Thursday, March 8, 2007

Multi-voices in TAJIRI Goro's classes

Below is the proposal of my poster presentation at The 1st English Education Seminar, KOBE, JAPAN, 14-17 MARCH 2007

This presentation is partially based upon my article available at:

Multi-voices of a “charismatic” Japanese English Teacher

Hiroshima University

In the classroom of TAJIRI Goro, who has been featured as a “charismatic teacher” by the Japanese edition of Newsweek, NHK (the Japan Broadcasting Corporation), The Daily Yomiuri, and other medias, different qualities of voices are heard from him and his students. This presentation is an analysis of the multi-voiceness of his classroom. I offer two cases for analysis.

Case 1 is public speech-making by his three junior high school students. It was recorded in the very last lesson of the three years of their junior high school life. The school life had started in a very uncomfortable, even hostile atmosphere. In the agonizing days of troubles in the first year, Tajiri decided that the troubles were due to the lack of proper communication. He pledged himself to drastically improve the quality of classroom life by teaching English, a foreign language as it was for the students. He anticipated that English lessons for communication would contribute much to the students’ daily communication in the first language. The three speeches of the students clearly show that the speeches are more than the result of the mastery of one school subject: The students revealed themselves honestly or even courageously to the classmates. The speeches in a language which was foreign to the students created a new horizon of communication.

I quote from the philosophy of Hannah Arendt to analyze the quality of the voice of the speeches. The speeches were human actions in Arendt’s sense in that they enabled the students to appear in the human world. That is, by showing who they were in a classroom, the classroom became a public realm for them, where they could safely express and appreciate their different identities. It is also inferred that this creation of a new identity and relationship would have been probably very hard in Japanese, which was too familiar and direct to the students.

Case 2 is a videotaped material of Tajiri’s recent lessons (the first grade: the video was recorded by the current reporter). They were no special lessons and the ordinary reality of the classroom was observed. The lessons were three successive ones which shared almost identical format. However, they were anything but monotonous. The classes were full of human voices, which were quite unlike the stereotype of Japanese lessons, which are sometimes compared to a “factory” of knowledge. Of particular interest were Tajiri’s multi-voices. He used Japanese, English and body language, but they were to be further divided into subcategories. Japanese was sometimes the standard Japanese, other times、Kansa-dialect or Izumo (local) dialect. English had no regional variations, but the tone, speed, prominence, and acting varied a lot. Body language had different varieties and all of them were quite expressive. These varieties of the three languages were not randomly used or merely juxtaposed incoherently. They varied according to the demand of the situation and educational purposes. They were integrated in the personality of Tajiri and the classroom atmosphere.

After presenting the analysis of these different voices, I argue that it is comparable to the notion of plurilingualism proposed by the Council of Europe. It sees communicative language ability as a complex or even composite one on which the user may draw as he or she wishes in the changing context of the situation. It seems as if Tajiri draws his best voice among his versatile repertoire to best serve his current purpose.

All in all, the classes of Japan’s “charismatic teacher” are much of human experience, full of different voices, each serving its purposes best. We may argue perhaps that classroom should be a free and public sphere where different human identities are shared for better communication, either in the first, the second or even some other language. The development of total and integrative communicative language ability is necessary for language teachers.

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