meant to necessarily be a summary. Instead they are to share the flavor of the author’s writing from the reader’s perspective.

Narrations capture the flavor and style of the author.

Some children are more drawn to summarizing simply because they are “big picture” thinkers. My oldest son is definitely that way. So, narrating in a more summary-like manner for him does not make that type of narrating “wrong”. But if I start looking for him to include certain key points and requiring him to have those in his narration, then the lesson has strayed into a summarizing lesson rather than a narrating opportunity.

I will share that even though my oldest son thinks in main idea steps, his narrations still capture the flavor and style of the author, which is another key difference in summarizing versus narrating. Written summaries are often written more like an outline or like a note-taking exercise. Details are not abounding and using wording from the author or of your own style is not a focus. Instead, a summary often reads like a succinct paragraph. There is little extra flavor and the author’s style is not evident.

In contrast to my oldest son, my next son in line is a detailed child. He is very descriptive in his narrations and can get very lengthy when narrating, yet does it beautifully. I share this to show you one thing. Although my two oldest sons are different in their approach to narrating, they both do it well. One in a more summary fashion (in the author’s style). One in a very descriptive fashion (often giving very long narrations). Yet, each son is a good writer, both in creative writing and in more formulistic writing, like with the Medieval History-Based Writing Lessons, even though they may differ greatly in their narration style.

Summarizing is taught best through outlining and later note-taking of more textual material.

So, now with the groundwork laid, we come to your question. I see summarizing as an important skill that is taught best through outlining and later note-taking of more textual material, such as that found within history and science books. Using classic literature for a summary exercise means that much of the flavor and style of the story is being lost in the focus to get the main ideas down on paper. Narration, in contrast, is a child’s opportunity to share what struck him/her in the reading and what made the reading memorable to him/her. While this at first may not seem as important of a goal as being able to summarize, in truth it is the sifting and sorting and deciding which information to share that is the “work” of narrating which leaves the impression on the child’s mind for years to come.

Summarizing (as opposed to narrating) is more in the “one right answer” vein.

At Heart of Dakota, we first teach summarizing through outlining and note-taking through the Rod and Staff lessons and also through some of our writing programs such as Medieval History-Based Writing Lessons. Since summarizing is definitely a more formulistic skill, more in the “one right answer” vein, in our opinion it fits best in that category. It takes much of the personal part out of writing. It is a necessary skill and one I think comes more into focus as kiddos get older and have a need for it, which you can see represented in our older guides’ plans. But, I will say that even with my oldest sons’ different preferred styles of narrating, they can both summarize easily. I believe this comes from years of sifting and sorting through what they want to say (or write) within their oral or written narrations for the living books we’ve scheduled throughout Heart of Dakota. I hope that helps a bit as you ponder this!

Blessings,
Carrie