Is Sticking To A Curriculum Necessary In The Light Of The New State Standards?

I got this email from Elissa that I wanted to share:
This is so much bigger than teaching a language. I think that’s why I feel ignited about teaching Spanish in a way I hadn’t before. Its about bringing out the best in students and teacher, creativity, silliness….helping kids see their innate potential…. etc.! I used to get so nervous about teaching. Now I am experiencing these breakthroughs of having FUN, of really loving this. Your blog is really a great moral support in this. So much of what you write resonates with my basic view of education/people. I am a huge believer in the power of trusting the unknown (need to do it more though!) and being in the moment and in the power of love and all those good things. That’s how I try to live, so its such a great thing to apply this to teaching Spanish in such a direct way. I’m unlearning my thought that language learning follows a progression. I watched the keynote speech by Krashen at a Fluency Fast event (first time hearing him speak. I loved when he said that teaching grammar is like giving vitamin C vs. eating an orange. I also just ordered some of his books to read…) and that reinforced what you keep writing about. So, based on what you both say, it seems like there shouldn’t be a problem in forsaking a curriculum in which certain vocabulary  words are worked on in each chapter where all build on each other and at the end of each chapter certain thematic words would be known…Right? But this seems a little “old school” in the sense that, if there is CI, kids are going to learn, so we don’t really need to stick to a curriculum.
My response:
Elissa, one would think that TPRS materials should present graded vocabulary that builds on itself in stories, but, if you really think about it, why should they? It’s old thinking. This is all as per Susie Gross and Stephen Krashen and Diana Noonan. I am so heartened to hear you say that, because I never knew quite what to think on this topic of introducing vocabulary at certain times in a conscious way until lately. Now, as we in my district have been feverishly focusing on, trying to align with, the new state standards, I realize that I don’t have to do any of that. I have found that if I just have a basic good teen interest script like Anne makes, with no particular structures except those that work with the story, that it works best – the CI is so much more comprehensible, and I am perfectly faced in the direction of and aligned with the task of rapidly getting my students up from novice low to (my own goal in my own program at East High School), intermediate low (a 3 or 4 on the French AP exam). I just do that. Allow me to expand on that:
If the assessment instrument that we are now writing in Denver Public Schools for level two languages is to properly align with our new state standards, it will definitely ask kids to understand the target language in general terms, and not in vocabulary specific terms. A child, then, will not have to know certain words, but instead should be able to merely decode the general flow of what is being said. Whether the assessment text is about a scene in a zoo or in a grocery store, 90% of the vocabulary in the assessment will overlap both scenes. The child, even if they know neither “zoo” or “grocery store”, will still be able to decode basically what is going on, because they have heard the language so much that they can follow along. This is in stark contrast to the old ways of testing, memorizing lists of words, verb conjugations, etc. where if a kid didn’t know one of those two words or related vocabulary or what a certain form of a verb is, they were SOL.
In the old model, kids exited four year programs being able to decode maybe 10% of the words they heard (explaining the massive national failure of foreign language study over the past decades in the United States). They could decode so little because they had focused on lists of individual words in class, day after day, month after month, year after year. It’s as if they had collected a big pile of bricks but the bricks had never been made into a house. Now, with narrative methods like TPRS, the kids not only hear the words, but see the house being built. Kids so trained are a lock to pass the AP exam, as we have proven so often in TPRS. I am especially proud of my kid who got the four on the AP French exam in level two, with no prior exposure to the language. The times have indeed changed.
Once again, trying to make a story’s structures conform to or reflect some kind of established pacing guide or curriculum map flies in the face of the new state standards/ACTFL proficiency guidelines. We don’t need to do it. You are so right, Elissa, when you say that “if there is CI, kids are going to learn, so we don’t really need to stick to a curriculum”.



22 thoughts on “Is Sticking To A Curriculum Necessary In The Light Of The New State Standards?”

  1. Ben and Diane,
    I’m hoping that as your district guidelines for language acquisition become clear, you will share them. Our district head has asked me whether such guidelines exist lately. She would like specifics, and I would love to share what Denver is doing with my TPRS working group.

