This is my fourth year teaching Japanese at the high school level. I often find that there exists this ceiling of how proficient our students can be, or how "good" someone can get at a language. I also sometimes run into situations where teachers of a language have set the bar for their students, and going beyond that expectation seems 'impossible".
On March 4, 2017 5 Marysville students competed in the 18th Annual JASCO Speech Contest in Dublin, Ohio.
The following were the speech topics of our students:
Meghan Bradley (12th grade , MHS)" My trip to Japan"
Garrett Brown (12th grade, MHS) "My Japanese Experience"
Eve Hawley (10th Grade, ECHS) "My life"
Zack Dumbauld (10th Grade, MHS) "Photography"
Zach Shafer (10th Grade, MHS): "Singer"
I have attended the speech contest ever since I was a student teacher, and I love watching how it has grown with various levels. When I was student teaching one of the students in our class ended up placing in the top 3. I remember how proud I was of my students even though I wasn't their real teacher, and how it felt when all the practice sessions finally paid off.
Last year we had 4 students make it in the top 10 to compete in the contest, after only studying Japanese for 1.5 years and being in the their second year Japanese 2 class. It was so cool to see them up there competing with upper level students. Even though they didn't place in the top 3, one of our students won the pronunciation award.
Learning a second language takes courage, as it makes us vulnerable, and sometimes unsure of ourselves. Making mistakes and forcing yourself to be uncomfortable and nervous in front of people is not always easy. When things aren't easy, we usually either shut down and give up, or choose to attempt to conquer. Persevering is harder because it means that we might try, and in the end still fail. That experience in itself is worth entering the contest. Knowing that you wrote something worth performing, and then getting up on stage in front of family, strangers, teachers, and judges is both amazing and terrifying at the same time.
When preparing for the speech contest students memorized their essays chunks at a time, and then performed them for me, for other people, for their parents, friends, and classmates. We also practiced answering questions pertaining to their essay in order to prepare for the question/answer session from the judges at the speech contest. This is essential so that students know their speeches in and out as well as feel comfortable answering questions. But truthfully, if Japanese or any foreign language is taught communicative in a proficiency-oriented setting, students will be exposed to hearing the language and be used to speaking it on a daily basis. Therefore, the question-answer session for us was not that challenging. Nerve-wracking, but not impossible.
This year, 2 of our students ended up placing in the speech contest. Zach Shafer won the Consul General Award, which is a special prize which the Consul General awards to his favorite performer's speech. Zack Dumbauld won 2nd place in the contest. I could not have been more proud.
I am excited to see what next year has in stock for us!
This past November I attended the annual ACTFL Conference in Boston. As usual, there were tons of great sessions to choose from, and I had a tough time narrowing down the one I wanted to see. Many of the world language teachers, especially Japanese teachers know of Yo Azama, 2012 ACTFL Teacher of The Year. He often gives talks at the language conferences I attend, and is very popular among the Japanese teaching community. This year a session titled "Impact on the Global Citizen: Language Learning Through Social Justice" presented by Yoshiko Saito-Abbott, California State University, Monterey Bay and Yo Azama, North Salinas High School, caught my eye and I was glad I got there in time, because at some point it became standing room only! Yoshiko Saito-Abbott is also the current president of the American Association of Teachers of Japanese, or AATJ.
Their presentation focused on implementing social justice themes into our teaching, in any world language course, but their examples were specific to a Japanese classroom setting. This could be done in any class, but what is more fitting than a world language class, where our goal is to build more culturally aware global citizens? Aren't our classrooms the perfect safe spaces for change-making critical dialogue to take place? Are we doing our students a disservice by not creating spaces for uncomfortable conversations to take place? Who is truly uncomfortable, the teacher or the students?
Yo Azama's presentation broke down a unit which he taught in a Japanese 3 class, focusing on the theme of an "ideal city or town". His unit plan had students research various places in Japan, compare and contrast various living aspects such as crime rate, cost of living, etc., as well as discuss poverty issues and hunger in Japan and in his home town.
