As I am fond of two methodologies, or styles, of education, I have discovered that the argument of narration versus summary is one that comes from using the terminology interchangeably and trying to make the distinction in the terms versus in the style. Classical education methodology states to complete a narration, and Charlotte Mason methodology states to complete a narration. On the surface, the appearance of both contain a reporting of what has been read. This is quite a simplistic task, on the surface. However, there is so much more involved when adding narration or summary to your plan as it relates to either methodology.
I will pause for a moment. Let’s define the two. In the terminology, both are different. A summary is words that provide a brief description. A narration is words that tell a story. Again, the definition is not what matters. The purpose of the summary or narration is where the difference is observed.
For a classical education, the child is asked to narrate. In the beginning, the narration is oral, and the parent writes the words to paper. The child tells the story of what they have heard or read. In the classical model, we teach the child to take ideas and put them into words, and we teach the child to take the words and put them onto paper. Making these connections are essential. The focus is written communication. This style wants to build the child’s ability to organize their thoughts and prepare them to write.
The Charlotte Mason education asks the child to narrate as well. Often, it is referred to as a summary. Keep in mind that a summary is a narration. The purpose is to have the child tell, in their own words, what they have read or heard. Charlotte Mason says that the child should be discouraged from repeating the words of the text and encouraged to narrate in their own words. The words should be original. A child should be encouraged to insert their opinion and to state their mental connections. To a Charlotte-Mason educator, a narration can take on many forms, but it begins in the same way – oral narration. However, these forms include drawing, acting, building, and creating. In this style, narration is looked upon as an art form too.
Both methods are a book-filled education. Neither is reliant on using a textbook. Neither method trades the book for a lecture, as is common in a standard public education. Whether the book is read independently by the child or is read aloud to the child is of no consequence. Both educational styles want the child to deal directly with the source. For each method, a narration of a selection, or episode, is required.
What makes the narrations different are the child and the method. When a child narrates, the material is chosen by the child. What is included or omitted is at the discretion of the narrator, the child. The child may place the emphasis where s/he chooses. Using narration in this manner will let you, the educator or parent, know what your child knows about any given topic. I believe that most classical guides, or plans, will encourage you to prompt the child’s narration through questioning and guide the narration in the same manner. With Charlotte Mason, this is not so. Charlotte Mason states not to explain, question, relate, or reread a passage.