Category Archives: Why TPRS?

Not news: Boxes aren’t compelling

Yesterday we found a boxed Spanish course in a closet. I thought it would be worth my time because it has transcripts of conversations, and I don’t get enough comprehensible spoken Spanish in this ongoing experiment.

I decided I would start rolling through the mini lessons (I did 55 of them last evening). I wasn’t sticking to the transcripts alone, thus breaking a rule I’d set for myself: no focused grammar study. I laughed about 30 lessons in, when the tip on the side said, “You have learned how to conjugate ar verbs. Now learn er verbs.” I didn’t know what one of the verbs meant, but I could fill in the blanks because I’ve been hearing and reading the correct forms. I don’t know how anyone would have “learned” ar conjugation by then from the box.

When I finally rejoined my family for the evening, I was exhausted. It was nothing like the prior evening, when the same room decluttering process had yielded Mira Canion’s Agentes Secretos. I read that book in about 40 minutes, and was jazzed because it was so easy to read, and I immediately wanted another one because it was so compelling (yes, I have contacted Mira). This morning, I came to the breakfast table and saw that box. I felt my heart drop. And yet, I’m the one who set myself this task.

The box has an ongoing story about a Mexican student who is moving into an apartment with two others in Spain. It’s not very engaging, partly because the authors are moving thematically, rather than trying to tell a story, and partly because grammar, pronunciation and vocabulary notes keep interrupting the story. There’s also too much English on the pages.

I finally understand with my body why a grammatical-thematic approach is less effective than a CI method. Real communication does not stick to themes, and we don’t usually interrupt conversations to correct pronunciation or to practice grammar (only Moms do that). We can shelter vocabulary and still communicate. But we have to go to weird lengths to communicate while concentrating on an imposed theme, and it doesn’t feel right.

Back to my rule. No more focused grammar study, unless it’s to answer a question.* I’m going to listen to everything I can, even the box CDs. Searching for (free) materials at my level is time consuming, but there are still a few TPRS teacher videos out there that I haven’t watched. Muchas gracias to those valiant souls who are editing my writing, and thanks to all who have posted their videos. I hang on your words!

*My fabulous teacher editors provide occasional pop-up style grammar to explain their edits. And sometimes I ask a question. My current one is why there are accent marks on words like río, even though those follow the pronunciation rules that I finally looked up. (And why is there not such a simple rule in English or Russian???)

Time: How to get and keep someone’s attention

I’ve just been looking for some support for a statistic I heard at NTPRS14: that student attention lasts as long in minutes as age, up to 21, when that’s all there is. Time Magazine has had a couple of articles on this topic, and one deals with not the length of time so much as how we can keep attention. They’re all easy, if you tell stories in class.

1. “Stimulate curiosity by first asking questions,” rather than giving information.

2. “Introduce change and surprise.” Sound familiar? That was the most important line Carol Gaab kept saying all last week at NTPRS 14. I lost my notes, but “The brain craves novelty” is what I heard from her over and over.

3. “Stress concreteness…adding sensory details…” Ask more of those questions. Think in terms of Ben Slavic’s one-word stories.

4. “Tell stories…our minds treat them differently than other kinds of information. We understand them better, remember them more accurately, and find them more engaging to listen to in the first place.” If there weren’t already research out that says stories are how humans learn, these words would still resonate and make all storytelling teachers happy.

Please…if you find the “minutes the brain can attend” info, please send it to me. This piece on why lecture is ineffective is another Times article that has some of that embedded, but I want the original source.

I’m still planning on sharing some of my NTPRS14 notes, if I could only unpack and get my next two presentations ready before I have to set up my classroom. In the meantime, I wish you happy and energetic thoughts as you go into the next school year! Have fun!!



Complicated grammar

In my beginning class today, we did the Anne Matava story about a girl who doesn’t do whatever she is asked, questioning what will happen if she doesn’t.

I forgot to use the third structure, which was “You won’t be allowed to…” but it was okay. We had a story going about Sponge Bob and Mr. Crabs and Patrick (of course) that ended up using subjunctive and two irregular present-tense forms of three irregular verbs. Not one of the kids was upset that the verbs didn’t follow normal patterns. I had to stop for a moment and tell them that it is highly unusual that first-year kids can understand these forms, let alone try to use them in a story.

