Research in positive emotion (i.e., happy, excited, enthousiastic, joyful, elated) show that it aids
(1) recall of material learnt
(2) retention of material learnt
(4) heightened attentiveness when risks are important to manage
As such, it is important to keep the child reasonably happy during the WHOLE process. Here is what I did…
(A) Keep My Daily Expectations Low
My son could do no wrong. He could only manage to recite 20 words at a time. So that was our target. Everytime he recited 20 words, I clapped and danced. I didn’t care that once he had moved on to the 2nd chunk, he had already forgotten the first. This way, the whole process was peppered with small successes. Every chunk was a success.
(B) Use Physical Touch
Sometimes he sat on my lap to recite. I hug and kiss him a lot as he toils. I have a Magic Nose that I stick onto his cheek, telling him that energy is flowing from me to him.
(C) Let Him Move Around
Walking around helps me think. When faced with many a complex problem, I have to walk to think them through. I allow Little Boy to walk around too. This gets the heart beat up and confuses the mind into thinking an activity is half pleasant.
(D) Play at Intervals
After every recitation, I would praise and sometimes, I would initiate a playfight or a pillowfight… or chase him around the room to try and bite his ear. This gets the heart beat up.
(E) Schedule Cardio Exercise Before Starting
Before he starts work, he has to swim or jog. This gets the heartbeat up and half confuses the brain into thinking that the memorization and recitation is halfway pleasant. There is nothing worse than sitting down in the morning to a dreaded dull activity. Get that heartbeat up in the morning and the motivational energy at the start is high.
(F) No Time Pressure
If he needs 7 hours, he gets 7 hours. As long as he is focused when he is supposed to be, I am fine.
(G) Keep the Learning Separate from Exams
Exam time is high stress. Learning is ineffective during exams. We did the major part of the memorisation in December, far far away from any CA or SA.
(H) Be Very Forgiving and POSITIVE
If there were some inaccuracies in the recitation, I overlooked them. If he forgot, he was allowed to go back and refer and redo. I NEVER got mad… NEVER criticised. Criticism is the easiest way to make a person give up on something. As long as he was reading and listening and trying to remember, my son could do no wrong. I clapped and danced whatever he produced.
However, it was important to me that he be able to READ the whole compo to me at the end of the day. If he couldn’t, he was assigned the same compo again the next day.
(H) Use Compos not Novels for Memorising
Compos are short compared to novels. They have a quick start and end. This is good because they provide multiple short haul wins. Praise and celebrate every end of compo. This shortens the feedback loop. The child can draw one stick on the wall to mark his achievement every day. If your child is very discouraged, just do one para only.
(I) Take Joy in His Recitation
If you hate the language, then please pretend. I did truly enjoy the sound of the prose because I am sensitive to the the beauty of language. Any language. The most motivating thing in the world is to be able to share an experience WITH someone.
A journey companion motivates. Don’t diss a child’s need for your companionship. Give him/her ample companionship and he will one day naturally learn independence. I was my son’s faithful companion for 10 months. This of course, gave me time to mess around in the KSP forum too. I lived the past 10 months for my son. He didn’t give up because I was there for him every step of the way, without judging his efforts and never negative.
I accepted EVERY paltry effort he gave, even if I knew that there were mistakes because given enough exposure, the mistakes would correct themselves. Also, it was important to learn to recognise a critical mass of words before actually correcting writing etc… Knowing enough words creates a critical mass of competence that will motivate him enough to be resilient to criticism. When a child is particularly incompetent at something, don’t criticise no matter how frustrated you are. Instead, celebrate every small win, no matter how ridiculously insignificant. The way I reacted to his 20 word chunks, you would have thought my son had won the Nobel Prize. Take it slow and take each day as it comes. Love him/her a lot along the way.
In my own research on how people accomplish impossible things, one of the things that kept coming back in the interviews was companionship. Many many people told me that they stuck with the crazy goal because someone loved them and was there by their side to give moral support and to share it the pains and the joys.
Questions from Parents
(i) My son cannot remember anything he recited after he recited it. Is that a problem?
Guess what, my son also could not remember a thing after reciting. It did not matter at all. After reciting one chunk to me, he promptly forgot half of it. It does not matter.
You see, people good at Chinese have developed mental heuristics that help them recall and retain. It’s a bit like a mental highway for Chinese words. The development of this mental highway is SUBCONSCIOUS.
The development of this mental highway requires a high volume of daily exposure to the language. Many words flow through and like soft water flowing through a cave, they will slowly but surely cut a wider and deeper path for more words to flow through faster. It doesn’t matter if the words don’t stick around in conscious memory.
Keep moving on to new chunks.
Last year, Little Boy spent 2 hours learning a list of ting xie. Now, he can learn his ting xie in 30 minutes. His subconscious brain has developed some mental heuristics that help him learn faster and better now. At first though, he remembered ZERO too. Never mind.
It wasn’t until he had memorized 15 essays that I started him on writing.
(ii) Isn’t it better to memorize before exams for short-term recall?
No it isn’t. Short term memory is quite limited in capacity. Better to work on long-term recall.
(iii) Can I use this with my P1 child?
You don’t have to. You don’t have to cram in P1. PSLE is 6 years off. Me, I am desperate. There are other ways to expose the child to language. I would have done it differently if I had started in P1.
Of the 25 +49 + 54 compositions reported in the blogpost before this, Little Boy only memorized 25. After that, he possessed enough mental heuristics to recognize and remember characters. So, we transited to reading 2 model compos a day, and highlighting yummy phrases. He then gave himself ting xie.