I really wanted to do something like this in my own classroom, so I took the plunge and created a unit based off of his unit ideas and vocabulary. I added some words of my own which I thought would pertain to the topic, but the basis of the unit theme, activities and discussions, stemmed from his presentation.
As a summative assessment right prior to my maternity leave, I had students create group presentations in which they researched various aspects of Japanese culture and compared them to American culture, such as homelessness, policing, soup kitchens, shelters, as well as ideal living situations and fairness vs. unfairness. I initially wanted them to create a PSA (public service announcement), but the groups each took their own spin on it, and each presentation was different, and I ended up liking the varying results.
Below is the project outline I had for my students:
I also had some pretty "high-level" vocabulary which guided our discussion throughout. Like I said before, I cannot take credit for any of this as I used Azama Sense's unit outline and vocabulary ideas as inspiration. If you take a look at the list below, you might at first think that these types of words are "too hard" or unreachable, but as with many aspects of language learning, if students are presented words, patterns, etc., in a meaningful context and are asked to apply it to their own lives, the idea of "hard" becomes irrelevant. I always thought difficulty was subjective and my students proved to me once again that if the topic is something they can get passionate about, then the words flow naturally out of their mouths.
Lastly, I want to say that I believe I was able to give my students the space to bring up topics that otherwise would not be discussed in their other classes, or maybe even in their home lives. Students were given a voice to speak about their experiences and their lives in a second language. How can it get better than that?
The Japanese program in Marysville is in its third year, offering Japanese 1, 2, and 3 at both Marysville High School and Early College High School, as well as Japanese 1 and 7th grade exploratory Japanese at Bunsold Middle School. Our program is currently the largest Japanese program in the state of Ohio with over 200 students enrolled in all three schools. We have built this program from the ground up, adding one level of Japanese at a time. I have had the pleasure to choose a relevant curriculum which is always growing and updating itself with the students’ interests and passions in mind. We don’t use a particular textbook or written curriculum. Instead, we teach high-frequency vocabulary and sentence patterns in order to get our students to be able to communicate and have useful language skills right away. Everything is contextualized and builds on itself, so students are repeatedly exposed to material until it becomes second nature.
Students want to learn to be able to communicate in a second language. I believe that world language programs should reflect students’ goals and teach towards language proficiency. Japanese classes here are taught in 90-100% target language from the first day of Japanese 1. The goal of our Japanese program is to have our students be able to communicate in Japanese. So often students take many years of a language without being able to hold simple conversations and exchange ideas on things that matter. We teach our students to make mistakes, grow from them, and not be afraid to speak. Students are exposed to authentic sources from the very beginning, as they are taught to take risks, guess at meaning, as well as use context clues to grasp ideas from any format of text. Japanese 1 students can analyze menus, children’s books, shopping guides, and advertisements from the first month of school. Japanese 2 students take these interpretive skills and build on them by analyzing ideas, points of view, as well as arguments in short articles, blogs, cooking videos, as well as advice columns.
What makes our program stand out is the rate at which we teach written characters, as well as how we incorporate grammar into our instruction. We teach the entire hiragana alphabet in the first couple weeks of school, 5 characters at a time. We then move on and introduce the katakana alphabet at the same speed, after which we teach about 100 kanji characters. All of this is done in Japanese 1. What I found with my high school experience is that the written language was introduced very slowly, and I was never taught much kanji, which hindered me in the long run. The rate at which we introduce characters allows our students to be able to read, write, and communicate much faster, as Romaji disappears from their lives 2-3 weeks into Japanese 1. Students are continuously exposed to Katakana and Kanji through almost daily authentic source analysis, making their recognition and production skills almost automatic. I am passionate about the fact that our program teaches students to communicate and produces students which can compete in speech contests after 1.5 years of Japanese language instruction. I couldn’t be more proud of the students in our program who score in the 90-99% nationally on the AATJ National Japanese Exam, as well as the student I had last year who scored 1st place nationally.
