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    Home Education

    Using Technology to Jump the Narration Queue

    September 12, 2016 by Brandy Vencel

    Americans don’t use the word queue, I know. But “jump the line” doesn’t have the same ring to it, so just ignore that tiny detail, okay? The important thing is: there is a narration line, and it is killing me. Or, at least, it was threatening to do so.

    When listening to 14-18 narrations per day, you might need to get a little creative. Here's how a simple tool is keeping my narration line under control.

    On an average day, I listen to 14-18 narrations. Um. That’s a lot! And it’s only going to get worse because as my children get older, they will each have more readings to narrate per day.

    (At this point, my friend Michele with 10 kids will chime in and say, “That’s nothing! I listened to 27,000 yesterday! Some of my kids stood in line for 5 hours — it’s like the Matterhorn at Disneyland around here!”)

    One way to thin the line is to use written narrations, of course. My high schooler does at least one per day, as does my sixth grader. This definitely helps. My fourth grader, however, only does one per week and, of course, my second grader doesn’t do any written narrations at all, plus I’m still reading his books aloud to him.

    Sometimes, when three or four people want to narrate at a time, I try to go in reverse age order — so first the youngest, then the next youngest, and so on. But this occasionally backfires because my sixth grader has the worst memory of all of them, and she’s back at “this guy did this thing” narrations if I wait too long.


    I was baffled by what to do. On the one hand, the ideal is that everyone narrates to me directly following their readings while making meaningful eye contact. On the other hand, there is one of me, four of them, and I still have other things to do like laundry and cooking and podcasting.


    Enter the voice memo app on my iPod.

    Someone mentioned this to me once, and apparently I filed it away in my brain for future reference. I wish I could remember who — I really ought to send her a thank you card, whoever she is. This thing has saved my life. I was almost crushed to death under the weight of a thousand narrations, and now I’m breathing free again.

    Here’s how it used to play out: my fourth grader approached me and said, “I have a narration,” and in response I whined, “But I’m trying to teach your brother math!” (We can all see who the mature person in the house was.)

    But now I respond with, “Would you like to leave me a voice memo?”

    We have some ground rules, of course. Things like:

    • No playing with other apps on the iPod.
    • If you leave me a voice memo, and you love doing so, it better be good or you’ll lose the privilege.
    • If you hate leaving voice memos and choose to wait, your narration better be good, or next time leaving a voice memo won’t be optional.

    What do I mean by “good?” Well, they know what I mean — they better use proper nouns and also give a pretty thorough retelling.

    So anyhow, this is what’s keeping me sane right now. Juggling multiple students isn’t really different from what I imagined, but it’s sort of like when people tell you you’ll be tired once you have your first baby. You smile and nod — you know they’re right, and yet nothing they say can prepare you for the overwhelming level of fatigue. It’s just like that — it’s amazing and wonderful and all sorts of good and yet sometimes I don’t know which way is up.

    Can I get an amen?

    Here is where Charlotte Mason’s schools depart a bit from the homeschool mom’s actual experience. Her teachers taught one form. That’s it. All the students were reading the same book, so the teacher listened to — what? Maybe four narrations per day on average? They certainly weren’t teaching high school and elementary school at the same time! It’s not not the phonics nor the algebra that gives one pause; it’s the phonicsaswellasalgebra.

    This is why we need to get a little creative now and then. Think outside the box and all that. For now, my solution is a simple thing: a voice memo app.

    What’s yours?

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  • Reply The Evolution of a Charlotte Mason Homeschool Schedule | Afterthoughts August 27, 2019 at 3:34 pm

    […] was the biggest challenge and this whole year I struggled with the narration line. By 2016, I learned to use technology to ease our narration line, which was […]

  • Reply Pam September 19, 2016 at 11:35 am

    YES! We use Voxer for narrations too. 🙂

  • Reply Teresa E September 17, 2016 at 6:17 pm

    Oh, and the word ‘queue’ is evidently commonly used in the managerial and programming worlds. Or so says my systems analyst hubby. ?

    Forgot to mention another benefit to recorded narrations: the narrator can later listen and transcribe some of his own recordings. This serves at least 5 worthy purposes: further practice in typing, an opportunity to self-edit (‘filler’ words and such), learning the skill of transcription, reinforcement of the information through a second hearing (history readings!), and the best benefit??Instant audio feedback as an impetus for improving as narrators (correcting their own inadequacies is HUGE!).

    • Reply Lisa V in BC September 17, 2016 at 10:43 pm

      Oh, I love this idea!

  • Reply Teresa E September 17, 2016 at 4:56 pm

    I’m so glad you posted this, Brandi! Finally… confirmation that either a) I am not a CM heretic after all, or b) I’ve got other wayward cohorts! ?When I started using a digital recorder for narrations about 7 years ago, I just knew the CM police would hunt me down.

