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    The Progym Plan: Narrative Stage

    December 4, 2012 by Brandy Vencel

    We zipped through Fable Stage, spending only twelve weeks on it. Obviously, we didn’t get through the entire book. However, comma, by the end of the term, E-Age-Ten was completing the assignments entirely on his own {save for the editing, which I helped with of course}, and I was satisfied with his work. If I had him spend another term on this, I’m sure his writing would have improved a bit more, but I felt like he had gained most of what could be gained from Fable Stage alone, and moving along would get me nearer to our goal of marrying the Progymnasmata to AO instead of using a separate program.

    Poor E-Age-Ten is always my guinea pig. I doubt my other children will need as many steps from A to B because, frankly, I think so many of the steps we take are for my son when in reality they are for me because these are the steps I need to become the sort of teacher he needs me to be. My younger children–since he is, after all, three full years ahead of his next-in-line sister–reap all the benefits of my already-having-become for his sake.

    If that makes sense.

    Not that I ever stop adjusting and learning and growing, of course, for I’m still perfecting phonics lessons, after all. But there are short cuts that I just don’t see the first time through.

    Ahem.

    If you recall, I tinkered with the Fable Stage to make it more CM-friendly. I don’t think the best use of our time, for instance, is spent getting caught up in minutia–such as looking up synonyms in the thesaurus. It isn’t that I don’t want to build vocabulary, but that I have already seen huge vocabularies built through alternate routes, so I’m not using the Progym stages to build vocabularies. I see a lot of evidence that Miss Mason used the Progym to encourage writing development in her own students, and I see no evidence that a thesaurus was part of that process. According to Miss Mason, her students built broad vocabularies through wide reading.

    With that said, I still need a teacher, and once again I turned to Mr. Selby, who has kindly held my hand through all of this so far, and for that I am greatly indebted to him. To be clear, I need his Classical Composition curriculum in order to pull this off, for my tiny brain has difficulty encompassing the task on its own.

    My plan for Narrative Stage is similar to my plan for Fable Stage. My adaptation of Fable Stage for Term 1 worked wonderfully, and I think that spending only one week on any one tale–compared with the two weeks that are planned in the curriculum–was a good idea.

    So, without further delay, here is my five-day weekly plan for Narrative Stage.

    Day 1

    On the first day, we’ll read the assigned narrative. Because we probably won’t make it all the way through the curriculum, we do not need to touch on every single tale, and so I will pick and choose the ones I think will work best. My student will read the narrative on his own, and then come to me to narrate orally and have a brief discussion. In a CM education, oral narration is considered the foundation of good writing, so we will always do this first.

    Day 2

    In Fable Stage, I had my student write an outline on Day 2. I found that this worked really well, and we did this consistently throughout the term. However, comma, I’m going to experiment with the order and see what I think. I’m curious, and now that I’m more comfortable with what we’re doing, moving the order of things around isn’t so confusing to me.

    With that said, my student will work on his Reduced Variation on Day 2. What I’m going to have him do is more in line with the curriculum as-written than it was during Fable Stage. He will take his copy of the narrative and cross out all of the unnecessary words–adverbs, adjectives, descriptions, and so on–and then basically copy the reduced variation, which is what remains after all the crossing out. I’m doing this before outlining because, as you can see, this doesn’t require much actual writing, but is more of an analysis tool, where the student is taught which words are nonnegotiable, integral to the telling of the story.

    Day 3

    On the third day, my student will outline the narrative. I am not sure, but I think that having reduced the story prior to this will aid him in boxing out his outline. This is speculation on my part, but I’m going with my gut, and I will come back and tell you if I end up being wrong. Outlining is, I think, my son’s weakest point in the process. Though he does it weekly, he doubts himself, often coming to me to ask if I think he boxed correctly. This is, as I said, why we’ll try reducing first. My instincts tell me that the act of reducing will clear out enough of the ancillary information that he’ll be able to see the bare bones structure of the narrative.
    Which is, of course, the goal of Day 3.