Students acquire grammatical patterns, particles, and tense changes through natural exposure to the language spoken in class, and application of the language with peers. I never discuss the meanings of particles, the names of the grammatical terms, or the conjugation of verbs. Instead, students pick up on patterns with gestures, pictures, as well as comparisons of situations and various questioning techniques. We read and act out stories, find patterns, and apply those patterns to the language that is being taught.
In order to build a successful language program, it is essential to advocate and lead with proficiency-based teaching practices to build a comprehensive language curriculum. In Marysville we work together to make sure that not only are our Japanese classes fun, engaging, and relevant at every level, but also to set the proficiency expectation bar high from the beginning. Our students learn about proficiency from the first day, whether in Schubert Sensei’s middle school classes, or in my high school ones. We show examples of the ACTFL proficiency OPI's with learners of English, and use the SUSHI TALK I created based on Sarah Cottrell's TACO TALK. Our students know our expectations at the middle and high school level, and most importantly, the middle school classes serve as an introduction and connection to the overall program. It is so important to build interest at the lower grades so that students can anticipate taking the language for a longer period of time, and look forward to all the things they will be able to say in the future!
The city of Marysville has recently signed a friendship city agreement with Yorii Machi is Saitama Prefecture, which has allowed us to create a student exchange program. We work alongside the city to foster that relationship as well as get a lot of support from local Japanese companies, as Japan is the number one foreign investor in the state of Ohio. We advocate for our Japanese program by putting on various events, such as our annual Evening of Japanese Culture, which is sponsored by local companies and showcases many examples of traditional Japanese culture and food.
When Ayane Hida from The University of Findlay visited our classes in January, she taught us about the importance of characters in Japanese culture. Many prefectures in Japan are known for their characters and these are used to increase tourism, sales, and create a sense of pride and unity within the community. All of our students used a pencil to draw up their own character ideas for Marysville and MHS/ECHS. There was a common theme of lions, turtles, and of course, corn. We narrowed it down to three designs. We picked them because they were similar in shape, simple, and had the cute factor.
Eve Hawley, Rachel Clarridge, and Aaron Schoby designed these 3.
This was the digitalized result:
Archie the tortoise is for Early College High School because they have a pet tortoise. It is also wearing a bandanna with gears, which symbolize the STEM school engineering focus.
Monarch the lion is for Marysville High School because our mascot is a monarch, a strong lion and leader. (Our version is so much cuter!)
The one in the middle, Corn-chan is just super cute and all the students in Marysville thought that corn was a symbol in our town.
We plan to utilize these characters as symbols of Marysville Japanese and sell shirts with them on it, as well as promote them during our culture events, honor society, etc.
This year we were also able to start our very first chapter of the Japanese National Honor Society. Eligible students had to be in their second year of Japanese with a 3.0 cumulative GPA and a 3.5 in Japanese classes. Schubert Sensei and I had the distinct pleasure of inducting 22 students on April 30, 2016 and we couldn’t be more proud! The event included guest speeches by JR Rausch of Marysville, Eric Phillips of Union County Chamber of Commerce, Damon Robinson of FT Precision Inc., Isao Shoji or Japan America Society of Central Ohio, and Jun Kawabe of Ohio Wesleyan University. Our students got to hear firsthand the wide range of benefits and experiences that studying Japanese can bring, as well as say a few words on their own about their experience studying Japanese at Marysville. The ceremony included reading of the oath in both Japanese & English, as well as a candle lighting, and a delicious reception of Japanese finger-food afterwards. It was great to get a chance to mingle with parents as well as see how Japanese has impacted students personally. The mission of the Japanese Honor Society is to serve as a bridge of international understanding between the US and Japan as well as an ambassador to promote friendship between the two countries. JNHS members will teach Japanese to elementary school students for a period of 5-8 weeks as well as serve as tutors to the lower levels of Japanese at both ECHS and MHS. Next school year we will fundraise by selling t-shirts with the amazing Marysville characters on them: Monarch the lion, Archie the tortoise, and of course Corn-chan.
