You Could Have !

Someone just posted on the moretprs list that their 8 year old students were reading "Brandon Brown wants a puppy" and had instantaneously acquired the expression "hace pipi". Which means "pees". Of course. That is extremely compelling comprehensible input for an 8 year old. My reflection is that we often forget the Compelling part of Krashen's hypothesis.


My adult French native students have problems with "should have" and "could have". But then we saw the scene in Shawshank Redemption in which Andy and Red learn that Brooks has hanged himself because he was unable to adapt to life outside prison, and Red said, "He should have died in here."  They immediately understood what he meant and from then on were able to use the structure without problems.


Later I saw a joke on the Internet and repeated it to them. A couple were driving through the desert at night and decided that they were too tired to go on. They stopped at the first hotel they found, even though it was more high priced than they would have liked. They slept for five hours and got up early the next morning to continue their journey. They were amazed to see that the bill totalled 350 dollars.


The husband demanded to see the manager and asked why the bill was so high, whereas they had taken an empty room late at night when no one else was going to rent it and had used none of the facilities.


The manager replied that they could have gone to their night club and seen a big star's show. "But we didn't!" said the husband. "You could have," said the manager. "And you could have eaten in our gourmet restaurant."


"But we didn't!" said the husband. "You could have," said the manager. "And you could have used our Olympic swimming pool."


"But we didn't!" said the husband. "You could have," said the manager. 


"Okay," said the wife. And she wrote out a check for fifty dollars and handed it to the manager.


"But this isn't the correct amount," said the manager.


"I've deducted 300 dollars for sleeping with me."


"But I didn't!" said the manager.


"You could have," said the wife.


After hearing this story, my students have acquired the expression "could have" and use it correctly. Because it is Compelling Comprehensible Input.




A New Twist on Embedded Readings

I have found Embedded Readings, as developed by Laurie Clarq and Michele Whaley, an excellent way to encourage students to read. The idea, like all great ideas, is quite simple. You make three or more versions of the same text which increase in difficulty. Students read the first text which is not difficult, then precede to the second which includes everything in the first and adds some new vocabulary and more elaborate structures but is still comprehensible to the student who feels reassured by the familiar words he's already seen in the first version. The third version is slightly more complicated, but the student will feel comfortable because he's building on structures which he has now seen three times. I was sold on the idea the day I finished going through the second version and handed the third to a class, telling them to read it at home. Seeing that I was giving them a full page of text as homework, they began to groan, but one boy glanced over it and said, "But it's easy!" The others looked at it and decided that I wasn't being as unreasonable as they had thought. For the next class they had all read it and we were able to discuss the content profitably.

 

The teacher may start out with a simple text created in class and make it more detailed, or she may choose to start with a difficult text and simplify it as many times as necessary until it's easily comprehensible to students.

 

Most of my students are in the Intermediate range and I want to encourage them to read authentic texts in English. I actually consider this one of my two main goals with students. I believe that if they reach a point at which they can easily read authentic texts and watch films in English, they are autonomous and will continue to progress in their use of the language, whether or not they continue taking lessons with me.

 

So I like to take passages from novels as a starting point for my embedded readings. When we have read the third (or fourth) version of the text and the student understands it, I then tell them that they have just read the original text and congratulate them on their ability to handle authentic resources. 

 

When I simplify an original authentic text, I usually replace unfamiliar vocabulary with a synonym that my students are likely to know. So when we read the text and the student asks for the meaning, instead of translating the word, I refer them to the previous version, where they find the synonym that they already know. I like the way they are able to figure out what the word means without relying on me or a dictionary.

 

Recently it occurred to me that I can make it easier for them to find the synonym they are looking for by putting the parts of the text that I have changed in a different color. I'm still trying it out, but so far it seems to simplify the task for my students as they decode the passage that was written for native speakers.  

 

As an example, I am posting a passage from Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand. It's a great adventure story and I already have a student who is attempting to read it on his own. The book is definitely compelling. All I have to do is make it comprehensible, Dr. Krashen. I only made two versions because I didn't feel my students needed any more simplifying. 

 

I put in asteriks for words that I omitted in the first version, explaining to students that these were low frequency words that did not affect the meaning of the sentence and could easily be skipped.

 

If you try color coding your embedded readings in this way, let me know how it works for you. 

The boy’s name was Louis Silvie Zamperini. The son of Italian immigrants, he had come into the world in Olean, New York, on January 26th, 1917, eleven and a half pounds of baby under black hair*. His father, Anthony, had been living alonesince age fourteen, first as a coal miner and boxer, then as a construction worker. His mother, Louise, was a petite, laughing beauty, sixteen at marriage and eighteen when Louie was born. In their apartment, where only Italian was spoken, Louise and Anthony called their boy Toots.


From the moment he could walk, Louie didn’t like to be shut in. His brother and sisters would remember him running around, jumping over flowers, animals and furniture. The instant Louise put him in a chair and told him to be quiet, he vanished. If she didn’t have her hyperactive boy* in her hands, she usually had no idea where he was.


In 1919, when two-year-old Louie was sick with pneumonia, he climbed out of his bedroom window, went down one floor and ran down the street with no clothes on, with a policeman chasing him and a crowd watching in amazement. Soon after, on the doctor’s advice, Louise and Anthony decided to move their children to the warmer climate of California. Sometime after their train pulled out of Grand Central Station, Louie escaped, ran the length of the train, and jumped from the last wagon. Standing with his hysterical mother as the train went backward to look for the lost boy, Louie’s older brother, Pete, saw Louie walking up the track in perfect serenity. *In his mother’s arms, Louie smiled. “I knew you’d come back,” he said in Italian.

The boy's name was Louis Silvie Zamperini. The son of Italian immigrants, he had come into the world in Olean, New York, on January 26th, eleven and a half pounds of baby under black hair as coarse as barbed wire. His father, Anthony, had been living on his own since age fourteen, first as a coal miner and boxer, then as a construction worker. His mother, Louise, was a petite, playful beauty, sixteen at marriage and eighteen when Louie was born. In their apartment, where only Italian was spoken, Louise and Anthony called their boy Toots.


From the moment he could walk, Louie couldn't bear to be corralled. His siblings would recall him careening about, hurdling flora, fauna, and furniture. The instant Louise thumped him into a chair and told him to be still, he vanished. If she didn't have her squirming boy clutched in her hands, she usually had no idea where he was.


In 1919, when two-year-old Louie was down with pneumonia, he climbed out of his bedroom window, descended one story, and went on a naked tear down the street with a policeman chasing him and a crowd watching in amazement. Soon after, on a pediatrician's advice, Louise and Anthony decided to move their children to the warmer climes of California. Sometime after their train pulled out of Grand Central Station, Louie bolted, ran the length of the train, and leapt from the caboose. Standing with his frantic mother as the train rolled backward in search of the lost boy, Louie's older brother, Pete, spotted Louie strolling up the track in perfect serenity. Swept up in his mother's arms, Louie smiled. "I knew you'd come back," he said in Italian.

Unbroken, Laura Hillenbrand




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  • #1

    M. Hein (dimanche, 22 mars 2015 15:01)

    You used the word "effect" when you should have used "affect".

  • #2

    Judith Dubois (dimanche, 22 mars 2015 17:54)

    You're right and I'll change that. I'd be very interested in knowing what you thought of the content.

The Tiny Monkey in Your Brain

I have an adult student who is a beginner in English. She is highly motivated but has tried to learn English before and has never succeeded. She likes working with me and getting comprehensible input. I’ve worked with the vocabulary of three songs in English ( In the Ghetto, Imagine and Yellow Lemon Tree), making it comprehensible so she can listen to them at home and in her car. We’ve done stories, oral and written, with the vocabulary, and we’ve “read” the graphic novel, The Arrival.


She came in this morning very stressed and upset. She said that she had wanted to review a story we had done and couldn’t remember what “was” meant. I was surprised, because we have seen the word often and when I asked her to translate “He was big and strong” she did it correctly. The reason she was so upset was that the reading I had given her included the expression “There was”.  I had explained that it meant “Il y avait” and she had written the translation in the margin. She was now convinced that “was” could mean either était or avait (had).  She had worked herself into a sad state at the idea that she would never know which was which. She had gone onto the internet and printed out “conjugaisons” of  avoir en anglais and être en anglais. She was saying, “I have to know these. I have to learn (memorize) them. I have to find time to do it. I’ll never get anywhere if I don’t know these verbs.”


From our very first lesson I have tried to explain Comprehensible Input to her and why I don’t like to use our time together with grammatical points. I’ve insisted on the difference between Acquired language and Learned language. Today it took me a while to explain to her that the French use of avoir in the expression Il y avait is idiomatic  and can not be translated word for word. She was saying, “I know you don’t want me to be looking up the grammar of these things, but I have to understand.” I told her that there was nothing wrong with looking up the grammar, but it wasn’t going to help her Acquire the language. This is a woman who has no confidence in her own ability to learn, thanks to teachers and family members who have denigrated her in the past.


To try to get her to understand, I asked her to imagine a friendly little animal that she could pet. She decided that she would really like to have a tiny pygmy monkey, a little brown and white one. I then explained that scientists now say we have two brains, or what some call System One and System Two. System One handles our automatic reactions, the things that we do “without thinking”, such as riding a bicycle, and speaking spontaneously. System Two is our conscious intelligence, the voice we hear in our minds. I asked her to think of System One as her little monkey, very quick and bright, but easily frightened and very shy. He knows how to do a lot of things because he watches everything with his big bright eyes and never really forgets anything. But, if he’s nervous or upset, he shuts down and runs away to hide in the trees.


System Two is a school master, strict and hard to satisfy and he loves intricate grammar rules. He’s good at scolding and also very expensive because he consumes vast quantities of energy, whereas the little monkey uses almost no energy and seems to live on air. I told her that she needs to be very kind to her little monkey, to get it to relax and feel safe, so that he can listen and absorb all the input we are feeding him. In time the little monkey will Acquire English and she’ll be able to speak, easily and fairly correctly. But I also told her that the little monkey is afraid of the School Master, and whenever he starts talking about conjugaisions and verb tenses, the little monkey panics, scoots up the nearest tree and hides. And stops listening.


Throughout the rest of the lesson, the tiny little monkey image helped me to keep her on track, so that she could listen and enjoy the input I was giving her. Perhaps it’s an image than can help others.

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  • #1

    Leah LePage (jeudi, 05 mars 2015 17:04)

    I love this! Thanks for sharing.

Teri's Take on the Agen Workshop

Teri Wiechart, our coach of all coaches, recently sent in this description of the workshop. It might be a good time to remind people that the early bird price of 295 euros ends on March 31st. 

When my friend Bryce Hedstrom asked me to explain what the conference in Agen was like, it gave me a chance to verbalize what makes the Agen workshop so special.


This week has so many layers of instruction in teaching with Comprehensible Input.  It starts with us getting to know one another—building relationships—that carry through the week and beyond.  In a setting with 25-45 people, it is possible to connect with each one of the participants.


We start the instruction with an explanation and demonstration of the three basic steps.  Daniel Dubois will teach Breton to the participants as I give a brief overview of what he is doing.  It is a very powerful way to show participants new to this way of teaching, how effective it can be.


Each morning we start with lessons in beginning English with Tamara Galvan (an amazing CI teacher, who ranks up with the best of the best demonstration teachers), intermediate English with Judy Dubois (a very experienced and insightful teacher, and our leader), and French with Sabrina Sebban-Janczak (a native Française, who speaks in an easy comprehensible French and who understands teaching with CI to her core).  The teacher-participants observe as these three women work their magic with real students learning the aforementioned languages.  The participants are welcome to stay in one class all week or move around, as they wish.  At the end of the lesson, the participants, who so choose, are able to practice a skill with the students, under the guidance of a coach.  Participants are able to practice story asking, PQA, comprehension checks, or any other skill they wish.  At the end of the morning, the teacher, participants and coach will have time for debriefing the experience while it is still fresh in their minds.

Remembering that we are in France, we then have a 2 ½ hour break, for lunch, private reflection, and/or small group discussion about teaching, etc.  There are many wonderful restaurants within walking distance of the conference hotel.  Participants are encouraged to join small groups and explore the area and enjoy each other.  Coaches and leaders will return to the hotel for time for “Teacher Talk” for those who wish.


Afternoons will be filled with a variety of sessions on all sorts of topics that are important to learning how to teach with CI or how to improve, for those who are more experienced.  To date, the choices are continuing with Breton lessons with Daniel, understanding Stephen Krashen’s hypotheses, activities for teaching young students, Teaching Students with Disabilities, Other CI Activities, Using TPR, Classroom Management, Reading, and others.

We come away with a feeling that “we are all in this together” and it is such an effective, fun way to teach.  We have participants who will have been to all three conferences and others who are coming back for a second go -‘round.


There are so many levels of instruction. 

·         Experiential as a student. 

·        Observational as a teacher. 

·         Participatory as a teacher with the guidance of a coach. 

·         Analytical of the research and philosophical foundations of CI. 

·         Practical with specific “how-to” sessions. 


It isn’t absolutely necessary to speak French, but it helps.  It is necessary to understand English, as most of our presentations are in English.  We welcome teachers of any language.

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How much native language to let into the classroom?

Ben Slavik recently observed a teacher in Denver who kept her students active and engaged for an entire hour without any use of English (her students’ native language) or any blurting by students. He was impressed and wrote an article about it. One of his suggestions was that we make “No English” a rule for our students.

 

Other teachers pointed out that we can hardly reprimand our students for speaking English when we ourselves are the major offenders. They maintained that there is little blurting from students when the teacher herself respects the “No English” rule. What then followed was a discussion of how much native language to accept in a classroom.

 

Several people recognized that a lot of the use of English in their classrooms came not from pupils but from teachers. Some were even honest enough to admit that they used English to establish relationships, to let students know that they are interested in them as persons, that they often give themselves a few minutes to stop being the teacher and to just chat with their students. There was a lot of soul searching and wondering how justified this use of the native language was.