  2. So, am I wrong to think that following some kind of curriculum or plan is still a good idea? In order to keep input at i+1, don’t we need to make sure that we don’t add too many new words at a time, and that we are continually reincorporating words that have been used already in the class in the past? Also, don’t we need to try and limit our vocabulary somewhat in order to focus on a smaller set of words, and thus get more repetitions?
    I know that a “curriculum” for TPRS would look different than a typical curriculum. But doesn’t a plan or chart of some sort help us be better teachers?
    I love the idea of being creative and allowing each class to take on a life of its own. Yet, I think I can probably do this most effectively by starting out with a structure that I can fill in and elaborate on. I’m not suggesting we move from present tense, to past tense, to future, to subjunctive; nothing as linear as that.
    Thoughts? I guess I just don’t understand how we would keep input comprehensible enough if we don’t use any kind of grading at all.

  3. …in order to keep input at i+1, don’t we need to make sure that we don’t add too many new words at a time…?
    Personally, I think that this is where a robot would make a list, and an artist like Blaine would just naturally already know what his kids know. I suggest striving for the art, instead of being a mere deliverer-of-planned-instructional-services (Theodore Sizer’s term with the word “planned” added…).
    When you are able to communicate with your students in a common exploration of new words via Point and Pause, SLOW, Teaching to they Eyes (which has the word “yes” in it), and Circling, wouldn’t you rather dance into the new knowledge that way instead of worrying about sticking to some list?
    Either we believe Krashen’s Natural Order of Acquisition Hypothesis or we don’t. That biggie states that words and expressions in L2 show up in pretty much the same order as they do in the base language, and that order cannot be re-arranged.
    Krashen is screaming at us here that the mind is selective and learns what language material it wants to learn when it wants to learn it, as it hears it on a daily basis. By using the book, by forcing the mind into lists, we basically blow it, in my opinion.
    Also, when I used to do TPRS years ago, worrying about some words that I had to “get into the lesson”, the lesson always sucked. Its wings were clipped by this feeling of getting some certain word in. I strenuously claim that our students learn languages because they are interested in what is being said. If you keep tracking the story back to some list of words, the story just sucks. At least that is my own experience.

  4. …don’t we need to try and limit our vocabulary somewhat in order to focus on a smaller set of words, and thus get more repetitions…?
    Stephen, for one thing, when we circle we immediately and naturally limit our vocabulary to a smaller set of words. During that time, the story is suspended while we drive home, etch, the new expression into their minds.
    When the etching via circling is done, we return to the story and go on. The tenor, the feel, the nature of the story has been interrupted for a brief commercial for the new expression, and the program resumes.
    I mean, this is an individual thing and each TPRS teacher does it their own way. Personally, I can’t get a story to have any wheels if some list of words somewhere is pressing me for my attention. It’s like being on a highway and having to stop to drive down some side road every time the car comes to an off ramp. I don’t like that.
    I choose spontaneity over predictability. By now, I know exactly what my students know anyway, because I have been teaching them for five months, and therefore the CI is limited to what they know anyway, in a natural, unplanned way.
    My goal is to speak to my students in a way that carries meaning and interest to them, and the minute I bring in the word watermelon to the CI, if it doesn’t occur naturally, my story immediately goes splat.
    After a few years of same, as long as I keep my mouth in the right language, the chances are pretty good that my kids will know those words anyway. I will have taught my students how to decode larger and larger chunks of language unconsiously, and it is in the decoding of such large groups of words – naturally occurring words – that the lesser individual words in that sea of CI are easily decoded, and the language is acquired for real.
    That is why everybody now knows that the road to high AP scores is paved with lots of circling and pointing and pausing. It’s a good road down which rambles the sturdy Blainemobile, as long as it isn’t loaded down with too much new theory.