Here is the program from our event:
On April 5, 2016 we successfully put on our second Annual Evening of Japanese Culture, in order to advocate for our language program, showcase Japanese culture, and raise money towards the Japan trip 16 MHS students are taking on June 14.
The event included the following:
茶道 tea ceremony
金魚すくい goldfish game
太鼓 taiko drumming
Not only were we able to raise over $5,000 to help our students, but we also had a huge turnout, great sponsors, and amazing community and business support! We could not have done this without all of your help! You can be on the lookout for next year’s culture event on Saturday April 8, 2017. Mark your calendars!
To see a list of sponsors click here.
To view photos from this year's event please click here.
Check out our event program!
"National Foreign Language Week "March 7-13, 2016.
This year, the week of March 7 – 11 is designated as Foreign Language Week. This year's theme is "Language Enriches the Mind." We decided to celebrate it by creating T-shirts with the theme phrase on the back in Japanese, Spanish, and English, since those are the languages offered in our district. This amazing idea came from our middle school Japanese teacher, Tanya Schubert, who told me that she had it at her high school when she was a student and it really grew each year.
We held a design contest and the middle school students submitted designs which would go on the front of the T-shirt. We then worked to get the "Language Enriches the Mind." phrase on the back in Japanese and Spanish.
Language Enriches the Mind
El lenguaje alimenta la mente
Finally, we promoted the t-shirt sales with this form:
They sold like crazy! Who wouldn't want a $6 t-shirt!?
We all wore them today and this whole week we had various announcements and about bilinguals and language learning as a benefit to our students and society!
The shirts were made by 3 B Graphics. Check them out!
I definitely suggest doing this with your students as a fun way to spread the word on language learning, advocate, and most of all create a sense of unity and membership as a language learning community!
Check out our photos, as well as this language poster from Middlebury!
This past summer we were in the process of searching for a Japanese Teacher for our middle school position. This teacher would be in charge of teaching Japanese 1 at the 8th grade level, as well as developing a brand new 7th grade exploratory program, which would rotate students about every 10 weeks or so. As you can imagine, the pool of applicants was quite small, since having a Japanese K-12 licensure is quite uncommon.
We ended up interviewing only two applicants; one over the phone, and one in person. During the interview I asked certain questions which would tell me more about the applicants teaching philosophy, focus in the classroom, understanding of proficiency, as well as their thoughts on assessment. We also talked about possible ideas for the 7th grade exploratory curriculum and its connection to the Japanese program overall.
In the end we hired Tanya Schubert, a graduate of University of Findlay, and that was the best decision ever.
In my previous blog I briefly discussed the success of our Japanese program, and how collaborating with one's coworkers to build a comprehensive language curriculum is crucial to its success. We work together to make sure that not only are our Japanese classes fun, engaging, and relevant at every level, but also to set the proficiency expectation bar high from the beginning. Our students learn about proficiency from the first day,whether in Tanya's middle school classes, or in my high school ones. We show examples of the ACTFL proficiency OPI's with learners of English, and use the SUSHI TALK I created based on Sarah Cottrell's TACO TALK. Our students know our expectations at the middle and high school level, and most importantly, the middle school classes serve as a introduction and connection to the overall program. It is so important to build interest at the lower grades for non-commonly taught languages, or all languages for that matter, so that students can anticipate taking the language for a longer period of time, and look forward to all the things they will be able to say in the future!
