This week, we continued our work in Sagebook. Those flashcards are making learning a bit easier because there are so many uses for them. For Thumper, she’s starting to drag her feet just a little in learning new characters, and having trouble remembering them when introduced. I can see that she needs more work in the introduction part. For Astroboy, we’re having a good time playing games with the character flashcards. One night he told me, “I want to do 高山.” It’s what he calls the Sagebooks because those are the two characters he intimately knows from the first book of Blue Series. Warms my heart, especially since he lost interest last semester.
I owe it all to the games we can play with those flashcards. Now, I know there is an aspect missing in all this work, which is self-directed repetition without teacher. This helps build concentration and order. I’m still searching for an activity that is interesting and does that. However, right now my head is swimming with all the games I can think up with these characters. Next week I’m going to try a Hundred Board.
One reason the children have problem remembering is because we are not spending enough time in the introduction work. In Montessori-speak, the three-period lesson is how you introduce any new concept. This is actually documented in Eric Eriksons’ work. He was a student or student of a student of Montessori. I wanted to point this out because it’s something I’ve made the mistake of not doing again and again.
For Thumper, we’re still only writing sentences. This week I pre-selected 3 cards for each day and paper clipped them. By Tuesday she was getting the material out, selecting her 3 cards, constructing her sentence and writing them all down, all without my supervision. She just gets me when she needs me to go over the characters with her. I can tell though that she is starting to not remember some of the harder ones as now we’ve learned about 20 characters so I need to think of more materials that will help her retain the info.
Games We Played
Here are some of the games we’ve played this week to work on character recognition. Astroboy is really enjoying these games. Currently we’re working on all 20 cards in book 1 of Blue Series, because he has already read through the book numerous times since last semester, without a formal introduction to the characters. But he just can’t remember the abstract concept ones like 很, 有, etc.
1. Who can find the card the fastest?
I laid out 5-10 cards in order on the rug. I name a card and we see who can find it faster. When you find it, slap your hand on it. For some reason, Mama is always slightly late! If Astroboy gets it wrong, I get the card instead of him. I keep refilling the cards as we play so there’s always 10 on the rug. Whoever has the most card after the game wins.
After awhile, I let him call the cards out and name them. He likes to name them and slap his hand on it. This is kind of like writing before reading concept. He knows the word he wants to use so it’s faster for him than thinking about what I’m asking for and then looking for it.
2. Matching little cards to big cards.
Astroboy has his own set of dictionary. We played a game to see who can match the most number of cards. Of course I chose the easy cards to match while leaving him with the harder words. He has a lot of problem with all 20 cards out. I had to show him that we match from left to right, top to bottom (another indirect way to teach reading). I could totally write another post about how Montessori reading doesn’t help with Chinese reading (which is top to bottom, right to left).
3. Name the character
The kids take turns laying down cards for the other child, and see if they can name the characters. If the child cannot name it the other child gets to keep the card. They like this game because they’re competitive.
Theory of Three-Period Lesson
When you introduce characters, it is important to keep the Three-Period Lesson in mind so you can observe where the children are in their memorization of the characters. When the kids were babies and toddlers, to teach vocabulary, I often pointed to an object to name; “ball”, for example. Then in the next breadth I would say, “What’s this?”, and promptly get frustrated that the kids can’t name it. What’s so hard? I just told them what it was! After taking some classes, I realized I missed an important step, one step that actually takes the most time in the learning process, the three-period lesson.
On a side note, Montessori talked about this almost 100 years ago. But you won’t see people mentioning her. I did a quick search and there are lots of info out there about three stages of memory.
In the three-period lesson, the first period is naming, the second period is committing to long term memory, and the third is recalling from long term memory. Typically in a presentation you would do something like this:
- Bring out and name the three characters, 山， 高，上.
- Ask the child to do something with each character. Can you put 山 on your head? Can you hide 山 under 高? Put 上 on the table in the far side of the room. This part is where the concept is being committed to long term memory. If they are having trouble with this part, they’re not ready to recall!
- Point to each character and ask them to name it.
In How We Learn, the author pointed out that when introducing concepts, it’s easier to get if it’s in a multiple choice. Asking someone to recall an item (What’s the capital of California?) is much easier when that item is one of three items to choose from. Another trick is to ask before you introduce a concept; “One of these characters says up, do you know which one?”
Another reason I think Astroboy is having trouble recalling is because he doesn’t have enough practice with matching. Matching is a classic Montessori exercise, it permeates a lot of the primary (3-6) activities. It is a pre-reading skill. At home, we don’t do too many puzzles, but puzzles are a good way to prep for reading. Unfortunately, Astroboy doesn’t like doing them. Matching exercises asks the child to really examine a character very carefully, therefore helping them learn to recognize them.
Lastly, there is the Montessori concept that writing comes before reading. If you have to write a character it helps you remember it more. I would like to think of writing as something similar to matching. However, I think you can get into a trap because it is very easy to just not think when you copy characters. I feel like this is what Thumper is doing sometimes. She’s not forced to recall a word in her brain when she searches the dictionary. She can recognize the word, then just has to copy without thinking.
If a child can’t recall a character, it doesn’t help to beat her over the head by repeating the name again and again. Instead, know that you’re missing practice in the second period of the three period lesson and try to do more activities there. This is where matching, writing, games, etc come in.
I’ve got so many of these activities in my head. Right now, what I’m afraid of is that I’m just trying out this and that. I’m hoping that by writing these down, eventually I can make sense of them into a curriculum format.