Introducing Charlotte Mason's Use of Narration

By Smith, J. Carroll | Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table, Summer 2008 | Go to article overview

Introducing Charlotte Mason's Use of Narration


Smith, J. Carroll, Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table


Introduction

Research continues to support the need for conscious and sustained language development in children at a very early age. (1) Some of this research even implies that the language use of a two year old is an indicator of how well that age child will read in later graders. Further, research seems to indicate that the more developed a child's use of language, the better he or she will do in life. This indicates clearly the importance of language development not only in young children but also in very young children. This article, then, discusses some background information on the need for sustained language development in very young children and then introduces the reader to educationalist Charlotte Mason and discusses her use of narration. Finally, it ends with some suggestions toward improving the language development of very young children, with the aim of impacting their reading abilities later in elementary school. Although I do not mention disadvantaged children consistently throughout the article, the intent is to help those who are involved in making public policy and those who work with children see the importance of language development in very young children especially in underprivileged children.

One of the staples of Mason's educational methodology is narration or retelling. These two words are used today to convey approximately the same idea. While Brown and Cambourne and others refer to narration as retelling, (2) I use the words synonymously.

Research on Oral Language

In their research on the connection between reading problems and early language development, Olofsson and Niedersoe (1999) write, "There is a significant connection between early language measures and reading skills in the first four school years, and language awareness is involved, but the relationship is much stronger after the onset of reading instruction. Language development may form the basis for reading acquisition, but reading itself seems to be a specific and coherent skill." (3)

If early language development is crucial to later reading development, it is interesting to note Dr. Frederick Zimmerman's study on the use of "infant videos" with children under age 2. (4) Although Disney took quite an exception to this piece of research (5), it might behoove us to notice that, according to Zimmerman, infants who spend a lot of time in front of a video do not have a vocabulary as large as those who spend less time in front of 'baby videos.' (6) Further, in another research project by Wise, Sevcik, Morris, Lovett and Wolf (2007) the authors suggest that Keeping the study's limitations in consideration, the findings from this study were largely consistent with a large body of research indicating that oral language skills are related to reading achievement (Cooper et al., 2002; Olofsson & Niedersoe, 1999; Scarborough, 1990). This study, however, provided unique evidence that receptive and expressive vocabulary knowledge were independently related to prereading skills, whereas only expressive vocabulary knowledge was related to word identification abilities. Findings suggest that receptive and expressive vocabulary knowledge relate to prereading skills in differential ways because of the nature of each type of knowledge. Further, those children with better definitional knowledge may have an advantage in identifying words because of more thoroughly represented semantic knowledge. Finally, results from this study indicate that better listening comprehension skills facilitate word identification. (7)

Based on the research just mentioned so far, the connection between early language ability or early oracy and the ability to read well later in school seems clear. There is another connection in this discussion that I believe needs to be made which might help our understanding. That is the connection that Russian psychologist, Lev Vygotsky makes in his discussion of thought and language, which demonstrates a connection between intelligence and language development.

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