Thursday, July 30, 2015

Notes on Beginning Descriptive Narration

Yesterday SA(7) and I started reading The Little Duke by Charlotte Yonge. The book starts with two or three pages of description of a castle hall... columns, thick walls, windows without glass but such deep window-seats that the rain could not come in... Up till now, SA has not touched on descriptions very much in his narrations. They have been in his books all along, but he has been able to get away with moving on to the action quite quickly. This book is different, though. This is the first time we've had a reading that was all description, no action.

Now, I suppose that the natural thing to do in the case of a long descriptive passage like this would be to require a drawing as narration. SA's drawing skills are just not there, though. So this is what we did:

-I set the timer for 20 minutes. I think SA likes knowing that he can trust me not to make his lessons longer than a set time.

-I made sure he could picture the difficult things: columns "like the crypt of a cathedral" and cauldrons, for example. We briefly looked at a picture I found online of a crypt. (I wrote the words I wanted us to review earlier in pencil right on the page of the book. I will be going through this book with several more children and I plan to erase it all after the last child.)

-I encouraged him to picture things in his mind as I read aloud to him.

-After reading half a page or so, I stopped and got out a pencil and paper. I asked him to tell back what I had just read, and I drew what he told me. I'll be honest, he said very little at first. I kept in mind that this is a new skill in narration for him, and said things like, "I remember something about the fires." He came back with the fact that one fire was hotter than the other, and there were no chimneys so the smoke rose in the room and blackened the ceilings. Every now and then JJ(5), who was at the table with us, would pipe up and add something we had forgotten. We continued in this way until the timer rang. 

We only got through about two and a half pages in our 20 minutes. This might mean that we will have more readings than I anticipated for this chapter, but we will just move through the readings in order. If it takes us longer to get through our term because of that, so be it.

One of the things I realized as we did this is that my second child will not have any issue with descriptive narrations (No doubt he will have his own challenges.). It seems to come more naturally to him to see scenes like this in his head. Also, he will be able to draw better than SA can right now. This was interesting to me because I have always considered SA a visual learner. He does extremely well at math because he can see it in his head, for example. But he is also more literal, less imaginative than JJ. (If you're into MBTI, SA is ISTJ, while JJ is probably ISFP)

For your amusement, I have included my drawing. I have very (very, very) little artistic skill, but I did find that drawing this rough representation of our reading fixed it in my own mind very clearly. Also, when I think of that reading, I still see what I imagined in my mind, not what I drew. (I hope my boys also see what they imagined, not what I drew...) It was not an artistic exercise, but a process of fixing what we had read in our minds.

It will be interesting to go back to this post at the end of the year, I think. I remember from Year One that things that were very difficult at the beginning of the year became easy by the end. We will see if that proves true for descriptive narration as well.