Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Wednesday Commonplace: On Being a CM Teacher

I have been really enjoying Laurie Bestvater’s new book The Living Page, a discussion of the use of notebooks within the framework of a Charlotte Mason education.  The type of notebooks she discusses are primarily the nature notebook, the commonplace book, and the Book of Centuries, although a few other notebook types are mentioned too.  She has really done her research in CM’s own writings and the notes and examples left behind from her training college and the PNEU schools and gives a lot of really wonderful details about how CM really intended these books to be used, why they are beneficial, and practical examples and ways to get started.   "Notebooks" as CM intended were meant to give a student a 'blank page' on which to respond - to take ownership of their own learning, to give a place to make their own connections, to help develop the ability to wonder and attend.  The idea of notebooking set forth in this book is not at all the same idea as the notebooking commonly used in the homeschooling community today - it is far more than coordinating printables or a gathering of student work from the year into a binder to show progress.  I would say the notebooks described in this book are really more akin to personal journals than the idea of "notebooks" that most of us have.
When I first got it, I read the whole thing through in just a couple of days, now I am re-reading it slowly to more fully consider the ideas and how we can start to use them in our homeschool.   I was struck by these passages from Chapter 4:
“…it has been my experience that Mason’s ‘fine art of standing aside’ is not so easily grasped.  It takes a teacher deeply immersed in Mason’s writing and practice…to ‘safeguard the initiative of the child’, intuit the right level of support and encouragement for each individual child’s best discovery and growth.  Often the prevailing worldview creates an anxiety to ‘get on with it’, and drives the beginner to want to practice before the theory or even instead of the theory…We may need to review Mason’s unhurried rhythms to adjust our pace before considering the practical out-workings I have attempted to gather from her writings and lay out in this chapter.”  (p.69-70)
“[Teachers] are not selecting the exact content for the notebooks, but they are making themselves familiar with the parameters and genius of each venue, looking over the day’s work to see where certain kinds of narrations suggest themselves, balancing the written, drawn, sung, painted, acted, etc. and generally curating the feast so that the notebooks become (over time) a natural means of response…Mason teachers spend much of their thought and effort on the nuances of the forms, the needs of each learner, and on cultivating a classroom atmosphere that will foster self-activity.”  (p.70)
“We let the children do their own rightful and meaningful work.” (p.70)
“Parents can come to see in concrete ways how the rationale of Mason’s student-produced books, excepting copywork of course, is not so much to directly reproduce knowledge but allow personality to work on what has been taken in.”  (p.71)
We are preparing to get back into our homeschooling rhythm next week after about 5 weeks away (due to a conference, a co-op session, and a bit of a spring break), and I deeply appreciate this reminder NOT to put the practice before the theory.  I think it is really important to understand the ‘why’ behind CM’s methods before we try to use them.  One reason I appreciate Ambleside Online and the Forum is that it is set up in such a way to encourage parents to do this.  They give us the tools needed, but they haven’t gone so far as to do the work for us – there are no scripted lesson plans that tell you exactly what to do, for example.  It’s up to the parent/teacher to educate themselves about CM’s methods and then apply that knowledge to the booklists and other suggestions that Ambleside provides.   As I consider the remainder of this homeschool year moving on into the next, I see that the most important thing I can do is to prepare myself as a teacher  - to deepen my understanding of Mason’s principles and how to apply them to my specific students and situation, to remember that my job is to ‘spread the feast’ and allow my students to do their own ‘rightful and meaningful work’, and to model for them what an enthusiastic life-long learner looks like. 
Oh, and while we’re on the topic, I just saw that Brandy is starting a new series on becoming a CM teacher over at Afterthoughts : Learning How to Live.  I’m really looking forward to what she has to share!

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