It feels like the training wheels have come off this year and we’re pedaling pretty well without too much wobbling or crashing academically. (Organizationally is another thing altogether!) Well, some days are like that. Other days, I feel like we’ve lost the power to steer or stop, and we’re just careening ahead without a clear picture of exactly where we’re headed. And other days it seems like we’re moving along so quickly, accomplishing the nuts-and-bolts stuff, that we’re missing out on all the lovely scenery. All of this is really due to Lulu’s passion for reading. She all but finished Ordinary Parent’s Guide to Teaching Reading this summer, and so this year (her second grade year officially), instead of having any official reading curriculum, I’m just having her do lots and lots of practice. Well, she’s doing lots and lots of practice, whether I make her or not.
Most days she does read aloud one passage to me (after hearing me read it aloud), and I will have her re-read it a couple of times, working on slowing down, pronouncing words clearly, voice inflection, etc. I started out this year with the idea that I would have her read assigned novels, and she has, but in between she usually polishes off several books of her own choosing. Many times these are comfort reads, novels she’s read before or from series that she particularly enjoys. For her assigned reading, I intended for her to read a chapter or so a day during school time until she finished the book. This worked until she got very interested in the story and she carried it over into her free time.
I think her first assigned book for this school year (I lose track, even when I try to take great notes) was The Rise and Fall of Mount Majestic by Jennifer Trafton. I loved it, and although I think it might be best enjoyed by a child a little older than Lulu, I wanted to break her out of her little historical fiction rut and expose her to other genres. She read it quickly and really liked it, although she usually won’t admit how much if it’s a book I’ve recommended or assigned. I knew I wanted to engage in a conversation with her about the book, and I really thought I’d just have her do a narration. However, I saw this really interesting book report notebooking page over at The Notebooking Fairy and just printed some of them out on a whim. When I asked Lulu whether she wanted to just give me a narration or complete the notebooking page, of course she went with the page.
She and I worked on this page together. I explained to her the meanings of the words she was unfamiliar with (setting, plot, etc.), and she gave me her answers. Obviously, sometimes she did the writing and sometimes I did.
The plot and the opinion parts took the most discussion, of course, and I tried to ask leading questions to get to some definitive answers. For example, after she agreed that Persimmony is brave in the story, I encouraged her to give illustrative examples of Persimmony’s bravery. I was pretty happy with what she came up with (with my help) for the plot of Mount Majestic. She was very pleased with herself in doing this page, and I had to insist that we not tackle the theme. We’re working through the second volume of Writing with Ease now, too, and the whole process of picking out the most important thing that happens in a story is what we’re working on now. It’s tough but so important.
Yesterday I had her narrate Kildee House, a 1950 Newbery honor book by Rutherford Montgomery, her latest assigned book. (She actually balked at reading this, but I told her that she had to read the first fifty pages before she could reject it. Of course, she couldn’t reject it fifty pages in! My little scheme worked!) She wanted to use the notebooking page and we tried to do it that way, but she was pretty frustrated by it. I ended up just taking a narration. This is her narration, with lots of prompting, leading, and discussion:
Jerome lives in Kildee House. A mountain lion kills a doe. A dog kills Jerome’s first raccoon. Jerome has about twenty-five raccoons and about five skunks. A girl named Emma Lou and a boy named Donald Roger fight. The boy’s dog kills the raccoon. The fawn of the doe that was killed gets to come live with Jerome. Emma Lou flashes her light into the mountain Lion’s face and it goes away, but the doe’s already killed. A whole lot of animals come to live in Jerome’s house, but he doesn’t invite them. The skunks were the rarest breed. All the zoos wanted them.
I think this is a narration more along the Charlotte Mason line than The Well-Trained Mind, although Lulu does make a salient point there at the end–that “a whole lot of animals come to live in Jerome’s house, but he doesn’t invite them.” It took a fair amount of tugging and pulling on my part to get this out of her, too.
I’m putting this out here on my blog not as a mommy brag (and truthfully, I’m not sure how much I have to brag about, I’m so new at this), but rather, to elicit some discussion about narrating. How realistic is it to have a seven year old do this sort of thing over an entire novel? I’m still using The Well-Trained Mind as my guide, and this is what Susan Wise Bauer says about it:
Although you shouldn’t make him report on every book, you should ask him at least twice a week to tell you, in two to four sentences, something about the plot of the book you have just read. Younger students will need you to ask them specific questions about the book: “What was the most exciting thing that happened in the book?” or “What was your favorite characer, and what did he do?” are two useful questions that help the child narrow in on the book’s central theme. Some third and fourth graders will be able to answer the more general question “What was the book about?” while others will still need more guidance. In either case, help the child narrow the answer down to under five sentences. Learning how to identify one or two items about a book as more important than the rest is a vital first step in learning to write; a young writer will flounder as long as he cannot pick out one or two of the ideas in his mind as central to his composition. (59)
Obviously, I need to work with Lulu in picking out the most important points, which I find difficult to do when I haven’t read the book myself (as was the case with Kildee House). That’s a whole ‘nother problem entirely, though–how to keep up with Lulu and give her quality literature, but nothing that’s above her maturity level. I took a risk with this novel, guessing that a novel about animals from 1950 couldn’t be too bad.
Here are a few of the questions that are floating around in my head right now:
- How, exactly, do I lead Lulu toward truly summarizing the plot, picking out the most important points. Is it even possible for a seven year old to do this after reading a novel? I need specific examples here.
- Should I require her to do it after every single book I assign? This girl can burn through the books,and she really seems to get what she reads.
- Lulu is a reader and a thinker, and while some creative endeavors are really appealing to her, others are decidedly not, so doing some alternative forms of narration would be more frustrating than anything else. Is there value in forcing her to occasionally branch out and do a different type of narraton? (I’m thinking here about drawing a picture, making a model–that type of thing.)
Okay, go! Those of you who have children who read a good bit and you’ve figured out how to engage them in a productive way in conversations about their reading, meet me in the comments.