A whole school approach to language learning

St Philips students practice Shikishimakan.

Japanese teacher Stephen Grant has taken the teaching of language to a new level.

The St Philips Christian College, Port Stephens teacher recently received the Modern Language Teachers Association of NSW Award for Outstanding Languages Educator: High quality teaching and learning. He was also nominated as member of the MLTA Committee.

For Stephen teaching Japanese is about a lot more than words and grammar.

Stephen has embedded Japanese culture throughout his school. His Japanese language and martial art program has cross curriculum links with maths, science, PDHPE, art, history, religion and geography.

His passion for Japanese began when he worked and studied in that country after taking a Japanese degree at the Australian Catholic University.

He studied martial arts as well as language and, after receiving black belts in two arts in Japan, founded Shikishimakan, which melds culture with sport.

At St Philips Stephen oversees the formal language classes as well as the Japanese Cultural Society.

What’s unique at St Philips is the way Stephen combines language learning and sport so that all types of students can get a taste of Japanese.

“The not so sporty kids and the not so academic kids are given an identity and can find a connection,” Stephen said.

“My martial arts kids are passing quite difficult Japanese exams as a result.”

Japanese culture has influenced the development of the school sports house ‘Zenith’ coordinated by Stephen. The dragon symbol and Kanji character ‘Zen’ (completeness) adorn green banners proudly carried at school events by members celebrating their house community.

Native Japanese teachers often visit the school, the most significant visitor being the Japanese Vice-Consul in May last year. The Vice-Consul was impressed with Stephen’s programs at the school.

Activities organised for martial arts students include a day trip to Newcastle with dawn beach training, followed by breakfast at Café Inu, a visit to Japanese supermarket DAISO and ending with a laser tag session.

Year 7 (100 hour course) students of Japanese visit Nagisa Japanese Restaurant, Fort Scratchley and Newcastle Regional Museum every year to experience Japanese cuisine and to reflect on the relationship between Australia and Japan over the better part of the past century.

Every year St Philips receives students from Port Stephens’ sister city of Yugawara and every two years Stephen takes a group of students to Japan. One week of the two week trip is spent homestaying in Yugawara while the remainder sees the group visiting Tokyo, Nara, Kyoto, Hiroshima, Miyajima, Osaka and Iga (home of the ninja). A group is travelling to Japan in September and will take part in an international day hosted by the Yugawara sister city committee.

International exchange is taken seriously at St Philips where a Student International Committee assists Stephen promote language and culture at the school and in the Port Stephens region. The committee, made up of a chairperson, a secretary and two representatives each (male and female) from Years 7 to 10, helps organise homestay placements, ‘buddies’ for visitors from Yugawara and fundraising/promotional activities at the school. In addition, the group represents the school to the Port Stephens Sister City Committee at least once per year to discuss issues of exchange between Japan and Australia.

Stephen said quieter and younger students are given a chance to mentor others and stretch themselves.

It’s not just the students who are benefitting. Stephen has recently started an evening class for parents, teaching them Japanese too.

The award notification from MLTA said Stephen has “created a wide range of innovative incentives, and great engagement with the broader cultural context of Japanese, including martial arts.

“These activities appear to engage a wide spectrum of students. You position Japanese as a life skill broader than a school subject.

“This has been achieved through the integration of serious level pursuit of martial arts.

“This attracts both boys and girls, but particularly engages boys in languages learning.

“Your creation of a Japanese Cultural Society, open to all students, appears to be a core site of excitement and fun, popular with the broader community and reported in the media.”

Australian Blitz martial arts magazine featured Stephen’s work at his school in 2013.

If you would like to find out more about Stephen’s approach to language teaching, he can be contacted at stephen.grant@spcc.nsw.edu.au

Sue Osborne