Tankyuu - Inspiring Big and Small Quests at Red Oak

As school got started this year, a few of us got to talking again about how to get parents and others from our extended community time to work with our students on a regular basis. It was decided that last year's Free Day Friday would be reconceived to serve this purpose. After a few weeks of trial including martial arts, music, gardening, and readers' theater, the staff discussed what to call that time. Some parents didn't like the idea of free time at school and the term didn't fully convey the learning that goes on during these extracurricular opportunities. Meridith Kiyosue, ROCS Japanese and related cutural arts teacher, suggested Tankyuu, Japanese for quest and exploration. In this post, Meridith offers some further thoughts on the meaning of tankyuu, how it can further our thinking about teaching and learning, and a recent tankyuu session she organized with support from the Japan America Society of Central Ohio (JASCO).

 Photo by Meridith Kiyosue

Photo by Meridith Kiyosue

Within contemporary educational conversations, educators often speak about learning outside traditional subjects and classrooms as quests. All too often, however, the guides and seekers in such situations are directed to arrive at a planned destination leaving little room for authentic exploration. A map is drawn and a schedule is made; bypassing the twists, turns, and beautiful inspirational sites one might find along the way. Language learning, for example, too often becomes a rigid, measurable pursuit complete with national standardized tests that categorize proficiency to make it possible for prospective employers to identify desirable employees. This is particularly true with learning Japanese, and while there is no shortage of educators of Nihongo (Japanese) yearning to inspire their students to explore beyond grammar and language acquisition, academic systems are leaving less room for creativity. With online language learning becoming commonplace, studying is less and less about the communal experience of learning a language and more about individual attainment of information.

 Photo by Maureen Alley

Photo by Maureen Alley

But learning another language flows a bit differently at Red Oak. As we strive to develop stewards of the natural world, through Japanese language and culture we have an opportunity to inspire stewards of the global world as well. My personal introduction to Japan and the Japanese language was simple: I sat next to an exchange student in college and she became a dear friend. When she went back to Japan, I took a course in Japanese so I could keep in touch with her. That began my own incredible tankyuu, an educational and lifelong journey that brought me to live in Japan and and currently sees me as a ROCS educator. When my child, Ren, enjoyed a year with grandparents abroad in Japan and attended first grade, it wasn’t perfection of the language that made the experience memorable. Rather, it was the new friendships made through play, laughter, and fun. Through these natural teachers, Ren picked up Japanese rather quickly.

I keep this in mind as I guide ROCS students each day in Japanese class. Building on their curiosities, I strive to support exploration and to identify a purpose for our work together.  I use our time together to promote responsibility to connect and build friendships beyond borders, to make friends and inspire kizuna (strong bonds) with many people.

 Photo by Josh Smith-Geta

Photo by Josh Smith-Geta

During tankyuu on November 20th, I organized Kimono Day.  It started with a brief presentation and story to all students in attendance. My friend read "Tsuru no Ongaeshi or "The Grateful Crane" in Japanese and I translated. Then the students circulated around stations where they could work on an art project, complete a packet to learn more about kimonos, or read Japanese fairytales. When their group was called, they were invited to come back into the main room to try on a kimono. The kimonos belonged to the Japan America Society of Central Ohio (JASCO).

 Photo by Josh Smith-Geta

Photo by Josh Smith-Geta

A Japanese family visited ROCS to help the students try on kimonos. The young boy accompanying them remarked to his mother as they were leaving “Tomodachi dekita, yo!” “I made friends!” He and our children played unencumbered by language barriers.  Through art, social studies, music, pop culture, fairy tales, history, pen pal letters and paper cranes -all mixed in with language studies- I hope being a good tomodachi remains an ever-present goal. May our children’s tankyuu continue always and see them as ambassadors of friendship and peace along the way. Heiwa.