 

I participated in the discussion on both sides of the question and probably left some people confused about where I stand. In the course of my career, I’ve moved back and forth on the subject. Today I have a goal of using 95% English, unless we are reading. When reading I help my weaker students translate the passage, which I consider checking for comprehension, and then we can switch back into 95% or more in the target language. I feel that these students need the reassurance that they have understood the passage before I can discuss it with them. With more advanced students I ask them do the reading at home, I help them with words they don’t understand, translating when there are fine nuances that are difficult to get across any other way, and then we discuss the meaning of the passage in the target language.

 

 

Some of the teachers argue that we should aim at 100% in the target language. I used to agree with this. I had a French teacher and a German teacher who practiced the immersion method back in the sixties and it worked well for me. However, I was a highly motivated student, willing to play the game and guess at meanings which could be ambiguous. Many of my classmates felt extremely frustrated in such classes and soon stopped making any effort to understand what the teacher was trying to communicate. Today when I meet teachers who insist on not using the native language at all, I understand the urge to counter legacy methods when there was/is far more English than anything else in foreign language classrooms in the States.  Yet I wonder if they are not throwing the baby out with the bath.

 

When I began teaching in French public schools, the official instructions were to speak only in English (my students’ target language).  So, except for occasional grammar explanations, I conducted my lessons in English, but soon found it necessary to handle discipline problems in French. When you tell a student to either start behaving or to go talk to someone in the office, you don’t give them the chance to say that they didn’t understand you. And sometimes I just wanted to let them know that I was actually a perfectly normal, rather likeable human being and could crack a joke in French. As time went by, I found myself using more and more French in class. The students liked this, of course. All students love to see teachers go off track.

 

I eventually realized that my use of French was not always necessary or even intentional. I often seemed to just slide into it. So I set myself a rule: I would only speak French when I had announced to the class in English that I was going to speak French. “I’ll say this in French.” In this way, at least I made sure that it was a conscious decision on my part. By obliging myself to stop and think about whether or not it was really necessary to use French, I avoided getting side-tracked. I also modeled the behavior I wanted from my students, that of using French to communicate only when it was absolutely necessary.

 

When TPRS entered my life, the goal of being 100% comprehensible helped me to use less French, because there was no need for lengthy grammar explanations and my students felt much less frustration when I was actively trying to be sure that they understood everything I said in English by speaking slowly and using simplified vocabulary. Their increased comprehension meant that I felt less tempted to speak in French in order to communicate with them. To stop blurting, I made Ten minute deals with my students. We had a timer and when the class went for ten minutes with no French, they earned points towards a reward such as watching a film in English with no interruptions from the teacher. Later I raised the ante to fifteen and even twenty minutes. With some classes we could go a full hour with no French. Those classes always seemed a little bit magic.

 

The use of the native language is not inherent or necessary when teaching with TPRS. While it is true that TPRS teachers usually establish the meaning of new structures with the native language, there are TPRS teachers of ESL who don’t speak the native languages of their students. They simply use gestures, visuals, or familiar synonyms to establish meaning. It's true that many TPRS teachers check for meaning by saying in English, “What did I just say?” The student translates what was said into English and the lesson goes on. If there is no shared language, the teacher needs to assess comprehension differently, but this can be done by watching their eyes and questioning to verify that everything is understood. So the use of the native language is simply a short cut that many teachers use. Few teachers of TPRS/CI find it difficult to stay in the target language for 90-95% of the class period.

 

Still thinking about the recent discussion on Ben’s blot, I received a message from a teacher in Japan who explained that in his school most of the English teachers speak little or no Japanese (and the ones who do understand and speak Japanese are instructed to act as if they don’t). These are teachers who have little choice. Their classes are 100% in the target language. Since it is possible, I wondered, shouldn’t we all be doing the same?

 

Yet, personally, I find a limited use of the native language to be extremely helpful. Not only for the reasons mentioned above, establishing meaning, checking for comprehension and reading, but also, occasionally, to teach a life lesson. Susie Gross, one of the early and very influential users of Blaine Ray’s method, said in a workshop once that when she felt that there was something that needed to be said to her students, she would tell them to close their books, and they would have a discussion in English about life, about things that may be more important than learning to speak another language. Not often, but occasionally I too use French to make a point about something that seems important to me, more important than my planned lesson.

 

Today, I look on teaching a class 100% in the target language as a goal, that I sometimes reach, but not every day. And when 5% of our class time is in the native language, I don’t stay awake about it, if the use of French has helped acquisition.  Eric Herman wrote a useful summary of the blog discussion, citing the valid reasons for using the native tongue from time to time, and concluding that each teacher had to make her own decisions based on her particular class, students and situation.

 

There are superb riders who do not use a saddle or stirrups, who ride bareback. They maintain their seat easily because they are centered and balanced with the horse’s movements. The American Indians, having no saddles, were great horsemen out of necessity. I see the ESL teachers and the teachers in Japan in a similar situation. They become adept at teaching without using the native language, out of necessity. Saddles make riding much easier, just as sharing a common language with your students makes teaching easier, but it is possible to do without and those who ride bareback are extremely skilled.

 

As for me, I try to ride as if I had no saddle, staying in place by being centered and balanced, attentive to my horse’s movements and needs, but I’m very glad that those stirrups are there when I hit a bump. I can use the stirrups to get back in place and then continue riding as if I had no saddle.

 

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                   Circling is more than going in circles

Laurie Clarq has shared some great advice about how to circle. Circling is the Comprehensible Input teacher's weapon of choice, yet we sometimes wonder if we're doing it right, if we're doing enough, how to be more effective. Laurie explains how to keep the magic.  https://tprsquestionsandanswers.wordpress.com/2015/01/23/what-does-t-p-r-s-goddess-laurie-clarq-say-about-circling/. 

                 Experience??? What is Experience?

Younger teachers often tell me they envy my “experience.” Yet, what does the word really mean? Does it just mean that I’m getting old? What is experience? It has to be more than a mere accumulation of years. It seems to imply a certain wisdom that I have no claim to.


To tell the truth, the first time someone used the word “wise” to describe me, I had a hard time keeping from snorting with laughter. Me? Wise? Who are you kidding? Then I began to wonder if all my mistakes, wrong tracks, faux pas and foolish ideas had finally, in the long run, taught me some wisdom. If so, it seemed like a hard way to learn and not one that I’d recommend to teachers just starting their careers. There had to be an easier way.


I thought over what I have learned over the years, the things that helped set me on the right path, the ideas that helped me improve as a teacher, and I realized that “experience” is just another word for Stories, a whole set of stories that I collected over many years, and each story is about a person I met, a person who helped me acquire a little piece of something which other people sometimes call wisdom.


Many of those people were students. As a matter of fact, when I think about my Stories, the stories I often tell to illustrate a point, I realize two important things. First of all, my students taught me far more than any “training” that I was ever given. I have had many colleagues that I admired and copied, but I haven’t learned as much from them as I have from my students.


Secondly, the students who taught me the most were not the “good kids”. It was the others, the ones you don’t really look forward to having in your class, the problem makers, who pushed me to the limit and showed me how to go beyond my preconceived ideas. Good students are a delight and certainly make a teacher’s life easier, but perhaps they have little to teach someone who was once a good student herself. Yes, I confess. I was a “good student,” one of those girls who raise their hands every time the teacher asks a question and doesn’t really understand why the boys get called on more often. I know how good students function and what they’re made of. They don’t keep me awake at night. It’s the others who keep me up, trying to grasp how they think, trying to imagine their worlds, trying to figure out what makes them tick. To a certain extent, they come from a different world, the world of "Authority is the enemy", a different culture, with strange customs that I, the daughter of a naval officer, found hard to read.


Sometimes through luck, sometimes through perseverance, I occasionally was able to look through a window and see the person inside the “kid with problems”. Each glimpse became a story that taught me something, often something rather humbling, and helped me when later I encountered others with similar stories. Now, looking back, I think that the most important thing I learned from them was that they were deserving of my respect, that if I could look them in the eye and see the child rather than my attitudes and preconceptions, we could get to know each other and learn from each other.


Some of the stories didn’t have a happy ending. I remember a class of boys who were hard and cruel and scary, even to teachers with far more experience than I had. None of the trouble makers returned the following year, which is more of a cease-fire than a victory. Yet, later, when I met students who were difficult, I could measure them against the memory of that nightmare class, and decide that they were not all that difficult.


Some of my students’ stories were horrific and humbling, others were inspiring. When they honored me by sharing some of their stories, they helped me to grow a little bit, helped me to become a better teacher. My collection of stories grew and grew, allowing me to walk into a classroom with more assurance that I’d be able to see beyond the masks and the defiance, that I could, with patience, reach out to the child behind the masks and share some stories. I teach language; stories are made of language. And children love stories. Eventually I came to understand that whatever the “methodology” or teacherspeak that was being touted by administrations and ministries of education, my job was to share some stories with my students and to listen to their stories.


I suppose that explains why I like to tell my stories to younger teachers. It’s the only part of my “experience” that I can give to others.

 

 

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Facebook and TPRS Witch

We have a Facebook page, called TPRS Witch. If you go there and like the page, you'll get updates of what is going on in the world of Comprehensible Input and frequent links to interesting articles. 

What is wrong with schools?

Yesterday I read a long article by Carol Black that stunned me. In very simple words she explained so many things that I've often felt or sensed. At the same time, much of what she says echoes the findings of Stephen Krashen, Alfie Kohn and the latest cutting edge research in neurolinguistics. Her article changed forever how I will look at my dyslexic students and others who are said to have "learning disabilities." It will change how I teach and the goals I set my students. I hope it will completely change my relationships with students. Please read this article if you are a teacher or simply a parent. It should be required reading for every adult involved in any way in helping younger humans become functioning adults.  Here is the link: http://schoolingtheworld.org/a-thousand-rivers/


I'd be very interested in hearing back what others think about this article and the ideas it presents.

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How Can I teach Pronunciation ?

 

This question was asked recently by a French person who came to the Agen Workshop in July, 2014. She is perfectly bilingual and a creative, hard-working and conscientious teacher of English. She admitted that she didn’t feel comfortable teaching pronunciation.


Personally, I think we put way too much importance on pronunciation. I was both amused and shocked to discover that some friends who are trying to develop a program to teach new immigrants French were offered training which consisted entirely in pronunciation exercises.


I don't really think we should "teach" pronunciation. I have complete faith in Krashen’s theory that we acquire language best when it is used in context. When we isolate pronunciation in order to teach it, we are divorcing the sounds from their meanings, which makes the entire operation meaningless. (See the article below about Cato the Elder and Night Blooming Flowers.)


In context we are modeling pronunciation all the time. There's no reason for a non-native speaker to feel uncomfortable about the model they give their students because if it is comprehensible, it is already an excellent model. Krashen has some interesting thoughts about why even highly competent speakers retain some accent. He suggests that it may be an unconscious desire to keep their identity. To acquire a perfect native speaker accent, we have to feel that we belong to the club and we must be ready to reject our attachment to our own original language family. So to begin with, we must be realistic in our goals. Unless we are working for the CIA, we are not trying to teach our students to sound like native speakers. We want them to be comprehensible.


If a student means “beach” and you hear "bitch", you need to explain that they may not be understood correctly. I model for them, exaggerating the long vowel sound. I find giving pointers like this on the spot is more effective than drills and exercises on the long and short vowel sounds. When the sound is linked to meaning, they can understand the purpose of being a bit more careful with their pronunciation. When the student starts hearing the difference, they will be able to pronounce the words so that they can be understood.


Of course, the best thing they can do to improve their pronunciation is to listen to compelling, high quality input. I find that students who follow their favorite series acquire an excellent American accent. No drills or exercises, just listening to compelling, comprehensible input.


One of my stories that I repeat often because it taught me something:


I had a student in an advanced level class who had a terrible French accent, making all the classic mistakes, so much so that it almost seemed like she was doing it on purpose. I did pronunciation exercises and drills with them, I had them acting and learning dialogs by heart, I taught them not to aspirate before a vowel, but nothing changed, it seemed she was getting worse and worse.

        

Then, one day, I realized that it wasn’t her problem, it was mine. I was the only one that was worried about her accent. She actually had no problem at all. She was a very pretty girl with a lovely smile. If she went to the States or England with her thick French accent, what would happen? Most people would be able to understand her, but the boys …… would be dropping like flies. Why in the world would she want to change her accent? I stopped worrying about her and she did

very well on her exam.

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Forgotten Treasure

Recently on the moretprs list Pat Barret mentioned a video he had used for many years taken from a BBC program made in the 80's about Stephen Krashen's work. People on the list managed to find the link and here it is: an excellent introduction to the 5 hypotheses. You can only wonder how teachers could continue to ignore Comprehensible Input methods after this program.

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My Encounter with Stephen Krashen

Lil, Tammy, Dr. K, Carole and me
Lil, Tammy, Dr. K, Carole and me

This is the third year that I have travelled to Paris for the annual TESOL Colloquium to present TPRS. The other two years I was a speaker and had a small room where I could explain the method to anyone who wanted to come in. The first year there were about 20 people and lots of empty chairs. But two of the people there came to the first Agen Workshop I organized in 2013. Last year I had a bigger room and a better time slot and they had to bring in more chairs and I ran out of handouts. My title was: How to Fit Krashen into the Classroom.

 

This year I was not speaking, but Stephen Krashen was the plenary speaker. As a matter of fact he was giving three plenary conferences during the three days of the Colloquium. To be sure that TPRS was represented, I rented a stand to answer questions. I didn’t have much to put on a stand besides flyers for the 2015 workshop, so I brought along some books by Ben Slavik, some collections of story scripts, The Arrival by Shaun Tan, and photocopies of the Verb Flower to hand out. Since the only tea you can get at these things is the horrible stuff from dispenser machines, I brought my teapot, my Earl Grey and some cups too. Carole and Tamara decided to come with me. Cheryl and Lillian came from Strasbourg to help me keep the stand.

