The Long Beach Approach (for both JHL and JFL classes)
The Long Beach curriculum starts with the idea that trying to teach Japanese as it is taught in Japan is not the best way to teach children growing up in America. An approach where students learn sentence patterns from a textbook, or copy lists of kanji may work there, but is often a source of drudgery for children here.
One obvious difference is that children here have less exposure to Japanese in their everyday environment. For example, in Japan, a child naturally learns vocabulary and grammar at home, and so a main goal of the school is to match sounds with kana and kanji. But for children growing up in America, our curriculum must helpthem acquire both oral language and reading/ writing skills at the same time. Also in Japan, a child might learn a new kanji in class, then see it on the train, or on TV at home. Kanji is reinforced everywhere in Japan. An effective curriculum must provide this reinforcement by providing a rich learning environment in which students are exposed to all facets of the Japanese language.
The Long Beach approach is more attuned to the interests and needs of children growing up here. Our advisors believe that language is best acquired when lessons are interactive and based on real-life situations, and when the content of the lessons is meaningful to the students lives.
The Long Beach curriculum is theme-based, built around topics that children will find interesting and relevant. Some of these themes include family life (both here and in Japan), school life, games and sports, food, health, nature, and so on. Some of these themes will overlap with topics that children study in their local schools, which makes learning easier and thus bolsters their confidence.
As one example, a unit might cover the water cycle (rain, evaporation, cloud formation, etc.), a topic that the students already know something about. Students may thus study why clouds form, or what causes thunder, and will do so in different formats – by reading about the topics, orally discussing them, and writing descriptive essays. In the process, students will be taught numerous vocabulary words, kanji, and sentence patterns. The ultimate goal is of course to teach language, but the method is a content-driven one.
OCG also will integrate its various cultural activities into the curriculum. This will make our cultural events not only interesting, but also useful as a tool to teach language skills. Already in the summer our students are learning about the Tanabata festival, places of origins, and the cultural meaning of the summer festivals. The PA will supplement these class lessons by holding relevant cultural events after students have studied about them.
The Long Beach approach is also highly interactive and encourages students to be more active learners. Many lessons include hands on activities and even experiments. The curriculum also uses small group activities, including having children brainstorm or debate various topics. Even homework assignments will be more appealing, for instance by having children “interview” their parents on that day’s topic, or looking up more information on the internet (for older students).
Our new advisors also use what they call a “spiral” approach to reinforce what our children learn. In most programs, children learn a kanji in preparation for a test, then forget it a month later. The Long Beach curriculum is designed to come back to the same material, teaching it in different ways and at more advanced levels. As just one example, young children may talk about their favorite food, and in later years may teach the rest of the class how to make that dish. The spiral approach seems a much better way to have children learn AND REMEMBER the material.
Finally, the Long Beach curriculum is based on an extremely elaborate and well-defined set of goals and objectives, each tailored to different learner levels. The assessment of students will thus be based on these goals and objectives. We are less reliant on numbers of kanji memorized, or final test scores, but rather on the ability of students to master well-defined tasks.
In sum, the Long Beach curriculum is a truly innovative, well-developed approach. It is backed up by years of academic research and theorizing, but to a lay person also seems to be based on common sense. Above all, the new curriculum is FUN, making it more likely that our children will continue with their studies, and hopefully become lifelong learners of Japanese.
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