Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Defending TPRS

I guess another argument is raging on FLTeach about whether or not TPRS is a valid, successful teaching method. I happened to read a post from an insightful TPRS questioner that make me sit and reflect. It was bothering me so much that I decided to respond, even though his initial questions were not directed at me. I just thought I'd share my responses, because they made me think about TPRS...

I thought I'd jump in here because I am just beginning to use TPRS in my classroom this year. I am constantly reflecting and trying to decide if I'm doing the right thing for my students. Your email gave me more food for thought. I thought I'd try to answer your questions from my point of view.

Question 1 (dealing with the fact that immigrant Mexicans are surrounded by the language yet can't really speak it): I work in a restaurant and have a ton of interactions with immigrant Mexicans. In my experience (which may differ from your experiences with ESL students), these men and women are not really immersed in the language as our students are immersed in the language. They listen to Mexican radio stations, they watch Univision, they read Mexican newspapers, they work with other Mexicans with whom they can converse in Spanish... I had the same problem when I was living in France as an exchange student and that is why I am not as fluent as I could be. Our students are not fully immersed in the language, but they are experiencing it in a more academic setting. Instead of sitting and watching a TV show in French with no idea what is going on, they are listening to a teacher who is speaking slowly, ensuring comprehension at every turn. They are going to acquire the language faster this way than they would in a day of living on the streets of Paris (I think...) I'm not trying to make the argument that my classroom is a better place to learn a language than actually being in France, just trying to explain the differences between the students in my classroom and the immigrants in America.

Question 2 (dealing with the evaporation of knowledge): I can't really speak a whole lot to this question because I am only in my first year of teaching TPRS. I can tell you that I started teaching this way because I was SO frustrated in how little stuck with my students after a summer of not speaking or hearing French. What did stick, however, was the vocabulary used in actual conversations between my students and myself. Every Monday, we would talk about what happened over the weekend. My second year students, who had never been explicitly taught the past tense (because it is taught in our second year), remembered on day one of school how to say "I went to Florida," correctly using etre as a helping verb, but switching to avoir to say "I saw a film." That's what stuck with them because those conversations meant something to them. So I decided to try TPRS because no matter what I taught them, I figured I couldn't do any worse than I'd been doing in getting the language to stick. I'll be interested to see what my second year students remember next year! And as for reading, my kids read all the stinking time! They are shocked as to how much they can understand when they read.

I hope this helps answer your questions. It really helped me to think of the answers! I love reflecting and trying to figure out how to best prepare my students to become fluent in the language. That's my ultimate goal...I want students who can read, listen, write, and speak. Some skills just come later in the learning process...

Monday, March 29, 2010


Confession time. I am not a grammar lover. In fact, until two summers ago, when my department was writing curriculum, I didn't know what an interrogative adjective was. Or any of those other buzz words that come with language and grammar study. But guess what? I lived in France for a year and didn't starve. I even took university level classes with native French speakers. And yet I did all this without knowing what a possessive pronoun was. I used them...just didn't know what they were called. That's probably one of the reasons that TPRS is so attractive to me.

Another reason that TPRS is so attractive to me is that it is actually making me more fluent. Usually, only immersion weekends and travel can boost fluency, but I am learning so much! Structures that wouldn't normally flow off my tongue are becoming more natural because I am making a point of teaching them in context. Yet another bonus for TPRS!!

Free writes

I have my students do a free write every Friday. They moan and groan, but it's a great way for me to see their progress and have something in my hand to show other FL teachers. I was absent last Friday, but my sub gave them a free write assignment. I was looking over them this morning, trying to decide if I should enter a grade for them or not because most of my students weren't able to write very much. I was SHOCKED to see what one of my F students wrote. He wrote 110 words about baseball, his family, his friends, and how he doesn't like being alone. LOTS of spelling errors, but I was able to read it and get his feelings and purpose. This is the same student who told me at the end of last year that I couldn't make him drop my class when I asked if he really wanted to be here. How can I harness this intelligence that is there, inside him? He's so stubborn and will shut down at the slightest re-direct.

At the very least, his writing has given me hope and incentive to keep trying with him...hooray!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Second year

There is so much freedom with teaching kids for a second year. I love knowing what they should know, getting to know them better, and building on the basic vocabulary. It's so awesome to be able to see the differences in abilities between the first year students and the second year students and know that I did something to create that. This year is even more awesome because I'm not using a textbook. I know that everything that they know came directly from me and my choices in music, movies, and books. My pedagogy is working! How exciting is that! My students are learning and it's not just the perfect students who go home and study for hours. In fact, it's almost impossible for my students to study at home because they wouldn't know what to study (I wonder if that's a good thing...). Instead, I can tell a difference in my students' innate abilities through their output. Everyone can understand most of what I'm saying. Most, if not every student, can answer my questions with something...and then the top kids can really go to town talking to me. They can bring out a word that I've used just a couple of times and blast it in my face. Those kids are still awesome, but it's really great to see other kids succeed too.

At the coffeeshop yesterday, my colleague and I were discussing how to assess these kids. She said that she gives oral tests and is giving significant points (like a C) for simply understanding the questions and responding with yes/no. You know, that's really hard for these kids. Seriously, it's like we're speaking a foreign language or something! Shouldn't they be rewarded for making such a giant leap??! They have to be able to hear the words, attach meaning to those words (usually by switching them to English), sometimes they have to switch the word order around...and then they have to know how to respond. So what if they don't answer in a complete sentence?? That's for the top kids. I need to be happier with the level of my kids' comprehension. What they're doing in my class is huge. HUGE!