Then a second-year kid came in after school to make up a quiz. He was reading along and kept stumbling over the past-tense forms of verbs, but then slowly started getting them, saying the correct present-tense form of the verb each time he would hit a past-tense form. I thought it was pretty awesome that a weak reader (in English) could switch tenses on the fly in Russian as he read the Russian and translated it into English.

These are the reasons I love using TPRS. Kids actually acquire language. In the meantime, we’re doing our version of March Madness (Tournament of Awesomeness), and we’re cooking along there too.

Over on Yahoo, Bryce is talking about PAT activities, and just in case you need some fun, here’s the link to all the posts he’s done on PAT games. Evidently he’s going to be doing a piece on PAT activities at NTPRS. I hope that it’s at a time I can attend, but if not, maybe one of you can take notes for me.

Why telling stories is compelling

Someone over on the Yahoo group shared this article, and I don’t want to lose it! I didn’t know that I made others’ brains light up in the same places my brain lights up by telling stories.

Read it! It’s a cool one.

Reasons to study languages

Just in case you need some quick reasons to study languages, here’s a helpful link.

I’m storing it under “Why TPRS” so as to be able to find it again, but it is broader than that.

Deepak Chopra and Robert Lustig: TPRS

Just two random ideas for you this morning from my holiday viewing of mass media: first, Deepak Chopra says that what we’re missing in school is the telling of stories with emotional impact, especially about the heroes in our world. He also says that if we don’t have uncertain outcomes and flexibility in direction as we study, we lose the ability to be creative. It occurred to me that our lock-step direction in education is destined now to hold up all our creativity, meaning that what we are doing with stories in TPRS is ever more valuable.

If someone else saw the interview that has these pieces in it or knows where to find this other than on CNN, I’d love it.

Separately, I’m listening to Robert Lustig on sugar (check him out; you’ll change or affirm your entire attitude toward our food industry). I laughed out loud to hear him use a TPRS teacher technique. He said that the next section of his lecture would be boring for anyone without a degree in biochemistry. So to get those who are not biochemists through that section of the lecture, he said for everyone to just count arrows.

I usually give the job of counting structures to higher-level kids, but maybe it should be for lower-level kids!

Happy January, everyone!

ACTFL 2012/research request

I attended a very interesting research session led by Richard Donato and the amazing Judith Liskin-Gasparro yesterday with a number of other TPRS folks here at ACTFL. I’ll tell you more later, but the gist of it was that ACTFL wants to research “high-leverage practices” that can be taught to student teachers to improve our world language classrooms.

The exciting part was that they are looking for practices similar to what TPRS/CI teachers strive to do. Here’s a link to Richard Donato’s Startalk powerpoint about what we need to be doing in our classrooms. I think you’ll find that TPRS teachers are in tune with him!

2004 Melinda Heins: MAT in French

In searching for French TPRS lesson plans (which are out there in reasonable numbers), I ran across this journal that Melinda Heins submitted for her MAT. I haven’t finished reading the whole thing, but really appreciated her comparison of a successful teaching day with an unsuccessful day and her reflections on the reasons for those results.

Later in the paper, Heins talks about why TPRS is now her method of choice for teaching French. It is compelling enough that I may write to ask her whether I can use pieces for my parent newsletter. The one caveat is that she is discussing “old style” TPRS, with its increased number of steps and acronyms. Still, she is enthusiastic yet realistic in what she presents, and she makes me want to learn French from her!

Spring break!!

I am now officially finished with classes until March 19, so I won’t be posting unless something is so important that it interferes with my ability to enjoy hanging out with my basketball-playing daughter.

In the meantime, check out the Language Educator for the story on the college Spanish teacher who found that TPRS is effective at the college level. I think it’s around page 54.

PS My principal came today, after all Unicorn plans were done. The kids delightedly kept me off track. I had our target phrases on the board and we never got to them. He didn’t want a translator, so they took full advantage. We got in a story about kids who were trying to make popsicles out of snow but ended up making an orange fish. I can’t remember why it was orange, but originally it was because Horton was relieving himself in that snow.

Happy spring! Only in Alaska can a kid look outside at the brilliant sun and say, “Summer is here!” (missing entirely the four feet of snow on the ground).

Krashen Video

Here’s a Stephen Krashen video to share. Even though it’s from 20 years ago, it still rings true, and can be a great opening for conversations with other teachers. Thanks to Betsy and others on the yahoo group for sharing it!