Silent Narration??

In our yard this a.m.
"The mind can know nothing save what it can produce in the form of an answer to a question put to the mind by itself." - old axiom quoted by Charlotte Mason

I feel like I've been on a bit of a wild goose chase, trying to track this one down.  I'd like to share with you about something that I had never heard of but now am interested in - silent narration. If you have any thoughts or references to this, please let me know.  So...it began when Bonnie referred to a document in the digital archives, "Notes form the Conference of July 18th, 1925 on P.N.E.U. Methods".  Teachers from P.N.E.U. schools responded to a questionnaire and this paper is the result. (BTW, this is a treasure trove of info for those  seeking to implement Mason in their classrooms and homes!)

The term "silent narration" is repeated in the document.  Now, Mason herself never used the term, as far as I can see.  1925 was just 2 years after her death, so I'm assuming things hadn't changed that much just yet.  Here is the closest reference to the practice by Mason that I could find.  She is responding to critics of narration who say it is simply  memory work.
The value of this criticism may be readily tested; will the critic read before turning off his light a leading article from a newspaper, say, or a chapter from Boswell or Jane Austen, or one of Lamb's Essays; then, will he put himself to sleep by narrating silently what he has read. He will not be satisfied with the result but he will find that in the act of narrating every power of his mind comes into play, that points and bearings which he had not observed are brought out; that the whole is visualized and brought into relief in an extraordinary way; in fact, that scene or argument has become a part of his personal experience; he knows, he has assimilated what he has read. This is not memory work. Vol. 6 p. 16
And here she describes how  adults narrate -  "To secure a conversation or an incident, we 'go over it in our minds'; that is, the mind puts itself through the process of self-questioning which I have indicated." Vol. 6 p. 17

moss and lichen at the Pipestone National Monument
In the "Notes", I find silent narration referred to in a few different contexts, all within classrooms.

1. The subject matter read is too intimate and the student could possibly be embarrassed. 
"Some exercise which depends upon previous silent narration is often possible where a straightforward oral narration cannot be obtained, the difficulty being that some of the subject matter is very intimate and children sometimes will not narrate it, especially the older girls and boys, but they will do work on  what they have read." p. 12
2. As a  form of narration being used in Forms IIa and III (approximately grades 5-8)
"Narration after all readings of set books; oral in Forms Ib and Ia; oral and written in IIb; oral, written, and silent in IIa and III." p. 13
3. When doing individual study in Form III.
"Form III when doing private study narrate silently."
falls at the Pipestone National Monument
As an adult, I try to apply silent narration after a good talk, an inspiring sermon, a thoughtful book.  As Mason mentions, this is an excellent way for us to really know about something.  But in the classroom, I really hadn't thought about using it.  Or maybe I have.  During Picture Study, when we go over what we saw in our minds?  Hmmmm.  How about when we are all reading something, and I ask everyone to think it over silently before it is narrated by someone? But in each of these cases, an oral or written narration would follow.  Regardless, I may need to see about implementing this intentionally if the situation suits it.

After all this, I found a Parents' Review article that sums up the use and usefulness of silent narration well.
There are two more forms of narration which can be practised here:  in one, the pupils set questions to the class in such a way as to cover the whole of the lesson.  This can be very interesting as there is much art in the setting of a good question.  The other form is silent narration.  This everyone should master, if only for its usefulness in after school life when one wants to do some serious reading at home or in the course of some form of higher education.  Narration in silence needs great concentration, but once mastered it gives the possessor the power of carrying on his education for the rest of his life.
I'd love to hear your thoughts on this!  Do you use silent narration?  Do you have your students silently narrate?

From joy to joy,
oldest and his friend at the P.N.M.!


  1. This makes me think of meditaion - thinking over what we have read or heard. But this usually happens in a rather disorderly fashion. Do you think CM meant to think on or meditate on something in a more ordered way?

    1. Rachael,
      Well, I think that she knew that years of oral and written narration would eventually help the student to simply think this way. I wonder if she would have approved of the silent narrations in the classrooms. Certainly, what is described in the "Notes" is intended to be much more ordered than a meandering meditation - more along the lines of a formal, oral narration just said to oneself. Hmmm...

      From joy to joy,

  2. My mind is blow! I love learning something new!

  3. Nancy,

    What a very interesting topic. I wonder if inadvertently we are actually training our kids towards this practice. When we ask them to read their lesson and to be prepared to narrate; the narrations, hopefully, have been thought out and given in an orderly manner. I'm always amazed at how the children organize for themselves what they've read and then produce it orally or written, for the older child. I would think that this is a process that they make a habit thus naturally doing it with anything they read; as long as it is meant to keep their attention. Thanks for sharing some food for thought.

    Wishing you and your family a Blessed Easter,

  4. Silent narration usually becomes discussion which this from the PR article. I think you can tell who had little knowledge or opinion. Usually another student corrects the opinion, at least with my high school students! I like the middle school info in the PR ~~ and in the NOTES , the books that worked well and ones that didn't AND what to do with " slow " children. From the PR:

    At about this stage a lesson should often end with some serious discussion arising from questions asked by the children or by the teacher. One has to be careful not to allow opinions to be formed on too little knowledge; it is an opportunity to show children how dangerous such carelessly formed opinions can be. This teaching develops as the children move up through the school.

  5. I'm excited about this! I hope to read the original in the archives.