  5. I have different experiences at different times with stories. Sometimes, the structures kill it and the kids don’t learn the word. Other times they are key. If they are not key, I must find a way, with stories or PQA or pictures or whatever, to make them key (acquired).
    I do think that some sort of plan or chart is nice though, because I want to have my reading material chosen in advance (ideally). But, if I have planned for students to acquire two words that day, among 3 or 5 or 10 or 50 or howevermany for that particular reading material (unit), and they just aren’t working that day, I shouldn’t fret at all, because they are still getting CI, and if it is more interesting than what was going on with those 2 words, then they will acquire more language because they will be actively participating with the language. Does this mean we can relax a little?
    Perhaps we’re agreeing on how to teach a language efficiently and effectively, but just wanting to get away from all of the words and patterns and demands associated with rigidity and control. Just my thoughts…

  6. Since writing our curriculum three years ago, my colleagues and I have struggled to teach our ¨word lists¨ . We have assigned certain words lists to certain grades (we are elementary teachers)…Anyway, I think that all four of us are such different people, and our kids are so different, that it makes it difficult to put the language in the box that the word lists create. The more I teach with TPRS, the harder it is to keep me in that box!
    I also understand Stephen`s concerns because we do teach in schools and we must be accountable, etc… Not all of us are lucky enough to have the support of a Diana Noonan.
    I think that Anne Matava´s backwards design with reading really speaks to this curriculum issue. Could developing a curriculum based upon readings or literature possibly give the teacher both the structure that he (or his administrator) feels is necessary, while also providing the freedom and spontaneity that we know is necessary?

  7. …could developing a curriculum based upon readings or literature possibly give the teacher both the structure that he (or his administrator) feels is necessary, while also providing the freedom and spontaneity that we know is necessary…?
    Liz I have felt that way for years. I think that Anne’s idea and Laurie’s idea of stacking increasingly more complex vocabulary in the form of embedded readings, are two ideas that, on the back burner now, will get increasing attention from us as the months go by.
    Laurie, I am stoked about presenting my first simple reading to my bright level fours, who, in spite of three years of instruction, have vocabularies that actually frighten me sometimes in class (I don’t show it, as per Susie’s admonition to always remember about kids’ self confidence). Just think of it, after we read this thing tomorrow, which they wrote and will be pouring over to see their own sentences in (plus I threw in seven errors for them to find – they love shit like that), I will then give them a new text with all sorts of embedded new expressions, and then another bigger one after that, and it will all seem like they wrote it, and we can spin off of it and just really work with that text, which is a reflection of a film that has already won their hearts (Pagnol’s My Mother’s Castle).
    Great point there, Liz.
    One more thing is that this points to the value of my thematic units. I know that the word plate is being taught off those CDs at home, and I don’t have to even give it a thought. Not that plate isn’t a wonderful word. Diana likes to berate me about that list, and I like to defend myself. Now, since I work for her, I don’t have to even do them. We are doing some cool assessment design right now, writing a level 2 instrument that aligns with the novice low, etc. categories. All Denver Public Schools teachers will be expected to align with them, and if they don’t teach grammar or the word plate, they won’t have to lose any sleep over it.
    Ultimately, I always like to ask myself not what I am teaching my kids, but why I am teaching my kids. The answer to that one kind of puts the targeted vocabulary chimera in its rightful place on the back shelf of the Dollar Store over on Wadsworth and Colfax. I no longer shop there. I now shop at Krashen’s.

  8. Elementary TPRSer

    (I am an Elementary TPRSer in that I teach Spanish in an elementary school setting and I am in my second full year of truly using this method in my classes. I discovered this blog over the winter break and having been eating up the passion and discussions, which has reenergized my own classroom. I am so thankful for this space.)
    This specific letter as well as responses very adequately describe the battle that has been going on in my mind. I want to do exactly what is suggested in my own classroom: choose spontaneity over predictability. As I begin to plan for a class however, I have no idea where to begin. (Mr. Slavic and others, as a recent teacher trainer graduate I wonder–what do your daily lesson plans look like?)
    Perhaps this is the nature of elementary vs. middle/high school students. It seems like circling with balls and personalization lends itself to more development with older students. My elementary students are not as used to doing much more than yes/no and small details about themselves (or there is not too much to tell, or I’m really missing something.) At some point, it would seem, the teacher has to have some idea where the class is going to keep the personalizing engaging. If I do not go in with a bag of ideas of where we could go, sometimes we do not go anywhere. Or perhaps this is the fine art of developing personal details/questions into a story, which may need some more work on my part.
    I think my biggest dilemma is that I feel more successful when I have a set list of structures that are my goals for that class–from those comes an engaging chance for lots of repetitions. Yet, I also see (and crave) the freedom of personalizing and spontaneity, to recognize and encourage each student in my classroom. Set structures=I am the star (or other imaginary characters get to star); spontaneity, based on student’s lives=students are stars. How do I get there from here?