 

Friday evening I was sitting at our stand, when two men walked in and I heard one say, “Where’s the show?” I recognized Stephen and told him, “You’re the show,” and introduced myself. He was glad to see me, since Karen Rowan had told him I’d be there. I hadn’t found any Starbucks coffee, but he graciously accepted a cup of tea. Stephen’s talk that evening was charming and witty, but it was also a strong defense of acquisition through compelling, comprehensible input, using examples from his own life. To my delight he mentioned TPRS several times as the most effective method for acquiring a language that he knew of, and asked me to stand up so that people would know who to ask about it. He was so generous with his praise that later some people wanted to know if we had sponsored him. He also named the enemy, skill based learning, which explained some of the long faces we could see in the audience.

 

Back at the stand, we had lots of inquiries and sometimes there were three or four of us busy answering questions. Several people said they wanted to come to the workshop this summer. The next day I was only able to get away for one presentation about inner motivation. I was disappointed to see that the speaker was reading both from several pages of notes and from his power point slides. I never use power points myself, simply because I know the gremlins will take over and it won’t work and I’ll be fussing with cables and flash drives and switches all the time. Also because I remain attached to the idea that it is simple courtesy to look at the people who have come to hear you. The speaker made several references to Krashen and I had the impression that after hearing him he had rewritten his entire presentation. Or, knowing Krashen was the plenary speaker, he may have intended all along to acknowledge his ideas.

 

At first he seemed to be using Krashen as support, but he eventually came to a parting of the ways. My impression (which may be wrong, I wasn’t taking notes) is that he was saying that inner motivation will lead the learner to practice and build his skills. I caught a whiff of Protestant ethics. No pain, no gain. And I think this is where so many teachers find it difficult to accept Krashen. Rightfully proud of their own linguistic abilities, which they worked hard to develop, they instinctively reject the idea of painless acquisition through compelling comprehensible input.

 

Saturday evening Dr. Krashen discussed case histories of animals that have acquired language, demonstrating that comprehensible input was more efficient than direct instruction in every known case. Sunday he touched on some of the controversies and explained his position. I particularly enjoyed his defense of students who seem to be looking for answers on the ceiling. If you ever have a chance of hearing him, don’t miss it. He is a very effective speaker and several people on our team remarked that there were fewer long faces and more smiles on Sunday. After his talk, Jane Ryder, vice-president of TESOL France, thanked him and said that she felt that she had been present at a historic moment of change in language teaching in France.I hope she is a true prophet.

 

Why is Stephen Krashen controversial? It’s often the first reaction to any mention of his name. “He’s very controversial.” Yet if you simply describe his hypotheses without names or sources, people tend to consider them simple common sense. I note that the man has strong political beliefs and opinions that he openly defends. His position on bilingual education programs, his defense of public librairies and more recently his condemnation of high stakes testing have made him unpopular with powerful and influential people.

 

Many of the more vicious attacks on Krashen were sponsored by those who did not like his stand on bilingual education in California. I've even come across the rather preposterous claim that his theories have been proven false by the fact that the bilingual program was voted out. I can conceive that many people didn't want to pay tax money for a program that enabled immigrant children to be successful in school. How does that invalidate the program they didn’t want to finance?

 

Looking for an objective, neutral discussion of Krashen, I found "How Languages are Learned" by Lightbrown and Spada, Oxford University Press, Krashen's theories are more or less accurately described, then dismissed with "they haven't been proven". The authors failed to mention that they haven't been disproven either. Then they went on to discuss other theories, equally unproven, but which they seemed to find more congenial. Looking further, I find that Nina Spada is an advocate of form focused instruction, whereas Dr. Krashen holds that form is acquired when we focus on content.

 

My own personal position is that all of his hypotheses accurately describe and explain what I encounter in the classroom every day. We have all met that affective filter and seen students be transformed when it goes down. We all know the difference between what students have learned for a test and what they have acquired and can produce spontaneously. We all have heard that monitor in our head, correcting our grammar (usually just after we said it wrong). We all know that some of the structures which we introduce on Day One, Lesson One, will not be acquired until our students have become fluent speakers. And we have, I hope, all had quiet students who spoke very little but listened intently and one day started speaking with ease. The truth is that Krashen's work is monumental and it's hard to ignore him, but it's also hard to adapt standard language teaching practice, whether it be traditional, audio-lingual, communicative, form-focused or problem/project based, to his hypothesis. James Asher was the first to apply Comprehensible Input to teaching and came up with TPR. Blaine Ray took it further with TPR Storytelling. People on the moretprs list-serve tried it in their classrooms and have been sharing feedback, refining and adding to it ever since. Teachers who are not desperate enough, or honest enough or brave enough to question what they have been doing in their classrooms for many years find it easier to dismiss Comprehensible Input, saying "His theories haven't been proven," If you reply, “nor have they been disproven and they've been around for a long time”, they change the subject. Well, I believe that my students validate Krashen's theories every hour I spend with them.

 

Teachers who have used comprehensible input strategies in the classroom are a bit like the sailors who went around the world with Magellan. They may not be able to explain why or how or use the right vocabulary to talk about their experience, but they know the world is round.

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  • #1

    Gerry Wass (mardi, 18 novembre 2014 14:16)

    i deeply enjoyed this big-picture rendering of Dr. Krashen's work and the overall state of resistance to the idea of comprehensible input. It makes me feel deeply blessed to have had several encounters with him myself that have inspired me to separate myself from the way I was taught and move toward what helps my students acquire language. I have loved his vision since I first encountered it, along with TPR and TPRS. My difficulties have always been with developing the skills, but I carry on. I now teach Spanish in a multi-level setting which is much-loved by my students and me, but I sometimes wish he could observe me to help me do even more with this model. Thank you for inspiring this whole personal reverie!

  • #2

    Judith Dubois (mardi, 18 novembre 2014 16:24)

    Dear Gerry,

    Thank You; Carry on carrying on.

Cato the Elder and Night Blooming Flowers

Recently I have been thinking about the difference between comprehensible input classes and other language classes. I almost said traditional classes, but there are those who don’t consider themselves as traditional teachers because they use communicative activities and/or problem based teaching, authentic resources, etc. Yet they continue to dissect the language, to label verbs, nouns, adverbs, etc, explaining to students the mechanics of grammatical rules and expecting them to apply them. This is what I used to do, and I thought I was pretty good at it. My colleagues liked my schemas and copied them. They were wonderfully clear …. if you were a language teacher. If they weren’t all that clear to the students, well, some kids just aren’t capable of learning such things, so the problem was not the schema but the kids, right?

 

Wrong. According to Stephen Krashen we are all capable of acquiring a second language once we have acquired our first language. I used to tell my francophone students that it didn’t take a lot of intelligence to learn to speak English, and there were a lot of people voting for __________ (you supply the name) who proved it. So if my students are not using the passive voice correctly, it’s not because they are not capable of acquiring the structure. It’s because they haven’t heard it and read it in a compelling comprehensible context often enough.

 

 

Once that idea sank in, it made me look at all my lovely schemas with different eyes. Did I explain them to the students in English? Well, no, it was a bit too technical, so I did it in French (but not when there was an inspector in the room). Were they compelling? Well, to be honest, very few of my students thought so. Did they enable the students to use the structures correctly? Yes, for the exercises in the workbook and the day of the test. Once the test was over, I’m afraid I never again saw a passive voice construction in my students’ written work.

 

I’m reminded of a story, a true story, something that happened to a friend of ours in Cameroon. He was a Dutch botanist working for a German museum. He spent all day every day in the forest looking for plants that had been collected and classified for the museum before World War I, when Cameroon was a German colony. After two world wars many of their samples from Cameroon had been lost, destroyed or damaged. His job was to find the original plants and send new samples to the museum.

 

One day he found the plant that every botanist dreams of. An uncollected plant, a lovely white, night blooming flower that had never been identified before. Very excited, he dug up a complete sample with roots and all, took it home and then, since we were eating with him and our car was in the garage, came to pick us up. He was very excited and told us all about his wonderful find, how, as its discoverer, he would be allowed to give the new plant his own name.

 

 

Then we arrived at his home for dinner. His wife had made a nice meal and the maid had set the table with a pretty cloth and flowers decorating each place. Horror and catastrophe! The unlucky girl had found the plant her employer had brought back from the forest and had taken all the flowers from it to decorate the table, scattering bits of greenery and blossoms between the plates from one end to the other.

 

Our friend, normally a very mild man, began to shout in fury. His great scientific discovery had been reduced to little bits of stems and flowers. His wife, pitying the maid, suggested that they could reassemble all the parts and still send the plant to the museum. He was even more outraged, saying that no respectable scientist would accept a plant that had been pieced back together. He wasn’t sure he’d ever be able to locate the place where he had found it again and he might never again have an opportunity to name a flower.

 

Language is the lovely, wild flower growing in the forest. It has no need of names or explanations. With its stems and blossoms and roots and leaves it is an organic whole and that is the comprehensible input that teachers present, in context, rooted in the earth with all its parts working together to produce meaning. When we keep the language whole, our students are able to see it as a living organism. As we use the whole language to interact with them, to communicate, they see it breathe and grow before their eyes. And thus it takes root and grows in their brain, reproducing itself as it becomes their thing, their personal tool that they can use to express their own ideas and thoughts. As teachers we must be as careful as botanists to maintain the integrity of the language, to keep it whole rather than breaking it down into “parts of speech.”

 

Teachers who spend precious class time talking about the language, although they are doing what their own teachers did before them, although they are well-meaning and find beauty in the bits and pieces of their lessons, are like our friend’s maid, using a very precious and unique plant to make a pretty dinner table. The end result is a dead organism reduced to broken parts of the whole that our students are unable to put back together.

 

As Cato the Elder said, “Grasp the subject, the words will follow.” Simply put, to learn to speak a language all you need is someone to talk to and something to talk about. Comprehensible Input teachers talk to their students about things that interest them. TPRS uses stories to keep their interest, but the stories are preceded by PQA, Personalized Questions and Answers, and nothing is more compelling than talking about ourselves. Throughout the lesson, the language is whole and organic. We don’t clip off the “difficult” bits like the subjunctive or the past perfect or future conditional. We use whatever is needed while we focus on meaning, on being comprehensible. When our students grasp the subject, they find the words they need.

 

 

I showed my students the first scene of The Lord of the Rings, the Prologue. “Three rings were given to the elves…. Seven rings were given to the dwarf-lords … and nine rings were given to the kings of men … but another ring was made … they were all of them deceived.” We discussed it and I questioned them. How many rings were given to the dwarfs? To the elves? Where was the master ring made?  Weeks later, discussing a later scene in the movie, I asked, “Who made the master ring?” One of my students answered, “The ring was made by Sauron.”

 

Did he know that he was using the passive voice? No. Could he tell you what the passive voice construction is? No. Did he need a schema to help him find the correct auxiliary? No. Was he using it correctly and appropriately? Yes.

 

 

So let us be gardeners that cultivate beautiful plants, plants that live and grow in our students’ minds as an organic whole. We know that acquiring another language opens up worlds because it allows us to communicate with marvelous people from distant lands and many of those people have no idea what the passive voice construction is, though they use it every day.

 

 

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Tamara's Links

At our tea party yesterday, Tamara shared several ideas and links that the others found interesting.  Here they are:

 

- FIVE

Le nom en entier c’est five in a row (FIAR) et le principe c’est qu’ils voient le livre 5 jours de suite de manière différente. Je pense que dans le cas des maternelles c’est «  before 5 in a row ».

 

L’avantage c’est que les livres sont supers et que le choix des activités même si tout n’intéresse pas,  donne de quoi faire et des idées – non-négligeable quand on crée tout le temps, n’est-ce pas ?

 

Voici le site officiel : http://fiveinarow.com/before-five-in-a-row/; malheureusement tout en anglais,

Donc voici une petite explication en français : https://isableue.wordpress.com/category/supports/before-five-in-a-row/

Et son adaptation en français : https://isableue.wordpress.com/category/supports/before-five-in-a-row/

 

 

Donc ceci dit voici un site avec les imprimables pour les lectures des livres :

http://www.homeschoolcreations.com/LiteratureBasedPrintables.html

et les examples d’une maman :

http://www.delightfullearning.net/2014/03/rowing-with-before-five-in-a-row.html

les liens piniterest :

http://www.pinterest.com/missjoydee/before-five-in-a-row/

http://www.pinterest.com/kdemoline/story-extensions-b4fiar/

http://www.pinterest.com/smarshj/five-in-a-row-and-other-literature-units/

 

 

et sur les albums d’ ERIC CARLE :

http://isableue.files.wordpress.com/2010/08/autour-des-albums-deric-carle.pdf

+ des activités qui renforcent :

https://www.teachervision.com/tv/printables/penguin/VHC_40thActivity_Booklet.pdf

https://www.teachervision.com/tv/printables/penguin/VHC_40thPoster_revlo.pdf

et le site officiel : http://www.eric-carle.com/home.html

 

Du coup le circling se fait très bien et est varié tout en renouvelant le sujet…

 

Voici des photos pris par une maman sur WE’RE GOING ON A BEAR HUNT

http://www.homeschoolcreations.net/2011/09/were-going-on-bear-hunt-bfiar-preschool/op

 

Et enfin il s’agit de ne pas être submergé par trop d’info et  de suivre les enfants ! 

J’ai quelques unités quelques part sur mon ordi pour divers livres maternelle et primaire…

 

-Et les LAPBOOKS, voici  l' explication en français:

http://lapbook.fr/

 

et des examples du Very Hungry Catepillar: https://www.google.fr/search?q=lapbook+the+very+hungry+caterpillar&es_sm=93&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&sa=X&ei=VConVOafEZTnauXEgugP&ved=0CCIQsAQ&biw=1024&bih=513

avec un exemplaire pret à imprimer: http://www.homeschoolshare.com/very_hungry_caterpillar.php

avec aussi des printables:http://www.1plus1plus1equals1.com/TheVeryHungryCaterpillar.html

et les liens pininterest: http://www.pinterest.com/search/pins/?q=the%20very%20hungry%20catepillar&term_meta%5B%5D=the+very+hungry+catepillar%7Ctyped

 

C'est riche, et parfois submergeant mais quand la créativité bogue parfois ça redonne une coup de pouce!

 

Merci à tous pour votre INPUT de cet aprem, je vais mettre en pratique et vous donner du FEEDBACK… ;)

A très bientôt je l’espère…

Tamara

The Verb Flower

Some days, if I want to have some fun, I ask my francophone students how many verb tenses there are in English. Their guesses are all over the place, usually somewhere between ten and twenty. And they are guesses; no one is really sure that they know the answer to my question.

