When Natalie Pearce started teaching Japanese at Beechboro Christian School (BCS) in the middle of 2016 she realized that she’d need to develop a fresh approach to meet the unique needs at Beechboro Christian School. Natalie brought with her more than a decades experience of teaching Languages and came to BCS from working as a Curriculum consultant for Languages and a lecturer in Language teaching methodology at Curtin University.
When she started at BCS she was warmly welcomed by the staff, parents and students and was struck by the friendliness of the school community and the enthusiasm for learning that the students had. The biggest challenge that she faced was that students were only allocated 30 minutes a week for Japanese classes. She quickly realized that, for this challenge to be overcome, she’d need to show creativity, flexibility, collegiality and a willingness to invest in the BCS community.
The fresh approach involved celebrating Japanese special events, integrating Japanese learning into existing BCS events and using innovative classroom teaching to aid language acquisition and retention of new language.
1. Celebrating special Japanese events
In order to help make the learning memorable the following Japanese special events were celebrated with hands on activities:
Girl’s Day Festival (also called ‘Doll festival’) in March
The students made Japanese paper cuttings (kirigami) of symbols from the dolls day festival.
Cherry blossom festival in April
We had a poster competition celebrating sakura, the cherry blossom blooming, season in Japan.
Children’s Day in May
The students listened to a song with drawing instructions on how to draw a carp fish kite. These songs are popular with Japanese children.
2. Integrating language into school events
To help integrate their Japanese learning into their other learning at school we gave a Japanese flavour to existing special school events such as:
With the help of talented music teacher Diane Durham the students sang Silent Night in Japanese at the annual end of year Christmas concert.
Harmony and World Poetry Day
With the support of classroom teachers all of the classes from Year 1 to 6 participated in an incursion learning Japanese poems with a harmony theme integrated with multisensory activities. Year 1 and 2 students learnt a poem about everyone being unique and valuable and made cardboard handprints with their talents on them, Year 3 and 5 students learnt a poem about saying sorry on a paper aeroplane and had a paper plane contest, Year 4 and 6 students learnt a poem about forgiveness and made Japanese riceballs to share.
Students designed a new AFL jersey and described the animal and colours on it in Japanese.
3. Innovative classroom teaching to aid language acquisition and retention
To help the students to keep growing in their ability to remember new language in a meaningful context, the following techniques have been used:
The junior primary students have been learning short Japanese poems by heart, and have dramatized picture books.
The students have been learning mnemonics, using multisensory activities, learning songs, and using AUSLAN gestures to accompany key vocabulary and prompt recall.
In order to help the Year 5 and 6 students to keep learning new vocabulary and hiragana characters they have also been using Language Perfect vocabulary lists, and modules can be worked through at their own pace at home.
Where possible it is always very motivating for students when new language is taught in the context of a new skill and this has been encouraged by SCEA Languages consultant Mariel Howard. With her support students have had the opportunity to learn how to make Japanese ‘yakisoba’ (fried noodles), to draw Japanese manga and to learn a popular Japanese dance.
Each school community is unique and all teachers need to adapt their teaching programs and activities to their own context. Natalie Pearce considers it a real privilege to teach Japanese at BCS with such supportive staff, students and parents and she is spurred on by the encouragement from the school community.