This post was started in May but I didn’t get around to finishing it till now.
Finally finally finally! We’re (mostly) done with Sagebooks!
It took us a whole school year to finish our Sagebooks. Astroboy approached Sagebooks at a much different way than Thumper. Yet at the same time, there were clear patterns on how both kids progressed through the books.
With Thumper, she’d learned at least 200-300 by the end of preschool. When we started on Sagebooks, she knew the majority of the characters in Set 1-3. Because she was 7 by then, she picked up the concept of phonetic and semantic components (部件) really quickly. Combined with a high comprehension skills and a penchant for using illustrations and sentence context as clues, she zoomed through Set 4 and 5 at the rate of about 1 book a day, despite not knowing a lot of characters in those 2 sets.
She basically finished the set in a few months once we set our mind to consistently study it.
In contrast, Astroboy spent all of age 4 on Set 1 book 1 and book 2. My plan this year was to start in August and finish by March by being consistent about having daily Sagebooks review.
Of course, the children seldom want to go along with my plan.
By December and Set 3, he started dragging his feet. Despite having Sagebooks on our workplans, he didn’t want to choose to do them and I didn’t
push ask him again until April, after we moved. In the meantime, he had learned zhuyin and for a period of 1-2 months, was reading picture books nightly for about 10-20 minutes.
In April, we restarted again by reviewing the end of Set 3 and starting on Set 4. I was so surprised when we zoomed through Set 4 fairly easily, and Set 5 just a bit slower. He basically learned a bunch of new characters through reading picture books and suddenly Set 3 and Set 4 were much easier.
By the end of May, we had kind of finished all 5 sets. However, back in August, I restarted him on Set 5 book 3-5 because he rushed through the last few sets and couldn’t remember most of the words.
We’ve now moved onto reading the Level 0 Bridging Books and picture books. I continue to see that he cannot remember many of the characters from set 5, and even some characters from the beginning sets. However, I’m not too worried.
Some things I learned watching Astroboy work through Sagebooks.
1. The first 1-1.5 set is the hardest.
As I mentioned, it took Astroboy a whole year to finish Set 1. Granted, I didn’t push him and in hindsight I don’t think he was developmentally ready. But what I did notice was the speed in which he picked up new characters. The first three books in Set 1 were definitely hard. We had to constantly review before moving on. We played Chutes and Ladders, try to write characters with our bottoms, played matching games, etc.
We still played some Chutes and Ladders in the second set, but not as often. By the third set, we didn’t need to except when he was really having issues with some characters.
It seemed the hardest part for him was getting used to memorizing characters in the first set. Once he got enough characters in, he was somehow using whatever he learned before to help him memorize new ones.
2. Knowing zhuyin helps in learning characters
Yes I know, Sagebooks doesn’t have zhuyin. But zhuyin characters are often Chinese character components. It helped him, especially in the beginning, to remember some of the characters, like 包 and 麼.
3. Move on if they consistently can’t remember characters
There were a few characters Astroboy consistently forgot in the first set, because they are abstract concepts, like 來 and 搖. In the first set, I played games with Astroboy. But he still forgot them. With both of us frustrated, I finally had to just move on.
Imagine my surprise that by the end of the second set, he remembered all those characters!
Sagebooks really is designed very well. They repetition of characters helps ensure he doesn’t forget. Now, obviously, there are some characters that aren’t repeated often, like 燕. But I find, for very common characters, I don’t need to be hung up on it and force my kid to remember it before moving on.
If I did that, it would take me way too long to finish the set and likely result in a kid who doesn’t like reading in Chinese, which is the ultimate goal. I just have to believe he will encounter the frequent characters also through reading and he will remember them again then.
3. Consistency is KEY.
I can’t emphasize this enough. The biggest lesson I learned last year is that with any curriculum I want to implement, if I don’t use it consistently, I am basically wasting the times that I did use it.
I was much much better about it this year. Even if we had doctor’s appointments, even if the kids had spring fever, even if we had extra playdates, I try to squeeze in 5-10 minutes a day to read the books.
For me, this is actually the most important aspect of using Sagebooks. You can’t slack off.
