Sunday, October 23, 2016

Crits: We Must All Be Mary Robinsons

Today I am sharing with you an article that I have found tremendously helpful over the years!  It has helped me be a better teacher in my home, at church, in our co-op, and during immersion sessions.  I have shared it many times when meeting with others trying to teach in a Mason paradigm.  In fact, this was a very helpful article to use in one of our TBG planning meetings.

Crits is shorthand for criticism lessons. Mason would watch her student teachers give lessons and then she critiqued them. The notes shared here are chock full of wonderful tips.  I first read this article in Karen Andreola's Parents' Review magazine, Vol. 3, Winter, 1993-1994 and she has graciously given me permission to reprint it here. Do share with me your favorite nugget in the comments below!


Criticism Lessons:  Some Personal Memories of Charlotte Mason by Essex Cholmondeley, Parents' Review 1963

Much activity went on this fall.  The squirrels made ready their treasury of nuts, the mice their store of grain. To those who are passing the winter in sleep hunger will be their first experience when the early sunshine summons them from their nests. One mouse forgot its granary, hidden near a shrub in the garden, and when a sleepy winter has ended, up will spring a small crop of wheat. For nuts and seeds are full of vitality, they wait patiently for a long time before they spring to life.

The little hoard, laid before you in these pages, has waited forty years before coming to light.  It was buried in an old note-book, a store of ideas collected week by week during the two years’ training given at the House of Education, Ambleside (now the Charlotte Mason College). The student was discovering, during the period known as Criticism Lessons, an approach to knowledge direct, simple and within reach of all.

Criticism Lessons – how vividly they come to my mind with their moments of intense effort and endurance. They were held in the room at Scale How which had once been the drawing-room, complete with glass chandelier and French windows. Now it was a classroom: rows of students were seated at the back of the room, the members of the teaching staff forming a semicircle opposite them.  In the space by the windows there were desks, or a table and chairs, ready for the children who were even now walking up the drive from Fairfield School. When they had entered and taken their places with the student-teacher who was to give the first lesson, the door was left open. Presently Miss Mason entered, with a smile for children and students, and the session began.

The notebook records the remarks made by Miss Mason at the end of the morning when the lessons were criticized. First the students were asked to contribute, then the staff.  Finally Miss Mason said a few words of comment and these words, copied verbatim from the notebook, proved to be a veritable store of nuts, a life-long possession of ideas to the students.

The notes are grouped under subject for easier reading:

The Life of Nelson
A dull lesson because of the teacher’s lack of animation.  She was not interested in nor proud of Nelson.
Put more of yourselves into what you can do. But don’t think about yourselves.
Be on the qui vive. Listen to the narration enthusiastically.  Listen actively. The PNEU has discovered the power of attention and it is making a revolution in education.

Narration should not be accepted as perfect unless it really is so. ‘One, two, three, four things have been left out.  Who can give them?’ Imperfect narration means imperfect attention.  Perfect attention is easier to give than imperfect.

Put the ‘little minds’ of children out of your thoughts. Children have just as big minds as we have.

Power of attention shows an educated man.

Alert attention (animation) is the first duty of the  teacher.

Where and how are we to appeal to the imagination?  At the beginning of the lesson.

Teachers must teach less and scholars must learn more.

Miss X was panic-stricken because the lesson was not going well – that’s the moment to rally.

Emphasize proper names. Read always as if deeply interested yourself. Read at people and meet the eyes of those who read to us and to whom we read.

Lady Jane Grey
The Greek tragedies aroused the emotions of pity and fear. A historical drama should in the same way arouse emotions of pity and admiration.

Guard against inertia, be alert.

What little the teacher does must be done extremely well.

The subject was rendered commonplace.

If you do not think about the matter at hand, you think about yourself.

Conceive the whole thing. Do not interrupt narration either by questions or by any other means. This lesson was not sufficiently nutritive.

Nature Study. 
Narration can be helped by means of headings on the blackboard, by an interested manner, not by questions but by remarks.

There are two ways of approach: read and narrate first, then experiment; of, experiment first, then read and narrate.
You cannot tell what you don’t know.
Clear speaking is a sign of cultivation.

A clear general idea is what we want; we can always make our own additions and corrections, noting exceptions.

The British Museum.
Never wait too long for narration and wait expectantly.

Picture Study.
Let the children look again and again and again at the picture.

Dull passages – sufficient animation and interest should  carry the children through these and should learn at a single reading.

Indian History.
It is the teacher’s duty to show by her attitude that, though other religions have light, our religion has the supreme light.

English Literature.
We must pass on our feeling, but not our opinion…feeling kindles feeling.

Make the children see that the book is the thing. Let them get over their own stiles. (A stile is a step or set of steps for passing over a fence or wall such as they have throughout the countryside in the Lake District of England. – Ed.)

English Grammar.
People do not do any more than they are expected to do, or know more than they are expected to know.
Never lose sight of last term’s work.
Children should have ‘the grand elemental principle of pleasure’ in their work and the teacher must share in the pleasure.

Joan of Arc.
(The notebook describes an incident fully.)The children had given good narration of the book used during this lesson. During the criticism period, one student said that the class was ‘not given enough work to do.’ Miss Mason asked which of those who agreed with this criticism could narrate the lesson with all the dates, names, etc.? No one volunteered to try.

Miss Mason then showed us that the clear narration of things read or heard is true work of the mind. We must not think that because this work is done easily and invisibly that it is not true work. ‘Prove that it is work by doing it yourselves. It is not the question which Miss Jones asks Mary Robinson that makes Mary work, but the question which Mary asks Mary. You must all be Mary Robinsons.’