  9. You said, “…at some point, it would seem, the teacher has to have some idea where the class is going to keep the personalizing engaging…”. If your goal is to just enjoy the kids, a lot of the intellectualization of the process will go away. It will all be very simple. Ask yourself why you are doing this. I know why I am doing it – to have fun. I say that not to piss off people who love structure, but just to state clearly that I have seen my students make by far the greatest gains when they are having fun.
    Jody? Liz? Leslie?

  10. Ben…I can’t wait to hear how it goes!!
    I think that this “problem” of organization is an incredible opportunity for us all. It may take a while to find the best direction, and I’d bet that it won’t end up in a list!!! What we will end up with is a series of questions, a formula of interactions, a pattern of sorts that combines student interest, language’s organic nature, brain research and more. It is, simply, the next big thing. :o)
    If language were all visual, we would be our students’ lens. If it were all aural, we would be the only radio station available. If the language acquisition process were simply a matter of filling the brain with words, we would be the funnel. If it were only a series of skills, we would be their master and they the apprentices.
    We are all of those things. And more. It is exactly that that has always been ignored by curriculum writers…..the very humanity of instruction and acquisition.
    And yes…I’m up at 2 in the morning pondering it all….
    with love,

  11. And I am up pondering at 5am. Will be out of town for a bit. Will try to find this thread upon my return. No, I don’t have a new iPad to check my email, surf the web and check my benblog while I’m gone (nor an old iPhone for that matter).
    I think your pondering is on target, Laurie.

  12. I think that so long as we have students that are mobile, we will have a curriculum.
    Our district has many students who move from school to school. I’ve got 4 new students that came from other schools this semester. While I’d love to be able to teach whatever I want, however it comes up naturally, I also have to acknowledge that other teachers in the district are getting some of my former students.
    As a group, the French teachers got together a few years ago and came up with power standards that must be taught by the end of each semester. We also have a CRT for each level that we have to give. I assume that so long as I make sure my kids get the info for the CRT and the power standards by the end of that semester, I’m good. But we also have a curriculum map that lays out how much we’re supposed to cover and when. That, I pretty much ignore. I know that it is only a general guideline and that at the end of the first semester some teachers were finishing up unit 3, some were working on unit 4 – so I don’t stress about it too much.
    I don’t really know how well my students do when they go to other teachers, they don’t say anything to me about it and I don’t ask. But I also know that the students that I’ve gotten from other schools (not necessarily within the district) generally aren’t quite as good with the language as my students. I have one this semester who is lost on a regular basis – he doesn’t have the basic vocabulary for any topic or general conversation/storytelling. He’s struggling. I try to help him as much as I can – but I ask myself, WHAT was the curriculum where he was taught? is it a grammar student coming into TPRS thing, or was he a weak student?

  13. Hey elementary TPRSer!
    You said: My elementary students are not as used to doing much more than yes/no and small details about themselves (or there is not too much to tell, or I’m really missing something.) I think there just might not be too much to tell…
    I am not positive about this, but I think that Carol Gaab even talks about how personalization works differently in an elementary classroom. PERSONAL to an elementary student could be: getting to act in a story or PQA*, talking about many dogs/pets they have. Elementary students are not so self-obsessed yet…and I am not sure they have the attention span required for that kind of PQA, anyway.
    So, that being said, if you can dig up some kids books, La oruga muy hambrienta, Muy bien fergus, etc., and pull structures from those to PQA*, you might find yourself with plenty to do. In a typical, twice-a-week, 30 minute elementary class you could probably front-load that vocabulary for over a month before you ever read the book with the class!
    *I think that PQA in the elementary classroom is more a mini-story with actors, than actual Personalized Questions and Answers as used in middle and high schools. Instead, the personalization comes from adding familiar details and names, letting them be the actors, and loving on those kids á la Susie Gross. I have sometimes seen Leslie D. re-tell a story while the entire class gets to act it out in small groups of four or so. They love it.

