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Please Explain Where Summarizing Comes into Narration

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Dear Carrie

My question is, where does summarizing come in?

Dear Carrie,

I understand the point of oral and written narrations is to have my children retell as much as they can. Also the point is to “borrow” some of the author’s language from the reading. I’ve read a couple threads on that! However, I feel like I still push for more of a summary (give me the main points) than I should. I am trying to get it right. Especially with my younger two who will catch on to this more quickly if I start out the correct way! My question is, where does summarizing come in? Is that helpful to be able to gather the main points from your reading as well? Please forgive me if I sound silly, or the answer is obvious, but if you could explain it to me? I’d love to hear!

“Please Explain Where Summarizing Comes In”

Dear “Please Explain Where Summarizing Comes In,”

This is a good question, and I’ll do my best to answer from my perspective to show the direction Heart of Dakota takes with this! To me, Charlotte Mason style oral narration, which later becomes written narration, focuses on the child making sense of what was read by sharing what stood out to him/her in the reading. Children are to originally do this by borrowing words and phrasing from the author and eventually by moving toward more ownership of their narrations (still narrating in the style of the author’s writing but not really reciting word-for-word anymore what the author said).

Summarizing is a different skill than oral narration or written narration.

Rather than looking for a certain series of main points, the child is to share what struck him/her from the reading, making the narration process personalized to each child, rather than looking for a one right answer type of narration where everyone’s narration looks the same. The skill of orally narrating in this manner leads very well into written narration done in this same manner. So, written narrations aren’t meant to necessarily be a summary. Instead they are to share the flavor of the author’s writing from the reader’s perspective.

Narrations capture the flavor and style of the author.

Some children are more drawn to summarizing simply because they are “big picture” thinkers. My oldest son is definitely that way. So, narrating in a more summary-like manner for him does not make that type of narrating “wrong”. But if I start looking for him to include certain key points and requiring him to have those in his narration, then the lesson has strayed into a summarizing lesson rather than a narrating opportunity.

I will share that even though my oldest son thinks in main idea steps, his narrations still capture the flavor and style of the author, which is another key difference in summarizing versus narrating. Written summaries are often written more like an outline or like a note-taking exercise. Details are not abounding and using wording from the author or of your own style is not a focus. Instead, a summary often reads like a succinct paragraph. There is little extra flavor and the author’s style is not evident.

In contrast to my oldest son, my next son in line is a detailed child. He is very descriptive in his narrations and can get very lengthy when narrating, yet does it beautifully. I share this to show you one thing. Although my two oldest sons are different in their approach to narrating, they both do it well. One in a more summary fashion (in the author’s style). One in a very descriptive fashion (often giving very long narrations). Yet, each son is a good writer, both in creative writing and in more formulistic writing, like with the Medieval History-Based Writing Lessons, even though they may differ greatly in their narration style.

Summarizing is taught best through outlining and later note-taking of more textual material.

So, now with the groundwork laid, we come to your question. I see summarizing as an important skill that is taught best through outlining and later note-taking of more textual material, such as that found within history and science books. Using classic literature for a summary exercise means that much of the flavor and style of the story is being lost in the focus to get the main ideas down on paper. Narration, in contrast, is a child’s opportunity to share what struck him/her in the reading and what made the reading memorable to him/her. While this at first may not seem as important of a goal as being able to summarize, in truth it is the sifting and sorting and deciding which information to share that is the “work” of narrating which leaves the impression on the child’s mind for years to come.

Summarizing (as opposed to narrating) is more in the “one right answer” vein.

At Heart of Dakota, we first teach summarizing through outlining and note-taking through the Rod and Staff lessons and also through some of our writing programs such as Medieval History-Based Writing Lessons. Since summarizing is definitely a more formulistic skill, more in the “one right answer” vein, in our opinion it fits best in that category. It takes much of the personal part out of writing. It is a necessary skill and one I think comes more into focus as kiddos get older and have a need for it, which you can see represented in our older guides’ plans. But, I will say that even with my oldest sons’ different preferred styles of narrating, they can both summarize easily. I believe this comes from years of sifting and sorting through what they want to say (or write) within their oral or written narrations for the living books we’ve scheduled throughout Heart of Dakota. I hope that helps a bit as you ponder this!


This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Shannon Randolph

    What do you do with “older” children if you have gotten in the habit of having them summarize? How do you teach them to make their own connections. It is almost as if mine are “afraid” to veer from the book.

    1. Hi Shannon! Good question! As students grow and mature, Heart of Dakota’s guides continue to add more and more kinds of oral and written narrations to be completed. For example, there are detailed narrations, “talking points” narrations, key word narrations, highlighted narrations, topic narrations, opinion narrations, and persuasive narrations in the guide I am doing with Wyatt, our oldest son right now. Carrie has written these narrations in the plans to be completed in a rotating manner, and they are for both both oral and written narrations. So, as students mature, they are assigned narrations in such a way that the results will be different each time. Carrie gives enough specific guidelines in the plans and in the HOD notebooks to help students hone their narration skills in new ways. This has been so good for our kids – it has helped them become well-rounded narrators, able to narrate in many different ways! However, they still have their ‘favorite’ ways of narrating, which is good! Some like the summaries (i.e. my oldest son Wyatt), some like the details (i.e. my middle son Riley), some like the narrating with props (i.e. my youngest son Emmett), but all practice many ways through Carrie’s plans. Hope this helps!

      In Christ,

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