We as teachers have the advantage of seeing “the big picture”. I know what vocabulary is on the curriculum for the year. I know that what we’re doing in class addresses those items. I know that I wanted to spend far more time and effort on speaking and listening than on reading and writing over the first semester, so that their second-semester reading would be reading instead of decoding of unknown language.
But they don’t. What they see is “it’s hard for us to read this now because we never read it before.” They see “we keep doing new words.” They don’t realize that they have really internalized the words we’ve done and are using them frequently without having to stop and think about it.
So, for reading, I’m trying a two-step approach. First we read a page or two of Anna as a class in Pinyin. They read silently, note the words they don’t know (this is more like typical reading methods in Spanish or French where there is an alphabet and kids can at least have some chance to recognize words they might know orally but not in writing yet). After everyone has finished (using “go back and write down the characters for each word if you finish early” as a form of differentiation), I translate slowly and deliberately into pidgin English, so as to follow the word order as much as possible, and they write down the English meanings. We have Q&A since there are always some words they miss. Then we discuss.
Step two is to wait for another day and give them a version of the book all in characters — no Pinyin. (The books we use for the first step have the characters on one page and the corresponding Pinyin on the *back* of that page, so that it’s accessible but not distracting.) They read quietly in pairs and work out the meaning, writing down the characters they don’t recognize. It’s surprising how much information they don’t remember from reading the book the first time in Pinyin, despite two readings, a translation and a discussion! Of course the other thing we really do have to keep in mind is that they have a lot of other stuff to memorize every day, so there’s quite a lot of noise roiling around in those heads besides just Chinese.
So far, I’m very pleased with their ability to read Chinese characters when presented in this way. We had been reading previously only in characters, with the true unknowns supplied with ruby text (this is easy using Open Office Write), but “Anna Mei Banfa” gives me much more material to use without having to write each evening. Since our curriculum list is based pretty much on the words used in “Anna”, plus some extras to round out certain topics, this is very much fulfilling our curriculum for the year, and they are definitely getting the structures they need to know.