Meeting Judith Dubois in Agen 

I’m sitting in a cobbled street at Quarts Coffee Kitchen enjoying the cool breeze blowing from behind me. It’s a very warm day today – probably around the mid thirties. The chair and table I’ve chosen is out of the sun and smaller than the others. I was offered the option of directors chairs with a larger table but because I am unsure which way the sun will move (nor how to ask the lovely waitress this question) I chose to sit here. I am waiting for Judith Dubois to join me. She is due any minute from the 12:30 train. This meeting is momentous for me because it marks my  unofficial beginning of the TPRS conference – the whole reason I am here in Agen. Judith will be the first of many TPRS legends whom I will meet face to face for the very first time, with the only exceptions being Stephen Krashen & Blaine Ray, who I very fortunately met during their recent visits to Australia. 
The next day……

Wow! Wow! Wow! Can’t believe how generous Judith is! With less than a week leading up to a major international conference with a million thoughts chasing around in her head and a list of jobs a mile long, she took time out to warmly (literally – both from her heart and on a 35+C day) welcome me to Agen and show me around while seemlessly ticking off a few of the jobs from her job list. 

After a delicious lunch with Judith at Quarts Coffee Kitchen, we met a journalist from a local paper who interviewed Judith (in French) about the upcoming conference. It was fascinating ‘listening’ to the conversation which included an explanation of TPRS. Listening to a conversation about a familiar topic in an unfamiliar language! I could pick out a few familiar words and draw some dots but it was hard work sitting there in the heat concentrating on a largely incomprehensible conversation. My experiences as a beginner language learner have definitely begun!! 

After the interview and a few other jobs, we enjoyed a cuppa (pot of earl grey tea) in an air conditioned cafe (boy was the air-conditioning welcome!) and a terrific conversation about several TPRS topics including teaching adults (4-6 is the ideal class size), teaching word order via ‘Kim’s Game’ ala Rudyard Kipling (also known as ‘memory’). 

Judith explained how perfect Kim’s Game is for repetitive & correct noun/adjective word order input. I hope I have interpreted her instructions correctly! 

Put together a collection of props that are similar except for size and colour! How awesome is this!  Eg. A big red snake. A small pink snake. A big red shoe. A small red and blue shoe. A large red pencil. A small blue pencil. A large pink monkey. A small blue monkey. Etc. Put them all together in a covered basket/container. One by one, take one out and circle it focusing on reps of noun/adjective word order. Once the basket is empty, pick up the props one by one again, repeat what is (a big blue hat) and then return it to the basket. Once all the props are back in the basket, ask the class if they can remember what is in the basket. As a prop is suggested by a student, pull it out and once again confirm it’s description to consolidate further the noun/adjective word order! 

This would be an engaging activity for all students and a great way to get reps on not only word order but also any nouns covered in stories. 

A huge thank you to Judith for spending time  with me yesterday. I thoroughly enjoyed meeting you at last and truly appreciated that you took an entire afternoon out from your hectic schedule to spend time with me. I thoroughly enjoyed our various TPRS related conversations and the impromptu history tour! Merci beaucoup!! 

Tea With BVP with Blaine Ray

Yesterday, I headed into Adelaide for the first time in months and as usual for my hour long drive, I listened to a BVP podcast

However instead of listening to episode 53, I skipped ahead to episode 57; featuring Blaine Ray.  I have been looking forward to hearing this episode ever since I heard that he had been a special guest on Tea With BVP!

It was fantastic listening to Blaine Ray again and what he had to say totally resonated with me and helped to consolidate my understandings of TPRS! My only grumble is that Bill told Blaine Ray that he hasn’t spoken to anyone from Australia yet!! How could he possibly have forgotten my call in January when we spoke about Terry Waltz presenting at the inaugural Australian TPRS conference?😜

I loved listening to this episode so much, that I listened to it again later at home so I could take notes to consolidate what I learned and to share with you all. However my notes have run to several pages, so instead I will just pull out the major points that I believe are particularly worthwhile and encourage you to listen to the full podcast yourself to fill in the gaps!!

After talking generally about the steps leading to Blaine’s discovery of Stephen Krashen’s book, The Natural Approach and the light bulb moment Blaine had reading the sentence,

Language is acquired by comprehensible input.’,

Bill made a profound statement;

Teachers not using TCI are teaching language teachers out of existence.

