This article shares the practice of using two kinds of iPad Apps to support writing in Chinese for year one students.
iPads have made an entrance into our classrooms, allowing students to learn autonomously. In the absence of a quality learning activity plan and within the context of a learning environment where traditional methods of teaching are breaking down and no clear guidelines have been established, this can cause confusion for both teachers and students and become a barrier for effective learning to take place. Through experience and research over the last year, and based on the age group and the low level of Chinese Character recognition, I made use of a two iPad Apps in my Chinese language class. Use of these tools enables students to consolidate their knowledge and conceptual understanding utilizing the iPad as a engaging teaching assistant when it comes to autonomous learning.
1) “我爱写字” (I Love Writing Chinese) – a great literacy teacher
It is often said that one can tell a lot about someone by the way he or she writes. A finely written Chinese character can be pleasing to both the eye and the mind. It can reveal both depth of spirit and richness of mind. “我爱写字” is an App that can help children improve their writing skill by checking how they write Chinese characters as they write them. Last semester, I began to adopt this App with the year one students. In the App “我爱写字”, there is an option called “我爱学习”(I love to learn) which helps children to learn new words. Through learning the order of the strokes and the phonetic aspects of the characters, it helps the students to be able to pronounce and understand the meaning of the words. Additionally, through the animated demonstrations of how characters should be written, it enables the student to learn about the rules of the stroke order of the language. Hence both motor skills and the mind are in action at the same time. Comments appearing when an error is made while working on the app also help the student to promptly correct their own mistakes. Using this iPad function can create a truly ‘one-to-one’ approach to learning; students take control of their own rate of progress according to their own circumstances and carry out independent or autonomous learning.
In the second semester of year one, the children discovered two other interesting and challenging sections within “I Love Writing Chinese” – ie “我爱挑战” (I Love Challenges) and “我要比赛” (Let’s Compete). The Ebbinghaus forgetting curve is used to present games with different levels to help advance learning as well as Chinese character competitions which award gold coins for achievements to “engage” students in participating. The children were excited to take up this challenge and they quickly got into the competitive spirit, which resonated very well with the year one studies. The students’ understanding of Chinese characters was strengthened through these games, as was their ability to use them in real life settings.
When I was correcting the students’ work one day, I discovered that when writing the Chinese character for ‘beautiful’ they had all written the final horizontal stroke as the longest. By cross-checking this against the set of new word cards provided by the school, it was evident that the last horizontal stroke should be slightly shorter than the third horizontal stroke. Therefore I asked the students to correct this. To my surprise, the students took out their iPads and used the “I love Writing Chinese” App to contradict me. They said “but the iPad writes it this way!” To clear up this doubt, everyone looked at the new word table in our textbook, and also looked online, and it was the students who turned out to be right. This showed that when using “I Love Writing Chinese” students not only learned the writing standards of Chinese characters, but also unconsciously formed careful observational skills. In addition, they were not afraid to call things into question or to express themselves. They made a natural transition from feeling like they are made to learn things, to wanting to learn things for themselves. Is this not the autonomous learning that we educators search for?
2) iFlyTek Voice Assistant – making writing fun
Compared with the kindergarten children, year one students’ use of language gets progressively more precise and students try very hard to express things correctly. They also begin to use more adverbs with precise qualities, making their spoken language increasingly vivid such as “cheerfully”, “painfully”, “happily”, etc. But they will often incorrectly use the Chinese adverb for negation, ‘bu’ (a negative prefix used before verbs, adjectives and other adverbs), to express a negative response or to deny something. Taking the language characteristics of year one students mentioned above into consideration, I decided to have students from year one to begin to keep a diary that was both deep in terms of content and wide in scope. Before attempting to get them to produce a piece of writing by themselves, however, there were three factors to be considered:
a) coming up with a meaningful subject to write about;
b) creating a rich language environment in which to write;
c) actually knowing how to write in Chinese characters.
Owing to the limited experience of year one students, producing a piece of writing is an extremely difficult task. More importantly, they cannot recognize or write very many Chinese characters. iFlyTek Voice Assistant is an App that supports voice recognition for Mandarin, English and Cantonese through its use of the iPad microphone. Students using this App can directly transform their speech into written characters. Through copying and pasting they can directly insert text into iBooks, Keynote or other text editors, thereby resolving the problem of a student knowing how to say something without knowing how to write it. iFlyTek Voice Assistant resolved this issue, but I still had to figure out a subject to write about and provide a suitable writing environment. Our upcoming inquiry-based unit focused on the life of plants. One task asked students to keep a record of the changes in a plant as it grew, so I chose this as the perfect writing subject. The students and I worked together taking photos of the plants every day using our iPads and used iFlyTek Voice Assistant to transform each student’s new discoveries into written characters and audio files, adding notes and commentary to the images as we went along.
Throughout this process, the children looked forward to the plant changing every day. It only needed one child to see something new and all the children quickly took photos, recording the observation and their feelings towards it in both words and images. The surprising thing was the mathematical information that arose from these recordings. One child’s recording went like this: The first pot has two sprouting buds; the second pot has five sprouting buds; two plus five equals seven, so altogether seven seeds have sprouted. Additionally, students were consciously sharing ideas, inviting others to see their work and listening to each other’s views. They would then go off to modify their own records, refine their language, strengthen their logic and make it more scientific all of which creating a rich language environment. When the inquiry-based activity ended, the students collated their text and audio records into a considerable observation log, which they then sent to me by email and to print and keep as evidence of their growth. Each of the year one students who could not read many Chinese characters to begin with and write even less, ended up being able to finish this undertaking relatively easily with the support of iFlyTek Voice Assistant. Taking a more detailed look at the students’ work, the quality of the finished product may look to us adults as highly varied. But this is the first time these students have undertaken any writing and this kind of experience filled them with confidence to carry out future writing. Also, it was not necessary for the teacher to supervise the students throughout the entire process. The students learned observation skills, how to build sentences and how to write spoken language. More importantly, they learned how to actively share. Doesn’t every educator hope for this kind of approach to self-study?
Shiyu Li is currently a year 1 PYP homeroom teacher at Guangdong Country Garden School. She has always been passionate on what can be done inside and outside the classroom with the use of technology. She is an advocate for better classroom design and demonstrates it by utilizing the technology in her classroom and applies it in her teaching. Her ability to connect with her students and her talent of teaching contextual concepts are superior. She is a master digital educator at Country Garden School and has attained numerous academic qualifications to make her classes more enriching and significant.