Miss Mason went on to say that the best work is not visible: it doesn’t not employ the reasoning here, the imagination there. It employs the whole mind, for the mind is a whole, not a parcel of faculties. One should not think that what is not seen does not exist: when the whole mind is at work, knowledge infallibly results.

Well, there is the sort of notebook-nuts.  Each one has its full kernel. Happy are the teachers who can crack them and use the contents; they will find a vital approach to knowledge.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Opinions During This Politcal Season and Always

I didn't plan to be reading Richard III during this election season.  But, since we're here, it's hard not to draw parallels and comparisons to the current political climate. Richard is a master of spin. Shakespeare presents this amazing ability of Richard's and we can hardly believe it ourselves - how can he do this? How does he get people to buy into his schemes?  Such a fascinating lesson for all of us, I think. And we're only on Act II. It's interesting to ask the students what they think of Richard and to hear their opinions.

Well-thought-out opinions are a major theme in a Mason education.  This whole process produces discerning, informed citizens. Rather important in any day and age.  I remember the first time I read that she thought having a just opinion was akin to saving a life.  She said, "The person who thinks out his opinions modestly and carefully is doing his duty as truly as if he helped to save a life." The culture today doesn't reflect this sentiment very well with anyone and everyone spouting off how they feel or what they think about any given situation.

Voting is a right.  But before that comes our duty to work out just opinions. This is where the real work lies.

In her fabulous chapter "Opinions: Justice in Thought", you will find an outline* for forming opinions which I have found helpful to think through when asked my opinion by others or when talking to my children.  It is especially helpful if one of them throws out strong opinions (as teenagers are wont to do) that aren't solidly based.

First of all, you have to have previously thought about the subject and collected some knowledge about it.

Second, it really needs to be our own opinion and not the repeating of a fb meme or some other person's popular article.

Third, we need to at least try hard to look at it objectively. 

Whew.  That sounds like a lot of work and it is. But whether talking politics, personal relationships, or even working through matters of faith, we need to have those well-thought-out opinions.  It's a critical skill WE need, as well as our children.


*An Opinion Worth Having

We may gather three rules, then, as to an opinion that is worth the having. We must have thought about the subject and know something about it, as a gardener does about the weather; it must be our own opinion, and not caught up as a parrot catches up its phrases; and lastly, it must be disinterested, that is, it must not be influenced by our inclination.
-From Ourselves, Book II, page 180.

Friday, September 30, 2016

Citizenship Notebook

As I was preparing for the Weekend of Living Ideas, I revisited some notes about keeping a Citizenship notebook.   I know that others have used certain aspects of this here and there, and certainly I have made use of all of these notebooking activities - just not compiled into one notebook. Here, all the ideas are gathered and placed in one 3-ring binder with 5 sections. As you can see, you could begin building this notebook with younger students and slowly expand to incorporate appropriate activities. I don't share this to overwhelm you, but to inspire you! Seeing how all these elements could fit together will hopefully further your understanding of Citizenship.

      1. OURSELVES 
    • narrations
    • maps
    • narration entries
    • progress of a bill
        4. POETRY
    • commonplace entries/quotes
    • striking words/definitions
    • narrations of other great lives
    • notes of historical events 
    • magnanimous folk
I bounced many ideas for this off of Bonnie and Jen a few years ago.  I thought I might share with you in order that you might develop your own Citizenship notebooks. I would love to know your thoughts on this and perhaps what you have used with success in your homeschool.

Autumn blessings,


P.S. - more of my thoughts on Citizenship can be found here.


Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Autumnal News and a Book

I want to recommend a book I recently discovered that is full of whimsy and charm.  In fact, my dd(15) keeps taking it up to her room to read and I keep asking her to bring it back down.  More on that in a second.

Exciting news for Living Education Lessons!  First, there is now open registration for a new Season 2 that begins mid-October.  I always like to begin new studies in unison with my children's new studies. It's an autumn thing. Second, the LEL community has grown and I am excited to share a new website for members.  It will be a quiet place on the web where we can concentrate and encourage one another without the distractions and noise so often found on social media. It will be ready in time for this new class coming up. Visit the LEL page to read more or to sign up for the email notice list.

Also, I presented a new pin design with a little talk on the history of the original P.U.S. badges this past weekend at the Delightful Living Seminar in Menahaga, MN.   This one doesn't have "Living Education Retreat" on it and is smaller. These pins will be available for purchase soon and I will certainly let you know.  Here's a peek:

Finally, on October 1st and 2nd, I will be at the Weekend of Living Ideas in Okoboji, Iowa. The trees should be gorgeous!  This is a small, quiet gathering with big ideas and inspiration.   I will be presenting 4 sessions, including a new talk on habits, Getting Rid of Weeds and Fostering Flowers: The Vital Role of Habits. Sign up soon if it works for you to join me!

Okay, so back to this sweet book I wanted to share with you*. "It's my job with a picture book to slow children down, " said Shirley Hughes in this article. I love that.  I have a small collection of her picture books.(Every child should read Dogger.) While I was at Loganberry Books last month, this title tumbled into my hands and didn't leave - Year Round Things to Do.

For each month of the year, there is a lovely title page with a poem and then:
  • About
  • Bird
  • Flower
  • Pet
  • Out of Doors (games)
  • Indoors (games and crafts)
  • Cooking
  • Gardening
  • Games
  • Saints
...and other categories all specific to that month. September brought us Conkers and Acorns, Quarter Day, and Budgerigars. Very British. And the best part is that right now you can see them on Amazon for about 15 cents. Woot!

I hope your new school year is flowing along nicely.


*Year Round Things to Do was first published in 1966 as Something to Do. My copy follows the 1975 printing. While not compiled by Shirley, she did the illustrations in 1966.