Isn’t that a powerful statement? It truly resonates with me because evidence shows that this is exactly what’s happening. My students move firstly to a local high school where the numbers of students choosing to continue with Indonesian are not many.  They then may choose to enrol at one of our state universities where again students are generally not choosing to continue with languages beyond semesters 1 & 2. This information was provided by an Adelaide University French lecturer, John Sooby-West, at a recent training and development meeting earlier this year specifically for language teachers. He spoke frankly about the heavy load that his beginning French language students have which has lead to significant student drop out rates. Their language work load (one that at times is equivalent to the combined work load of all their other subjects) are so onerous and unappealing that drop out rates have led to language program cut backs and in some Australian universities, whole courses have been abolished. So sad to think that all this could easily be addressed through CI. I look forward to the day when Australian language students discover how language learning can be fun, engaging and considerably less onerous.

SLA Question: This weeks SLA question was about intake which according to Corder (1967)  is the amount of input/communication that learners attach form and meaning to. It’s important to realise that while CI and TPRS maximise intake, it is not always 100% comprehensible. Student intake increases with repetition and by minimising noise (going out of bounds). Bill added that you can’t throw input at learners and hope it sticks. Teachers must manage learning time to ensure that learners gain the maximum amount of intake.

A further point of Blaine’s is timely for me, even though I’ve heard it several times; “The goal of TPRS is not to finish anything!” Blaine clarifies that the biggest enemy for teachers is teacher type thinking. Teachers have been trained to cover the curriculum – to finish chapter 10 by the end of term 2. This encourages a focus on ticking curriculum checklists off rather than truly catering for student needs. We must think more like our learners who are saying to us, “I can’t get enough repetitions & I can’t hear that sentence too many times.” I personally am sooo guilty of this. I will write this into each of my lesson plans in big bold lettering!! It’s sad how finishing a story becomes the goal of a lesson rather than teaching to the eyes and checking in with the barometer student to measure if they have ‘soooo got it’. As Blaine rightly reminds me here; the goal of a lesson is not to finish a chapter, a book or a story. Our goal is teach a sentence by focusing on that sentence by circling and adding characters to give students maximum opportunity to experience the feeling that ‘I am sooo getting this’ which is much better than just, ‘I am getting this.’

When Bill asked Blaine about the relationship between CI and TPRS, I was keen to hear the answer. Blaine believes that the main difference is that TPRS teachers focus on one sentence so that students feel that ‘I’m soooo getting it’ unlike CI teachers who go from sentence to sentence with minimal repetition. TPRS is one of the ways teachers can provide their students with CI.  CI is successful for some students and its highly likely that for those students, they will be successful regardless of the method! TPRS, however, is successful for everybody because of the emphasis on the sentence. The teacher doesn’t have to worry about individual differences because the net is cast so wide and so broad that every learner type, visual, auditory, kinetic, etc is successful. TPRS really is one of the most broad based and student based approaches. Everybody is getting it and everyone is engaged!

Bill rightly then makes an important point regarding watching very experienced presenters demonstrating techniques & skills that appear easy. This happened to me after the January Fleurieu conference where we were incredibly fortunate to watch Terry Waltz demonstrating circling! While she spoke to us later about the dialogue going through her head during the demos, all we saw at the time was a flawless and effortless demonstration of circling which to this day, I have yet to replicate. We have to accept that we aren’t like Terry YET! (Acknowledgment – Carol Dwek)

Tea With BVP finished with Blaine asking Bill 2?great questions. The first was about timed writes which from a teachers perspective are invaluable because they provide teachers with an insight into student proficiency through a simple word count.

Did you know that by the end of:

-Spanish 1, students can do about 70-80 words in 10 minutes.

-Spanish 2 – students can do about 100 words in 10 minutes.

Bill then clarified that timed writes don’t violate the input hypothesis because the teacher is not using the timed writes to teach language; they are an assessment tool useful to demonstrate improving levels of language fluency to leaders, parents and students themselves.

The second question Blaine asked Bill was regarding ”forcing output” in reply to the recent criticism of Blaine & other TPRS teachers encouraging actors to answer teacher circling questions in complete sentences. According to Krashen’s theory, second language students should not be forced to produce language until they are ready to do so. Blaine ask Bill to clarify how asking student actors to speak during role playing (e.g. asking, “Are you a boy/ Am I a boy?”) fits in with Krashen’s hypothesis.  Blaine explained that he expects full sentence responses from his actors for 2 compelling reasons. Firstly, to provide fellow students with ‘I/you’ input and secondly to assist teachers recognise when more repetition/input is necessary should actor responses be hesitant thus easily matching the required quality and quantity of input students receive with what is required.

