One of my goals this year for Astroboy is learning 500 characters. Last year, I wasn’t consistent and we only went through 40 characters. This year, at least for now, I’m feeling gong ho. Especially when I’ve been telling everyone who is on the fence about using Sage that it only takes 15 minutes a day. I can do 15 minutes a day myself can’t it? We started about 3 weeks ago and we’re now on book 5 of first series, yay!
Okay, you can definitely do just 15 minutes a day. But I probably spend closer to 30 minutes with Astroboy. I recently remembered once again that Chinese characters are whole words and that I ought to try and use some whole words approach when teaching reading. Whereas Thumper wheezed through the books due to her age and foundation from preschool, Astroboy is doing it pretty much step by step. So I’m now developing a new routine:
1. First Day: Read 10 chapters to him. I make sure when I read, I glide my hand under the text. Gliding is important because once a child learns how to read, you don’t want their fingers to be bouncing from character to character, it’ll slow them down. I also pause 3-5 seconds on characters that I know he has learned from previous day or previous book but cannot remember. This is forcing him, if he were paying attention, to recall the character. Sometimes he will remember and say it for me. Other times I say the character and move on. And yet other times, he gets ambitious and then wants to read every chapter. I just let him.
2. Rest of book: 3+ characters a day. I normally start out by going back 1-2 characters and seeing if he remembers it. If he doesn’t, we re-read before moving onto new characters. After awhile he will resist re-reading, even if it’s clear he doesn’t remember, so I don’t push the issue too much. Because we will review some other way.
When we read, I make sure to draw his attention to the illustrations. Partly to train him to use illustrations as clues to text and also because it helps him remember. Astroboy finds the illustrations so funny sometimes. Some days I’m even able to let him re-read the text himself without me sitting next to him because he can follow along with the illustrations. (and laugh and laugh loudly to himself, much to Thumper’s annoyance.)
This year the way I’m trying to stick to 3 characters a day is to try to do this even during non work periods. For example, on days when we have our co-op or field trips, I take this in the car. Thumper reads her books and Astroboy reads through 3 characters. Since car trips are short, it’s just about right for both of our patience.
3. After completing a book: Games
Astroboy definitely has problems with remember very abstract characters like 什麼，會. It always helps when we play Chutes and Ladders or 打蒼蠅 or any of the other games I make up. Pretty much I need games that force him to recall the characters somehow, especially ones where he has to really examine the character closely.
What I have noticed is that I don’t need to make sure he remembers every character before moving on. Whereas Thumper remembers her characters by stories I tell her or she makes up, Astroboy remembers by pure repetition, namely, daily reading. I’ve noticed that maybe he doesn’t remember a character today or tomorrow, but 5-10 chapters later, he remembers them. Sage is a genius in the way they repeat characters.
4. Readers, zhuyin, treasure boxes
After all this review, it is time to read some books. I plan to continue writing books, and he has the Sagebook Treasure Boxes (寶貝盒) when he finishes one level. From the zhuyin class, I realized that the mistake I made last year was asking him to illustrate books. So this year I plan to write better books that he can color in.
It is important to read other books because after awhile I see that he remembers the text from the book, and that is why he can say them easily. But put another book in front of him with the same character and he doesn’t remember.
On our nightly story time, I’m constantly saying, “Oh look! You just learned this character this week!” He often draws a blank, clue to me he didn’t remember even though he was reading fine during the day.
Sometimes when we review, I also use zhuyin since he knows a bit of zhuyin right now. One activity is to write the zhuyin of each character at the back of the flashcard. Another one I did last week was to write it next to the Chutes and Ladder characters he doesn’t know. Obviously doesn’t help him remember the character, but he gets his zhuyin practice in.
Right now, we’re zipping through about 1 book a week since I’m doing 3 characters 7 days a week. I think after the first set I will need to slow down. One thing with Sage is that if you don’t use it you lose it. I know Astroboy will remember more if he had to use it or work with the characters. So maybe, one of those days when I have prep time again, I will make some practice sheets or other Montessori-inspired work for him. He’s not writing so we’re not practicing by writing yet.