    Day 4

    On the fourth day, my student will choose his variation. The way I’ve been doing this, I have a list of options for variations {one of which will not transfer from Fable Stage to Narrative Stage because of the difference in genre}. He chooses a new one each week. Once he has used each variation once, he begins choosing again from the full list. This is a nice balance between letting him have some control over the process and making sure that he actually tries his hand at the different variations.
    The variations he’ll be choosing from for Narrative Stage are:
    • Write it longer: This is an attempt to retell the story with great accuracy, but adding in descriptions. Essentially, the student adds in the sort of things he took out when he reduced the narrative. Selby suggests effictio {describing the character’s body} and geographia {describing the landscape}. The latter contains a lot of options, I think, such as describing the season or physical objects in the setting.
    • Change the point of view: Here the students rewrites the tale in the first person, from the perspective of one of the characters in the tale. At least once in Fable Stage, we tried writing from the perspective of an object in the setting, which was extra fun.
    • Invert the sequence: In this variation, the story can start from the end and move in reverse chronology, or start from the middle and jump to the beginning and end at the end. The idea is to retell in a non-chronological manner.
    • Write as a poem: This is not part of the rotation, but what I consider to be a “standing option.” I am not pushing poetry writing at this point, but I want this to always be an option of expression. If something strikes his poetic fancy, he may forgo the three other variations and write a poem. Just to clarify, this is always an option, but never required.

    Day 5

    This last day is for editing and revising, after which he’ll write out a final draft on a separate page in his journal {I purchased a notebook for him which we devoted to just his writing lessons} in his best handwriting. This time of editing and revising has also given me opportunities to discuss with him the formation of paragraphs, the need to indent the first line of said paragraphs, and other basic English writing rules which are so easily implemented when working within this larger process of learning to write well.

    The Long Term Plan

    What I just listed out is the plan for Term 2. It is my hope that, after doing Fable Stage in Term 1, and then Narrative Stage in Term 2, we will be able to do as I mentioned above and marry these steps to Ambleside Online in Term 3.
    This means that each week of Term 3, I will pick one of the assigned readings {probably alternating history and literature} and we will go through our five days of steps using those readings. For longer readings, we’ll have to pick just a portion of a chapter to rewrite for varying a lengthy passage would take entirely too long. But as you can see, my goal is to incorporate these two parts of the progym into my regular curriculum. This would set us up for having daily “creative” narrations in Year 6 {next year}, in which he chooses–or rolls a die, perhaps–a different variation for the narration that day. If, one day per week, he outlines a reading instead, I think we’ll have a nice, working writing plan for AO for that year.

    The Long, Long Term Plan

    Do I plan to purchase the Chreia-Maxim Stage? Well, I’ll tell you the truth and say that I haven’t decided yet. Part of me is very, very tempted to do so. But my goal here was two-fold:
    1. To build a bridge between written narration and Lost Tools of Writing {which is what I plan to use beginning in Year 7}.
    2. To use the progymnasmata to improve and vary written narrations from the AO curriculum.
    As you can see, Goal 2 is easily accomplished by completing the Fable and Narrative Stages alone. Goal 1, however, may be helped along by using the third stage. I’ve not yet decided because we haven’t even begun Narrative Stage, so I don’t consider myself informed enough to make the decision. I think that time and money will also play a part. With that said, what I’ve read about Chreia-Maxim sounds wonderful.

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    3 Comments

  • Reply Anonymous February 7, 2013 at 12:06 pm

    Would you consider doing an update, now that you are a couple months into the narrative stage? I’d love to hear it. I’m following this closely, as I also was fascinated by the progym., and am still mulling over how to work it into our busy AO-ish schedule (with 7 kids, one of which is too small to do anything but read board books incessantly). I so appreciate the opportunity to see it in action, especially with the CM twist! Lori

  • Reply Pilgrim December 6, 2012 at 2:24 am

    Thanks for all the work you’ve done. This is still years in the future for us – but I really appreciate your thoughtfulness as you try to marry different ideas and programs. You have made my path a little easier!

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