Bill’s answer to this question clarified that this practise is not ‘forced output’ as defined by Krashen. Firstly, it’s the difference between talking at students and talking with students. TPRS exemplifies teaching with students. Secondly, because the teacher is not forcing the student to create language; they are merely reproducing a heavily scaffolded sentence that is visually available to them either on a sheet of paper or on the board, it is not forced output. The important distinction to make is that asking actors to speak in complete sentences is not making students talk to learn, but rather students are talking to show teachers what they’ve learned. It is an assessment tool that informs their teacher about whether to move on or to work further on that sentence.

One final point I enjoyed and would like to add from this episode was:

Irony = novice TPRS teachers need TPRS input to comprehend TPRS! 

A picture is worth a thousand words. Feeling the method as a student is the key.

Wow TPRS Sounds Awesome But Where do I Start? 

Over the past 2 years that I’ve been using TPRS in my Indonesian classroom, I’ve used many different stories, most of which have been suggested by Catharina, our wonderful mentor. We are so fortunate to have been introduced to such a highly experienced Early Years TPRS mentor who has a wealth of story recommendations focusing on any given target structure! Any story recommended by Catharina is a guaranteed ‘home run’!

After all the workshops or the conference I attended or presented at, the inevitable question from interested participants was always; “Where do we start?” This was where Catharina was initially extremely helpful for us when we first began TPRS. Each time we reached a road block and became puzzled about our future direction, she would gently and positively guide and nudge us back on track with constructive feedback, sharing ideas and activities from her own classroom practise.

This post hopefully will give you an idea of where to start if you are at the beginning of your TPRS journey. I teach students from Reception (Prep/Transition) to year 7 and as most TPRS stories are written for middle years students, the cohort we initially had the greatest difficulty adapting TPRS to were the junior primary students, hence my focus in this post. However, don’t change the channel just yet, because first time learners are largely the same regardless of their age. The major difference, I’m sure you will all agree,  is their attention span! Everything else remains identical. 

My stories are in Indonesian (what a surpise) however they can easily be translated (back) into other languages using google translate. We received them in a variety of languages before translating them into Indonesian incorporating high frequency vocabulary where possible and eliminating any language we felt our students were not ready for or that did not work in Indonesian. Also, if the story is too simplified for your cohort, add detail and language to ensure it is more suitable yet remember to always keep it comprehensible with no more than 1 – 3 (unfamiliar) target structures. NO MORE THAN 3!

The first ever story we started with is Catharina’s adaptation of Jim Tripp’s, “Nice to Meet You.” This story is without doubt, in my humble opinion, the best place to begin a CI journey for either students for whom this is their first ever contact with the language you are teaching OR for a teacher who lacks confidence in his/her CI skills &/or language skills & is about to begin their first ever CI unit of work.

The original story:

Target structures: 

-meets

-My name is ______ 

-gets really nervous 

-nice to meet you 

Lindsey meets Channing Tatum. Lindsey says to him, “Hi, my name is Lindsey.” Channing Tatum says nervously, “Nice to meet you.” He gets more nervous and says, “My name is Luke Skywalker.” Lindsey says to him, “Nice to meet you Luke.”

The simplified adapted version:

Target Structures;

  • berkata,
  • nama saya,
  • siapa nama?

Other: di, dari, astaga (point & pause only)

Taylor Swift di MacDonald’s.

Bu Cathy di MacDonald’s

Tayor Swift berkata, “Nama saya Taylor Swift. Siapa nama?”

Bu Cathy berkata, “Nama saya Bu Cathy.”

Taylor Swift berkata,”Bu Cathy? Bu Cathy dari PEPS?”

Astaga!

Autograf!!

(Taylor Swift faints)

Suggested sightly more difficult version:

Kemarin, Taylor Swift di Macdonald’s.

Kemarin, Bu Cathy di Macdonald’s juga.

Tayor Swift berkata, “Nama saya Taylor Swift. Siapa nama?”

Bu Cathy berkata, “Nama saya Bu Cathy.”

Taylor Swift berkata,”Bu Cathy? Bu Cathy dari PEPS?”

Astaga!

Autograf!!

(Taylor Swift faints)

As you can see the original version is not suitable for young learners because there are significantly more than 3 target structures for students to acquire. I also like the way Catharina has tweaked it to make it more appealing. Adding a faint at the end is ingenious! I have story asked this story with staff too at a staff meeting! It is such an awesome story for beginner learners and appeals to all ages with its simple language and unexpected ending!

