I have previously written about the importance of restoring the use of recitation within Religious Education Programs, referred to in the catechetical tradition as “Catechism.” With the near disappearance of this essential tool within the contemporary educational systems, both public and private, and current catechetical programs, most of us have not experienced a mentor utilizing the tool of recitation in a skillful manner. For most of us, it sounds like a relic of the past that stirs up a wide array of reactions. It is my hope to offer a few words on how to use recitation well.
Initial Habits for Successful Recitation
Recitation begins with the Amazing Catechist. The catechist must know the content of recitation. If the children are asked to memorize their recitation, they need to see that it is possible by seeing the mastery commanded by their guide and mentor in the catechetical enterprise. The catechist also needs to prioritize the use of recitation so that the children will be given a chance of making it a priority for themselves. Lastly, the catechist must properly plan for the classroom and designate the appropriate amount of time for recitation.
Recitation must become a habit that children come to expect in each class. Recitation is not like a craft, trivia game, or showing a video. These things can be used during some classes but are not typically found in all classes for the given year. Recitation is needed for every class. The habit of recitation creates a sense of universality, a sense that regular use of recitation is normative, and its absence is unnatural to their experience.
Catechetical recitation should have a degree of formal solemnity, or ceremony, within its place in a class. The way the catechist calls students to the beginning of recitation, standing, beginning, the rhythm, handling problems, and concluding should have a feel of joyous ceremony. This will create a healthy environment for enriching their ability to memorize and recite.
Recitation possesses the ability to strengthen a child’s memory, provide essential content and vocabulary for the day’s lesson, give them catechetical formulas that will remain with them for years to come, and allow catechists to see how their students are doing. How should the new recitation for the week be introduced? After reciting the recitation from previous weeks, since part of the power of recitation is its cumulative nature, the new recitation is offered at the conclusion of the previous weeks, “Now I will introduce our new recitation.” For example, the new recitation for a class of 1st graders might be:
Catechist: “Who made the world?”
Class: “God made the world.”
Catechist: “Who is God?”
Class: “God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”
Each catechist needs to find their own way for introducing the new content. I find that it is helpful to simply have it written on the board when the class arrives. Repeat it several times together. Then begin erasing a word or two while continuing to recite it together. For example, the board may look like the above points and then slowly erase the word “God”, then “made the”, and then finally “world.” Doing the recitation in rapid succession will motivate them to retain the original phrase within their minds while observing the remaining words to be found. I know other catechists that simply put it on the board and do not erase it. Others give it to their children on a sheet of paper.
The more a catechist perfects their artform of teaching and guiding recitation, the easier it will become for the catechist and students. This will allow recitation to move smoothly within a class, allow more time for the subsequent catechetical lesson that often follows, and allow the potential of “catechism”/recitation to be actualized within our classrooms and programs.