Yesterday, I was leaving school with a Spanish teacher and we ran into one of my students. This student has huge self-control issues, and I had been sending him out of class into the Spanish room. As the two of us walked by him and said hi, he said, "Mme, you should send me to the Spanish room again!" I answered in French, "Why?" He said, in French, "Canon's in there." Me: Canon? Who is Canon? Him: My boyfriend (petit ami) Me: Your boyfriend? You want to give him a kiss? Him: Eeeww, no! He's just a friend. (He then gestured that he was short) Me: Oh! It's your friend who is little, not your little friend/boyfriend (petit ami). My colleague and I continued to our cars and then to Starbucks for coffee. My colleague was amazed at how much my first year student was able to understand and respond to me in French after less than a year in class (and many of those first days spent in other classrooms because he was too disruptive). Ahhhhh...success.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Refreshed after Spring Break

I came back from a week off feeling pretty darn good about teaching. I was happy to see my students, and we started off on a great note. Well, at least it started off well with my second year students. They were really paying attention and enjoying talking about what they did over break. My first year students are just squirrelly. I love their energy, but I'm struggling so much to get them to shut up and play the game. They are really understanding a lot and I do have those exceptional students who are going above and beyond on production too. But I can't get the rest of the kids to be quiet. I fought it really hard for a while, but then I realized that the problem wasn't getting any better and I was sending out some really good students...who were missing the CI. Lately, I've been allowing a little more laissez-faire, but I can see it in their grades. When they're not paying attention, their grades tank. It's the same old thing...

Thursday, March 11, 2010


I was observed this week by a member of the PE department who knows nothing about FL beyond her experiences in high school. She came to see about my pacing and amount of time spent in the TL.

Today, we met in an interdisciplinary group and she shared her findings with me. She was very complimentary about the class...the gestures...the conversations, etc. She said that she saw a very high level of interest and could see how it would help the students learn.

It felt so good to be validated by other teachers in the building. I've been pretty down on myself about TPRS lately...I don't do enough circling, I'm not going Slowly enough, my stories are boring, I'm getting tired of the stories, my classroom management sucks. It was nice to remember that I am accomplishing something! If absolutely NOTHING else, at least my kids are excited about learning another language, right?? Right??

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Racism...what the heck?!

I have seen two articles lately about racist actions taking place on college campuses. One where a KKK hood was found on a college campus and the other about students putting cotton balls on the lawn in front of the black studies building at my alma mater. It makes me sick to think that there are college students who are so ignorant. How can a person go through over 12 years of education and be so dumb??

One of the reasons that I decided to choose French as my content area is that I hope to educate students to be somewhat worldly and not so sheltered. I hope that by teaching them about the differences in cultures, they might realize that just because it's different, doesn't mean it's wrong. Different is just different.

I've noticed a "new" trend with my students to make blatently racist remarks and think they are funny. I have a hispanic boy who is constantly referred to as "The Mexican" He laughs along, but doesn't realize that it's becoming a part of his identity. Instead of being Carlos (not his real name), he is the Mexican. They do this to all races. I have an African-American student who is constantly referring to black this and black that. Today, I asked what color his room was and he said it was black because he lives in The Black House. It's really sad when I can't even teach a color without someone making a racist comment about it... I try to teach them the difference between appropriate and inappropriate jokes...but it's so ingrained in their lives at this point. I just remind them every time they make a comment and then send them out if I think it was malicious. Same thing with gay jokes...and red heads! South Park has now made it common for me to hear "Gingers don't have souls..." And kids think it's SO funny.

What can I do to combat 23 hours of racism/homophobia? They are surrounded by it on the TV, their friends, maybe their parents...

Brain-based learning and Marcia Tate

I went to a seminar yesterday by Marcia Tate on strategies that work with the brain to help kids learn. I've posted about her ideas before, but yesterday I got to see her in action! Afterwards, I went to say thank you for a seminar that was applicable to all content areas. I told her that I don't get many opportunities to go to these things because foreign language is kind of out there on its own. She said, "Well, with FL, you have TPRS!" I was so excited because I was thinking the whole time that TPRS goes right with her 20 strategies!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

PQA-I get it!

So, today, I was going to start a story from Anne Matava's scripts about dirty hotel rooms. So I put the words up on the board: (bed)room, travels, and dirty. In the past, I have written the words on the board, given the gestures, and jumped into the story. Today, I remembered that oh-so-important step of PQA. I have a class of 26 squirrely kids. They are really really excited about French, but they also get really really excited about anything anyone else says and go way off topic.

Today, I started out by asking a kid what color his bedroom is. This is a quieter boy who doesn't interact much with the class. He said his room is white. Boring! So I asked him if he has a lot of posters on his walls, thinking that maybe I could spice this up. Nope, no posters. So of course, I told the class that he had 27 posters of cute little kittens in his room. They loved it. We talked some more about his love of cats and I moved on to another student...ignoring the loudmouths who were begging for me to pick them. I asked a girl about her room and if she had any chairs in it. She said that she did, so I asked how many and what color. My goal was to have very distinct rooms for each student. I wanted one student to have posters, one to have a chair, and one to have a television...recycling vocab that they already know.

At the end of the hour, the kids started to get restless and goofy from all the hilarious CI I was giving them about their I had them take a quick comprehension quiz and BINGO, class is over.

I finally understand when teachers say, "I could have hurried through the PQA and forced a story...but we were having so much fun with PQA!" Now, I have two more structures that I can PQA tomorrow during a block and then start the story.

Hooray PQA!