Once you have chosen your new story and identified the target structures, you are ready to start. At the conference, Terry began by story asking mini stories based on each of the target structures, focusing on one at a time. I personally prefer a technique I read about on Ben Slavic’s website called Visual Personalised Questions and Answers (VPQA).  This has been very engaging for my students and is also helpful for teachers new to circling and story asking because VPQA provides teachers with our own personal brain break!! It relieves some of the stress by giving a tiny breather in which we can regroup and get the TPRS juggling balls back in the air again. 

If the target structure is ‘berkata,’ I start by  creating a powerpoint. I begin with a google image search for quirky images that will appeal to my students and give me opportunities to ask my students personalised questions and answers. This upcoming week, my reception students will be revising Nama saya (my name is) & Siapa nama? (what’s your name?) while introducing ‘berkata’ (said/say/says). Using Ibu Sharon’s awesome idea, I have found pictures of characters familiar to my young students (Elsa, Pikachu, Donkey, Bob the Builder – to name a few) all of whom have a phrase that they are known for saying. E.g. Elsa berkata, “Let it go.” On each page is a picture of the character with his/her/its given phrase. This allows me to ask, “Siapa nama?” and then circle the name (Nama saya Elsa? Nama saya Bob the builder atau/or Nama saya Elsa?) I can then circle the target structure; “Dory berkata, ‘Keep on swimming” atau Elsa berkata, “Keep on swimming”? Because each picture is different, VPQA keeps them on the edge of their seat wondering what the next picture will be! While PQA & VPQA is technically personalised questions about the students, at this early stage, to keep the language in bounds it may be necessary to restrict the circling just for now to just ask about the characters on the screen. I would definitely not recommend using any new question words this early in their learning! The language used must, must, must be in bounds. To ask, “Pak Taylor berkata apa?” will immediately raise their affective filter and could potentially derail that lovely calm, comprehensible atmosphere you have created. If Pak Taylor does have a phrase that he is well known for, then ask, Pak Taylor berkata, “Let it go?” atau Pak Taylor berkata, “Howzat?” Ya, Pak Taylor berkata, “Howzat!” (Does Mr Taylor says, “Let it go” or does Mr Taylor say, “Howzat?”) Stick to the language they know!! It is too early (especially for very young learners) to toss them new and unfamiliar vocabulary. 

Once I feel that students have  largely acquired the target structures, I move to story asking. I don’t worry too much if there are students who have not fully acquired the target structures yet for several reasons. Firstly we will hit them (oops – the target structures!) repeatedly during the story asking process and secondly most target structures will be repeated over and over in future stories. This would have to be the single best factor of TPRS and is why it triumphs over the way I used to teach. The structures we target now are specifically chosen for communication in a classroom context (and hopefully useful on their next family holiday to Bali) and thus will be used often unlike previously where from term to term, my thematic vocabulary was rarely revisited.
The above stories are the skeleton and all the words underlined are the words you can ask for student input depending on their age. Usually I ask for an ‘aktor’  and then ask the class, “Laki laki atau perempuan?” before asking, “Siapa nama?” However for my young (brand new to school)  reception students, I have planned to tell their first ever  story to them using cut out pictures with magnets on the back moving them around on my mobile white board. Then, once they are more familiar with me and my teaching style, I will ask for their input — usually they’ll be ready by the next story!

When planning for young students, the best advice I ever received was to plan activities so that the students move up, down, up, down throughout the lesson. The younger they are, the more frequently the teacher changes the activity. Thus, once the story has been asked (a ‘down’ activity), it is time for the students to stand up and do an ‘up’ activity. This can either be a brain break, TPR or could be an activity based on the story. My favourite activity post story asking is called ‘all the worlds a stage”. Students get into pairs and duduk (sit). I then explain (in English for now but soon will be in Indonesian) that one of them is Pak Hudson (our school principal) and one of them is Superman (the 2 characters in our story). I will then say, “Superman berdiri. Superman duduk. Pak Hudson berdiri. Pak Hudson duduk.” This incorporates TPR and also ensures that each pair has agreed on who is each character. At this point there will inevitably be a pair who both want to be the same character. At this point I promise the whole class that we will be doing this activity twice and the second time they will be changing characters. I then allocate characters to the pair who need help, reassuring the one who compromised, their turn is coming next! Depending on their level of compliance with my decision, I distract them totally by choosing them to be my demo pair which is usually a highly successful tactic! I then say the first  line from the story and ask them to act it out, giving them pandai points for great acting, for only acting out what I said and for not going ahead or adding in their own details. All very important information that needs to be clarified right from the beginning. If my demo pair demonstrated that they understood the task, I invite all the Superman’s and Pak Hudson’s to berdiri and then we begin again right from the beginning. It will probably be chaotic the first time we do this activity, but it is well worth persevering because later in the year with practise it becomes smoother and is such an excellent ‘up’ activity while getting in heaps of repetitions of the story and with comprehension checks!

