Thursday, September 18, 2008

Children's Literature

One of my favorite classes in college was Children's Literature. The professor would actually read excerpts of good children's literature to us. I was always transformed back to being a little girl while I was listening to her read. It's a shame, but for the life of me I can't remember the professor's name although she was my favorite teacher in college. She exposed me to many children's books that I had not previously ever heard of and she taught me about what reading should be for elementary aged children - that it should be an enjoyable experience and not one of drudgery. She told us of a time when she taught in public schools and the school system she worked for bought new basal readers. She totally disagreed with the use of basal readers and didn't want to use them. The administration in her school told her that they spent a lot of money on these books and she must use them. Her solution was beautiful. She told the kids to take the basal readers out of their desks. Then she told them to stand up, place the books on their seats and sit down. She looked at her administrator and said, "There, now we are using the books."

Charlotte Mason advocates using whole, living books. Basal readers take one tiny excerpt from a book and ask a ton of questions at the end of the reading to "check for comprehension". This robs the child of the opportunity to have a relationship with the characters or to ruminate on what was read. Instead of asking a lot of quiz-like questions, CM suggests to have the child narrate to check for comprehension. When you ask questions, you are checking to see if the child caught what the teacher wants the child to get. Through narration, you find out so much more about what the child "comprehended" from the reading. Narration also opens the doors for further discussion. Can you see how this helps the literature to stick with the child so much longer? If you ask a bunch of specific questions, the child thinks, "Oh thank goodness that's over with. Now I can get on with my life." There is a risk that the child won't retain what was read.

To start narration, read a paragraph (or a chapter) and ask the child to tell the story back to you in his own words. Sometimes, I will take a history reading and ask my 11 year old to tell the story to her 4 year old brother. That works beautifully. It may be difficult at first, but after your kids get the hang of it, it can be a lot of fun.

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