Report from the Princeton Japanese Pedagogy Forum
(May 8-9, 2010 at Princeton University)
Lector of Japanese language
Dept. of EALL
I would like to write about a couple of things that I found interesting at the Princeton Japanese Pedagogy Forum.
The theme of the conference was “Innovative Approach to Kanji.” I learned interesting approaches to teach kanji and I would like to take them in my classroom activities.
I understand that when students learn Japanese, they have difficulty in memorizing Japanese characters, especially kanji, because of it complication. Many kanji characters have several readings for just one character, and many of them have complicated shapes. I believe that those are some of the reasons why Japanese is regarded as one of the most time-consuming languages to acquire an advanced ACTFL Oral Proficiency Interview Rating. However, by introducing new approaches to the classroom activities, students can learn kanji a little more easily.
The first presentation of interest was Prof. Kawaguchi’s “Innovative Ways of Teaching Kanji: Memory, Meaning and Method.” His way of teaching kanji is unique. In the classroom, normally teachers teach kanji in traditional ways. For example, when they teach complicated kanji and it consists of some elements of different kanji, they take apart each element and first teach each element as kanji characters to students. However, his ways of teaching kanji is different. For example, in the traditional way, elements are taught as kanji, but he sometimes considers elements as English alphabets, hiragana, or katakana. This is a very unique idea when compared with traditional methods. Moreover, he asks students to analyze the component of a complicated kanji character in their own ways. Sometimes, their analysis is completely different from original interpretation but as long as students can memorize kanji, it is acceptable.
I was also interested in another of Prof. Kawaguchi’s presentations, “Activity for Personalization of Kanji Teaching–Writing Kanji Cognitive Maps.” In this activity, a teacher gives a student a paper. In the paper, there is a kanji in the center of the paper. The teacher asks the student to write a new kanji which is associated with the kanji in the paper. Then the student draws a line to connect the two kanji. Next, the student writes another new kanji associated with the kanji which s/he has written in the paper and draws a line to connect them. The student continues this activity until s/he cannot write a new kanji. The paper s/he writes looks like a map. Finally, the student writes a short essay based on the kanji map. From this activity, students can learn personalized kanji and it makes students learn more kanji with enthusiasm since they can express their own thoughts in the target language.
For Japanese learners, learning kanji is one of the big obstacles. However, applying new methods to classroom activities, I hope students can learn kanji more easily and enthusiastically.