One final note: If you absolutely need to say a word students have yet to acquire, say it in English for this first story. This is how I tackle the ‘other’ word list. I need these words for the story but they are not target structures. The first time I story ask, I say the ‘other’ words in English. Then slowly introduce them in Indonesian, quickly followed by a comprehension check. If the comprehension check is met with blank confused looks, I know immediately they are not ready for it yet – the students need more repetitions of the story – and I’ll try again later. 

This is the very first TPRS story I started with and initially taught it to all year levels. It worked with all my classes. Now, though, I just use it with my reception classes. I still remain totally convinced that it is the best story to start with, regardless of the age of the students.

Do you have a favourite story you begin with? I’d love to hear it. Feel free to write it below in the comments!

Circling Demo Videos 

Thanks Karen for your comment about English circling demos. Nothing like watching a demo in either English or a lesson for raw beginners in an unfamiliar language to fully grasp the skills of circling. 

A few points to remember firstly:


 I’ve done a quick search on YouTube and here are a few that I recommend. I’ll keep adding to this collection as I find more!! 

Watch and let me know what you think!! 

Here are a couple of videos of teachers teaching a class for their first ever language lesson: firstly Michele Whaley teaches Russian: 

Here is Eric Herman teaching English: https://youtu.be/nRu-3TR8A2M

Meeting Blaine Ray in Sydney

Annie and I are heading home after 2 unforgettable days in Sydney with Blaine Ray. What an amazing time and I still can’t believe how fortunate we have been.


Firstly how lucky were we to have Blaine Ray to ourselves almost for 24 hours! We did share him on Tuesday with Stef and her son Daniel, but considering that she is heading up to the conference in Brisbane this Friday, this was a bonus! We were able to pepper him with questions and then listen to his explanations while taking notes. It felt like our own personal workshop specifically tailored for our needs and level. Words simply cannot express how amazing this was and we’ll always be indebted to Blaine for his kindness and patience. 

Secondly, we were able to practise our note taking skills ready for next week’s inaugural TPRS conference on the Fleurieu Peninsular with Terry Waltz & Lizette Liebold! It has been fascinating comparing our notes and seeing the huge gaps in my notes where at times I must have become so engrossed in the conversation I forgot to write anything down! Annie has diligently cross referenced both sets of our notes and created a version that incorporates everything and then on top of that has presented it out beautifully.

(This is from Blaine’s advice that whenever you get universal agreement with a response, never accept it. Choose the opposite and surprise them! Never accept the obvious; eliminate the expected!) 

And thirdly, it was simply a lovely break spending 2 nights in Sydney and being a tourist in such a beautiful city with like minded people. We spent most of our time together either walking or eating along the scenic waterfront. Except for the initial trip to our hotel from the airport, all of the travel we (Annie & Cathy) did in Sydney was either by ferry or by train and this is definitely the best way to travel. The ferry system is efficient and relaxed. It was just lovely sitting or standing on the ferries enjoying the gorgeous scenery and the cool breezes with the added occasional bonus of sea spray. The trains too were great. So much quicker and took us directly to the domestic terminal which was in direct contrast to our long and tiring trip on arrival which took at least an hour of zig zagging throughout the CBD streets of Sydney. I’m so grateful that Annie talked me into exploring alternative travel options for our return to the airport!


What a generous and gracious person Blaine Ray is. He happily and enthusiastically shared his knowledge with us and was genuinely impressed to discover that we are 2 of 3 language teachers on the south coast who have been teaching with TPRS in since 2014. He told us afterwards that he had presumed we had only recently heard about TPRS and therefore surmised that our discussions would lack any deep TPRS connection. In fact we spent every single minute chatting about various aspects of TPRS and Blaine answered all of our questions and gave many demos to illustrate his points. He also encouraged us to share all that we learned; a huge relief because I couldn’t wait to write up this post!  I particularly appreciated his personal stories which clearly illustrate his open mindedness towards improving TPRS, unlike others who have created a successful model and then constantly ‘protect’ the model/concept fiercely. Blaine told us of several instances where he had witnessed or discussed with a practising TPRS teacher a successful idea of theirs, which he  immediately saw the value of incorporating it into TPRS procedure and then gave that teacher full credit for that update! Alina Filipescu is one such teacher and after seeing several of her youtube videos, I fully understand why Blaine Ray would be impressed by her teaching.

