I have always loved stories and reading. Until I was introduced to Charlotte Mason, reading was an individual pursuit. A pleasure reserved for escape, relaxation, and personal quiet time to rejuvenate my introverted heart. Charlotte made me realise that stories and reading were meant to be shared. They were meant to be discussed. They were meant to grow my mind and my heart. They were meant to connect me with the great ideas, people, and history of my culture. They were meant to show me how to live and how not to live.
I had to learn how to develop healthy reading habits that would cultivate connections with my children, that would help me teach my children, that would enable us to grow in understanding, wisdom, and virtue. I had to learn not only how to read aloud, but how to love reading aloud. I had to learn not only to read actively and slow, but to love reading actively and slow. I had to learn that narration, memorising passages, remembering, asking questions and discussion were more than just tools for a mechanic form of comprehension testing.
When my children were young I slowly grew into this new world of rich and rewarding reading through the resources of Five In A Row (a literature guide for parents to enjoy with their children) and occasional notebooking projects. When they became teens, I needed to learn how to read more deeply, ask good open-ended questions, and how to approach more challenging works of literature. Keeping a Commonplace Book, utilising guides like the Omnibus series from Veritas Press, and mapping the settings of the stories were some things that assisted me while I continued learning how to guide my teen's learning through literature.
This past year I have been digging more deeply into the art of active reading, discussion, and Socratic dialogue. The CiRCE Institute Close Reads podcast have really assisted me in this area. I have been listening to the Pride and Prejudice and the Perpetual Feast podcasts, giving attention to the ideas drawn out, how the presenters respond to each others ideas, and the use of questions to deepen understanding, thought, and discussion. I drew from this modelling as I discussed Jane Austen and Homer with my teens.
Sow the Habit
When we plant a garden, we begin with nourishing the soil and sowing the seed. Nourishing the soil of learning through reading begins with reading aloud, making time to read, and enjoying books. This process may include contemplating movies, art work, poetry, and music that has been created in response to literature.
Introducing narration and discussion begins with the classic Who? What? When? Where? Why? We can ask Should X have done Y? We can explore who a particular character reminds you of and why. We can discuss our favourite parts, characters, and events. At the end of the year we can talk about our favourite reads, and our most challenging reads. A creative teen may create their own music, art, poetry in response.
Art of Discussion: 3 Tips
1) Begin with a core question or theme. Allow teens to share what they understand, quotes that relate to the core question or theme, written narrations that respond to the core question or theme. Uphold the atmosphere of humility and respect - discussion guidelines may include not talking over others, not arguing in pride (respond with a thought or question to clarify thinking), no distracting behaviours.
2) Respond to their ideas with thoughtful questions. Can you explain what you mean by ... What leads you to think ... If I hear you correctly you said ... What do you think about ... Ask them to compare the statement they made back to the original idea... Can you compare this idea with an analogy...
3) Wrap up with a summary, share a truth that you have learned through the discussion, or a question to think about.
Socratic dialogue is a lesson that grows naturally out of narration and discussion. It happens when you listen to what your teen is saying and respond with questions that allow you to become a co-inquirer with your teen into truth. The ability to engage with Socratic dialogue grows with your ability to listen, respond, ask thoughtful and genuine questions. It is a deep and challenging way to learn.
In 2016 I have focussed on sowing the habits of active reading, narration, and introductory discussion with my teen students. In 2017 we will wade into practising the art of discussion as modelled in the Close Reads podcasts (adjusted to suit my teens) and learning to look for those Socratic moments.