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.