Monday, January 26, 2009

Talkative Teachers are Taboo in a CM Education

A Reader asked:
Hi there. I am a new homeschooler and I have a question about how you handle
year 1 literature. When reading something that is beyond the children's direct
comprehension, do you explain it to them or just let them ponder it themselves?
For example, Aesop's Fables uses language in a way that is not familiar to my
5&6 year olds. Should I explain what the fable means after it is read? What
if they ask or say that they don't understand it? What if they give me their
understanding of it and it is completely off base?

It is true that Miss Mason cautioned the teacher about getting between the children and the books. She didn't want the knowledge found in beautiful literary form to be diluted by our incessant explanations which she called 'talky-talk.' However, I believe there is a misconception going around in some CM circles that Miss Mason was against the teacher offering any words of explanation or having discussions with the children about their schoolbooks. I have discovered quite the contrary to be true by reading her works as a whole rather than taking a statement or two and trying to understand them in isolation. If you read Volume 6 carefully through, I believe you will discover many passages where she encourages the teacher to guide the children in their various studies through discussion. I will let you do the digging yourself and just touch on one passage from Miss Mason:

I can think of two sure-fire ways to guarantee carelessness in a class. One
is a teacher who constantly lectures and won't stop talking. We all know someone
in person who bores everyone by always explaining and clarifying. What makes us
think that children aren't just as bored by that? They try to tell us that with
their wandering eyes, listless expressions and fidgeting hands. They're using
every communicative aspect of their body language to tell us, and kindly adults
simply assume that it means the children just want to play or go outside. But it
isn't play they need; they only need to play some of the time. What they really
need is knowledge expressed in literary language. The chatter of their smiling,
pleasant teacher leaves them cold. And there's another practice that we think
makes learning easier, but that unwittingly contributes to mental lethargy. We
take pride in reviewing and going over and over the material to be sure that the
students get it. But that kind of monotony is deadly to children's minds. One
child wrote, 'Before we had these living books, we had to keep reading about the
same things again and again.
from the modern version, pg 52 of Vol 6 STowards a Philosophy of Education

It took me awhile to let go of my education degree and stop dumbing down the material for my children. At first, I felt I needed to explain every word or idea they may not have understood. Later, I realized that the children enjoyed the beautiful language even if they didn't understand every word. They were getting the big picture and that was what mattered. After narrating back to me, they sometimes revealed that they missed the big picture and so I would offer some extra words of explanation. In this way, the knowledge found in its original form was not diluted by my own attempts at clarification. I have caught myself at times offering too much explanation about a passage I was reading to my children. I realized it only after eyes began to wander and yawns escape a child or two. I think a good way to gauge ourselves is to make sure our comments are shorter than the passage itself.

one step at a time...


  1. Thank you for this reminder. I know with my kids I am constantly amazed at how much they understand in books that seem rather complex, even picking out subtle themes and foreshadowing while still in elementary school. Some are better than others, and I still need this reminder to not get in the way of their learning. Thank you!

  2. It is a fine line between wanting to force feed learning and allowing the learning to occur.

  3. Excellent explanation! I haven't read the CM method before yet that is what I do with my kids. When they have a question I ask them questions so they can discover their own answer.

  4. "Shorter than the passage itself." Very well said. I need to heed that advice.
    Thank you, Linda

  5. "I realized that the children enjoyed the beautiful language even if they didn't understand every word. They were getting the big picture and that was what mattered. After narrating back to me, they sometimes revealed that they missed the big picture"

    This so true! Sometimes I worry that I've "lost" my daughter somewhere in a difficult read-aloud [or audio book we listen to together]. If, though, I'm patient and finish she really has understood "most" or all of it. If not, she will usually speak up and say "what does X mean." I tell her--no big deal. Then she has an "aha moment" and continues her narration--sometimes revising what she said before.

  6. Many thanks!!

  7.'re back!
    Nice post.
    I usually let the book speak for itself...
    (I might botch it up!)

  8. Thank you all the work you do to teach us about Charlotte Mason. I have given you a blog award. You can pick it up at

  9. Thanks for such an encouraging and helpful blog. I have chosen you as one of the blogs that encourages me for the Lemonade Award.

  10. My second comment! I thought of this and held my tongue while we started reading Lamb's "Timon of Athens" this morning. My daughter was a little bummed to be done with snow days and eagerly looked at me for the "public school teacher explanation" when I asked for a narration after a few paragraphs. I did offer a hint--"what does wealthy mean?" She laboriously explained it, then slapped her forehead "duh" "Rich." We went on. In spite of not wanting this she ended up doing just fine! Thanks for the reminder to not "help" by talking and talking!

  11. Martin Luther said "it is better to remind than to teach".

    This statement tells me to use less words.

    I am not a HS mom, my children attend a Classical Christain school and I like this quote and wish I lived by it more.


  12. HI!
    I have a page on my website DAILY BLESSINGS
    called INSPIRED BY is a new page which is to be a compilation of writings from others who have inspired me...may I have your permission to copy and paste some of this post about the "talky teacher" to my website? I will include a link to your blog so that readers will have the ability to visit more your wonderful site!
    Please use the email link on my profile page to send me your reply...please reply whether you grant permission or not, so that I know!
    THANK YOU...and you TRULY have a wonderful site!