  14. On this page
    are three resources:
    1. A “Success Grid” for fundamental structures used in basic communication.
    2. A “Top Ten ” grid (it’s with the success grid)
    3. A “Top Ten Additions” grid
    The Top Ten grids are NOT designed to use as units, but as containers of puzzle pieces, so to speak, to use with the success grid.
    These three documents are the language structures that we use as a basis for creating stories, choosing songs etc .
    They were taken from the NYS Proficiency exams and well…real life. They are in English so that they can be used by any teacher. They are not perfect, but they can be very very helpful.
    with love,

  15. This is all so helpful because it is something that I think about quite a bit. I respect that many tprs teachers already have a lot experience with teaching a language and they can be an artist as Ben described above. They know what structures the students have acquired and are in some ways a walking curriculum.
    But what about teachers who have only been teaching for a year or two? The generation of teachers that are just coming out of college and learning about all of this. We can’t lose them because if we do, this method will not get out there and there will not be enough research to satisfy the University academia. So where should we go with the lists vs. Non-targeted CI?
    Well, just like other parts of teaching, does it have to be all or nothing? I have tried a lot of different versions of tprs in order to find my own style and also just for curiosity. What I have found is that when I am too strict on the words it can go flat really fast and the kids don’t have any fun. Which means that they are not acquiring. On the opposite end, I have done all Non-targeted CI and the students have a lot of fun, but they lack repetition and the result is that it takes longer to acquire the language since there is such a long time between encounters of the same structures. Also, the students observed that they felt like they were learning a lot of random words, rather than feeling a solid foundation. I will also say that most of the lack of repetition with the NTCI is due to my lack of experience as a teacher. So where does this leave me?
    I tend to lean more toward what Jim said. I backward plan around the reading, but if I don’t get to it that day I really don’t worry about it. I know that I will get to it eventually and that the class was meaningful because I was thinking on my feet as well as flexible with the daily needs of the class. But without that backward plan the students are missing out on the much needed repetitions. We simply do not have enough time with the students for them to learn the language in the same amount time that we learn our first language. This is why we need the repetition. In my opinion, the circling is not enough and actually the students want the action anyway.
    Perhaps we need a bit of a game plan and if the wind blows a certain way, we are ready. But let’s be honest, the wind blows differently in every class. The game plan establishes a much needed order in the students lives.
    Joe has a curriculum that is really solid and it totally changed the way that I view tprs. I hope that he writes a book about it because I think that it could provide a foundation for a lot of teachers. I guess we’ll wait and see.

