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Top>Education>Assigned Reading System


Tomoji Otaka

Tomoji Otaka

Assigned Reading System

Tomoji Otaka
Japanese Language Instructor, Chuo University Senior High School
Areas of Specialization: Japanese Language Education and Modern/Contemporary Japanese Literature Research


Japanese language education at Chuo University Junior and Senior High School is characterized by our school's standing as middle education institutions affiliated with Chuo University. The format through which students at our school enter Chuo University differs from the entrance examinations which must be taken by prospective students who come from other schools. Therefore, it is not necessary for our school to emphasize studies that prepare for entrance examinations. Students learn the knowledge and skills for writing authentic reports and essays instead. Accordingly, the Japanese Language Department incorporates many original themes into our curriculum and has established unique subjects such as "Expression Research," in which students write their graduate thesis in approximately 10,000 words, and "Special Lectures on Japanese Language," in which students consider the use of Japanese language in actual society. I hope that interested parties will refer to the prospectus and homepage of Chuo University Junior and Senior High School for further information on our current curriculum and class description. In this article, I will discuss subjects based on the Curriculum Guidelines (for example, Integrated Japanese Language and Contemporary Japanese), as well as reading guidance at the Japanese Language Department, with a focus on the Assigned Reading System which is an important foundation of the aforementioned original subjects established by our school.

Reading guidance prior to the start of the Assigned Reading System

In 1978, teachers at the Japanese Language Department of Chuo University Senior High School began reviewing the implementation of the Assigned Reading System which now forms the core of the reading guidance program. After repeated reviews, the system was established as part of our Contemporary Japanese course in 1979. Before then, although a Recommended Reading List of 100 Books (composed of novels which are considered to be classic masterpieces in modern literary history and outstanding criticisms which possess a solid reputation) had been established after consultation among Japanese language teachers and a portion of that list had been used when assigning book reports, the program was limited to encouraging reading for personal refinement. Since there were few ways to confirm that students had actually finished reading the recommended books, the decision of whether or not to read those books was left to the individual students.

Establishment of the Assigned Reading System

In the spirit of the existing Recommended Reading List of 100 Books, the Assigned Reading System was devised in order to enable more students to acquire the habit of reading, as well as to enable teachers to confirm that students had finished reading assignments. Initially, the system started by assigning several paperback books in subjects related to contemporary literature at the beginning of the term and after midterm examinations. Then, during periodic examinations, questions were assigned based on the content, and the test results were included in the academic assessment. Over time, repeated reviews were conducted to improve the criteria for selecting the books, the number of assigned books, and the assignment methods. Eventually, in 1995, the current Assigned Reading System was established based on the objective of “reading 100 books during the three years of high school education”.

Principles of the Assigned Reading System

The Japanese Language Department established the following three goals for the Assigned Reading System based on the project to “read 100 books during three years of high school education”: 1) learn to enjoy reading, 2) become a well-cultured and well-educated individual, and 3) develop the ability to think and make decisions. These goals reflect Item I of our school's Educational Goals: "By heightening the autonomous and creative desire to learn, and by enhancing basic academic skills in equilibrium, we shall develop logical thinking ability and robust critical ability, instill students with vigorous intellectual curiosity and rich individuality, and cultivate the aptitude to become model university students." These goals are positioned as essential for enabling each student to think independently, make accurate judgments and take action based on personal responsibility with credible knowledge regarding a variety of social phenomenon.

Form and operation of the Assigned Reading System

In the Assigned Reading System, as a general rule, students are expected to purchase and read five books during the first half and the second half (total of ten books) of the first term, six books during summer vacation, five books during the first half and the second half of the second term, three books during winter vacation, six books during the third term, and two books during spring vacation. This is repeated for each grade of high school. The assigned readings are announced each term, and questions related to the contents of the books are incorporated into periodic examinations and homework tests. Questions are answered by selecting the two matching answers from among four answers which explain and introduce contents of the assigned readings in about 300 characters each. Two questions are asked for each book. Questions are set at a difficulty level which can be answered relatively easily by students who have finished reading the books, but which are difficult for students who did not read the assignments. (On periodic examinations with a maximum possible score of 100 points, these questions account for 30 points.) When selecting assigned readings, teachers in charge of contemporary literature for each grade select books for each term, mainly from paperbacks. In general, selected books consist of Japanese and foreign works which are known as classic masterpieces, prominent works and new works by contemporary authors, criticisms which include knowledge, information, or perspectives required for life in modern society, works which are related to content taught in contemporary literature classes (sometimes used as textbooks or class material), and entertaining works which convey the enjoyment of reading printed text (mysteries, fantasies, and others.).

Assigned Reading System at Chuo University Junior High School

The Assigned Reading System at Chuo University Junior High School (opened in 2010) was established with essentially the same purpose and method as our high school. Junior high school students are expected to “read 60 books in the three year period”. Although the Assigned Reading System for junior high school was started with system goals and book selection methods which are the same as for high school, the number of books read per term was reduced to three in consideration for the reading ability of students. During the first grade of junior high school, the goal is to instill students with the habit of reading. Therefore, the selected books are mainly entertaining works which allow younger students to enjoy reading. Teachers strive to maintain balance in the content of reading assignments by selecting books from a wide range of genres and avoid works which contain excessive depiction of sexual acts or violence. Many of the books selected for the second half of first grade at junior high school are works which were also selected for high school. I am often surprised that younger students already possess the ability to read such books. Selecting works which are related to class content is the same in high school. However, one feature of junior high school is that the Assigned Reading System is used as part of prior learning and follow-up learning for school events such as traveling classes held in Kyoto and Nara during second grade, and the class trip to Okinawa during third grade.

Significance of the Reading Assignment System

Some people may object to a reading guidance method in which questions on books account for a large percentage of periodic examinations and are included in their academic assessment. However, the majority of students entering our school from high school say that they almost never read books in junior high school. Initially, these students grudgingly read books since the assignments are related to their academic assessment. Eventually, I often see that these same students are now eager to discuss the joy of reading. Even more, I have received feedback on the Reading Assignment System from many graduates of our school. This feedback is not merely limited to reflections upon memories; instead, it references how graduates have maintained and expanded their reading habits even as university students or as company workers. I strongly believe that the Reading Assignment System leads to the positive establishment of reading habits among students that fosters the sense of familiarity towards printed media.

Tomoji Otaka
Teacher, Japanese Language Department, Chuo University Senior High School
Areas of Specialization: Japanese Language Education and Modern/Contemporary Japanese Literature Research
Tomoji Otaka was born in Tokyo in 1954. He graduated from the Chuo University Faculty of Letters in 1978. In 1980, Otaka completed the Master's Program at the Chuo University Graduate School of Letters. In 1981, he completed the Doctoral Program at the Chuo University Graduate School of Letters without a degree. He holds a Master's Degree in literature from Chuo University.
In 1981, Otaka began teaching in the Japanese Language Department at Chuo University Senior High School. In 1984, he became a concurrent lecturer at the Chuo University School of Letters (assigned to the Organization for Common Education Initiatives).
His current research theme is the relationship between the Asia-Pacific War and literature, in particular the analysis of novels by Kyojin Onishi and Tamiki Hara.
Otaka is the author and editor of the book "A Guide to Reading the Novel Shinsei Kigeki" (Banseisha Publishing, 1992).