Monday, January 16, 2017

Meaningful Minutes: Narration

This week we turn towards a skill - narration.  Is that really a skill? Yes, it is!

What is narration? 

This idea seems SO basic. In fact, it is probably one of the most frequently used skills and it almost seems natural. You listen to a sermon or podcast and someone asks "What was it about?".  So you narrate - or tell back - often with some reflection, connection and emphasis on what impacted you or what it made you think about.  Although the concept is simple, it actually requires quite a bit of mental focus and thought to do it well.

What should they narrate? 

Anything and everything!  Honestly, if a child narrates a math problem you can better see their thinking and find where they have gone off track. Narrating is most often associated with reading or listening to lectures.  Sometimes, as parents, we feel we must read everything our child is reading in order to have a good conversation.  Honestly, they need you to listen to their narrations - they don't need comprehension questions or deep literary thoughts (especially in elementary school).  If you listen, they re-tell you stories all the time (tv shows come to mind).  Did you realize this is preparing them for being good conversationalists, writers and presenters (wait, they are already doing that)?

In some ways, this doesn't mean doing much different - it means valuing what your child does.  It can be BORING to listen to the 100th re-telling of a Magic Treehouse story - but it is how they think through and process what they are learning.  Start appreciating it for the great skill that it is.  If you want to elevate the conversation provide them with different material to listen to or read!  If you want to practice this skill Aesop's fables are a great place to start.  They are short, simple stories - but don't tell "the moral" - allow them to reflect on it.  

I will say that it is very DIFFICULT to narrate a textbook.  When all the facts have been distilled for you there isn't much story to tell.  Stories are much easier (and appropriate) to narrate. That's why you may not remember the sermon points but you do remember and re-tell the story he used to make his point.  Also, kids younger than 6 will spontaneously narrate their lives to you but they shouldn't be expected to do so.

If you are reading aloud always ask the children to remind you what happened last time in the story before you start reading a new section or chapter.  This is a great informal way to sneak narration in and make sure everyone is on the same page.  Mason also encouraged that children only hear a passage once and then tell it back to encourage them to pay attention the first time.  If they know you will read it over and over whey would they pay attention?

Still don't believe me . . . 
If you want to learn more about the details of narration here is a multi-part part series.  It discusses why this is a valid assessment method, how to help students begin to use narration thoughtfully, how narrating moves items from short to long term memory and other useful insights. Try to avoid interrupting, prodding or looking for "the right answer"; the whole point is to see what your child thought was interesting, remembered or found important.  If they seem way off track - well, now you know and can ask questions and discuss it. If you are trying to find ways to make it more creative or interesting - there is a long list here.

In the end, narration isn't about them getting every point of the story right, it is about helping children remember these stories long term.  So, only use this technique with stories and thoughts worth remembering.  It can also form the basis of thoughtful conversation as they grow older and are in the habit of telling you what they are reading, listening to and thinking about.

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