Before we study it, let’s make sure what we mean when we say that we are going to study TPRS with the intention of using it in our classrooms. Many of us mistakenly try to grasp the method as a complete system, one full of important details that must be remembered for each class to be successful.
But that is not true. TPRS training really means grasping a framework for teaching, not a complete system. When we learn TPRS, we are equipped with a powerful automobile, but we can drive it whenever and wherever we want at the speeds we desire, and is thus a method that we drive, not one that drives us. It is a picture frame, into which we provide a painting, one that is new in each class. Here are just a few of the implications of that idea:
1. Thinking of TPRS as a frame within which we work allows us to paint our own painting inside the frame. There is room for creativity and intuition in that. We can paint what we want, within the guidelines of the frame, which keeps us from making a mess.
2. The frame allows for improvisation. Improvisation is a glorious word in teaching. It lends interest to our classes, personalizing them in new and unanticipated ways at every turn. It thus extends our careers instead of crushing them under the wheel of boredom and predictability.
3. Within the frame, we are free to teach using only the TPRS skills that appeal to us and work for us. We don’t have to know every skill in TPRS to be successful at the method. As long as we go slowly, pausing and pointing at new words, circling away when it is the right time to do that, and teach to the eyes, that is enough to make the method work for us.
4. Within the frame, we can spend as much or as little time as we wish doing PQA and/or extending it. We feel confident knowing that we can move away from PQA into a story at any time. There is no right way to do it – as long as we are in the frame we are fine. It is when we leave the frame, and replace Blaine’s vision of TPRS Storytelling with our own version, that we often run into problems.
5. We always have a scripted story completely written out in front of us that gives us a frame of reference for the entire class. All we have to do is replace the information provided in the scripted story with information provided by our students and let the story build, sentence by sentence. The scripted story sits in front of us like a good friend, waiting in the wings when we are again ready for it.
6. Because everything in the frame evolves sentence by sentence, we paint the story using the paint brush of circled questions and the paint of cute answers provided by our students. Each class is new. Because our discussions are not pre-fabricated, they are alive.
7. The frame allows the safety of knowing that we don’t have to do anything in our classes except speak in the target language to our students while keeping the focus them.
At its base, teaching a language is a very simple thing that unfortunately has been made complicated, but now is becoming simple again. As Susan Gross says often, TPRS is just about talking to the kids. As long as we understand the basic framework of TPRS, which is the method that Blaine has invented and that Susan Gross teaches, we are free to enjoy our teaching. We can put away the fear once and for all. What a concept!