These are students who have been studying English for at least four years and many of the adults for far longer. If it wasn’t so funny, I would be weeping. When I ask them to name the tenses, one of the most popular is “preterite.” (I’ve never met a native English speaker who hasn’t studied Latin who has ever heard of the “preterite”.)

 

Of course, since I teach with Comprehensible Input, I don’t intend to deliver a grammar lesson detailing all the complexities of English verbs to my students. What I do want to do is to lower their affective filters by showing them that there is a system to English madness and that it is not nearly as complicated as they think, that actually it’s much simpler than their native French verbs.

 

Many years ago I listened to a French educational expert, Brigitte Trankheim, explain how she used mandalas to help students visualize relationships and systems. And I came up with a mandala that represented the English verb system.

 

I could just print it and hand it out to my students, but I usually prefer to draw it with them, so that it feels like a group effort. I give them each a blank piece of paper and ask them to hold it upright (portrait position) and draw a horizontal line through the middle. I then explain that according to linguists English has only two tenses: past and present. Immediately they ask about the future and the conditional. I explain that English speakers have many ways of speaking about the future and expressing conditional thoughts, but we do not have tenses for them.

 

I suggest that we consider everything above the line Present and everything below the line Past. In the very center of the line I draw a circle and write V in it. My scientific classes want to know how big the circle is, and I say 2 cm. These are the classes that take out their geometry tools and rulers to be sure their circles are perfectly round and the lines are perfectly straight. My model on the board is lop-sided and usually gets pretty messy.

 

I then explain that of course there are more than two verb forms (that would be too easy, right?) because while there are only two tenses there are three aspects, simple, progressive(or continuous) and perfect. So we have two times three, six verb forms. So we draw three petals above the line and three petals below the line, which gives us an image of a daisy with six petals. I like to use warm colors above the line for the present and cool colors below the line for the past.

 

In each petal I write the auxiliary needed and a representation of the verb form as used by linguists. (do/does) + V(s) in the top middle petal, be + Ving next to it and have/has + Ven on the other side. In the bottom middle petal we write (did) + V(ed). Was/were + Ving next to it and had + Ven next to it. I explain that Ved and Ven are the same thing for regular verbs, but not for all irregular verbs, so Ven represents the third form in their lists of irregular verbs, a form that often ends with –en, but not always. The parenthesis show parts which are not always present. I explain that these are shorthand ways of naming the verb forms used by linguists. And we talk about why it’s V(s) and they can figure out that the –s is used for third person singulars, etc.

 

Then we draw another, larger row of petals, and in this row we put the English name of each verb form above the linguistic shorthand: Simple Present, Present Continuous, Present Perfect, Simple Past, Past Continuous, Past Perfect.

 

Then we draw a third row of larger petals in which we write a short example sentence of each form. I try to use students in the examples or something that is familiar to them, like a sentence from a recent story, to make the sentences easy to remember. I also try to use sentences that are a good illustration of how the form is used. Since my francophone students only have one present tense form, I often use contrasting sentences to help them sense the difference. (The bell rings every day at 8:55. / The bell is ringing now. / The bell has rung so we can go.)

 

In a fourth row of petals, we try to explain how each verb form is used. I use their suggestions whenever possible and make my additions and comments as simple as possible.

 

This entire operation can take an hour of class time, but I usually have everyone very focused throughout because I explain that they will have the right to consult their verb-flower at all times, even during tests. I always tell them that this will be their one and only grammar lesson of the year. I sometimes suggest that they redo it at home, using their own examples and color schemes. In a class of all boys I suggest that they can make it a series of circles instead of flower petals if they wish.

 

Thanks so much to Rachel Salvi and my daughter, Kellie Dubois, for transforming my awful scribble into a lovely visual.

 

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  • #1

    Michele (samedi, 20 septembre 2014 16:59)

    I think you have past continuous listed for both past and present continuous. Is the present continuous "has been reading"?

  • #2

    Judith (samedi, 20 septembre 2014 20:57)

    Sorry, the print was small on the model I saw and I didn't notice that "He is reading." had become "He was reading." As soon as I can get the artist to change it, I'll have it corrected. "He has been reading" is the Present Perfect Continuous form, simply a combination of Present Perfect and the Continuous. The students who have understood the system as presented shouldn't have any trouble understanding that it's possible to combine the two forms.

I've now corrected the image. Thanks, Michele, for pointing out the oversight.

 

Buttercup the cat is not black and white

This is an embedded reading for a passage taken from the first book of Hunger Games. The original version is the fourth text.

 

I

A cat is sitting beside Prim. He is ugly. His hair and eyes are dirty yellow. Prim named him Buttercup, like the flower. He hates me. I put him in a bucket of water when he was a baby cat. I didn’t want to feed him. But Prim cried, so he lived. My mother cared for him. He hunts mice. Sometimes I give him the entrails of dead animals. He has stopped hissing at me. But he doesn’t like me.

 

II

Sitting beside Prim is a very ugly cat. His nose is flat, half of one ear is missing. He has eyes the color of old squash*. Prim named him Buttercup. She said his dirty yellow hair was the same color as a flower. He hates me. I think he remembers that I put him in a bucket* of water when Prim brought him home. He was a little kitten with a big stomach and fleas*. I didn’t need another mouth to feed. But Prim cried and I had to let him live. It’s OK. My mother cleaned him and he is a good hunter. Sometimes, when I clean a dead rabbit, I feed Buttercup the entrails. He has stopped hissing at me.

Entrails. No hissing. But we are not friends.

 

* squash = courge      *bucket = seau       *fleas = puces

 

III

Guarding Prim is the world’s ugliest cat. A flat nose, half of one ear missing, eyes the color of old squash. Prim named him Buttercup. She insisted that his dirty yellow coat was the same color as the yellow flower. He hates me. I think he remembers that I tried to put him in a bucket of water when Prim brought him home. A very thin kitten with a big stomach, worms* and fleas. The last thing I needed was another mouth to feed. But Prim begged* and cried, I had to let him stay. It’s OK. My mother gave him medicine for the vermin and he was a good mouser.* Occasionally he catches a rat. Sometimes, when I clean a dead rabbit, I feed Buttercup the entrails. He has stopped hissing at me.

Entrails. No hissing. But we do not love each other.

 

*worms = vers *begged = suppliait * mouser = chasseur de souris

 

IV

Sitting at Prim’s knees, guarding her, is the world’s ugliest cat. Mashed-in* nose, half of one ear missing, eyes the color of rotting* squash. Prim named him Buttercup, insisting that his muddy yellow coat matched the bright flower. He hates me. I think he still remembers how I tried to drown him in a bucket when Prim brought him home. Scrawny* kitten, belly swollen* with worms, crawling with fleas. The last thing I needed was another mouth to feed. But Prim begged so hard, cried even, I had to let him stay. It turned out OK. My mother got rid* of the vermin and he was a born mouser. Even catches the occasional rat. Sometimes, when I clean a kill*, I feed Buttercup the entrails. He has stopped hissing at me.

Entrails. No hissing. This is the closest we will ever come to love.

 

*mashed-in = écrasé       *rotting = pourri       *scrawny = maigrichon         *swollen = gonflé

*get rid = débarasser de              *kill = gibier

 

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True Confessions

Recently on the moretprs list Lance said: "There ARE other methods of teaching in successful language programs that produce fluent speakers. ... To many teachers who have spent years honing thier craft and skills, it is very scary to hear about change, especially from someone younger and less-experienced. After all, their students consistently do well and the school community respects them."

 

When I read this, I felt that it was addressed to me personally, or rather to a former me, the teacher I was before I discovered TPRS.

 

I taught English as a foreign language for 38 years before I ever heard of TPRS and Comprehensible Input. I gave grammar explanations and exercises because that was what language teachers did and my students expected it. I tried to make everything as clear as it was to me and my colleagues admired and copied my diagrams and schemas. But that wasn't what I enjoyed the most and I used communicative activities, theater, films and songs whenever possible, simply because they were fun and my students seemed to come to life when they found something ..... compelling? (We often forget that Krashen's hypothesis calls for Compelling Comprehensible Input.) As time went on, I did less grammar and more of the other stuff and I experimented with other things whenever possible, knowing there was always room for improvement.

Then, when I should have been thinking about retiring, I saw a second year American high school student carry on a conversation in French with my students who had had seven years of English. That was the first time I ever heard about TPRS. At first it was simple curiosity, thinking it might be a new tool to put in my kit, but after a workshop or two I realised that grammar explanations are not only boring for most students, they are also ineffective. Pat Barret, on the moretprs list serve said it quite eloquently. "Conscious cognitive processes are supposed to allow us to manipulate over 3000 grammar rules while ordering our crepes."

Some of my former students did become fluent speakers. Some of them kindly attribute it to me. But the more honest ones say that I taught them to love the language, and because of their interest and enjoyment in my classes they went on to acquire fluency in various ways. Krashen has convinced me how important "comprehensible" is, but I always knew that a teacher worth her salary has to be "compelling". Ask any student about the teachers they remember as having influenced or inspired them, and you'll hear them say that the teacher made her classes interesting.

There is definitely a Before and After in the way I taught before I discovered TPRS and afterwards. But it was a gradual curve since I was too far away to get any coaching and workshops meant an expensive trip that I couldn't make every year. Moretprs and Ben Slavic were my lifelines. Yet I still do many of the things I did before with films and songs, etc. I just do them better, because I understand better the process that makes them effective. Comprehensible Input has become the measuring stick for everything I do in class.

 

There are a lot of good non-TPRS language teachers out there. Some TPRS adepts, who sometimes have the fanatical zeal of fresh converts, tend to consider anyone who isn't doing TPRS as the "enemy". I suggest we recognise that they aren't always teaching grammar and that much of what they do is good practice and effective. They don't have to throw it all away when they start applying comprehensible input. They can learn to use their some of their old, familiar tools in better ways.

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  • #1

    Michele (samedi, 20 septembre 2014 17:02)

    Love this! I also credit the TPRS community for teaching me how to do CI. Thanks for writing!

  • #2

    Judith (samedi, 20 septembre 2014 20:59)

    Thank you, Michele. It's always great to get a response.

French in Normandy

I’m just back from a short stay in Normandy where I gave a workshop on Comprehensible Input and TPRS. I discovered a lovely city, Rouen, and a dynamic and impressive school called French in Normandy.

 

I spent the first day sitting in on classes and meeting Eleri Maitland, the director. She and her husband, Tom, moved to France from Wales and founded French in Normandy in 1992. They have built it into an award-winning enterprise that draws students from around the world. When she invited me to come and give a workshop, I imagined that her students were mostly British ex-pats who had chosen to retire in the region and wanted to improve their French. The reality was quite different. I sat in on classes with students of all ages from Korea, Japan, Brazil, Mexico, Germany, Switzerland and Holland. When I asked someone how they managed to recruit from so many different countries, I was told, “Eleri is our secret weapon. She goes to conferences around the world and brings us the students.”

 

I couldn’t help but think that for a teacher, French in Normandy is almost a dream school. The classes are small, limited to ten maximum, the rooms are attractive, bright, modern, well equipped and comfortable. There is a good atmosphere of trust and respect between the teachers and the staff, some of whom are also teaching classes.

 

The teachers that I observed were young, competent, very professional and dynamic. It was obvious that they enjoy their work and get along well with their students. The students were relaxed but serious about wanting to learn to speak French. The classes were entirely in French, since there was no common language. All the students had notebooks which stated their explicit goals for the week and the activities that would enable them to attain their goals.

 

In the evening I had a brief meeting with the teachers to introduce myself and TPRS. They had never heard of it before, so I gave them a brief history of the method.

 

The following day I gave a demonstration lesson in English, so they could see what TPRS looks like, before I presented them with a wall of posters presenting the different techniques that TPRS teachers use. I explained Circling, Teach to the Eyes, PQA, Three Steps, Pop-ups, etc. In the afternoon they chose structures to work on and developed a lesson. Then they presented the lesson to their peers and I coached. Most of them seemed to have grasped the principles I was trying to get across and did an excellent job for a first attempt. I was delighted to see that they were open to innovation and interested in trying it out.

 

Once you begin investigating TPRS, you realize that it is a vast field and involves rethinking almost everything you do in the classroom. A single day seems like far too short a time to communicate all the aspects and strategies involved in giving students as much comprehensible input as possible. I felt torn between wanting to give them a good idea of all the possibilities and not wanting to overwhelm them. In the documentation I included lots of links to sites on the web, videos and forums where they can find more information and ask questions as they explore the possibilities of stories and comprehensible input. It’s a long, in some ways never-ending journey, but well worth the effort when you observe the progress students are able to make.

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It can be so easy!

We tend to dwell a lot on the difficulties of using TPRS, but Alva, who had never heard of it before last Saturday, went back to her classroom and tried it out, with great results.

 

I had gone to a TESOL conference in Toulouse, thanks to an invitation from Kate Kleinworth, who works hard to organize conferences there fairly often. I had the luxury of an hour and a half to present TPRS to a group of English teachers, most of whom are native speakers. What I did was ask them to role-play their own students and teach a typical TPRS lesson, explaining as I went the why behind it all. There was a good reaction and today I received this e-mail from Alva, which did my heart good.

 

Hi Judy,

 

We met at the conference in Toulouse last week, which was delightful. I really enjoyed your workshop and was immediately looking forward to trying it out. I promised I'd send you an email about how my first attempt at TPRS went.

 

It went great! I should mention that we don't read or write in class, we don't work from books and we don't do festivals and cultural events, which I abhor! Their regular class teacher is happy to cover Halloween, Christmas and so on. We do a lot of talking and singing with actions, eliciting and so on, so they aren't coming straight from a 'follow the book' format to TPRS.

 

First this morning I had a class of 10, aged 5-7. We have 45 minutes together each week and they are very well behaved and highly motivated. There's two boys and eight girls. The youngest don't have much more than colours, numbers to 20, days of the week, a few animals and so on, so not enough vocab for TPRS.

