PJPF (continued)

Report from the 17th Princeton Japanese Pedagogy Forum
(May 8-9,2010 at Princeton University)
Michiaki Murata
Senior Lector of Japanese language
Dept. of EALL

The main theme of the PJPF was “Innovative Approach to Kanji Education.” Kanji, i.e. Chinese characters, is one of the most important parts of learning Japanese. Students in Japanese language courses are required to learn at least 2,000 kanji in order to read newspapers, magazines, scholarly papers, and so on. Students spend a lot oftime and effort acquiring those kanji.

The presentation I was most interested in was the keynote speech by Prof. Yoshikazu Kawaguchi at Waseda University, Japan, titled “Innovative Ways of Teaching Kanji.” One of his ideas for teaching kanji is the Kanji Notion Map. In Kanji Mapping class, students expand their idea based on their association in their mind and spread the
map outward from center. For example, a student could write the word friend at the center and then spread out the map with such related words as student, sports, home, family, school and teacher. Once they draw a map, they exchange the map with another student and expand his/her map again. The mapping activity can also be done by two or three students together. The teacher goes to each person/group while they draw a map and teaches them the Kanji they want to know or assists students who may be having trouble expanding the map. After they finish mapping, each student picks up the most favorite “branch,” they talk to each other about them and then write an essay using the vocabulary in the “branch.”

There was a workshop about this mapping class on the second day of the conference. Five students (i.e. Japanese learners from different levels) attended the demonstration class and did the mapping with some teachers, who participated in the workshop. After the class, students mentioned that the mapping made it easy to write
an essay, had reinforced the kanji they learned, and was fun.

I agree that this mapping class will be fun and will provide students with motivation and satisfaction. But it may be difficult to adopt the whole activity into the Japanese classes at Yale because our schedule is pretty tight. I think that we can use the idea of mapping in all levels to reinforce the kanji students learn and the kanji they should know. And by exchanging the maps between students, they can also expand their vocabulary.

The presentation of Miharu Nittono, Columbia University had a lot in common with Prof. Kawaguchi’s idea except for the mapping activity. She presented many ways for students to practice and memorize kanji. Basically, she applied
traditional Japanese ways of learning kanji as well as the stroke order of the characters.

Overall, this PJPF taught me that everyone was spending a lot of time and effort to teach kanji, like we do. Most of the presentations included nice and new ideas but it will be a kind of fight against time/class schedule.  So we, at Yale, will have to create our own ways to apply the methods that I learned at this forum.

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