Introduction to Criticism Lessons
As you put together your plans for the upcoming school year, I want to share with you a tremendously helpful article! What we have here are notes that Charlotte Mason made while evaluating teachers teaching students in her school. And some of those notes may surprise you! There are lots of teaching tips from Charlotte Mason here accompanied by CM biographer Essex Cholmondeley’s remarks.
I share this article often as 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.
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; or, 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.
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.
It is the teacher’s duty to show by her attitude that, though other religions have light, our religion has the supreme light.
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.)
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 does 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.