Feedback on Unit Plan: Teaching Cultural Features of a Language

This post is from a course that I took. I had to make blog posts for the course and I decided to move the posts over here when the course finished.

I received some good feedback on my unit plan on teaching the cultural features of a language from my classmates. There were some mechanical issues (how many classes will this take, what level is this for) that were easily addressed in the more detailed lesson plan that I developed. The other issues that were brought up helped me to make a tighter lesson plan.

Question about Looking Up Kanji

One of my classmates asked why I didn’t expect all students to be able to look up the kanji 鯨. I explained how difficult it is to use kanji dictionaries. I revised my lesson to include a remedial section on using kanji dictionaries if too many of the students are not able to find the character.

Suggestion about Food Samples

One of my classmates suggested giving the students a chance to sample the food that I am talking about in my unit. I could easily get some whale meat here in Japan, but getting it outside Japan could be tricky. I could substitute tuna for whale meat if students have never eaten sushi. I would have to be very careful about this, though, as I would have to ensure that the sushi stayed fresh until the lesson time.

Suggestion of Other Resources

One of my classmates suggested that I include an additional article in the unit. I included it because it could be used as an additional resource, and as a way to let students know the current state of this argument.

Suggestion of Doing a Debate

One of my classmates suggested doing a debate, but the point of this unit is to teach students how to engage with the topic in a Japanese way. In Japan, debates are frowned upon as they are rife with opportunities for people to lose face. Finding ways NOT to take a strong stand — even on a hotly contested issue like this — is more in line with the goals of this lesson. I added this aizuchi activity into the unit to let students practice this. One student will be given a controversial topic to discuss, and will be told to take an extreme stance on it, and the other student will have to listen to the argument and use Japan-specific body language and other cues to preserve the harmony in the situation. Then, they will switch roles. With some explicit teaching of culture, students should be able to do this, and it will hopefully help them gain an understanding of the cultural motivation of Japanese speakers in conversations.

Suggestion of Increasing Use of Target Language

Two of my classmates wondered why the capping project was in English instead of Japanese. I originally thought that it would be too hard for students to do the work in Japanese, but after reading the Crawford (1999) article, I realized that my own low expectations may end up being a self-fulfilling prophecy. I revised my plan to make the capping project a bit shorter so students could possibly do it in Japanese.

I feel that the process of receiving feedback on my plans was very valuable. I work at a school where we use collaborative planning. I believe that collaboration always makes lesson plans better because you can get multiple perspectives on a particular topic. Having the minds of other teachers at your disposal when planning is invaluable. Someone will always be able to help you out of a bind that you get in, or help you think of an even better way — more interesting, more efficient, more pedagogically sound — to get the point across.

When I received the feedback about my use of the target language and my expectations for the students’ use of the target language, my first knee-jerk reaction was, “you just don’t understand how hard Japanese is”. After stepping back and giving it some more thought, I realized that I was making a huge mistake in automatically assuming that my (imaginary!) students wouldn’t be able to string a few sentences together. Even if they cannot make perfect sentences, I have to give them the chance to try! I have often had this argument with people who teach English in Japan, so I was actually surprised to see that I had given in to the same temptation — of thinking that the language is too hard and that I need to “protect” my students from it. I realized, from this experience, that I need to watch myself in the future so I don’t repeat this mistake.