 

Instead, we did TPR, which of course they loved. We started with a song and 'how are you' as a warm-up. in TPR we did 'go to the window, go to the door, touch your nose, touch your knees', and a couple they already know like stand up, sit down and clap. The great advantage is that the small ones can copy the big ones. The oldest, Viola, looked at me piercingly at one stage and discerned: "' Me' - c'est 'moi'. Tu disait 'me'." Attagirl.

 

In the second class, CE2, CM1 and CM2, we did proper TPRS - the story ended up as follows: On Saturday, Marie and Barbie garden in Fairyland. They go to see the Queen of England who is wearing a pink T-Shirt and a green skirt. Now that's far from a Homerun story but we thought it was great. It took maybe 20 minutes for them to properly understand what was required of them, but by the end they were well on board and asking for more. They earned their Kindergarten day next time with five whole minutes without one word of French.

 

The nomination of Storyteller, Quizmaster, Timekeeper was FANTASTIC. Edouard, who has two teachers for parents and is confident and clever and never blessedwell stops talking, was Storyteller and did a great job. What he came up with, aged 10 and never having really written in English before, was very close to what was on the board. Quizmaster Ervin, who is shy and new to the school, but good, didn't quite get his role (I hadn't taken enough time to explain it) and his questions were general rather than about the story, but that can be fixed. The great joy was the Timekeeper, Jean, who can be very troublesome but took his role very seriously and I never had a peep out of him. He did cheat a bit, but I let that slide: I hope that's allowed! We gave all three a round of applause at the end, which made everyone feel good. Clementine asked if she could be Timekeeper next week, but I want Jean there again, so I invented the role of 'Wordsmith' for her, telling her I need her quite wide English vocabulary. Which is true: I need her engaged with the task as she is the strongest of the remaining children. The behaviour of the group was fantastic, and the structure certainly worked a dream with my mixed ages and levels.

 

We ended up with, on the board, the question words plus: 'garden, Barbie, go to, fly, Fairyland, queen of England, skirt and T-shirt.' We've been working on the question words the whole year, but I put them up on the board anyway which turned out to be a smart move because it reminded me what questions to ask with each new step in the story. For me, juggling plot twists, remembering to echo and check comprehension and so on took lots of effort. I need to work to my barometers and be careful of teaching to the eyes of querulous students! I also need to remember to keep pointing to out of bounds words but I'm confident that all I need is practice. It was an undoubted success, a great thing to have in my arsenal and very, very well suited to this particular class so yes, I'll be doing it again - just after kindergarten day. Thank you so much for introducing us all to this. My students say thank you too!

 

Best wishes, Alva

 

 

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Rachel and Phrasal Verbs

In Besançon Teri and I were hosted by Rachel, a lively English girl who gives private English lessons and teaches in a business school. She has given her company the very appropriate name of Smile, since it’s difficult to think of Rachel without seeing her radiant smile.

 

Rachel first heard of TPRS when I presented it at Strasbourg’s Spring Day last June and immediately decided that she wanted to do the workshop in Agen. She likes the results she has been having, but wanted help with planning her lessons. We gave her a few ideas and sat in on several of her lessons. I admired the friendly atmosphere that she has been able to develop in her groups and enjoyed meeting her students, who are also her good friends.

 

She told us how difficult she finds it to integrate TPRS/Comprehensible Input methods with the requirements at the language school where she works. She is preparing her students there to pass the TOEIC exam where they must attain a minimum score to get their diploma. Her employer has given her a list of grammatical points to cover, not necessarily TPRS friendly. In particular she wanted to know how to approach the long list of phrasal verbs that she was supposed to teach.

 

If English is your native language but you don’t teach it, you may not know what phrasal verbs are. When I first heard the expression I had been teaching English for many years without knowing what they were. I remember finding a list in an Oxford University Press textbook for English learners, advanced level, and thinking at the time that it was brilliant. It listed all the combinations with “get”. Get up, get on, get out, get over, get across, get through, etc., etc. Phrasal verbs are a nightmare for English learners who look up “get” in the dictionary and find a whole page of possible meanings.

 

Later, seeing how difficult phrasal verbs were for my students, I realized two things. Firstly, although phrasal verbs are usually treated at the advanced level, they are an essential part of English structures and can’t be avoided even in texts for beginners. Secondly, that the lists of phrasal verbs that one often finds have it all wrong. They are almost all centered on a common verb. The student is asked to memorize all the different meanings of “get + particle” that can be found in the dictionary. Then on another day she’ll be asked to memorize all the different meanings of give up, give in, give out, give over, etc. And another day she’ll have look up, look over, look out, look into, etc. No wonder students turn pale when you mention phrasal verbs.

 

When I was teaching French to English translation at the university in Agen, I taught my students how to do a criss-cross, or chassé-croisé with phrasal verbs. Bear with me here for just a little technical explanation. With phrasal verbs the “little word” that follows the verb is more important than the English verb. I always said “little word” because many of my students were unsure of exactly what a preposition was and had no idea of the difference between preposition and particle. To walk across becomes traverser in French. To run across, to get across, to fly across, to skip across, etc. can all be translated as traverser, with a qualifier such as en courant if wanted.

 

So I began explaining to students that any verb followed by “in” probably meant entrer. That any verb followed by “down” would convey the idea of descendre. That “out” always implied sortir and “up” could often be explained with monter. And I gave these explanations to beginners as well as advanced students. Instead of memorizing pages of lists, they only had to retain the core meanings of in, out, up, down, etc. Once I began using TPRS I did this in pop-ups every time we encountered a phrasal verb, which is often in any English text.

 

The lists Rachel had to teach to her students were daunting because, intended for advanced students, they concentrated on abstract meanings related to business rather than the more concrete action verbs. But I was able to show her that by grouping the expressions by their particle instead of the verb she could make similar meanings more apparent. Instead of working with all the expressions with “look”, we chose all those that used “through”. And found look through, go through, get through, run through, sit through, etc.

 

In class Rachel began with some PQA, using look through, get through and sit through. Then she created a story about a girl named Alice who had to sit through boring Sunday dinners with her relatives and wanted to get through her studies so she could move away. Later Alice had a good job but had to go through endless e-mails every day and sit through boring meetings, etc. The students enjoyed the story and came up with some interesting ideas. Alice ended up selling shark burgers on the beach in Hawaii. Rachel ended her lesson with a big smile.

 

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What's Wrong with Communicative Activities?

I recently saw a comment on Twitter by someone who wanted to know why they had heard “communicative” used as a derogatory term by TPRS teachers. I remember when I first came across a book of communicative activities and I thought it was wonderful. I had experienced traditional (memorize the vocabulary and memorize the grammar rules) teaching methods, language lab exercises and the Natural Approach in its early days. The one that worked best for me personally was the Natural Approach, but I was highly motivated and eager. I could see many students in my class who just switched off because they couldn’t understand the teacher.

 

As a new teacher, I thought Communicative Activities would be interesting for my students and an effective way to get them to practice the language. I started using pairwork and group discussions, gap activities, debates, anything and everything to get my students talking to each other.

 

Well, let’s be honest. I was disappointed in my students. Even the “nice” (eager to learn, highly motivated kids like I had been) ones did not keep up talking in the target language when I walked away from them. I thought that such activities must be wonderful in language schools in England where the students don’t share a language, but in France my students were doing the exercises, but using more French than English.

 

I reasoned with them, I sharpened my classroom management skills, I used positive reinforcement, etc., but I found myself using such activities less and less, because I honestly couldn’t see much learning going on. Even when students did try to do the task, their TL output made me cringe. I noted the worst mistakes and worked on them with the class, but I kept hearing them, and it seemed that other students were more likely to pick up the mistakes rather than the corrections.

 

Now that I’ve learned about and adopted TPRS/CI, I don’t set my students up to fail. I design my classes to give them high quality Compelling Comprehensible Input and I don’t ask them to do anything that they are not comfortable doing. I know, having seen my students progress rapidly, that when they have had adequate good quality input, they will produce language that is correct and they will do it spontaneously, naturally.

 

TPRS detractors talk about our “aversion” to output. I wish they could sit in on one of my classes as we discuss a film, a chapter from a book, what the students did over the weekend, the news, whatever. We are having a conversation, and it is a true conversation, not an artificially contrived situation. The students are engaged and forget that we are speaking a different language. They have things to say, and they say them. If someone struggles, I help out, if they want to know how to say something, I tell them, but we are focusing on the subject under discussion, not on the language. If something comes out garbled, I repeat what I’ve understood, so everyone hears the correct structures that are needed.

 

I have no aversion to output whatever. On the contrary, my students’ output makes my day. I do have a very strong aversion to forcing them to say things that they have not yet acquired.

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A Day in Grenoble

Today I'm in Grenoble, a lovely city in the valley of the Isère River overlooked by the majestic, snow-capped chaine de Belledonne. Teri Wiechart and I are the guests of Marie-Pierre Jouannaud, who teaches methods classes at the University of Grenoble. This morning we went to Pontcharra, a small town north of the city, where we met with Deirdre, an Irish girl who teaches in a middle school. We met several of her colleagues and talked with them about Comprehensible Input and TPRS. Then we sat in on two of Deirdre's classes and watched Marie-Pierre demonstrate Movie Talk with a great video called The Black Hole. Marie-Pierre has been learning about TPRS since 2007, reading Krashen and watching videos on You-tube. She sometimes posts on moretprs which is how I first connected with her. We met for the first time face to face at TESOL's 2012 Colluquium where she gave me much appreciated support for my first presentation.  And last summer we got to know each other much better when she came to Agen's TPRS Workshop. I appreciate her Gallic intellect combined with a gentle enthusiasm for a method she truly believes in.

 
Her Movie Talk demonstration was an excellent example of compelling comprehensible input and both classes were captivated. As Deidre said, Marie-Pierre has the teacher's gift, able to communicate good-will, respect and positive appreciation, so that no student would ever want to challenge her. I admire her graceful hand gestures and her shy smile which tells you that she's sincerely interested in what you have to say, whether you are a colleague or a fourteen year old student that she has never seen before. I'm definitely going to steal her ideas for the video and try them with my group of apprentices.
 
We ate lunch with Deirdre, who had many questions and was bubbling with energy, eager to try things out in her classes. She's reading Ben Slavic's books and hopes to be able to come to Agen this summer.  I hope she can make it because the success of a workshop is often due to the warm, friendly atmosphere created by participants like her. I thought it was interesting to learn that she had originally studied to be a psychologist, and her enthusiasm for TPRS stems from the healthy atmosphere it creates in the class.
 
Then we went with Marie-Pierre to one of her methods classes. The students were eighteen or older and most of them think that one day they'll be teachers. They had studied TPR and were able to give a good summary of the method's strengths and weaknesses. Marie-Pierre explained that TPRS had originated as TPR Storytelling and then asked Teri to give a demonstration. 
 
Teri gave them a 30 minute Czech lesson doing PQA and getting in over 50 repetitions of each of her three target structures. Then she handed out a reading of about 100 words and the students discovered that they were able to read and understand all of it. She then demonstrated Kindergarten Day by reading "Five little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed" to them in English, their target language. Marie-Pierre had wanted the students to see something they would be able to do as teachers. 
 
At the end of the class we asked the students to comment on what they had seen and the comments that were the most frequent were "efficient", "fun". One student said, "Those strange words now come naturally and my brain can immediately respond." Another said, "I learned without realising it." So there are now a few future teachers in France who have heard of TPRS and have a very favorable opinion of it, thanks to Teri and Marie-Pierre.
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When Excellent is not good enough ....

Some of my students have reached excellence in their spoken English. They are basically autonomous, able to read novels in English, able to follow dialog in a movie, able to carry on a conversation and express their ideas coherently. Yet they feel frustrated about their ability and insist that they still make mistakes.

 

Well, yes. I speak fluent French; my written and oral levels allowed me to pass the very selective agrégation. Yet I still make mistakes, mistakes that I hear myself make as soon as they come out of my mouth. It’s the New Year and lots of people are wishing me “Bonne Année”. More than once I heard myself reply that I hoped “la nouvelle an” would be good for them too. Sic and Ugh. I know that while Année is feminine, An is masculine, and everyone says “le Nouvel An”. It’s the kind of mistake that makes friends and my children grin, but it’s embarrassing because many people would assume that a person making such a mistake may be illiterate. It’s the kind of mistake a native speaker would never make.

Should I dump ashes on my head and weep? Am I a complete failure and a hypocrite? Should I hand in my aggregation since I am so unworthy? Well, I don’t think I will. What I will do is make up sentences in my head using “le nouvel an”, as a kind of self-inflicted comprehensible input. And every time I hear the expression I will focus on it and repeat it to myself, so that my naughty tongue will never again be tempted to stray and stick in a feminine article.

 

We often talk about “reaching a level”, but learning a language is never level. It’s a slope and it can be slippery. Many people, once they become competent, confident speakers, stop striving and may make very little further progress, even if they live in the country for years. They’ve hit their comfort zone and see no reason to struggle to improve.

 

Others, like my students, want to improve, but are not sure how to go about it. They doubt that watching more movies and reading more books will help. I’m certain that it will, but their progress will be gradual, so gradual that they themselves may not be aware of any improvement.

 

I suggest that they focus on one or two mistakes that they often make and give themselves large doses of “Comprehensible Input”. If they are uncertain of the grammar involved, they can look it up. Then when they are sure they have the correct expression, they should use it repeatedly every chance they get and invent dialogs in their minds using it. Use it “ad nauseum” until it’s so deeply ingrained that they’ll never make the mistake again.

 

If they focus on one or two mistakes at a time, they’ll gradually eliminate them and will find that they’ve climbed a bit higher up the slope.

 

I also suggest that they read great writers who use the language skillfully. This is the highest quality comprehensible input and will produce the best possible output. Read for pleasure, but read authors who reflect the level you wish to attain. Our Output is a mirror of what we have received as Input. If a student wants to produce elegant and grammatically correct language, he must expose himself to elegant and grammatically correct writers and speakers.

 

So excuse me now. I’m going to reread A la recherché du temps perdu.