His explanation and demonstration of the 5 steps of teaching a sentence is a procedure I aim to focus on this upcoming term. I particularly would like to work on this to ensure that I am story asking rather than story listening. I can finally understand how we can create a class story based on the target structure. His advice of writing out a script beforehand with a few planned surprises (should the student ideas be too predictable) would help as my mind goes blank when I am in front of a class. He did reassure us though, by saying that once you get started and students get the hang of suggesting the unexpected, we will begin to build up a bank of great surprises perfect for our cohorts that can be drawn upon when needed. I liked his mantra of rejecting the expected; I can fully understand now that choosing an idea that is sooo off the planet ramps up the class stories to make it even more compelling. Blaine demonstrated this with us all at Watson’s Bay with a sentence about a chicca called Annie. He circled this sentence using his 5 steps with us as the class. Whatever we suggested, he would shake his head and reject it with a disappointed look on his face and so we would dig deeper to outdo each other to come up with even better unpredictable ideas. However he continued to reject our suggestions and would then use his own which were always better than ours. I also loved his comeback when I told him that his story didn’t make sense to me; “This is my story and if you don’t like it, go and write your own story.”

Here are the 5 steps of teaching a sentence:

  1. Annie was a girl.
  2. Annie, are you a girl?
    (If the actor doesn’t have the language to answer in the target language, she/he can either read it or mouth it while the teacher provides the voice.)
  3. Yes, I am a girl.
    (The actor must answer in complete sentences confidently as this provides input for the class and is also a clear indicator of the extent to which the whole class ‘gets it’. Any errors or hesitation are indicators that more repetition is necessary.)
  4. Yes, you are a girl.
    (teacher verifies the response)
  5. Class, Annie was a girl.
    (Teacher speaks to the whole class)


This leads on nicely to Blaine’s comments about actors. He made it very clear that choosing good actors is critical. He explained about having auditions to select the best actor which is an idea I’ve tried but not while focusing on the target structure which would be an awesome way in which to add additional input, rehearse the structure and develop student confidence. A good actor must be enthusiastic, must want to try and must have the mindset that this is a cool class. We loved his line that actors have the opportunity to be in the movie rather than to just watch it!

If however, the actor is not performing (maybe he/she is shy or reluctant to act in an exaggerated fashion), try whispering in their ear hints or even demonstrating the required action and if they are still unable to act in the engaging manner required, it may be necessary to replace them. Choosing a bad actor gives negative messages to all the students about our subject. Blaine’s statement that every teacher has a battle for the students hearts resonates for me in my school where we can have up to 5 specialist teachers on top of their class teacher and other support staff. He says the way to win their hearts is through comprehension and play!


Our meals with Blaine were spent juggling our plates & cutlery with our notebooks & pen. Meal times were perfect times to focus on specific aspects of TPRS. The first evening, Annie took notes while I hesitated to pull out my book. Afterwards back at the hotel, I quickly wrote down all that I could remember and was horrified at how much detail I couldn’t remember. From then on, as soon as Blaine began talking, I would whip out my note book and note down the salient points using some of the shorthand I haven’t used since teachers college lectures! 


Over our first al fresco breakfast in Pyrmont, Blaine discussed circling. Questions are the backbone of TPRS and are the key difference between TPRS teaching and everything else. He told us of studies which showed that TPRS teachers ask 3-4 questions a minute whereas legacy teachers rarely ask ANY questions. Questioning is critical because it gives students the opportunity to rehearse while giving the teacher the opportunity to get repetitions on just one sentence.

Here are his 7 rules of circling:

  • Never circle in the same order (too predictable)
  • Use either/or on any part of the sentence (subject, verb, object)
  • Always have a bias towards asking negative questions as they are more challenging
  • Use your question words and point and pause to give processing time
  • Add information to the sentence to create a new sentence. Either circle the longer sentence or part of the longer sentence; whatever is necessary for your students and this is evident through your actor. Eg. Girl wants a monkey, Girl want a big/small monkey, Girl wants a big monkey that speaks Chinese/dog,
  • add a new character (parallel character)
  • add yourself (teacher)

It’s all about asking different people different questions based on the same structure. If it feels boring, ramp it up by adding another character, a celebrity, a celebrity’s pet cat. Adding something new makes it more interesting. Speak to each character. Eg. Are you a cat? What languages do you speak? You are very clever. Each new piece of information can be added to the sentence being circled or just circle the new addition depending on the level of actor confidence and continue till the actor ‘sooo gets it’! If a student actor hesitates or has errors in their answer, this indicates that the class also needs more circling on that sentence. Blaine requires actors to respond in complete sentences to provide further output for the class however class responses are limited to one word responses. In this YouTube video you can see him demonstrating this:

 https://youtu.be/9DRblDN2sXY

Just as critical though are student responses. He told us about Alina Filipescu who coaches her students to give powerful responses. I am definitely going to investigate that idea as I agree it is a skill that needs explicit teaching. 

