Victorian School of Languages (VSL) Blended Japanese Program
This Senseis’ Voices article is brought to you by Mai Lovelock of Victoria. Lovelock sensei is a Japanese language teacher at the VSL, and runs a Blended Japanese Program for remote schools. Lovelock sensei was interviewed by Mayumi Mitsuya and Michie A. Suparman about the program.
Q: We understand that VSL offers a programme called the Blended Japanese Program for schools in remote areas, which differs from traditional face-to-face classes. Please briefly explain about the program.
A: The programme combines an online component run by the VSL with a face-to-face component by school teachers.
There are two 30-minute lessons each week. Classes are multi-grade structures, with students from lower and upper grades, or Prep to Grade 6, studying Japanese together in one classroom. The school teachers also participate. They do not speak Japanese, but learn with the students.
Initially, I connect online for 30 minutes to teach Japanese to the students at the school remotely. Then, on another day, the school teacher spends 30 minutes revising the content using worksheets, quizzes and songs that I have prepared for them.
I don’t take part in review lessons, but I assist the teachers to keep the students engaged and to consolidate the content of the first half of the lesson.
Q: When did the program start?
A: From the second term of 2022. It is being offered to primary schools in remote areas.
Q: Why did VSL decide to do the Blended Japanese Programme?
A: The six primary schools in the Pyrenees Cluster (about a two-hour drive from Melbourne) have a fortnightly Cluster Day, when the six schools come together to study specialist subjects such as music. One of the participating schools had a Japanese teacher, who gave Japanese lessons face-to-face on Cluster Day and online on other days. However, this teacher had to move on and there was no replacement, so Japanese classes could not continue. Therefore, the Pyrenees Cluster consulted the Department of Education about keeping Japanese language courses alive, and the VSL will offer them from 2022.
Q: How many schools are participating in this programme?
A: This year, a total of around 200 pupils from Prep to Grade 6 in 10 primary schools in the VIC Region, including six schools in the Pyrenees Cluster, are taking Japanese lessons. All are generally small, remote schools with no Japanese language teachers in the immediate area.
Q: Do teachers in participating schools have experience of studying Japanese?
A: No. The teachers are all newcomers to Japanese as a foreign language. All teachers are learning Japanese as a foreign language for the first time. In some schools, the principal also participates in Japanese lessons, so that the whole school feels like it is studying Japanese together. I think the atmosphere is very good.
Q: Is the Blended Japanese Program at VSL run by Ms Mai Lovelock alone?
A: Yes, I am the only one who creates the curriculum and teaches the classes for this programme. Of course, the principal, vice principal and IT people provide a lot of support.
Before coming to the VSL, I practised CLIL in Japanese and science in primary schools. It is very rewarding to be given a new challenge like this Blended Japanese Programme at the VSL. My experience with CLIL at my previous school has been helpful, but I also refer to the curriculum for online classes in other languages.
Q: What is important in implementing the Blended Japanese Programme?
A: The most important thing is ‘communication’ with the classroom teachers, and the tools for it. In particular, both myself and the teachers onsite need to understand and be able to use the equipment used in lessons, because these programmes will not work if they do not ensure user-friendly tools for the field. For example, I use Google Classroom, but some teachers find it difficult to use, and we need to keep looking for tools that are mutually ‘user-friendly’.
In this term we had an IT technician from the VSL come in and spend time helping the participating schools to use the Webex Board1). The Webex Board is an essential piece of equipment for me to keep track of what is going on in the classroom, and it is very significant that the teachers at each school have become proficient in its use with the support of the VSL staff. We expect that communication with schools will be easier from next term onwards
1) Cisco product. High-performance digital whiteboards with video conferencing capabilities, deployed by the VIC State Department of Education in each school.
Q: What is your outlook for the future?
A: As for Japanese language classes, the main focus this term was on basic learning about Japan and the Japanese language under the theme ‘Understanding Japan’. From next term onwards, I would like to make more use of my CLIL experience to include CLIL in Japanese and science, and activities where students get hands on to make crafts, so that the Japanese language learning has a wider range of content.
The VSL wants to offer more Japanese classes and possibly other languages in a similar format if this Japanese programme is successful. Dreams are growing for the future.
Page 3, VSL Family & Staff Bulletin N2 June 2022
Contributed by: Mai Lovelock, Victorian School of Languages, VIC