 

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The Whole Language

We had a friend in Cameroon who was working as a botanist for a German museum. He spent all day every day in the forest looking for plants that had been collected and classified for the museum before World War I. After two wars many of their samples were lost, destroyed or damaged.

 

One day he found the plant that every botanist dreams of. A lovely white, night blooming flower that had never been collected before. Very excited, he dug up a complete sample with roots and all, took it home and then came to see us. He told us about his wonderful find, how, as its discoverer, he would be allowed to give the new plant his own name.

 

Then we went to his home for dinner. His wife had made a nice meal and the maid had set the table with a pretty cloth and flowers decorating each place. Horror ! She had found the plant her employer had brought back from the forest and had taken all the flowers from it to decorate the table, scattering bits of greenery and blossoms from one end to the other.

 

Our friend, normally a very mild man, was raging in fury. His great scientific discovery had been reduced to little bits of stems and flowers. His wife suggested that they could reassemble all the parts and still send the plant to the museum. He was even more outraged, saying that no respectable scientist would accept a plant that had been pieced back together. He wasn’t sure he’d be able to locate the place where he had found it again and he might never again have an opportunity to name a flower.

 

This story came to mind as I was thinking about the difference between comprehensible input and traditional language classes. Traditional teachers, and quite a few who don’t consider themselves as traditional teachers, dissect the language, labelling verbs, nouns, adverbs, etc, explaining to students the mechanics of grammatical rules and expecting them to apply them. Like the maid, although they are well-meaning and find beauty in the bits and pieces that they decorate their lessons with, the end result is a dead plant reduced to broken parts of the whole.

 

Comprehensible input, like the plant growing in the forest, has no need of names or explanations. The language is an organic whole and that is how we present it, in context, rooted in the earth with all its stems and leaves and flowers. When we keep the language whole, our students are able to see it as a living organism. As we use the whole language to interact with them, they see it breathe and grow before their eyes. And so it grows in their brain, becoming their thing, their personal tool that they can use to express their own ideas and thoughts. As teachers we should be as careful as botanists to maintain the integrity of the language, to keep it whole rather than breaking it down into “parts of speech.” 

 

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When they know it and don't know they know it

Haiyn teaches Chinese using TPRS and blogs about her experience at http://tprsforchinese.blogspot.fr/ . Recently she discussed the fact that sometimes students know more than they think they do. In TPRS there are no thematic units, such as "Telling Time" - "Parts of the Body" - "Giving Directions". Students who have learned all the body parts in one lesson tend to forget them completely once the test has been given. With TPRS the thematic vocabulary is introduced gradually, throughout the year, a bit at a time. Here is Haiyun's post.

 

Giving Directions - Students didn't even Know They had it!

 

Posted: 03 Dec 2013 07:26 PM PST

In a TPRS classroom, one of the complaints I hear often from my kids is this: We have never learned xx, how could we do it?

 

I teach high schoolers, 9-12 grades. During these years, they are developing more and more abstract thinking, deviating away from being concrete thinkers. Still, it's hard for everyone to make connections or applications between learning and real life situations.

 

Although, we've been including directions in our stories since Chinese II, during a recent story-asking, a girl blurred out this same complaint again, "We have never learned any directions yet, how am I supposed to give directions in Chinese?"

 

"Really? Is this what you think?" I stopped the class and asked, "Would you like to have an activity related to giving directions then?" They all cheered.

 

We reviewed all the directions we know from a Black Friday Shopping story, in which the kids sent Richie Ren to an underwater shopping center in South America, to Joey's Road Test story in which he got lost on streets; then to a Sponge Bob's Driving story; then a Prom story, lastly we landed on the most recent "Steve the Pirate". We basically have covered just about every single word we need to give directions.

 

Students were excited. Except there are two phrases we haven't covered yet.

I put: 从...出来, 向...拐 on the whiteboard, then we started. "Let's go to a StarBucks first!" One suggested. We all did together. "Let's go to BayShore then." Language just flies out their mouths. The realization for something they thought they didn't have was so much more powerful than any verbal assurance I could provide.

 

Then, we did a few other activities in class or as homework:

1. writing: go to a favorite place from your home or school.

2. Google map practice: if you need to get to XX, how would you go?

3. Blind fold: we set up many barricades in our classroom, students have to give directions in Chinese to send a person to a hidden stuffed animal.

4. Mirror map: pair activity. Students create maps on their own, tell their partners in Chinese, partners draw out the same map to compare/contrast.

5. Listening activity. The teacher records a direction, students draws as an assessment.

 

It was not a unit on direction. We just took out two class periods and did it. However, the beauty of TPRS is building structures in depth, students need constant reminders from us of what they can do, which I probably don't communicate enough with them. Otherwise, in a theme-related curriculum, since it is so different from traditional thematic units, kids at this age don't form a clear picture easily of what they can do in a target language.

 

By Haiyun

 

TESOL France's 32nd Colloquium

Stephen Krashen

TPRS grew out of Blaine Ray's desire to make his teaching more effective by applying Stephen Krashen's principles to his everday class activities. A lot of lip service is given to Krashen's hypotheses in the foreign language community, but how many of the new methods actually apply his principles?

 

Recently I was following a discussion on the Internet concerning teacher-centered versus student-centered classrooms. I was interested because TPRS teachers are sometimes accused of being too present, of failing to develop student-centered classrooms. One of the suggestions made during the discussion was that the teacher train her students to accept autonomy by leaving the classroom for brief periods of time while the students get on with their job of learning the language.  

 

I suggested that there was a third alternative, based on Krashen's principles. With TPRS and other Comprehensible Input models, we try to establish an ongoing dialog between the teacher and students, in which the teacher furnishes high quality input concerning content that is determined by the students and their interests. I was told that Comprehensible Input is not a method.

 

Excuse me?  If Stephen Krashen is right, and so far no one has come close to disproving his hypotheses, shouldn't teachers be applying his principles to their methods?  

 

Krashen says: "Language acquisition, first or second, occurs when comprehension of real messages occurs, and when the acquirer is not 'on the defensive'... Language acquisition does not require extensive use of conscious grammatical rules, and does not require tedious drill. It does not occur overnight, however. Real language acquisition develops slowly, and speaking skills emerge significantly later than listening skills, even when conditions are perfect. The best methods are therefore those that supply 'comprehensible input' in low anxiety situations, containing messages that students really want to hear. These methods do not force early production in the second language, but allow students to produce when they are 'ready', recognizing that improvement comes from supplying communicative and comprehensible input, and not from forcing and correcting production."  

 

TPRS is the only method I know of that respects those principles. It seems to me that many modern "communicative" methods tend to force production, the earlier the better, and correcting production is often an overtly stated goal. Project Based Learning relegates the teacher to the role of coach from the sidelines. No one wants a return of the teacher/lecturer who handed out lists of vocabulary and grammar rules to memorize and assigned passages to translate, yet in a foreign language classroom the teacher is the only person who can furnish the students with high quality comprehensible input. Yes, they can listen to audio documents and films and read authentic texts, but in the early years such documents are not comprehensible. The well-trained teacher who "teaches to the eyes" sees when she is not being comprehensible and adapts her output accordingly. It's a constant negotiation  in the target language between students and their teacher. The input is focused on the students whose interest determines the content. 

 

By the way, I learned recently that Stephen Krashen is studying advanced/intermediate Spanish with Jason Fritz and Mandarin with Linda Li. Both of them are TPRS instructors. Obviously he finds their methodology respects his principles.

 

A Great Article by Chris Stoltz

Chris Stoltz is relatively new to TPRS, but he dived right in and has never looked back. He recently described his first year using the new method and the result is an article that crackles with his enthusiasm but also does an excellent job of describing the method and why it's different from everything else out there. I reccommend it to any language teacher who wonders what all the excitement is about.   Here's the link:

 

http://www.bctf.ca/publications/NewsmagArticle.aspx?id=30595

Reading a Novel

Once students have acquired enough vocabulary that they can read short texts with ease and pleasure, it's time to start thinking about reading a novel with them. There are simple TPRS novels which use a very limited vocabulary. I admire the people who create them because I myself could never accept the limitations of writing a complete novel using only 200 words. Sometimes even fewer. And I have never tried to use one of their novels with a class, simply because I have learned in the past that if the material bores me, I'm completely incapable of making it interesting for my students. I may be wrong. I probably am wrong because there are many teachers who use the limited vocabulary books written especially for language learners and have fun doing it.


Personally, I prefer to go to films at that point and use the subtitles as a written text.  After my students have worked through two or three films, they usually have enough confidence that they start watching films in English with English subtitles on their own, and I know the battle is won, that they are now autonomous.


Yet I know that their progress will be faster if they are reading in English for their own pleasure. And I have a few students whose spoken English is excellent but whose written English, while basically correct, is very disappointing. So I've been trying to find a novel that I can read with them. And I remembered a simple little book that I read in a book club some time ago that I enjoyed immensely.  Holes was written by Lous Sachar and is a captivating fable set in modern day Texas. I began using it with a boy who is bright and even gifted, but simply has never learned to read for his own pleasure. He is enjoying the story and occasionally reads ahead to find out what's going to happen. I've already ordered another book by Louis Sachar for him.


So I ordered more copies of the book from Amazon.uk where it's very cheap and started reading it with a group of adults.  They were immediately hooked by the story and I'm now using it with three groups in all. My goal is to show them that with minimum assistance from me they can read a complete novel in English. I want to be able to cover at least a chapter an hour and not to draw the activity out too long.  I'm hoping that as we progress, they'll be able to read one or more chapters on their own. 


Louis Sachar's style is simple but not dumbed down.  His heroes are young boys and he uses language they could use but his narrator avoids slang.  A typical page of text contains about twelve words that my students might not know. A typical chapter is four-five pages long.  Some are much shorter.


Before the lesson I write down the words or expressions that I think may be difficult for my students. I group them by page, in the order they are found and highlight in red the ones that are high frequency. Before reading the first page, we go over the 12 words and I give them a quick definition or explanation for each one.  I do a bit of circling and PQA with the high frequency words and ask if they have any special interest or associations with the others. Usually there are not more than three or four high-frequency words on a page and I explain that I don't consider the others very important, unless they're of interest to the students for a particular reason. 


We then begin reading the text, translating as we read.  Each student does a sentence, but if there is anything difficult in it, I step in and help them over the hard places. As we go, we discuss the situation and the characters in English. I often ask them what they expect to happen next or what they think of the characters, and of course on the very next page they discover that things are not what they seem.  This is Louis Sachar's charm. His story never goes where it seems to be going. The first chapter is entitled Camp Green Lake.  The first sentence of the chapter is: There is no lake at Camp Green Lake.  That sets the tone for the rest of the story where nobody is what they first seem to be.


It would be possible to use Embedded texts with the novel, but I'm afraid that reading three texts instead of one would slow us down and make the activity too laborious.  My goal is to make reading in English a pleasant activity so that they will want to continue reading other books on their own.  I'm not insisting that they acquire all the words we see. If a word is high frequency we'll be seeing it again and again and again, and it will eventually be acquired.  If it's not high frequency, it doesn't matter. Basically, I'm doing what Susie Gross called "reading lickety-split."  So far the students are loving it and I'm having fun seeing them grapple successfully with a good book that was not written specifically for language learners.

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  • #1

    Kathy Lewton (samedi, 26 octobre 2013 19:05)

    Holes is a great choice. I read it as an adult when it first came out and could not put it down.

  • #2

    Judy Dubois (samedi, 26 octobre 2013 21:07)

    I'm enjoying it over and over. I always feel that really good books don't go stale when you re-read them.

A Few Tips from an Old Timer

 

 

As we start in on the new school year, the moretprs forum and Ben Slavic’s blog are discussing the issue that never fails to come up at this time of the year (and in November when students and teachers start getting weary, and in March when it seems like spring will never come): the issue of classroom management.

 

Some teachers believe that maintaining discipline is more difficult with TPRS because we require so much participation and group responses from students. My own experience was the opposite. When I began personalizing my classes, getting my students involved by talking with them about themselves, they were easier to manage because they were more engaged. Also I believe that they felt respected and the main reason that students act up is to gain someone’s respect, not necessarily the teacher’s.

 

So here are a few tips that may help younger teachers who are trying to get their “sealegs”.

 

Number One: Smile! It's scientifically proven that we feel happy when we smile, and that happy feeling will communicate itself to your students, who will have to struggle not to smile back at you. Anything you do to get your students to smile will help with your

classroom management. If they are always greeted with a smile, they will look forward to coming to your class.

 

Number Two: Keep smiling! When a student is acting up, trying to

push your buttons, give him a fond smile, thinking "buddy, I've seen hundreds like you, and you've never met anyone like me before." It’s Fred Jones’ Queen Victoria expression, but with a little smile added. Don't say it, just think it, and believe me, he'll get the message. By not reacting with anger, you will destablilize him and give yourself time to consider how you are going to deal with his behavior.

 

Number Three: Don't allow students to insult each other, even if they say they're just joking. From day one, I tell my students that there is only one rule in my classroom and it is Respect. I expect them to respect me, just as I show respect for them, and I expect them to respect each other. If some quiet teasing between buddies starts up, I immediately stop and ask them if that sounds like respect. When they see you are serious about this one thing, you'll have the entire class in the palm of your hand. I think most people crave respect even more than love. A class where mutual respect is the rule is a safe haven for them.

 

Number Four: Always be honest with your students. If you make a mistake, admit it and apologize. This is how you earn their respect and let them know that you truly respect them.

 

Number Five: When you are asking a student to change his behavior, or to do something they don't particularly want to do, say please. Say it firmly, and make it clear that they don't really have a choice, but say it as politely as you would to any adult. When they comply, say thank you. I think the one big advantage that experienced teachers have over new teachers is confidence that students will comply with your requests. If you ask for something, but don't really believe they're going to give in, they can read it written all over you. If you assume that they are going to accept your leadership, they will.

