In some ways I envy the third grade teachers right now. They are down in fabulous tropical Okinawa, but I also pity them: because they are down in fabulous tropical Okinawa, with the third grade class. That means all the kids. You see, unlike America where field trips are a privilege, in Japan they are a right. So right now Towel Head Kid (the current bane of my existence) is no doubt being the bane of some Okinawan’s existence. Poor sap. But I am stuck up in Daito which is not tropical, not lovely, and not Okinawa, but is currently missing Towel Head Kid so it isn’t all bad.
For the last two weeks in my special lesson classes I have given them a project. It is to create an English manga (comic). We have talked about English onomatopoeias. This has proven to be very enjoyable because I get to act them out. Today I got to walk up to a kid who was talking, tap him on the shoulder and then pretend to slap him. I then demonstrated the difference between “slap”, “slap!”, “SLAP!”, and “SLAP! SLAP! SLAP!”
The project is for them to create a comic using four onomatopoeias, 12 panels (either one 12 panel comic or two 6 panel comics), it has to be in ink, and it has to be in English. I have discovered that I have set the bar way to high, but not necessarily for the reasons you may guess. The difficulty for them is not the English, it is the story. I was shocked to learn that this is probably the first time they have ever had to create a story for school work. Can you imagine that? They simply have no idea where to begin or how to go about it. I thought the project was a huge flop because they were not doing anything, but after they got a plan of attack most of the groups are now really into it. Even the two kids that do not pay much attention in class were asking me a ton of questions about what sounds cars would make when they crashed, or if the sentence “I was driving a car.” was correct. One group promised to provide a “most scary horror manga (comic)” named “Thirteenth Friday” why does that sound familiar? A group of incredibly sweet girls asked if they could do a “gruesome comic” (they looked that word up specifically) I said sure. Another group had the drawings on the first page done and were about to start the English. The kids have had two weeks to finish the project and are not close to being done. It is a project that would take two weeks in the US schools tops. It just took most of the groups so long to get started. There was one exception the group that is done with one page of drawings seemed like they had waited all their lives to do this. They even yelled out cheers when I gave the assignment. Of course I would be chomping at the bit too if I had 8 years of unused creativity built up.
Needless to say, I am making it easier on them. The revised project is just one page (12 panels), can be done in pencil, 2 onomatopoeias, and must be all English (anything above and beyond that will be mucho bonus points).
It just really amazes me that this is the first time they have been asked to let their creativity go and produce a story of some kind. In the US schools we had to crank stories out every week (and there is nothing wrong with that). Most of the kids doodle on their worksheets and have some amazing talent, but nobody ever seems to harness that and get them to do something creative. That was really what inspired my idea. I have realized that my biggest goal is not, necessarily, to teach them grammatically correct English. My goal is to get them to understand that English is a real language which can be used to express your ideas. It exists beyond the boring and conceived text book “Do it Talk” sections. I am often torn between understanding their Japanese or making them say it in (all be it broken) English. Perhaps it is my physics background, but I always make them suffer. I rarely acknowledge Japanese (even if I know what it means). From my experiences it is the struggle and the final breakthrough that makes it all the better. It is the horrible night before the brilliant dawn. When they express an idea in a round about way using English or gestures, I can see how happy they are that they got me to understand. That, to me, is more important than just letting them say it in Japanese. That makes them realize that English is real. It is a real and because it is real it is flexible, expressive, and worthwhile.
I expect to try and scan the comics and maybe put them online. I am really looking forward to the completion of this project!