Should I teach using TPRS?

Throughout my posts on this blog I refer often to TPRS people and their ideas.  I am very much attracted to the idea of comprehensible input, and I want to put much more emphasis on input in my classes.  It has been my experience that the common way of teaching world language is to show students the concept and immediately have them starting practicing it, grammar notes and vocabulary list in hand.  I have come to the conclusion that this method does not produce the communicative results I am looking for.  Do I have data for this?  I only have anecdotal evidence from my previous 17 years of teaching to say that a grammar-based approach leaves a good number of kids disengaged and unable to use the language effectively.  In the past I’ve used games and fun activities to make the memorization of vocabulary and grammar more palatable, easier to digest.  The games, however, did not help students with using the language in communicative contexts.  I am not entirely opposed to games, and I’d like to address that in a later post.  I have always been a reflective teacher, questioning what I could do to improve my students’ learning.  But not until recently did it occur to me to question the grammar-based philosophy of language teaching that I had always experienced as a student and perpetuated as a teacher.

I visited a school that adopted TPRS as its means of teaching and observed four different teachers.  The teachers had written stories ahead of time as their curriculum, and they taught using the stories.  In each class the teacher was working hard and the students were very passive.  I went to a couple of sessions at a conference where Janice Holter Kittok and Barbara Cartford taught something using TPRS, and I just was not a good student; I was not catching on like the people around me.  That was frustrating for someone who usually does not have difficulty understanding things.  I also couldn’t see how the students turned the stories they memorized and retold into their own original output.  That said, I really liked the idea of using culture to present information in the target language, and during Barbara’s presentation about Celia Cruz and Cuba I was busily writing notes about how to use the children’s story she presented in my own classes.

I have watched Ben Slavic‘s video where he talks about a stupid orange fish.  I read about Jason Fritze and looked at photos of his teaching sessions.  I watched Carol Gaab teaching in a short clip.  They are wonderful teachers from all that I have read and seen about them on the internet.  I have, however, concluded that I do not wish to attempt the type of TPRS that I associate with Blaine Ray, inventing rather crazy stories and incorporating students into them.  I just don’t have the personality or creativity for it.   I suppose some would say that I need to learn more about TPRS, and perhaps that is true.  What I can say it that there are a lot of sites dedicated to the use of TPRS and quite a number of teacher bloggers like me investigating the use of TPRS in their classrooms.  I interpret this to mean that world language educators are dissatisfied with what I call traditional methods and are seeking something more effective.  What TPRS provides that I think many of us are looking for is a more natural way for acquiring language; grammar and vocabulary lessons embedded in communicative contexts.

I think a better fit for me would be presenting cultural information entirely in the target language, more of a content-based approach.  I went to a session by Janice Holter Kittok at CSC in Indianapolis, and this was the approach she used.  While I came in late on the session and found the sample lesson she was teaching hard to follow, I think it is a better fit for me.  I can’t seem to find any materials by Janice on the internet to help me further or to direct you to so that you get a better idea, except this little excerpt from some conference information, and even that was hard to copy.  It is a quote, and I cite the source below:

“Integrating TPRS and Cultures:  The study of languages and cultures are interwoven. This session will illustrate ideas for connecting language acquisition and cultural understanding in ALL levels of study. Teachers will be guided in the process of adapting their favorite cultural themes to the principals of comprehensible input. All cultures use stories, legends and folk tales to teach values to their children. Learn to use these and other authentic resources (biographies, historical events, works of art, etc.) as inspirations for thematic units. Learn how to use TPRS techniques to make language comprehensible in content-related instruction.”

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One Response to Should I teach using TPRS?

  1. Hello! I’m glad my ideas are resonating with you. I do what I call “Content-Based Storytelling (CBS)” which is a blend of content-based instruction (CBI) which is the basis of immersion programs and content-related language instruction and all of the “comprehensible input (CI)” approaches I have learned during my career (TPR, Natural Approach, TRPS…). More than create curriculum, I teach educators how to create their own curriculum personalized to the cultural topics that are THEIR expertise and fuels their PASSIONS. When I write curriculum for me to teach, I write what puts the fire in my belly. I teach educators how to do that for themselves.
    My website now has resource links for HOW we teach and WHAT we teach: We can teach meaningful cultural content in target language that is totally comprehensible.
    (Too bad you missed the introductory steps in the lesson I presented at the CSC conference. In a 50-min conference session, there isn’t time to loop back and repeat so latecomers can catch up with what had already been established as would happen in a real classroom situation for absent students.)

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