 

Number Six: If you do encounter a really tough customer, a teacher's nightmare, be assured that they have more problems than you would even want to imagine. Try to see past the tough shell that they're displaying to the inner frightened child that doesn't dare take off their armor. And chalk the worst ones, the ones you never get through to, up to a learning experience. If nothing else, it will help you realize how inoffensive all the others are. And you'll be a better teacher. I had a nightmare class my second year in the lycée. Even experienced shop teachers admitted that some of the boys in the class frightened them. The teachers were able to force the headmaster to convoke a disciplinary commission, whereas he proudly boasted that in nine years he had never had to hold one. I survived but none of the problem cases returned to our school the following year. Some of them were in prison. After that, I could tell the difference between a student who was testing my limits and a true delinquent.

 

Number Seven: Don’t panic. You prepared a wonderful lesson and realize when you get to class that you left something indispensable at home. You prepared a wonderful lesson and the class is brooding about a horrible math test and just not playing the game. You prepared a wonderful lesson about the boy who has a pink jet, and he’s absent. Or you were up all night with a sick baby and didn’t have time to prepare a wonderful lesson. Whatever. You speak the language and they don’t. Talk to them, chat them up, find out more about them and little by little you’ll see a path through the woods. Some of my best lessons have come from those “Oh, dear! What can I do now?” moments. Don’t be afraid to improvise. If it falls flat, well, your wonderful lesson might very well have fallen flat too. Kids don’t expect every day to be fantastic. They’ll remember you kindly if there were a few fantastic classes.

 

 

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  • #1

    MB (samedi, 30 novembre 2013 13:58)

    Dear Judy - Thank you so much for this post! I have been too busy and overwhelmed to read moretprs and Ben's blog lately, but decided to check out yours - and yes, I have been too overwhelmed this year to be what I consider an "effective TPRSer" and when I feel overwhelmed (ok - this year the WL classes changed at my school -- instead of a level being two semesters, they have been shrunk to one semester. I have been stressed that my kids won't learn 'enough' since real acquisition takes time; something we just don't have this year in one semester!) so, I have resorted back to grammar and the worksheets. The kids are rebelling - not actual blatant rebellion, just the minimal discipline problems, the not doing work outside of class, the disrespect to the sub -- none of which I have experienced in my past two years of doing TPRS!!!! Thank you for the reminder! I am going back to TPRS for the rest of the semester and they will get what they need and what they are READY to acquire!!!

  • #2

    Charlotte (samedi, 07 décembre 2013 08:12)

    Hello Judy,

    those tips are great! Thank you so much. I want to work on number two and three, and I totally agree with all of them.
    I left a message in your contact area (thinking it would become an email to you, not a comment), do you think there will be a summer event in France again next summer?
    All the best for the days leading up to Christmas,

    Yours,

    C.

Ooops!

The workshop was a big success!  I had so much fun and met such wonderful people and was so busy keeping everything on track, that I never got around to writing up the adventure as it happened.  Martin Anders wrote about it on his blog and for the moretprs forum, as did his colleague David, and I've been getting great feedback from the participants, which I'll get around to sharing with you, one of these days.  Forgive me.  We're already planning next year's workshop, so I'll get a second chance.

Ready to roll!

I just sent a message out to our Workshop participants.  We're ready to roll.  We meet at the Centre Culturel of Agen Tuesday, August 6th and the adventure begins.  I'll be posting here to let the world know what we're up to. And putting in pictures.  This is going to be fun!

 

A Teacher bears her heart

Maria Cochrane published this moving declaration of love in the Foreign Language Association of Virginia's journal.  I was struck by how closely my own experience ressembles hers.

http://flavaweb.org/2013/07/thoughts-about-my-best-french-class-ever/

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Too many mistakes? Too little input!

Students who are learning English make many mistakes, of course.  But one of the most difficult things for them to master is the difference between countable and uncountable nouns and when to usemuch or many.  Even advanced students have problems choosing the right words. In a recent workshop at TESOL Strasbourg's Spring Day, Fiona Mauchline showed us an interesting exercise, which was getting students to write personalized poems with the following template:


        I have too many ............ and too few .............

        I have too much ............ and too little ...........
I have enough ................. but I don't have enough .............

Wanting to use this with my students, I talked with some of them about what they had too much and too little of, what they had too many and too few of, and they came up with sentences like these:
I have too much homework and too little time.
       I have too much sport and too little rest.
I have too many cookies and too few jars of Nutella.
       I have too many flies and too few fly-swatters.
I have enough swim-suits but I don’t have enough sun.
I have enough time for shopping but I don’t have enough money.
I have enough ice-cubes but I don’t have enough whiskey.

I thought the results were positive, but that there hadn't been enough repetition for them to actually acquire the structures.

So I decided to add in a TPRS style story.  I had used one in the past about a boy who had too many cats and too few baskets.  We came up with the following story:

There was a teenager whose name was James.  He won one hundred and fifty-five gold fish at the fair, but the merchant didn’t give him enough bowls.  He had a problem.  He had too many gold fish and too few bowls.  Moreover he had too little fish food and he didn’t have enough money to buy fish food.  So his fish were very hungry.

Fortunately he met a beautiful teen-aged girl whose name was Angela.  She had a problem too.  She had too few gold fish and too many bowls.  Also she had too much fish food.  James and Angela lived happily ever after and had many little gold fish.

At our next meeting, I'm going to ask them to develop the story, adding in details and some dialog. Why did Angela have too many bowls? We'll get many more repetitions and by then I think that they will have heard the target structures enough times that they will have started to acquire them.  

What is my goal in this type of work?  It is not to ensure that my students will never ever make a mistake when they have to choose between many and much. They will occasionally make the wrong choice.  But I believe that it is when they stop to think about it that they risk making the error.  With enough input, their subconscious will make the right choice, simply because it "sounds right".  It's the inner ear that we try to develop with TPRS.

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Impressions from Strasbourg

TESOL France held their annual Spring Day in Strasbourg on June 1st.  I arrived Friday night in a downpour which continued most of the next day.  In spite of the weather, our hosts, Lillian Stirling and Jane Ryder, president of TESOL Strasbourg, were warm, smiling, helpful and gracious throughout.  It was a great opportunity to meet people who are passionate about teaching English and to exchange ideas.

 

The opening plenary was "Controversies in ELT" with Chia Suan Chong.  She is a lively, beautiful, articulate, very pregnant woman.  I thought she did an excellent job of bringing people to rethink some of their assumptions.  I'm tempted to say there was something very taoistic in her approach which might be summarized as "different does not always imply wrong."

 

As soon as I saw the title of Fiona Mauchine's workshop, "Me" is for "memorable" and "meaningful", I knew I had to go there, since personalization is such an important part of TPRS. I met a gracious, experienced teacher and liked her ideas.  Just one that stuck out was to print out pictures of unusual houses and allow students to choose one and say that it is theirs, then to describe it.  As Fiona pointed out, asking students to describe their own homes may be embarrassing for some students.

 

After lunch I watched Peter Dyer's lively workshop.  Peter is originally from Australia, but has spent time in many parts of the world and he began his career as an actor.  In his workshop he showed us how to use improvisation techniques to get students to relax and start up spontaneous conversations where the focus is on content. It was easy to find Peter's workshop, it was where all the laughter was coming from. I can think of a million ways in which his expertise would help me to make actors a more vital part of my TPRS lessons.  I'm currently plotting to kidnap the man and pick his brains.

 

Then it was my turn and I had a pretty full house.  Lillian introduced me to Anna Deshayes, a lovely woman from Poland, just before the workshop and I started by talking Anna through a brief lesson in Polish, where our students learned to say that they had a Twingo and they wanted a BMW. Did they want a Megan? Nie.  Did they want a Jaguar? Tak! Then I briefly explained what TPRS is and how it has evolved on the internet through exchanges between thousands of teachers about what works and doesn't work in their classrooms.  I had put up posters with some of the expressions TPRS teachers use and invited them to ask me about the ones they were curious about.  So I was able to explain barometers, Teach for June, Teach to the eyes, PQA, the three steps, etc. They seemed open and curious and afterwards took quite a few of the leaflets concerning the workshop in August.  I got some very positive feedback from those who were listening and from the organizers. I definitely felt that my trip to Strasbourg was worthwhile.

 

After a short break we listened to Mike Hogan explain how to deliver the best, which concerned being professional in meeting our clients/customers/students' expectations.  So that they give us positive feedback and tell others that our lessons are "high quality". And I have to say that Mike's presentation was informative and very professional. My one regret was that it wasn't possible to see all of the speakers.  I would have liked to hear Csilla Jaray-Benn talk about "collaborative creative learning", since, once again, it sounds like something that could harmonize with TPRS, but she was presenting at the same time as Peter. I hope to get to hear her another time.

 

Afterwards the speakers and the organizers ate at a nice restaurant with a glassed-in terrace on the river. The water was litterally rushing by a foot from where we were sitting at almost eyelevel.  I had potato pancakes and salmon, not being brave enough to try the choucroute and fish that my neighbor ordered.

 

The next day we had a wonderful surpise.  The sun was out!  And we discovered that Alsace is a lovely land with doll like houses and green fields and woods.  I hope to return again. 

An Imperfect and Incomplete Glossary

This is an attempt to explain some of the many terms that are used by TPRS teachers. 

 

 

The three steps . Blaine Ray defines TPRS as using the Three steps.

 

Step one is presenting the structures, usually three that are the goal of the lesson. They are written on the board, usually with a definition in the mother tongue. They can be presented with gestures, sketches, pictures, whatever to make the meaning clear. Then the teacher begins using the structures in phrases, usually introducing PQA, personalized questions and answers at this point.

 

 

Step two is asking a story. The teacher questions the students about a character who has a problem and together the class builds a story around the character and their problem.

 

Step three is reading. The teacher gives the student a text which uses the three target structures repeatedly and reads it with them. The reading may be a written version of the class story or a different text, but it will use the same three structures.

 

 

Shelter vocabulary. So that everything said in class is comprehensible, the teacher avoids introducing too many new words and uses cognates and brand names whenever possible.

 

Don’t shelter grammar. Just as we do not avoid using past tenses when speaking to small children, the teacher uses whichever grammatical structure is needed, while checking for comprehension. TPRS teachers have observed that students who have been exposed to "advanced" structures, even though they have not been taught or explained, will acquire them with ease when the time comes, simply because they will "sound right".

 

PQA: Personalized Questions and Answers. We ask students questions about themselves in order to get repetitions of the target structures. If we are teaching “get angry”, we can ask “When was the last time you got angry? Who did you get angry at? Do you get angry easily? Etc.

 

 

Barometers are students who are serious and motivated but seem to have difficulties. The teacher ensures that they understand everything said in class. She knows that if they understand, all the others who are listening understand as well.

 

Teach to the eyes. The most reliable comprehension check is the eyes. Look your students in the eye to see if they are following. If you see any confusion, backtrack and work on more repetitions until you see the eyes grow clear and bright with comprehension.

 

 

Pop-ups. Once certain structures have been acquired and students are using them with ease, the teacher can ask pop-up questions about how they relate to the meaning of the sentence. “What does –ed mean?” Pop-ups are grammatical analysis of what the students have acquired. They should never last more than a few seconds. They are not explanations, merely opportunities to point out patterns in usage.

 

BEP. Bizarre, Exaggerated and Personal. The teacher encourages students to introduce Bizarre, Exaggerated and Personal details in the story. They increase interest and make the story easier to remember.

 

 

Retells. The teacher needs to get a quick retell of the story to help the students remember and also to get in more repetitions of the target structures. With lower levels, the teacher can pretend to have forgotten and get the students to prompt her, or she may make deliberate mistakes so that students can correct her. Upper levels can do chain retells, where each student adds one sentence to the story, or confident students can offer part or a complete retell.

 

Reading theater. While working with a written story with dialog, the teacher can ask for actors and coach them into acting out the scene.

 

 

Circling. This is the foundation stone to the entire system. Teacher makes a statement. The big boy saw three green dogs. Then asks a question. Did the big boy see three green dogs? The students answer “Yes.” Teacher asks another question, then another, then another, always based on the same statement. The students do NOT answer in complete sentences (which would not show that they understood the question). They answer naturally. What did the big boy see? “Three green dogs.” This is the key to obtaining 70 repetitions of target structures, thus the key to the acquisition of the structures.

 

Comprehensible Input. We learn a language through hearing and reading things that we understand. What we do not understand is noise and does not lead to acquisition. A good teacher furnishes comprehensible input. An excellent teacher furnishes compelling comprehensible input. Stephen Krashen proposed the Comprehensible Input hypothesis and to this date no one has disproved it or found something better.  Krashen said that we know how to be comprehensible and we know how to be compelling.  The difficulty is in created compelling comprehensible input.  

 

 

Teach for June. This is a slogan that reminds teachers that we are not teaching for the test next week. Each student acquires elements at their own rate, some requiring more repetitions than others. What counts is what they know in June.

 

4 per centers. Traditional methods which relied on memorization and conscious study of the fine points of grammar in a foreign language were successful with an estimated four per cent of the students. Most teachers came from that four per cent and often have trouble understanding why the same methods don’t work with their students. TPRS is an effort to reach the other 96%.

 

 

TPR. Total Physical Response is a method developed by Asher and based upon Krashen’s Comprehensible Input hypothesis. It is very effective with beginners and small children, but few teachers are ingenious enough to carry it through to the upper levels. Blaine Ray had the idea of adding stories to TPR and called his method TPR Storytelling, until 2005 when he registered it as Teaching Proficiency through Reading and Storytelling.

 

Fluency writing. This is an old technique that was adopted by TPRS teachers. Students are asked to write a story with as many words as possible in a limited time. 5-10 minutes. They are not graded on grammatical correctness, but on length. Amazingly, it is an extremely efficient way to improve grammatical correctness. If you don’t believe me, try it.

 

 

TPRS corrections. The teacher may decide not to correct texts written by students, but rather to edit a few representative samples and hand them out to use for reading. The class reads a text that is comprehensible and correct and also compelling since it was written by a fellow student. The student feels pride at contributing to the class rather than shame because of their mistakes. The focus is on content and interest rather than grammatical mistakes.

 

Dyslexia. In general dyslexic students have far more success with TPRS than they do with traditional methods.

 

 

Student jobs. Students are assigned roles in the classroom. One will count repetitions of a specific structure, another will write a ten question quiz for the end of the class, another will write up the story, another will illustrate the story. One can be a door knocker. Another can be an impartial judge when there is a debate about what happens next in the story. Another can time how long the class manages to avoid using L1. Jobs keep students engaged.