    I get it, though. Technology has totally saved my sanity, as well. Grandma’s listening ears have too, on occasion (narrations via phone/FaceTime, I mean).

    Thank you for your timely posts, Brandi. I always glean something useful for implementing or contemplating.

    • Reply Brandy Vencel September 19, 2016 at 2:31 pm

      Well, if the CM police are coming after you, Teresa, they are coming after me as well. 😉

  • Reply Lisa V in BC September 17, 2016 at 12:44 pm

    Oh Brandi, Have I told you lately how much I appreciate your posts? They help me breathe in this homeschooling life 🙂 I have been inconsistently been using an app on my blackberry called Parrot that I like, mostly with my oldest who likes narrating immediately after he reads and is constantly having me wjine anout the math lesson etc. that I am in the middle of (same maturity problem here) 🙂 but was constantly getting huge yawns and umms and a super bored voice – plus I would forget to listen to his recordings (blush!) but this year, two of my three youngest that I was reading to last year are taking on most of their readings (Yay!!) which results in the narration queue… so, I love your rules for using the recorder! Do you use a narration rubric to help them determine what qualifies as an adequate narration? I have one for seniors and one for juniors which would help give them a grade (downloaded from the forum) but not sure how I would use it along with having them record their narrations… does that make sense?

    • Reply Brandy Vencel September 19, 2016 at 2:33 pm

      You know, I will be honest: I keep meaning to come up with a narration rubric, but never have. I would love to see what you are using with your older students!

      • Reply Lisa V in BC September 19, 2016 at 3:47 pm

        PM’d you on the forum 🙂

      • Reply Amy September 22, 2017 at 12:55 pm

        Please do! We are newly CM this year, and while narration has been going good, I’d like a way for both of us to know what to look for/aim for.

        • Reply Brandy Vencel September 22, 2017 at 2:55 pm

          For now, Amy, I can say that in her exams, Charlotte Mason really focused on whether children were using proper nouns. That was important to her. So “this guy went to a place” narrations, while they may give the gist of the reading, are supposed to improve to the point where they say “Joan of Arc went to Orleans.” Something to aim for, anyway. 🙂

          And welcome to CM! ♥

  • Reply Lauren September 16, 2016 at 5:57 pm

    Oooo…nice idea. I’ll have to file this one away for when I need it!

  • Reply Friederike September 16, 2016 at 11:29 am

    Narration with my oldest has been a big problem. so I will try if our tablet or kindle fire has a voice option. Thanks

  • Reply Sara McD September 14, 2016 at 9:17 am

    I’ve used the photo booth thing on my macbook just to keep myself from interrupting. Some of those early videos are so cute.

  • Reply Christa September 13, 2016 at 11:18 pm

    I have discovered that I get way better narrations when I have my eldest use Voxer instead of the Voice Memo app. Just a heads up for you parents of visual children. The voice modulation line thingies (the technical term) were WAY too distracting. She was so enamoured with watching her voice record that she was only half paying attention to what she was saying. I have had her hold the phone face down, but Voxer has removed all the temptation.

    • Reply Dawn Duran September 14, 2016 at 1:58 am

      Oh. My. WORD. You might just be my new best friend, Christa. First, it is so nice to know that my son isn’t the “only” one distracted by this (and engaging in a very wide range of volumes to “play” with it), but also by giving me this viable option. Thank you!

  • Reply Carol September 12, 2016 at 7:43 pm

    Interesting that you don’t usually use the word ‘queue,’ I noticed in the Noah Webster dictionary that it says to see ‘cue,’ which has a totally different meaning. Picture narrations have been great for our children who liked to draw. My youngest went through a phase where she acted out everything with paper dolls but it ended up taking much more time than an oral narration. If I suggested ideas for written narrations (eg a newspaper article, an obituary or an advertisement) they’d usually do that quite happily as they knew they didn’t have to be too long.

    • Reply Brandy Vencel September 13, 2016 at 2:55 pm

      I remember reading some of the newspaper article samples on your blog, Carol. I thought they were a lot of fun. 🙂

  • Reply Rachel September 12, 2016 at 2:27 pm

    I use that app all the time and LOVE it. I recorded my girls reciting a poem this week and emailed it to Grandma. THAT went over well, by everyone! The girls were so proud and it made Grandma’s day. Now they want to record all their memory work. 🙂 I’m still teaching them narration, but I bet someday Grandma would love to hear that too …. we live VERY far away from Grandma after all.

    • Reply Carol September 12, 2016 at 7:45 pm

      Great idea, Rachel. Must try this!