Tanya does amazing things in her classroom to promote our program, and to teach with proficiency in mind. She speaks in the target language 90% of the time. Can you imagine having a year or two of a language class with maybe 10-20% target language spoken, and then switching teachers and going to 90%-100%? You'd have to relearn how to listen. You'd have to relearn how to process. Most of all, the students' affective filter would be so high at the beginning. You'd spend a long time just trying to break that barrier down. Using the target language as the vehicle of her instruction, Tanya not only insures that her students are comprehensibly immersed in the language, but she also sets the bar for the high school courses, insuring that our program is connected and on the same page.
Tanya also does amazing things to ADVOCATE for our program. Her positivity is contagious. Her students think she's crazy and fun. This is KEY.
She set up a display in the glass cases at our middle school titled "Study Japanese!" She filled it full of Japanese artifacts we had, such as fans, chopsticks, dolls, maps, etc., The middle school students pass this display daily, and this way, they can learn a little something about Japan and maybe become interested in taking the language?
She has also brought up National Foreign Language Week, in which she participated in as a high school student, and how we can bring this to our students here. I am very excited for this.
Lastly, she is working together with our sister city Yorii, Japan which also has a HONDA plant, to set up a successful junior high school student exchange. Last summer 6 students and 2 teachers spent about 2 weeks in Japan visiting our sister city, schools, and staying with host families as well as touring Tokyo. This summer it's our turn to host, and about 18 students are coming to stay with us in Marysville, Ohio! We are so excited for this opportunity of cultural exchange! Tanya and her invaluable experience working as a translator/interpreter and administrative assistant, working alongside Japanese employees, as well as her experience setting things up for her university exchange students, really helps bring this project to life.
Having a fellow teacher like this as a coworker is an amazing asset. Stay away from the negativity. If you find one like this, cherish them, support them, mentor them, praise them, and most of all hold on to them and don't let them go!!!
You can read more about Schubert Sensei by reading her self-into in our fall 2015 newsletter here.
I am releasing this amazing image of both of us, in cartoon form, with our dogs.
copyright CJ Nemastil 2015
In November I decided to do a project with my Japanese 2 students where they had to use their interpersonal speaking skills as well as their presentational speaking skills.
I came upon this amazing idea accidentally, when I was scrolling through my Twitter feed and saw the following post:
"OFLA Tech @OFLATech Nov 6
Have students survey one another in the TL and report results in an infographic with http://piktochart.com It's a free infograhic maker."
I was in the process of teaching a unit on preferences, and students had been practicing and utilizing ways to compare things and activities, as well as give opinions on items, choices, classes, hobbies, teachers, you name it.
At first I went back and forth in my head about the possible topics I could assign, or what questions I could have the students ask each other. But then I quickly realized that I did not want to sit thorough 90 presentations on the SAME SURVEY. PLUS, this was not very student-centered. I really wanted this project to be student-driven, and like the focus of my class, I wanted students to have autonomy on choosing the topic they wanted to survey.
Here are my instructions for this project:
I had amazing results. The students had the chance to create their own sets of questions and this led to 90 very different presentations of students' opinions, likes and dislikes, free time activities, etc.
It was personalized to what the students cared about, as well as utilized fun and
accessible technology, and was a new format of presentation instead of the usual PowerPoint or Prezi. I loved that the piktochart website allowed for Japanese fonts and typing capabilities and for the most part was pretty user-friendly.
Mostly, this project allowed students to practice language, as well as create with language, and give feedback to others. After gathering their survey data, they compiled it into an easy-to read format with small graphs and charts, and then used those visuals to GUIDE LANGUAGE PRODUCTION.
Here is a link to an inforgaphic one of my students made.
If you look at the infographic, there is very little text, and no full sentences. Now, of course not all of my students' work was like this example, but I really think that this format encouraged preparation at home, as well as using the visuals just as a guide instead of the typical READING ENTIRELY OFF THE POWERPOINT SLIDE ( like they do in other subjects as well.... am I right?)
Here is a short snip bit of the same student presenting his infographic:
My takeaways from this idea are this:
I am a high school Japanese teacher developing my own comprehensive and communicative Japanese program in Marysville, Ohio.