Answering questions demonstrates comprehension and understanding.
Blaine has 3 procedures for evidence of student engagement

They are:

  • Respond to new statements with ‘ahh’.
  • If I ask a question, respond in the target language.
  • If I ask a question and you don’t know the answer, guess in the target language. Surprise me with your guess and if you don’t surprise me, I will surprise you!

This conversation led us neatly onto the 2 Rules for Students in class:

  • NO social talking
  • Never speak negatively about this class.Regarding point 2, Blaine recommends teaching early on a phrase such as, “I like this class” (Kelas Bahasa Indonesian keren) and whenever a student speaks negatively about the lesson or class, insist they repeat this phrase while reminding them of rule no 2. Personally I can’t remember anyone stating publicly in class that they dislike my classes or lessons, I just get occasional glowering glares or disengaged expressions which I usually do not draw attention to and work harder to turn their attitude around. For one student this happened when she became the class artist.

 

A major theme that underlay every discussion we had with Blaine was student confidence and teacher patience. He highly recommends all language teachers experience learning a totally new language to fully enable us to  empathise with our students. Teacher thinking about language learning is usually wrong. We have forgotten just how it feels to be a learner and why students want and need patience from their teacher. Teachers can not make their students learn any faster, the only way we can help with their acquisition is to provide more repetition.

Always respond with love and patience until your students CAN:

C= Confidence

A= Accuracy

N= No hesitation.

 

We want new language learners (slow processors) to become confident fast processors which is the goal of TPRS. Writing translations up on the board can make a big difference with this. Did you realise that your brain starts from the point where it is confident? How much sense does that make! It explains why we can hear the same talk/ explanation several times and yet pick up different facts each time! This is relevant for language learners too! Each time we repeat a structure, it solidifies in the learners mind and helps them become more confident. Every learner is different and begins at a different point. TPRS students are at one of the following stages:

~ understanding

~ getting it

~ soo getting it.

Obviously it the final stage we are aiming for with our students!
 

Post Script:

This post is my grasp of Blaine’s explanations. I hope it is true to his understandings and should there be any errors, I fully accept that they are evidence of my ongoing and constantly developing comprehension of TPRS. 

Teaching Spanish w Comprehensible Input- Haste Not Waste

An awesome blog written by Señora Hitz. The blog includes many awesome suggestions and those I believe are appropriate for Aussie teachers can be found on my TCI activities pages found on the home page in the top right hand corner. 

Posts like this, for me, help me to stop and reflect upon an important aspect of TCI/TPRS teaching. They help me to remember and appreciate what second language acquisition is truly like for my students. I hope it helps you too not only with understanding SLOW but also the many facets of SLOW. 

Read and contemplate the truths of ‘Haste a Not Waste’. 

Two Introductory TCI/TPRS Workshops -MLTASA & CLTSA

Over the weekend, Bu Annie, Ibu Sharon & I attended 2 conferences; 1. MLTASA (Modern Languages Teachers Association SA) in the morning and 2. CLTASA (Chinese Language Teachers Assoc) in the afternoon. When we first heard that both associations were holding their annual conference on the same day, we were incredibly disappointed as we were committed to present at MLTASA while Ian & Caitlin (2 TCI Chinese teachers from QLD) were presenting at CLTSA. Luckily our presentations did not clash and we were able to get from EDC to Napier House in good time. However the locked door into Napier House cut short our celebratory hand pumps and thankfully Ian had his phone on! 

The MLTASA conference began with a plenary by Sean Keenihan, who spoke about ‘the role and value of Languages education in schools – a business perspective’. Sean wears many hats and most relate to his Chinese proficiency, dating back to his high school days. When asked how to encourage students to learn a language he reflected with this: after graduation as one of hundreds of lawyers, he was the first from his year to be employed and this was entirely due to his bilingualism. His graphs illustrated recent growth figures in the SA tourism sector and he also talked about the growing state of global business. These two sectors are a just 2 of many that have a huge and growing demand for bilingual employees and thus being bilingual is giving many job seekers  an X factor, making them highly desirable in a competitive job market. Apparently only 30 of the 700 2015 SA lawyer  graduates were employed! I wonder what their X factor was? 