    • Reply Brandy Vencel September 13, 2016 at 2:55 pm

      Ooh! That *is* a great idea! ♥

  • Reply Andrea September 12, 2016 at 1:55 pm

    Yes! This is the first year I am also using a voice recording app!! It has saved my sanity as I have four kids needing to narrate while I read to the two youngest. The majority of their narrations are recorded, but I do listen to some “live” 🙂 as of course a few written. I feel like it not only helps them, but it helps me! It keeps me from interrupting a narration :), and keeps me better focused on truly listening to their hard work of narrating. Win/win.

  • Reply Hevs September 12, 2016 at 1:08 pm

    We are getting to this stage but I am still trying to hear them all by means of strict scheduling, which of course no one ever sticks to, groan! But having had the delight of our UK seminar with Karen Glass this weekend, I am working on what she called “maintaining an expression of sympathetic interest” whilst I listen….now there’s another challenge!

    • Reply Brandy Vencel September 13, 2016 at 2:57 pm

      Ha. That sounds much better than “meaningful eye contact.” 😉

  • Reply Hayley September 12, 2016 at 8:26 am

    I’ll tuck this in my mine for later… and then hopefully I’ll remember to come back and thank you. 🙂

    p.s. I love that you used the word queue.

    • Reply Brandy Vencel September 19, 2016 at 2:35 pm

      I thought of you when I decided to use it, Hayley. 😉

  • Reply Amber Vanderpol September 12, 2016 at 8:19 am

    In my house, it is my y9 who gets the short end of the stick. Last year she often ended up narrating during dinner prep which was rife with distractions. This year I’m having her do one written narration a day (on a private blog, so they automatically get emailed to me) and recording them into Evernote. It is good practice in succinct narration (dinner prep narrations, sadly, do not encourage this!) and she labels them according to the reading so they are nicely ordered and easy to review. But since the act of narration is really for the child and not for me, I do not feel obligated to listen to all of them. An added bonus is it frees up more time for discussion, which does work well during dinner prep!

  • Reply Anne September 12, 2016 at 8:00 am

    Brilliant! Thank you!? I’m going to try this!

  • Reply Michele September 12, 2016 at 7:38 am

    Amen! We fell out of the voice recorder habit. We use it for exams, but it’s coming back for narrations today. Because the Matterhorn line is really long!

  • Reply nebby September 12, 2016 at 7:16 am

    My highschooler often records his oral narrations and emails them to me. They will also email me written narrations. When I have to be out (doctor’s appt maybe), I have the kids narrate to each other. One apparently narrated to the dog the other day.

    • Reply Brandy Vencel September 19, 2016 at 2:36 pm

      Narrating to the dog is something I haven’t tried, but it’s not a bad idea. I forgot that the voice app could be emailed. I might try that…

      So far I’m using the recordings as something to listen to later in the day when I’m trying to complete my step goals. 🙂

  • Reply Anne White September 12, 2016 at 7:02 am

    Well, back when we started it used to be a cassette recorder…


    • Reply Brandy Vencel September 13, 2016 at 2:59 pm


      I have a digital recorder, and I assumed I would prefer it, but it turns out that it is hard for me to find the files once they’re recorded, so the app is working better for me…

  • Reply Elisabeth September 12, 2016 at 3:21 am

    We recently began including “picture” narrations, where the child can draw a picture or a detailed map/diagram of a scene from the story. I was skeptical, but surprised at how well the picture helped them to remember the story. Actually much better than when I only allowed standard narrations.

    We also have a small tape player and a “voice recorder” that they are now narrating into and I listen to it with them “later” whenever I have time. Then it is the child that is pointing out all the uncomfortable pauses and “ummm’s”, etc.

    • Reply Brandy Vencel September 13, 2016 at 3:00 pm

      I think I want to try this map drawing experiment! And I haven’t had the child listen to the narrations *with* me, but I see how that could be helpful the way having them read a written narration aloud leads to self-editing. Hmmm…good ideas!

  • Reply Tasmanian September 12, 2016 at 12:36 am

    This guy did this thing… ha ha ha ha ha. Sigh.
    We did video narration last week. It was a bit distracting for the child staring at herself on the phone as she narrated, but it meant I could read aloud to her brother in the meantime. She liked it. Detailed narration, yes… fluency, no…

    • Reply Tasmanian September 12, 2016 at 12:38 am

      P.S. I have just realised my AO3 (who reads silently to herself) narrates more easily if she pauses and narrates as she goes. I need to be close by and not engrossed in a maths lesson, but it worked today.

    • Reply Tania September 12, 2016 at 10:07 am

      Lol! We tried video narrations for a while, but they didn’t work so well for us. I would watch them later and find that, out of a 4 minute long video, 30 seconds was actual narration and the rest was dd exploring how many weird faces she could make of herself on the screen ?. We switched to voice memo after that. It’s worked beautifully.

    • Reply Brandy Vencel September 13, 2016 at 3:02 pm

      Oh my goodness! Video narration sounds amusing, at least! 🙂

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