 

Translation. While maintaining a goal of using the target language 95% of the time in class, a TPRS teacher will use translation to be sure that students are understanding. In the TPRS community there is a distinct impression that traditional teachers spend a lot of time in the mother tongue explaining grammar, which is time that lost for comprehensible input in the target language. On the other hand, they feel that teachers who insist that they never use the mother tongue have thrown the baby out with the bath. If a misunderstanding can be quickly cleared up with a translation, the TPRS teacher will translate.

 

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What happened to Bill Gates?

As I explained, my Friday afternoon class is writing a novel.  We now have four characters, Vincent Team, Johnny Spider, Jackson Sixteen and James Blonde. They are bachelors who live in a large Georgetown mansion.  Their professions are secret agent, FBI undercover agent, bank guard and body guard. We have decided on their ages, their physical descriptions and their personalities.  We also discovered what kind of cars our heroes drive, and the ecologists would be horrified.  When they're not behind the wheel of a Jaguar or a luxury model Landrover, they're on a Bugatti motorcycle. Does such a thing exist?


The next step was to identify the problem that they had to solve.  It appears that Bill Gates disappeared on Friday, the 21st of December, 2012, and every Friday since then an important and influential person has disappeared, every time from a different country.  We began the list of vanished personalities, and for our next lesson the boys will do research to complete the list. They are to bring a short description in English of the missing persons.


I used this class in a "Speed Lessoning" exercise at the TESOL workshop in Toulouse.  My colleagues came up with the idea of preparing a map of the world showing our missing persons, such as you would find in the crime room of a police investigation.  I like the idea and will try it, complete with thumb tacks and strings. We can post notes on the wall as we gather clues.


What is Speed Lessoning?  Paul Scanlan, a charming fellow from New Zealand, put us in groups of three.  Each person was to present the group with a class and the others had 20 minutes to help him prepare a lesson for the class.  After 20 minutes, we helped the second person prepare a lesson for a different class and then on to the third person.  Paul gave us a phrase to use if our partners were going off on a tack that didn't suit us and our teaching style.  "Maybe not this time."  I liked the idea of being able to reject ideas without giving offense.  In an hour my group had three lessons prepared and ready to roll.  One was for university students studying American institutions, another for post baccalaureate students who would be selling farm equipment and the third for my middle school boys. Talk about variety!


It was a very enriching experience. It's true that outsiders can give you a fresh look and perspective on your classes.  This would be an interesting exercise to try in the staff room of a large school.

 

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Corrections are No Longer Drudgery

I have spent literally years of my life seated on a hard wooden bench in the kitchen correcting papers hour after hour. Whole weekends while the sun was shining and the dog needed walking and the horse needed riding.  I have used up thousands of red pens. I used to be proud of that.  But I've come to realize that all that time and effort was wasted.

 

I have never had a student say, "I learned a lot from you because you did such a good job correcting my papers."  Or "thank you so much for your brilliant comments on my errors." Have you? 

 

I recently reread an article about research which seems to indicate that corrections do not help students learn a language and may actually be harmful. As a result, I've been experimenting with not correcting my students' texts.  I've tried doing no marking and simply commenting on content, but my students, especially the adults, were not satisfied.  They craved some feedback, which is understandable when you consider the effort they had put into producing a text in English.

 

So I have started "editing" their texts.  I ask them to send them to me by e-mail and I quickly correct the mistakes and print out a text with has no errors. Then, in class, I hand out their texts and the students exchange them and read each other's work.  There is no embarrassment, because there are no mistakes, no red marks.  They focus on content and discuss the ideas rather than the grammatical structures. Occasionally a student will ask me why I changed something and I am very happy to reply;  I'm sure that my explanation will be attended to, unlike my former explanations of "frequent mistakes" which went in one ear and out the other.  

 

Writing is output, but by editing the texts and giving them to other students to read, it becomes input.  and compelling input at that. I've watched students read three different versions of the same story with interest, simply because it was written by their classmates. They compare, admire and enjoy the opportunity to share their production. Since I've begun doing this, students no longer dread writing assignments but look forward to them.  They apply themselves and try to make their papers interesting, knowing there will be no stigma attached to making mistakes.

 

In large classes the teacher can choose two or three papers of different complexity.  The result will be a kind of embedded reading, ready made.  It is far more profitable to the student to read a good model than to focus on his own mistakes.

TPRS and Project Based Learning

There are four boys in my Friday afternoon class.  We began working together last November and they, their parents and I are very pleased with their progress.  We’ve done lots of stories and read stories created by other groups. But recently I’ve wondered if the stories weren’t becoming a little too much of a routine.  So last Friday I told them that we are going to write a novel.

 

They were immediately enthused. I explained that each of them would have an avatar (No, you don’t have to be blue…) and we spent the rest of the hour inventing names and descriptions of three of the characters.  There’s James Blond, the secret agent, Jackson Sixteen, a body guard, and my favorite, Vincent Team.  (With a French pronunciation that’s vingt centimes.) Next week we’ll finish the description of the fourth character and decide upon the Problem.  Then every week we’ll create a story of their adventures as they try to solve the problem.


I foresee that there will be lots of travelling. And that I’m going to ask them to research sites in English about the places we go, so that we can work in some local color. There will be opportunities to talk about history and different cultures.  I’m already excited about seeing them next Friday and it’s only Sunday.

 

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In a Nutshell

Why don't they know their irregular verbs?  Why do they always drop the -s on third person singular verbs?  Why do they confuse "his" and "her"? Why do they never use the vocabulary that they regurgitated for a test? 


So many teachers put the blame on their students.  "They don't study."  "They don't work."  After all, all they have to do is learn the vocabulary and learn the grammar rules, and they will be fluent, right? 


Yet, I've seen students who worked very hard with little reward.  The first year I taught in a lycée I had two girls who memorized the entire page and a half of text for a test.  That they failed.  They could recite any part of the text, but they didn't understand it, so they had been unable to answer my questions. As Michael Jordan said, "You can practice shooting eight hours a day, but if your technique is wrong, all you will become is very good at shooting wrong."


Stephen Krashen's theory of comprehensible input is the only explanation I've ever found for so many students' lack of success.  


Krashen says, "Direct or explicit instruction is hypothesized to result in conscious learning, not subconscious acquisition.  If this hypothesis is correct, language acquisition theory predicts that the effect of explicit instruction will appear only when three conditions for the use of conscious learning (Monitor use) are met.  When the second language performer (1) consciously knows the rule, (2) has time to think about the rule, and (3) is focused on form.  So far, research results are consistent with these three predictions for grammar instruction." (Krashen, 1982, 2003)

 

Even if conscientious students have understood and learned the rule, conditions 2 and 3 are not met in a situation of oral communication.  There's no time to think and the focus is on meaning rather than form. And, as so many students will tell you, since they did not grasp what the other person said, they don't know which rule they need to use, even if it happens to be one that they have learned.  


Basically, this means that time spent on explicit grammar instruction is better used by furnishing quality input to our students in order to allow for subconscious acquisition.  We focus on meaning; we make it both compelling and comprehensible. Students are engaged and when they realize that they understand without thinking about it, lights go on in their eyes.  They feel successful and want more.  This is instrinsic motivation and the best classroom management tool there is.

 

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When are mistakes not mistakes?

On the moretprs forum, Deb asked some interesting questions.  The first was about whether or not she should give vocabulary lists to her students.  She said that she thought it helped those who were visual learners (and convinced parents that there was some work going on in class). Dr. Krashen replied that vocabulary lists were interesting to those who actually care about how languages are put together but most students would not benefit from them.  Her other questions were about correcting students' mistakes, spoken and written. 

 

I've often thought about these questions myself and thought I would share my thoughts.

 
 IMHO vocabulary lists will help some students, those who as you say have visual memories and those who are interested in languages, as Dr. Krashen says. I don't see how they can hurt the others, who will ignore them anyway, right? Unless you tell them to memorize them, in which case they will waste a lot of time and effort that will not be very productive. Memorization is by definition short term. I prefer to give my students a story, maybe a new story, that uses the vocabulary in question. If they read it through they'll get revision in context, which will give them new associations to help them remember the structures. Once they have enough associations, the word/structure will be in their long term memory. You might ask students who are artistic to illustrate the new story, which will give even more associations, visual ones, with the structures. So basically, you have to decide whether your limited time is better spent making up three categories of vocabulary lists or making up a new story for the most important vocabulary. (And you can cheat by giving them a story by a student/students in another class using the same vocabulary.)


Illustrated student stories, written and illustrated by students, are a good way to build up a library for FVR. It's a struggle for us to make the language simple enough, but they do it automatically with the limited language they have. I think there is a natural curiousity to see what a fellow student is able to do, a curiosity that can help make the story "compelling".


 I think you're doing it exactly right when you "echo" what a student has said. I first saw an Irish girl who was teaching English in France do this.  She had a lovely accent and would smile and nod at the culprit and say what he'd been trying to say as if she was just repeating his statement in an affirmation.  She was addressing the content and not the form, as if to assure him that she had understood. This is what "caretaker speech" does all the time. Baby says "peas" and you echo back "please". Student says "la verte voiture" and you smile and nod and say "Oui! La voiture verte!" The student may catch what you changed and take note or they may not catch it, in which case it means that they're not ready for that yet. But they won't feel humiliated because you pointed out that they had made a mistake, which will make them think twice before speaking up again.

As for "correcting" written work, I prefer to "edit" it. I've explained this on my blog, but my examples are from small groups of students. With a class I would choose three papers, one very basic, one more complex and the best paper of the lot. Then I would "edit" them so that there are no mistakes. I type the three papers up, and bingo! You have an embedded reading. (I understand that this is how Laurie Clarq first started doing embedded reading.) When you return their papers where you have underlined in green everything that is correct, you also give your students the three edited versions, telling them that they were written by students in the class but not giving the names. You will see them reading them closely. Each time I'm amazed at how attentively students read texts written by their classmates and how willing they are to read the same story three or four times. I call that compelling comprehensible input. I answer any questions they have about structures and vocabulary, smiling like the cat that ate the cream because I know that they're going to retain my answers to their questions. If there were frequent mistakes that you corrected and no one asks why, it means they're just not seeing them yet. You may want to target those structures in your next lesson. Consider their mistakes not as proof that they haven't learned it, but rather as indications of what you haven't given them enough input about. 
 

Basically, one thing that I have learned from horse riding is that it's much more effective to teach a horse how to do something right than to spend time teaching it not to do something wrong. Pointing out mistakes is teaching students not to do something wrong. Giving them correct models is teaching them to do it right.

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  • #1

    Ol-Sync Relationships (lundi, 24 février 2014 08:45)

    congratulations guys, quality information you have given!!!

On the moretprs forum, Deb asked some interesting questions.  The first was about whether or not she should give vocabulary lists to her students.  She said that she thought it helped those who were visual learners (and convinced parents that there was some work going on in class). Dr. Krashen replied that vocabulary lists were interesting to those who actually care about how languages are put together but most students would not benefit from them.  Her other questions were about correcting students' mistakes, spoken and written. 

 

I've often thought about these questions myself and thought I would share my thoughts.

 
 IMHO vocabulary lists will help some students, those who as you say have visual memories and those who are interested in languages, as Dr. Krashen says. I don't see how they can hurt the others, who will ignore them anyway, right? Unless you tell them to memorize them, in which case they will waste a lot of time and effort that will not be very productive. Memorization is by definition short term. I prefer to give my students a story, maybe a new story, that uses the vocabulary in question. If they read it through they'll get revision in context, which will give them new associations to help them remember the structures. Once they have enough associations, the word/structure will be in their long term memory. You might ask students who are artistic to illustrate the new story, which will give even more associations, visual ones, with the structures. So basically, you have to decide whether your limited time is better spent making up three categories of vocabulary lists or making up a new story for the most important vocabulary. (And you can cheat by giving them a story by a student/students in another class using the same vocabulary.)


Illustrated student stories, written and illustrated by students, are a good way to build up a library for FVR. It's a struggle for us to make the language simple enough, but they do it automatically with the limited language they have. I think there is a natural curiousity to see what a fellow student is able to do, a curiosity that can help make the story "compelling".


 I think you're doing it exactly right when you "echo" what a student has said. I first saw an Irish girl who was teaching English in France do this.  She had a lovely accent and would smile and nod at the culprit and say what he'd been trying to say as if she was just repeating his statement in an affirmation.  She was addressing the content and not the form, as if to assure him that she had understood. This is what "caretaker speech" does all the time. Baby says "peas" and you echo back "please". Student says "la verte voiture" and you smile and nod and say "Oui! La voiture verte!" The student may catch what you changed and take note or they may not catch it, in which case it means that they're not ready for that yet. But they won't feel humiliated because you pointed out that they had made a mistake, which will make them think twice before speaking up again.

As for "correcting" written work, I prefer to "edit" it. I've explained this on my blog, but my examples are from small groups of students. With a class I would choose three papers, one very basic, one more complex and the best paper of the lot. Then I would "edit" them so that there are no mistakes. I type the three papers up, and bingo! You have an embedded reading. (I understand that this is how Laurie Clarq first started doing embedded reading.) When you return their papers where you have underlined in green everything that is correct, you also give your students the three edited versions, telling them that they were written by students in the class but not giving the names. You will see them reading them closely. Each time I'm amazed at how attentively students read texts written by their classmates and how willing they are to read the same story three or four times. I call that compelling comprehensible input. I answer any questions they have about structures and vocabulary, smiling like the cat that ate the cream because I know that they're going to retain my answers to their questions. If there were frequent mistakes that you corrected and no one asks why, it means they're just not seeing them yet. You may want to target those structures in your next lesson. Consider their mistakes not as proof that they haven't learned it, but rather as indications of what you haven't given them enough input about. 
 

Basically, one thing that I have learned from horse riding is that it's much more effective to teach a horse how to do something right than to spend time teaching it not to do something wrong. Pointing out mistakes is teaching students not to do something wrong. Giving them correct models is teaching them to do it right.