KURASHIKI, Okayama - Miki Mimura, a Japanese language teacher at Kurashiki Seiryo High School in Okayama Prefecture, is pioneering a new literature teaching method drawing inspiration from Twitter.
In her approach, which aims at cultivating reading comprehension and self-expression, students are encouraged to condense the thoughts and emotions of characters into short expressions akin to tweets, using 60 characters or less. Mimura says they voiced their opinions much more frequently during the trial run.
In mid-February, a class of second-year students were reading a scene from Soseki Natsume's famed novel "Kokoro." In a key scene, university student "K" learns that a young lady he secretly admires is going to marry a close friend, who is depicted as "Sensei" (Teacher) in his later years.
Mimura, 47, then said to the class, "Let's tweet what K is feeling right now," prompting the students to discuss their thoughts in groups with the resulting tweets being projected on a screen.
One tweet read, "Congratulations on your impending marriage to the young lady. I wish you happiness," while another said, "I'll never forgive you!"
Ryo Takenaka, 17, explained his thoughts by saying, "K wants to celebrate the happiness of the woman he loves but at the same time, he is jealous of his close friend."
"I agree with the congratulatory message," one student said, while another offered the opinion: "If I were K, I would shrug my shoulders and say, 'I don't care any more.'"
Daiki Ko, 17, said, "It's not easy to understand an old novel as it takes place in a different era, but the work becomes more familiar if we express characters' feelings using contemporary words."
During her days at the postgraduate school of Okayama University in 2012, Mimura learned from her research that overseas high schools in the United States and Europe were educating their students to reflect on the emotions of characters in novels. After she returned to teaching at school, she noticed that young people liked using Twitter to tweet their emotions in 140 characters or fewer. That inspired her her to create a new system where a screen would display up to 60 characters typed by a student into a classroom computer.
Students were initially bewildered, but they began writing tweets that left Mimura amazed.
Naruto University of Education Prof. Mariko Murai, an expert on language education, said: "It's a unique teaching method. There's great potential here to take things to a whole new level, such as making students write tweets using the old language of the era the novel takes place in."
Mimura said, "Comprehension and self-expression skills are required in communication and they will also lead to academic development."