November 17, 2023
Narration & Retelling with Shannon Whiteside
The Charlotte Mason Centenary Series, a multi-authored monograph series commissioned in connection with the Charlotte Mason Centenary, is designed to highlight and explore the continuing educational and leadership relevance of the late 19th-century British educationalist Charlotte Mason (1842-1923) through the collective contributions of The Armitt Museum and Library, the University of Cumbria, the Charlotte Mason Institute, and other scholars and practitioners worldwide.
This post is included in a series on the monographs. Each post gives a snapshot of the author's motivation for writing, the various topics and content of each monograph, and suggestions for who might benefit most from the work.
Shannon Whiteside’s (BA, Moody Bible Institute; MA, Wheaton College; PhD, University of Illinois at Chicago) monograph is titled Narration and Retelling: Charlotte Mason’s Living Method of Learning. Shannon is the Program Director for Charlotte Mason’s Alveary, a curriculum and teacher training program for homeschools, co-ops, and schools in the United States and Canada. She began her career as a classroom teacher and then decided to homeschool her own children. She discovered the principles of Charlotte Mason over 12 years ago and wrote her dissertation on the storytelling aspects of narration and how Mason’s educational theories compare to the classical model of education. She lives in northwest Indiana with her husband, Mark, and their three children and also serves as Alveary Program Director.
What motivated you to join this research project?
Shannon Whiteside: The principles of Charlotte Mason have deeply impacted my understanding of education, and I think it is essential to continue to show how her ideas are still relevant today. Many of us know that Mason's principles work, but I think it is important to provide "evidence" when possible to show the rigor and intentionality behind her methods.
Why did you pick your topic?
Shannon: Narration is the hallmark of a Mason education. It can seem so simple from the outside looking in. The question I sometimes get from critics is, "How can narration be enough for students to learn and to think for themselves?" I wanted to show in detail how narration allows students to process their thoughts, make their own connections, and display originality.
What was the most interesting thing you discovered during your research and writing?
Shannon: I had the opportunity to record and transcribe over 50 narrations from a fifth-grade classroom. After reading a lot of literature about oral cultures and the poetic devices used in storytelling, I found some of the same poetic devices, such as repetition or parallelism, dialogue, and imagery, in the students' narrations. Just as storytellers of old used common stories and put their spin on it, students are taking a story and making it their own. This shows the dynamic nature of narration, and that is not simply an imitation of a text.
What one or two ideas do you most hope people take away from reading your monograph?
Shannon: I hope that people will come to see narration as not simply a reading comprehension exercise but come to see it as a storytelling event. When students see themselves as storytellers striving to engage their audience (whether it's their mom or a classmate), they will naturally craft their story in a way that is faithful to the text but allows their perspective and personality to shine through. I also hope that listeners will see that they have a role to play. When listeners are engaged and not multi-tasking, narrators feel valued and will rise to the occasion and naturally use storytelling devices. Narration is not a solitary activity but requires a listening, attentive ear for it to be a relational practice.
Who do you think should (especially) read your monograph?
Shannon: I think teachers, whether at school or home, should read my monograph to gain a fresh vision of the act of narration and how it can be more engaging and lively.
FROM THE TEXT
“Narration is still relevant for students in the 21st century. This practice brings together both reason and imagination so that knowledge engages the mind and heart.” (p.10)
"The teacher does not need to interpret the book or explain all the details of a passage because narration allows a student to assimilate knowledge as she engages in a mind-to-mind meeting with the author.” (p. 20)
“Narration is more than a cognitive exercise to tell back the facts of a story or event. It is a creative process that calls upon a child’s imagination and artistic abilities.” (p. 29)
“When students are told that narrations are not finished products but part of the process of understanding texts and content areas, they are positioned as active learners who continue to build their repertoire of knowledge and to build relationships with the various fields of study.” (pp. 44-45)
Shannon’s monograph is available in print as a physical or digital copy.
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