4. A break is okay if you substitute with similar activity
I know I just said consistency is key. But we took a break for 2-3 months because every reading session was met with “I don’t want to.” Though I
forced cajoled him into reading in the beginning, and he would get into it once we started, eventually he dragged his foot and couldn’t pay attention. Or would ask to skip characters he can recognize.
Since part of reading practice is for reading fluency, I knew we couldn’t keep skipping. I didn’t want him to learn all the characters but end up hating to read Chinese. That’s not the end goal. So we conveniently stopped doing Sagebooks consistently around the holidays and didn’t pick up till we moved.
As I mentioned, he came back to doing Sagebooks with tons of new characters recognized through reading picture books. It’s a new aha for me. That you could combine Sagebooks with zhuyin reading. Even though I think when he reads he likes to read the zhuyin only, he still looks at the characters.
This is definitely another option: introducing zhuyin after Set 2, preferably Set 3, and start reading.
5. Point out components as you teach
By about set 2, I started teaching components as I introduced the characters. I didn’t force him to remember them. I just mentioned it and asked him to repeat once in awhile. 草. 草字頭，早字底. Reading in the car is a super duper great way to force him to look at the characters carefully, since I’m driving and I really cannot be turning my head around every time he can’t remember a character.
During those times, I would ask him to point out the components to me and I can guess the character for him. If there was a phonemic and semantic component, I ask him to guess what character it is. (Honestly, not his favorite thing to do so I didn’t push it every time.) By the end of set 4, he was starting to pick up on the pattern and started guessing the pronunciation based on the components he saw.
To me, this is the second most important point. Teaching component is really the natural progression after you’ve learned enough characters (and therefore enough components). It is what will allow them to start reading without zhuyin eventually. It’s also a way for them to remember a character or guess its meaning.
6. Comprehension is super duper important. i.e. Sagebooks works better for native speakers
Without comprehension, you can’t guess from context. Astroboy tends to read a sentence through even when he doesn’t understand them. He doesn’t self correct. I finally realized, watching him read regular picture books, that his comprehension is really too low. I see it because for the toddler books, he can guess from context, and predict characters.
In addition, it is so much easier when he has to just learn how to recognize a character instead of learning the meaning of a character at the same time. Because learning the meaning is so much harder, requires more explanation, and also having him seeing it used in context in daily speech. That takes so much more time than just whatever the book can provide you.
So what’s after Sage?
We tried the first 3 sets of Greenfield but it really didn’t work for us because it’s too short, compared with the longer picture books he’s been reading. I think Greenfield is suitable for 3 to 5 year olds or anyone who’s just started reading. But for Astroboy, the level is too easy. Since it’s too easy, he doesn’t want to repeat read. Without repeat reading, he cannot remember the characters.
So now, we’re just trying to slowly level through our books. I learned from Astroboy that it is okay to continue reading picture books after Sagebooks. You don’t have to immediately move onto Little Bear or other Bridging Books. It all depends on the child’s developmental and comprehension level. Just like in English, picture books are still placed with early chapter books, you can also read long picture books as reading practice.
As I mentioned above, more than anything, the key to leveling up after Sagebooks is consistency in reading. Astroboy’s reading really improved with the 1-2 months he was reading picture books. Then we stopped and for a long time he really did not want to read any Level 0 books. Recently, we started back up with daily guided reading of the Arnold Lobel series. After about 4-5 days of consistent reading, he was able to read through a 60+ page Level 0 book more smoothly.
I see clearly now that Astroboy is stuck because of his comprehension. So my plan is to try and consistently read to him daily, and also consistently ask him to read to me daily. I don’t mind if he doesn’t read until after 7. I saw with Thumper how fast one can jump through books when the comprehension is high enough. Otherwise you just spend a lot more time in the same reading level. I now have to find way more Level 0 and Level 1 books than I did with Thumper.
But, sadly, it is logistically hard to school the two children differently. By this, I mean, maybe Thumper needs to be going to school and Astroboy can take his Gap Year, upping his comprehension though daily living. But, I can’t just leave Thumper behind. So Astroboy gets dragged a long bit and starts earlier on the reading.