I continue to delve into the mind of Charlotte Mason and come out with dazzled eyes. She seems a very honest and forthright educator. I do not believe we can simply reinstitute her methods and be done with educational reform, but I do believe her principles lie at the heart of any real attempt to educate. One such principle relates to her extensive use of the narration. Narration compels the student to see the material at hand in their own mind’s eye.
Narration for Mason is something that follows a student through his entire formal schooling, simply becoming more complex as the student grows in ability. In short, narration is the retelling of the material by the student to the teacher or class after having that material presented to them, whether in oral or written form. For young students this means hearing a story, listening to an account from history, or seeing some natural or artful object, and then orally “telling it back” to those around. It is not rote memory work, but asks the student to make judgments regarding not only what is recounted, but the order of recounting, and the choice of adjectives, including adjectives of value, that are used. Older students are given more to recount and moved slowly toward written narration to replace spoken. You can perhaps enter further into this discussion here.
But my point is basic: Mason believes that to learn something, the student must “see it” in their own mind to the point of being able to represent it clearly to others. This is not novel or odd educational theory, but part and parcel of the best in educational thinking. It applies equally to all possible subjects. You want a student of the Spanish language to actually “see” the vocabulary of the language. In the same way, a teacher of English spelling is best rewarded when the speller actually “sees” the word even before beginning to spell it out, either orally or in written form. And so on: “seeing” Gettysburg means you have studied it well in history class; having a “face” in your mind of Frodo means you have read Tolkien well enough to have entered into the story.
Learning to “see” this sight when teaching others is fundamental to knowing several things about teaching: 1) in planning a lesson, you must have this “sight” in mind, 2) in the actual lesson, you are seeking to offer this “sight” to your students – has the “light bulb” come on? Do they see it? and 3) when assessing a lesson, you must lean on this expressed “vision” to determine the extent to which they have seen the idea and are ready to move on. This simple meditation has brought greater clarity to my own teaching as I hope it will to others.