I've been teaching Oscar and his comrades from my friends' families world history using Story of the World as our text. We're in Volume 3, Early Modern: Napoleon, the Boers, Toussaint L'Ouverture...
Up till now we've had a highly predictable lesson format:
- The four of us sit around the table.
- I read the chapter, pausing here and there to ask questions and stimulate discussion: tell me back what four things so-and-so did to improve his army? do you remember what year I said the British took over? was that before or after the Declaration of Independence happened over here in America? why did such-and-such a person decide to attack overland instead of by sea? what was different about how these two countries came into existence?
- We might also pause to work with a map or diagram, or to read a different book on a related topic, or occasionally watch a video.
- At the end of the chapter or the section, I guide the kids through the composition of a one-paragraph summary of the section, which I write down.
- I make copies of the summary and send them home with the kids, and they write it as copywork the next day, to be added to their history scrapbook along with the maps and things.
This takes about an hour once a week, and it's been a pretty good way to use SOTW. I'm always thinking forward, though, to next year, when I will need to start doing history with the next batch of children. We need more time in our day. Or else we need the older children to start teaching themselves.
Today I tried a new thing: I delegated.
"Today you will each have a job," I informed them. They looked at each other and made faces.
"The first person will be the Reader. Can you guess what the Reader's job will be?"
"Um, to read the book?" "I want to be the first Reader!" "No, me!"
"The Reader's job is to read the book, slowly and clearly, so that everyone can hear. And if someone asks, 'What did you say?' the Reader has to repeat it."
"Is the other person the Writer?"
"Wait, I'm getting to that part. The second person is called the Story-Hearer. That person's job is --"
"The Story-Hearer's job is to pay close attention to the events that happen in the story, and remember what happened in what order. The Story-Hearer should be able to tell the story back at the end."
"Do they have to write down what they hear?"
"No, just listen. The third job --"
"I know, the third person's job is the Go Get A Glass of Water And A Snack-er!"
"The third job is the Important-Thing-Noticer. The Noticer --"
"Has to notice important things?"
"Important details. Like the names of people and countries. Dates. Lists."
"Do they write it down?"
"Uh, maybe. We're going to try it a couple of different ways first."
Red, yellow, and green dies were shuffled and drawn blindly. Meira got the Reader job, Ben was the Important-Thing-Noticer, and that left Oscar to be the Story-Listener. As the Reader opened the book and began to read from the chapter about 19th-century colonial wars in Africa, I took a pencil and a sheet of blank paper and began taking notes. My idea was to model for the kids how it's done: listening for cues that tell you which bits you'll need to remember in order to form a coherent summary.
I had forgotten how difficult that can be!
I interrupted the Reader a couple of times to ask her to spell names, and said things like "Wait, what was that date?" in part because I really needed the names and dates repeated. But also because I wanted the kids to see that I needed, especially, to write names and dates down correctly. (Without having to be boring and announce, "Did you notice? That was a name! Names are important things! Notice them!")
Then I asked the Important-Thing-Noticer to tell the important things he noticed. He reported: "Shaka was the king of the Zulus. His mother's name was Nancy or something like that." (Nandi. Not bad.) "He improved the discipline of the army. He started to terrorize the other people around in... uh... I don't remember the exact year, but I noticed that it was after the Declaration of Independence happened and before the Civil War." (sounds of me cheering internally! yes! it was 1818!) "And he went mad and he got killed and his brother, I don't remember his name but it started with a D, became king after him."
And then I asked the Story-Listener to retell the story. Actually I asked all of them to retell the story with the Story-Listener's help. I wrote down what they said and composed as we went along, and they had their summary to copy for the next day. The kids then rotated "jobs" and did it again for the second half of the chapter.
It was a little bit rough and there was some overlap between the kids' roles, which frustrated one of the kids. I think I will do it a little bit differently next time. But I have, I think, the outline of how I'm going to teach them to sift through the history themselves. I want them to absorb the general outline of the story -- history IS a story after all -- but I also want them to remember rough dates, and which things were happening around the same time. By assigning these roles and taking turns with them, I hope to teach the kids how to pay attention BOTH to the overall outline of the story AND to the kinds of details that act as "pegs" to hang the stories on in their mind -- names, dates -- and later, how to take notes while they listen and then reconstruct those notes into a written retelling.