  16. …I have done all non-targeted CI and the students have a lot of fun, but they lack repetition and the result is that it takes longer to acquire the language since there is such a long time between encounters of the same structures…
    In my opinion you can in fact get enough reps and be very concise in non-targeted CI. You just don’t let yourself go all over the place. If you are doing a story, or a Read and Discuss spin off a Blaine book, or any kind of CI, your job is to pay attention to their eyes and keep the reps going. If Anne is going back to the States at six a.m., you spin away on that, adding more and more details, until their eyes register that the CI programming is successful and then you go to the next thing that you feel like discussing. If it’s a story, you stay with the reps until their eyes register comprehension. I was just talking to Paul Kirschling about this. We just need to stay in the target language and not worry about getting the three locations. We hang in there with the reps that we have on hand. We don’t have to hit a home run story. We don’t fret if the CI is boring. We can’t do great classes every day. But we can do 95% no English (Paul and I have some serious ideas on that term) and we can go slowly enough and rep a smaller, more disciplined amount of words, even if it is non-targeted. I’m sure that is clear as mud but I’m trying here.
    …but without that backward plan the students are missing out on the much needed repetitions…
    Could you expand on that? I don’t quite get it. Also, what about Step 3 of TPRS? I know how valuable backwards design is, but can’t we also go in the opposite direction and create readings from stories as we have always done?
    …in my opinion, the circling is not enough and actually the students want the action anyway…
    Of course circling is never enough. But I still maintain that you can minimize the circling with point and pause and still get enough silly reps. Point and pause is a powerful tool. But the main tool is your own inner decision making about what terms get in and which get instantly blocked. But for that to happen you have to speak no English and you have to teach them to play the game and make them know fully what that means by enforcing the rules. If you speak English and don’t enforce the rules, right there you diminished the quality of your CI by 99.9%. English is THE killer. Not following the rules, not demanding discipline, is a related killer. Those two things have everything to do with a teacher not getting narrow and deep with a story, and getting to where they are teaching for acquisition. In that light, very few of us, certainly not me, are doing TPRS in the way Blaine intended, because all of us, or almost all, pollute the airwaves with too much English and it just messes everything up all the time. When I grow up I want to be able to do at least 50% of my classes in 95% L2. This may not seem related to your point Thomas but I think it is.
    The game plan establishes a much needed order in the students lives.
    The game plan is CI, whether the class sparkles or sucks. I can now teach a sucky class with full confidence that I am doing what Susie taught me, which is to talk to the kids in the target language. The message is that we talk to the kids in the target language in interesting and meaningful ways that they can understand. We use circling, point and pause, slow and teaching to the eyes to do that.
    What that means to me is that I don’t go all over the place introducing new terms all the time (which Thomas I was doing when you spent those days with me at Summit). Now I am into more concise CI, but I am still not worrying if it is connected to some list or backwards design plan or anything. I just want the CI to be comprehensible and I want no English and I want to make sure that I am stopping class the instant a rule is broken because I know that discipline precedes instruction.
    I think we plan too much in general and we don’t really apply Krashen’s Monitor Hypothesis to the fullest because we are so stuck in analyzing TPRS that we can never really do it, because TPRS is really just staying in L2, and talking to the kids, with the heart quality there, but we drown out the heart and the fun trying to make all these decisions about stuff like counting reps and target vocabularies and all of that.
    Re: Joe, Susie told me the same thing – that he has a monster plan of attack. If he doesn’t write what he does can you maybe share a little of what speaks to you in it? Here we have the Supreme Commander of the Western World and we don’t hear from him. Dang diggity.

  17. Wow! I hadn’t visited this blog for a few days and am excited to read through everyone’s thoughts. I’m going to sleep on all this and will try to articulate more questions when my head is clear. Thanks ya’ll! Sweet dreams…

  18. just staying in L2, and talking to the kids, with the heart quality there, but we drown out the heart and the fun trying to make all these decisions about stuff like counting reps and target vocabularies and all of that.

    Ben said “The Heart Quality”, which I interpret as Affective Filter Demolition, and heartily agree is Priority Numero Uno.
    But is target vocabulary evil? David Willis has an interesting “Lexical Approach” which learns from database analysis of spoken corpus’ (like 30 years of BBC recordings); certain chunks of 3 or 4 words are very frequently used, evidently very useful. What’s interesting is a task-based learner can get a meta overview of these high frequency chunks by grouping them roughly into expressions with similar intentions: so much talk boils down to negotiation toward an agreement about what is “true”.
    Maybe that’s one reason circling questions is so useful? Or maybe not, haha.

