OCG is guided by a team of curriculum advisors from California State University Long Beach. Our curriculum coordinators are nationally-recognized experts in the field of teaching language to “heritage learners.” Heritage learners occupy the middle ground between native Japanese children being raised in Japan, and American students who have no background or exposure to the language. The vast majority of OCG students, in both JHL and JFL classes, are heritage learners.
Our advisors have helped to construct an innovative and highly effective approach to teaching Japanese. Our approach is based on the following elements:
Providing a Total Language Environment
Teaching Japanese as it is taught in Japan may not be the best way to teach children growing up in America. One obvious difference is that children in Japan are already immersed in the language in their everyday environment, and already close to fluent when they first enter school. But children here do not have the same level of immersion (even children being raised in a Japanese-speaking household spend most of their time in an English environment).
Thus, an effective curriculum must provide a rich learning environment in which students are exposed to all facets of the Japanese language. Our curriculum helps students acquire oral language as well as reading and writing skills at the same time. Above all, we avoid rote memorization of abstract lists of kanji and sentence patterns — which is often a source of discouragement for students at other schools.
Our approach is also highly interactive, with an emphasis on hands-on activities, experiments, and class discussions. The curriculum also uses small group activities, including having children brainstorm or debate various topics. Even homework assignments are more appealing, for instance by having children “interview” their parents on that day’s topic.
Creating Lifelong Learners of Japanese
Students learn the most when they are interested in their lessons — that is, when class activities are interactive and with content that is meaningful to their lives. Our curriculum is theme-based, built around topics that children find interesting. Some of these themes include family life (both here and in Japan), school life, games and sports, food, health, and so on. These themes overlap with topics that students already know about or are interested in, which bolsters their confidence and thus makes learning easier.
Our classes are taught in a content-driven manner, in which teachers use the study of a certain topic as a vehicle for teaching vocabulary, kanji, and grammar. Students engage in a variety of activities, from reading and discussing topics, writing essays, giving presentations, and the like. By keeping the focus on content, we have found that students acquire their language skills naturally and more easily.
In sum, the curriculum designed by our Long Beach advisors is an innovative and well-developed approach. Our classes are no less challenging than elsewhere. The difference is that our curriculum is more FUN, making it more likely that our students will continue with their studies, in college and beyond — and hopefully become lifelong learners of Japanese.
Creating Effective Curriculum Materials
All of the textbooks and materials that we use at OCG are consistent with our educational approach. One of our JHL textbook series, Ken-ken-pa was written for OCG by our Long Beach advisors. The Hop, Step, Jump series is the second year of our textbook series, written by OCG teachers under the guidance of our advisors.
Our JFL classes use material drawn from a textbook, Jan-ken-pon, co-written by our main advisor, Professor Hiroko Kataoka, and thus follows the same educational philosophy that OCG has adopted. Our teachers have adapted this textbook for our students.
Our upper level JFL classes and our Japanese for High School classes use Erin’s Challenge: I Can Speak Japanese, written by the Japan Foundation, and Doraemon: Dokodemo Nihongo. Both were recommended by our advisors, as they fit our style of teaching.
Enhancing Teaching Effectiveness
Our Long Beach advisors are at our school every week, spending many hours observing our teachers and offering critiques and pointers. They serve as an invaluable resource, ensuring that our teachers thoroughly understand our curricular approach.
OCG also supports extra training for our teachers. All of our teachers attend the annual teacher training workshop sponsored by the California Association of Japanese Language Schools. Our teachers also participatedin regional and national workshops, including some workshops hosted by OCG and led by our advisors.
We know of no other school that pays this much attention to continual teacher training.