This is the sort of thing that the children should go through, more or less, in every lesson — a tracing of effect from cause, or of cause from effect; a comparing of things to find out wherein they are alike, and wherein they differ; a conclusion as to causes or consequences from certain premisses.
-Charlotte Mason (Vol. 1, p. 151)
I‘ve been pondering this thought of Charlotte Mason’s, that children should have what she calls the Habit of Thinking, and that our lessons should encourage it. I think this jumped out at me in a recent re-reading of Home Education for a couple reasons. First, I read it shortly after recording a podcast episode with Karen Glass (and Mystie, of course) in which she said something about not allowing narration to just become this thing we do always in the same way.
Goodness, isn’t it so easy for that to happen? Especially when you’re listening to 13-16 narrations per day (that’s my average for this week) or more?
It also caught my attention because, in Charlotte Mason Boot Camp, we spent a day on the general outline of a narration-based lesson:
- “The teacher should talk a little (and get the children to talk) about the last lesson, with a few words about what is to be read, in order that the children may be animated by expectation; but she should beware of explanation and, especially, of forestalling the narrative…” (Vol. 1, p. 232-233)
- “[S]he may read two or three pages, enough to include an episode…” — but also “As soon as children are able to read with ease and fluency, they read their own lesson, either aloud or silently…” (Vol. 1, p. 233)
- “[L]et her call upon the children to narrate, — in turns, if there be several of them.” (Vol. 1, p. 233)
- “[W]hen the narration is over, there should be a little talk in which moral points are brought out, pictures shown to illustrate the lesson, or diagrams drawn on the blackboard.” (Vol. 1, p. 233)
I was re-reading a bit in Volume 6 as well, and I think it gives us more to consider in regard to step four:
[I]f it is desirable to ask questions in order to emphasize certain points, these should be asked after and not before, or during, the act of narration. (Vol. 6, p. 17)
Also this, from Volume 3:
The teacher’s part is, in the first place, to see what is to be done, to look over the work of the day in advance and see what mental discipline, as well as what vital knowledge, this and that lesson afford; and then to set such questions and such tasks as shall give full scope to his pupils’ mental activity. (Vol. 3, p. 180-181)
It’s that fourth step that we forget, isn’t it? In the bustle to get it all done, we let it go. The child is ready to run off to the next thing, and, frankly, there are now people standing in line for help with other lessons.
And yet … what if the very act of treating narration as the end — rather than one middle steps — of the lesson leads us to a habit of thoughtlessness? Of rushing the end?
Are we dispensing with the thinking?
There is a critical moment at the end of narration when we could secure that habit of thinking that Miss Mason is seeking — when we set them to a simple task, or ask one perfect question, that might make all the difference.
Are we missing it?
Do we have to ask a question after every single reading? I don’t think so. Some readings have a natural task that follows that already encourages a bit of extra thought — an entry in one of their notebooks, for example.
It’s true, thought, that we Charlotte Mason mamas have a mortal fear of talking too much. Charlotte Mason warned us that nothing creates incuria like the talky-talky of the teacher and so we remain tight lipped. We take this to such an extreme that we think we must remain literally silent. And yet, we see here that the teacher has a job to do — while “all education is self-education,” we do not take this to mean that teachers are dispensable.
We know we need to set a schedule. We know we need to assign appropriate amounts of work. We know we need to receive the narration. But do we know — do we remember — that the habit of thinking is under our care, and that we have not only the right, but the responsibility to initiate and enforce it?
I realized recently that I had slipped into some bad habits. I was letting a desire for efficiency crowd out this habit of thinking. It’s so easy to do, you know. It starts on a day when we’re crunched for time, or when we’re sick. And then we think that it’s okay, because the child narrated. But suddenly we find ourselves wondering when was the last time we had a good discussion with a certain child who seems to be falling through the cracks.
How does this happen? How does this child always manage to narrate at the worst possible time, when we cannot possibly follow it with conversation? Or how does he seem to slip away at the end, before we even realize he has gone?
A homeschooling mother has to continually repent, doesn’t she?
Over the past month or two, I’ve begun to make some deliberate efforts. It’s easy to ask a good question or two during Circle Time — I have them all captive, and there is no line of people demanding assistance. But in addition to Circle Time, it’s become my goal to ask one good question per day of each child (bonus if the child asks a good question himself instead).
This has been going quite well. It’s funny; I thought there’d be some resistance or annoyance on the part of a couple of my children. Instead, these questions seem to invest the subject with greater interest. (Of course, I’m sure it helps that I’m not belaboring the conversation — it really only adds a handful of minutes.)
What about you? Have you lost the habit of thinking at your house, too? And, if so, how will you recover it?