  19. Thanks for the comments! It basically boils down to the idea that students acquire the language when I use NTCI, but they acquire it faster when I have a flexible focus. I’m not married to the words, but when I backward plan off of the reading they just acquire the language faster because I am hitting them with multiple repetitions in different ways: intentional reading, PQA, and aural stories. I have experience that when I do just NTCI — the students remember it that day, but in maybe two or three days they can’t recall the word as well or at all. This is why they need the repetition on multiple days in multiple ways.
    I completely agree that English is the killer and I don’t allow it in my room, especially during periods of focused acquisition.
    I don’t worry about three locations or even the form of tprs. What I do basically three moves: Establish meaning, Ask a Story, and Read. This is totally Susan Gross and nothing new, but happens way differently than I thought before. Keep in mind that I teach 7th and 8th grade exploratory, Level 1 and Level 2. So I am mostly teaching students who are low beginner – low intermediate.
    Establish meaning means that for a day or two, I am just going through a list of words that lend themselves to good PQA. I have this curriculum identified all the way through third year. During this time we are just playing and I don’t really plan anything. I just think of funny scenarios with the words. The idea during this time, is playing. We are just playing with the words and establishing a beginning meaning. These could be little stories or scenes, TPR, PQA, talking about pictures, comics, and more. For me, this idea made PQA seem like whiffle ball. It can now extend as long it wants to, rather than being inhibited.
    Once we have played a little [or a lot] we then ask a story with some of these words. This story is based off of the reading that we will do later. The reading is based off of the words that we were doing while we were establishing meaning.[there are no set days on when this happens, but it is more of progression.] The story we ask is really close to the story that they will read. The reason is that later this will allow us to make comparisons between the reading and the asked story, which leads to higher levels on the taxonomy in L2. Sometimes the story is really close to the reading and other times not. I really don’t worry about staying too close. The reading is basically just a few ideas. The asked story is supplemented with retells, drawing pictures of the story, putting events in order, doing a dictation of the story, and whatever else will get in the repetition in a meaningful and fun way. Also during the asked story, there is circling, but not a whole lot. Only to review the events and make sure that the students are following. Teaching to the eyes and pausing and point as we go. The students by this time want plot development and action as well as the focus on them, even though they may need the circling. This is why I give them repetition in a variety of ways and not just circling. Otherwise, they boo me off the stage.
    When the students are ready we do a reading of the story. The reading is only about 100-150 words. Then we have a discussion in L2 about the differences and similarities between the stories. Which is great because they are getting repetitions of two stories, not just one. That is double the repetition in a meaningful way because two stories are happening simultaneously in their head. Also they get spelling solidified and grammar happens naturally. All with meaningful ways of repetition. The great thing is that because there is so much variety, the students don’t even realize that they are acquiring the language, which is what Krashen has pointed to all along.
    This is basically Joe’s plan and he has a curriculum based on these principles and others. Take a look at this document that he created. It is great!
    The bottom line is that in my experience, the students acquire the language faster this way. They still acquire it the other way and I am not discounting it at all. It’s great! But in my experience they acquire faster with a flexible focus. Also, we must consider that we are all different teachers, that’s why we learn so much from each other. Ben’s students under Ben will acquire faster than mine because he’s an artist and he knows what he is doing. He’s been teaching for over 30 years and is a walking curriculum. Maybe I will get there eventually, but I’m in my second year and I know that I am not a walking curriculum. I don’t have those skills as an artist. The skills are being developed every day. So a little bit [and I really mean a little bit] of guidance really helps guide me. Also I know of a lot of other teachers that really need the structure in the beginning when transitioning into tprs, as well as those just coming out of college. We can’t forget about these people or tprs may never get out there.
    There is a lot more I could say, but have to get back to the grind…

  20. What a fabulous thread. I keep coming back to it, because every time I get more gems.
    Thanks, Michel, for Carol’s top 10 list–one could truly write a couple years’ worth of curriculum from that alone!
    And Laurie–I have downloaded your success grids–could you do one of your painstaking descriptions, or even just a piece of one, to explain how you might use it? I am fascinated, and suspect that understanding one way to use it will make it a cornerstone piece.
    I have a feeling that the list and the grids together will be a force!

