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    CM-ing the Progym:Teaching the Fable Stage

    February 10, 2014 by Brandy Vencel

    Today I’m going to talk a bit about how I used some of the curriculum I purchased. I mentioned before that I did not buy the student workbook. In true CM style, I wanted him alone with a blank, lined notebook.

    But first…

    I needed to be alone with my blank, lined notebook.

    I say this because, for the first week, I worked through the exercises while my student watched. I really thought that I could either try to explain it, or I could simply let him watch me do it. At the time, I didn’t know anything about mirror neurons and modeling, but Tammy has since set me straight.

    After that first week, he worked on this every single day, five days per week. Because my student was already doing daily, written narrations, this wasn’t a bit deal.

    Now, the curriculum is set up so that you spend eight days working on a single fable. I was not willing to do that. I didn’t think that Charlotte Mason would ever have done that, for starters. And, frankly, spending that many days on a single fable sounded like too much time on one reading.

    However, comma.

    I did want my student to understand that these exercises were different ways of treating a single reading — that they were all valid options. So, as a compromise, I spent one week {five days} per reading.

    This means that we did not get through the entire workbook. And that doesn’t matter. You know why? Because my goal was to understand the progym better, and learn how to do the exercises, not to get through a curriculum.

    I’ve detailed my plan before, but I’ll summarize it here quickly:

    • Day 1: Read aloud, followed by normal oral narration and grand conversation.
    • Day 2: Make an outline of the fable.
    • Day 3: Write it shorter.
    • Day 4: Choose a variation.
      • Variation 1: write it longer {add landscape/setting descriptions, character descriptions, etc.}
      • Variation 2: write it from the perspective of one of the characters in the story
      • Variation 3: invert the sequence of events {so start with the end and work backwards to the beginning}
      • Variation 4: write the same plot with different characters and setting
    • Day 5: Edit and final draft.

    My Regrets: What I’d do Differently

    If I were given a do-over on this, I’d cut the outlining, I think. I go back and forth because at the time I had a good feeling about it. I even wrote a whole post in which I waxed eloquent about teaching children outlining skills. I wrote another post about judging an outline — how to tell if it’s a good one or not.
    But you know what I think?
    I think I violated Miss Mason’s advice. I really do. For Form II, which was generally composed of children ages 9 to 12, she wrote:

    But let me again say there must be no attempt to teach composition. {Vol. 6, p. 192}

    I know that outlining was one of the other uses of books that Miss Mason mentioned, but I think I was doing it at too young of an age.

    When I’m teaching the variations, I’m not really teaching composition in the sense that she meant it here. I’m not coaching their writing. My sole goal is to get them to understand the variation. The question about Variation 2, for example, is not How do I write this so that it sounds great? but rather What does it mean to write this from the perspective of a character in the story? Do you see the difference?

    But in outlining, we’re tearing up the flower. We’ll pulling off the petals and then putting it back together and, frankly, I don’t think it was the best way to spend my time because you know what? The truth is that while my child took to the variations like a fish to water, he still struggled with outlining.

    Some people say that this is a sign that he needed to do it, and I suppose that is one way of looking at it. But one of the principles of a CM education is that children reject and accept according to their needs when it comes to skills, and I think the struggle was because he really wasn’t ready for it.

    True confession: we don’t outline anymore.

    I don’t think it’s the best way to interact with the readings we do. And I think it’s best taught at an older age.

    So there you have it: skip the outlining, unless you have {1} a good reason to do otherwise or {2} you’re working with an older child.

    What I’d do the Same, but You Might Not

    To understand why I had Day 3 be the “write it shorter” variation, you have to understand the student with whom I was working. He is naturally long-winded. He cannot separate an important detail from an unimportant detail, at least not easily. So I wanted him to do this variation for every. single. reading. because I wanted him to start understanding how to identify the bare bones of a story.
    Some children understand this naturally and so you might not need yours to have this weekly the way I did. This was a very personal decision, specific to my child.
    What I did was very simple. I typed up the fable we were working on and printed it out. He had to go through and cross out every single word that was not necessary to the story, and then copy it over in its simplest form. We had some great discussions about identifying necessary words along the way. Have you ever thought about the idea that some descriptive terms are purely icing while others are not because, without them, the story can’t move? I hadn’t. It was fun to discover this truth together.
    When you are thinking about the variations, you might want to consider if there is one that sticks out to you, one that you might want to assign more often than the others.

    The Single Reading

    Because this is CM-style writing, and not “normal” {whatever that means} writing, I am reminded {thanks, Mystie!} that a single reading suffices. We don’t read the passage over and over {as is suggested in the curriculum}, and we don’t refer to the original again, except during the “write it shorter” process. A good oral narration on the first day — if the child is well-trained in oral and written narrations after single readings, especially — is enough to make the rest of the process happen.

    About Editing and Final Drafts

    For editing, I have the child read their writing aloud to me. This solves about 95% of problems. Oh, they might not catch spelling errors {and I don’t worry about spelling during narration anyhow, for the most part}, but they catch missing words, incorrect tenses, and more. If it doesn’t sound right, it’s probably wrong, and they quickly learn this.
    I don’t always have my student do final drafts, but during this process it was a good chance to teach him that his normal daily narrations are not final drafts. They have smudges and marks where he has changed things. They are readable, but not perfect. In rewriting one variation into a final draft, he began to get a sense for the type of work he’d actually turn in, were he in a traditional school setting.

    Coming Soon

    Next week, I’ll try and post some of the earliest examples of my students variations for fable stage. It has been fun looking through his old notebooks and seeing how far he has come.
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  • Reply Michele August 30, 2015 at 9:39 am

    If you were to skip the outlining, what would he use to make his variations from? Since we do not want to continue to refer to the original text?

    • Reply Brandy Vencel August 30, 2015 at 1:55 pm

      He’d just do it based upon his own narration. If narration is done properly, the whole is stored in the memory, and so a variation is possible without outlining.

      This is actually how we still do it. This child is in 8th grade now, and we still use variations to make written narrations more interesting. He doesn’t outline, and he also skips the normal narration — so at this point, the variation *is* his narration, if that makes sense. It’s been fun, but of course now we are adding outlining back in because a little more analysis is appropriate at this age. 🙂

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