That is all very well and can be quite reassuring but most of us were not educated along these lines. We are indeed co-learners alongside our children. And because of that we often want—need—to know how we are doing at it.
It happens all the time. I hear the question in study groups, at conferences and in forums. I have asked it. “How do I know if my child is narrating well enough?”
There are various rubrics that others have constructed to evaluate narrations; I am offering this little tool from the PNEU as another option to consider. It is quite simple, but has served me well.
The rest of this is excerpted from my talk at CMER 2016, which was geared towards ‘Charlotte Mason and the Older Child’ but really, it applies across the ages.
‘How do I know how my child is doing?’
“We feel it desirable to obviate examination marks altogether; but it is necessary that parents should have some means of judging whether their children are or are not making satisfactory progress and this information is best given by means of marks which represent, not a numerical value, but a remark, such as ‘good’, ‘fair’, ‘excellent’, etc.” (Mason, The Parents’ Union School by the Chief Examiner)
This process allowed parents to gain an outsider’s evaluation of the child’s progress and allowed the examiners to ‘test’ the value of a book. Books that consistently failed to elicit evidence of imagination and response in the children, were dropped from the programmes.
Grades were not to have ‘undue play’ on a child, undermining or supplanting their rightful desire for knowledge. In other words, they were not to be the motive for which a child did the work.
“The marks assigned to a scholar for any set of papers show whether he is above or below the average for his age and form. But in order that there may be no undue pressure on the part of the scholar to obtain marks to the neglect of interest in knowledge, the maximum marks are given, not to the best papers, but to papers showing quite satisfactory progress. We do not estimate the papers sent in against the book; but against the work of many hundreds of children doing the same programme. Also, the examiners are not shy of giving full marks.” (Mason, Notes on the Examinations in the P.U.S by the Director)
‘Examination questions [essentially] should ask, 'How much do you know about——?'. (ibid)
I believe that assessment is a valuable tool at our disposal; that it can go a long way to securing our confidence as our child advances. We have a tool that considers the ‘whole child’, ‘looks for the good in the weaker ones’ and provides a framework—a scaffolding—for the growth to be encouraged in the next term.
“What we desire is the still progress of growth that comes of root striking downwards and fruit urging upwards.” (Mason, A Philosophy of Education, 297) [emphasis mine]
We don’t have the ability today to send our examinations in to a body that can perform this assessment; this might make it more difficult to compare our child to others in order to know what is a reasonable expectation—but we do know our child. We can certainly still apply the test of ‘growth.’ What were they capable of last term? Are they stagnant in any area? Where do I see growth and where should we put more emphasis next term?
We can accomplish this very simply. We can always refer back to the principles of a Charlotte Mason education to frame our consideration. We can see where they were last year and notice the growth that has taken place. And we can ask ourselves, what kind of support or encouragement from our end would foster more growth. And this is all well and good.
But, if you would like a little more structure, we find some help from the Charlotte Mason Digital Archives. This is a tool, first, for the parent/teacher. By asking these questions of your student’s work, you can better identify those areas that may need shoring up. As your child moves into the upper years, though, these can help frame conversations where you paint a picture for your student of where you are heading.
An examiner in Mason’s schools, Mr. Stephens, suggests five qualities that are important in a child's work. They form the mnemonic RAISE: Relevance, Accuracy, Integration, Significance, Economy. Below are his thoughts.
"…our first consideration must always be RELEVANCE."
"In any examination, it is obviously silly to tell the examiner what he does not want to know and has not asked for. But there is more to it than this. Relevance implies not only knowledge, but judgment. The mind, and not the memory only, is involved. To be relevant is to be in the service of Truth, which means that a moral as well as a mental element is engaged in this business of education. Every real examination is a test not of our memories, but of ourselves, of our whole response to a problem. We are not reporters, but judges....”
“This element of judgment is always present in examinations. The child is not be catechized or asked questions. He is not to be given an outline answer. He is to put in what he likes, and leave out what he likes, and stop when he likes. It is John or Mary that the examiner wants to meet, not their parents or teachers. As in teaching Charlotte Mason insisted that the teacher should stand aside, so also in examinations the child should be left free. Only so can this important test of relevance be applied."
"And whereas the little ones are expected to give the whole story, the older ones have to learn more and more to select and arrange, and so, with them, relevance implies a deliberate and conscious choice. In time, a similar privilege of choice will be exercised in the form of expression. To find the mot juste [right word] will become as much an exercise in relevance as the choice of subject-matter from Form IV [grade 9] onward.”
To be correct in all details; to give a faithful representation.
“When the [Charlotte Mason] method has established itself, inaccuracy is exceptional.” Inattention is usually the culprit.
“To grasp a principle is more important than meticulous accuracy in detail.” However, a simple slip may indicate the real nature of the principle is not understood, “and therefore will appear to receive little credit for some right (and lucky) guesses.”
"[Integration] means all our bits of knowledge should be seen to be parts of wholes. A surgeon learns by dissection, but his knowledge is of use only to whole bodies, living men and women. So in school we learn by subjects, by lessons, in bits and pieces, but these should be fitted in, first to their own context, and then later on the whole human scene as far as we are able to comprehend it.”
“The very essence of ‘narration’ is that the subject should be absorbed and integrated in the child’s own mind, that it should become part of the child’s life.”
To facilitate integration, Mason encouraged the use of maps and time tools such as the Book of Centuries and Century Charts to fit knowledge into its rightful time and place.
SIGNIFICANCE *a skill for high school students
"A statement, or a story, may be relevant, accurate and in context, and yet not worth spending time and trouble on. It is always easier to remember the gossipy oddments used as illustrations, than the facts they illustrate. Sometimes these morsels are remembered to the exclusion of all else. Such mistakes may be called mistakes in perspectives or mistakes in focus.
When [short narrations] happen in older children, these … indicate the image is just not there; it failed to become significant to them; somehow interrupted in their passage from mind to mind. These impressions are only permanent if the child accepts them as significant by virtue of their own truth, interest and relevance.”
ECONOMY*a skill for high school students
" Often, when writing is fluent the child becomes a spendthrift of time, words, and ideas. After having been encouraged for years to 'write fully' and 'tell all', he now may have the shock of reading the comment 'too long' against an eager effort. Well, we shall none of us be heard for our much speaking, and most of us have to learn to practice economy sooner or later.”
He goes on to recommend the practice of writing verse, as it “…teaches us this lesson of economy and self-control. Few of us would present ourselves for an interview in a physically disheveled state. Yet that is sometimes what happens in our written work; though neatly written, it just streams out behind us like a banner in a breeze.”
R – Relevance
A – Accuracy
I – Integration
S – Significance
E – Economy
Look for growth.
What is needed to foster that growth?