  21. Our school is up for accreditation with New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC)-. I am concerned by the requirements for curriculum. They are:
    Teaching and Learning Standard
    2 Curriculum
    The written and taught curriculum is designed to result in all students achieving the school’s 21st century expectations for student learning. The written curriculum is the framework within which a school aligns and personalizes the school’s 21st century learning expectations. The curriculum includes a purposefully designed set of course offerings, co-curricular programs, and other learning opportunities. The curriculum reflects the school’s core values, beliefs, and learning expectations. The curriculum is collaboratively developed, implemented, reviewed, and revised based on analysis of student performance and current research.
    The curriculum is purposefully designed to ensure that all students practice and achieve each of the school’s 21st century learning expectations.
    The curriculum is written in a common format that includes:
    units of study with essential questions, concepts, content, and skills
    the school’s 21st century learning expectations
    instructional strategies
    assessment practices that include the use of school-wide analytic and course-specific rubrics
    The curriculum emphasizes depth of understanding and application of knowledge through:
    inquiry and problem-solving
    higher order thinking
    cross-disciplinary learning
    authentic learning opportunities both in and out of school
    informed and ethical use of technology
    There is clear alignment between the written and taught curriculum.
    Effective curricular coordination and vertical articulation exist between and among all academic areas within the school as well as with sending schools in the district.
    Staffing levels, instructional materials, technology, equipment, supplies, facilities, and the resources of the library/media center are sufficient to fully implement the curriculum, including the co-curricular programs and other learning opportunities.
    The district provides the school’s professional staff with sufficient personnel, time, and financial resources for ongoing and collaborative development, evaluation, and revision of the curriculum using assessment results and current research.
    How are we every supposed to stick with this? I have been really trying to just “talk to the kids” as susie says. I find it difficult to write a curriculum as defined above. Any thoughts?
    thanks and sorry so long

  22. Skip, just a couple of ideas here.
    First, remember that these are school goals; you don’t have to try to meet all of them, I hope.
    Second, has your school defined what those 21st-century learning expectations are? Specifically, for Foreign/World Language has your school joined the 21st century and aligned with National Standards and ACTFL Guidelines, or are they still in the last century with a grammar-driven curriculum?
    Third, the common format may be good for the cognitive subjects, but ask them to show you how those specifics align with Asher, Krashen, Van Patten and others on the cutting edge of Second Language Acquisition. (Unfortunately, they will probably either ignore your request or tell you to get with the program.) Besides you do (or can easily do) the following:
    -instructional strategies: TPRS aligns extremely well with good instructional practices; when I had to take the course in SDAIE (Specially Designed Academic Instruction in English – “sheltered” instruction) to meet my districts requirements, it was simply a review of the things I already do in class; on the moretprs list there was once a discussion of storytelling in other disciplines – they need to get on board with best practices, the research supports this ancient method as still one of the best; take a look at Brain Rules ( to see that the movement, lowering of stress, differentiation, repetition, and engagement (as opposed to boredom) in the TPRS classroom all fit with the latest brain research as applied to teaching strategies; your colleagues need to get with the program
    -course-specific rubric: ACTFL guidelines; class generated rubrics – ask your students to give you their ideas on how they can show you that they are learning;
    Fourth, you already do or can easily do the things listed in item 3:
    -inquiry and problem solving: do you create a parallel story? do you personalize? do you ask students to predict what will happen next? do you give them time to do free voluntary reading? do you ask them how a character solves his problem during story asking?
    -higher order thinking: do students compare and contrast? do students predict? do students synthesize what they have learned to create a new product/story?
    -cross-disciplinary learning: do you show them places on a map? do you have them convert between km and miles? do you convert between Fahrenheit and Celsius? do you teach them anything about the history of the countries that speak your language? do you have them do stretching and exercise in the target language?
    -authentic learning opportunities both in and out of school: do your students talk to you in the hallways? do you ever meet them at the market/drugstore/park? do students tell you about conversations they had with someone who speaks the language? do you have students do a culture project such as making food from the culture? do students ever watch a movie in the target language? do students play video games in the target language?
    -informed and ethical use of technology: do you put things up on an overhead or lcd projector? do you direct students to websites in the target culture? do you encourage them to visit sites such as Quia and other places where they can play games prepared by other teachers? do you visit and show them a front page in the target language?
    Hope this helps.

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