In "Activating metacognition with action logs," Linda Woo nd Tim Murphey (1999) make an excellent case for encouraging learners to think critically about their language study. They argue convincingly that the regular practice of reflection can ultimately lead to learner autonomy, and they show the connection between such metacognition and affect. This rationale is then coupled with a detailed description of how the authors use action logs to structure selfmonitoring. They conclude that by reading the logs teachers can gain insights concerning what is going on in their classes.
In this friendly response I will propose that teachers who wish to activate learner metacognition should be aware of two indigenous pedagogical practices which are relevant and widespread: the seikatsu dayori or noto and the hansei bun.
In his chapter on guidance, shidoo, in Japanese schools, LeTendre (1996) translates seikatsu dayori or noto as "daily diaries." He states that they are in use in most middle schools. Each day students write down the amount of time they studied, special activities they undertook, and any problems they are having. The diaries are turned into their homeroom teacher who makes comments which "encourage or discourage certain behaviors" (p. 277). Fukuzawa (1996) claims that teachers check the diaries to "gain at a glance" (p. 305) information they can use to make study suggestions and to anticipate discipline problems.
My second son is enrolled in the largest junior high school in Tokyo To. The daily diary in use there has the English title of School Life NOTEBOOK. In Japanese it is mainichi no seikatsu jiroku 365. A full description of its structure is beyond the scope of this piece. Interested readers can leaf through such notebooks in their local stationer's. In my son's book a week covers two pages. At the top of the left page is a space for the week's goals. To the right of this are columns for each day where students can write in reminders of doctor's appointments, club meetings, and holidays, etc. The students write in the day's date and note the weather above a box measuring 26 by 66 mm which is for the diary entry proper. To the right of this box is a table which has a row for each of the six class periods. The teacher is allotted a 9 by 66 mm space for his or her comments. Directly below this are two sets of smiling, neutral, and frowning faces. One set is for karada, body, and the other for kokoro, heart or mind. Students fill in the faces which describe their physical and mental states for the day.
What can high school and post-secondary EFL instructors learn from this brief introduction to the use of daily diaries and reflection papers in Japanese middle schools? First of all, self-monitoring and reflection are established, codified practices for Japanese learners. The links between academic activity, personal lifestyle, and emotional state are established. When asked to fill out an action log or similar forms, students will not be doing something that is totally new to them. Thus, it is probably not necessary to do an elaborate sales pitch for the benefit of the activity.
Given the backdrop of these native techniques, how can one structure metacognition in language learners? Teachers who use open-ended formats for reflection may find that they are getting much personal information. LeTendre reports that female students make mention of menstruation and ask female homeroom teachers questions about breast development. It is plausible that older students may describe their boy friend or girl friend relationships. Non-Japanese instructors may not be accustomed to such intimate selfdisclosure, but they should not be surprised if it crops up. They may want to use formats such as action logs which are focused only on learning tasks and class sessions. Each teacher must decide what information they will solicit and allow from their students.
It is hoped that this brief piece will help promote learner reflection in Japan by giving it an endemic rationale.
Fukuzawa, R. E. (1996). The path to adulthood according to Japanese middle schools. In T. Rohlen & G. LeTendre (Eds.), Teaching and learning in Japan (pp. 295-320). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Le Tendre, G. K. (1996). Shidoo: The concept of guidance. In T. Rohlen & G. LeTendre (Eds.), Teaching and learning in Japan (pp. 275-294). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Woo, L., & Murphey, T. (1999). Activating metacognition with action logs. The Language Teacher 23(5), 15-18.