Our workshop, ‘Teaching Languages with TCI/TPRS’ was to be held in the larger room at EDC due to the large number of participants who had signed up for it. What an awesome way to begin!! We began by asking participants to bring their chairs to the front of the room and to sit in a semi circle facing the screen. As this was our first ever presentation and indeed our first ever attendance at MLTASA, we had no idea what to expect. One thing we were looking forward to was an audience of largely non Indonesian speaking teachers, who would experience our demo lesson from a student perspective and therefore hopefully feel the power of TCI even more dramatically than our Indonesian speaking colleagues. Our presentation began with introducing ourselves, outlining our TCI journey, and giving a brief explanaton of the acronyms TCI, TPRS & TPR. Due to the short amount  of time we had available and that we were a little late starting (domino effect of the 2nd plenary speaker running over time), our introduction was minimal. We felt that a demo would be more powerful than heaps of information. 

Our demo focused on the Pleased To Meet You (written by Jim Tripp) story. We began with establishing meaning of the target structures (siapa nama, nama saya, astaga, berkata – what’s your name, my name is, OMG, said), before giving a circling demo on siapa nama & nama saya. Sharon then established the ‘Stop – I don’t understand!’ gesture before telling the story. Afterwards she did a comprehension check and everyone gave her a thumbs up!! We had a little time for questions and we were very relieved that attending MLTASA was a high school French TPRS teacher!! It was awesome to connect with Zelda who has been working alone for 2 years – we take our hat off to you! Zelda was able to respond to questions that came from secondary language teachers – a cohort we have had the greatest difficulty connecting with as we have no secondary experience. Our promise to them that TPRS was designed initially for secondary students by a secondary language teacher rarely helps. Zelda’s contribution and support was invaluable.  

It wasn’t till much later, that Sharon realised that in our nervousness, the reduced workshop time and our determination to leave punctually, we forgot to mention anything about the unit of work we had created around this story to help participants trial a unit in their classrooms!! Oops. So if you were one of those participants and you would like a copy, contact me via my learn link address on the handout and I’ll happily forward it to you. 

We arrived at Napier House just before the post lunch conference sessions were about to begin, to our relief. Ian & Caitlin opened the locked doors which gave us time to quickly introduce ourselves to each other and chat briefly while heading upstairs to the auditorium. The entire afternoon schedule had been assigned to Ian & Caitlin! Imagine your only time constraint being getting to the airport in time for your flight home! We were slightly in awe and also a teeny (OK- a lot) envious!! Maybe next year, we need to ask for a double workshop session? 

Ian & Caitlin spent the first hour talking to a powerpoint which introduced TCI/TPRS to their audience of Chinese teachers. The powerpoint thoroughly explained TPRS, outlined how it differs from traditional/currrent language teaching methods, included several short videos of Ian teaching highly engaged year 7’s, year 10 free writes (290 words) , cold character reading , students talking positively about learning Chinese via TCI methodology, students reading unfamiliar texts fluently and a short yet highly engaging demo by Caitlin establishing meaning for ‘wants to eat’. As a student, I could immediately see the value of having the target structures clearly written on one side of the smartboard page and on the other side were other necessary vocabulary just as Diane Neubauer does.I hadn’t actually understood the beauty of this until that point! I also think I need to investigate buying a clicker gadget next year – it would be so convienent to turn the powerpoint pages from wherever I am in my class room!  

Ian & Caitlin stopped talking after an hour to give everyone a break and they were immediately swamped with people asking questions! The amount of interest was brilliant.  During their presentation, I could hear teachers around me commenting to each other quietly but unfortunately it was all in Chinese. 

During this break, it suddenly became clear, that the next session would have to be shortened significantly to prevent Ian & Caitlin missing their flight home to QLD. Particiapants were quickly called back into the auditiorium to answer any last minute questions. In no time at all, they were being presented with bottles of SA wine and the mad dash to the airport began. 

Thankfully we had offered to take them to the airport as this provided us all with a precious window for solid 2017 planning. We all acknowledge the need to arrange high quality training in Australia asap and are keen to collaborate on this by inviting a guest out to Australia next January to provide us all with much needed expert training before the 2017 school year begins! It would be awesome if the person  who comes out, is happy to travel as then we could offer training in a few states which will be much more affordable to participants! If this all happens, would you be interested in attending and how much would you be prepared to pay to participate? Considering our only option at the moment is a flight to either America or Europe ($$), it would be considerably cheaper and so much easier if this eventuates! Please comment below with any thoughts. We need your feedback! The more interest, the better!