We are all just panning for gold. We are searching for nuggets lying amidst the skills of TPRS/CI and the daily practice of teaching. We seek flashes of gold, something, the right idea, the right technique, the right way to personalize, that will help us teach better.
But focusing on skills is only part of the game in TPRS. Such nuggets are no doubt important to find and utilize, but success does not hinge on finding only them. The teacher must also focus on what is going on in the invisible world in the classroom.
By focusing less on the form of the method and more on how it functions in our classroom, the teacher gains insights that lead to real success with comprehensible input. By focusing less on the method and more on herself, the teacher makes the method work by relaxing.
In my opinion the following functions that describe how the teacher interacts with the students must be addressed as well as the specific forms and techniques (skills) of TPRS if comprehensible input is to reach its potential in our classrooms:
- The classroom itself must function without clutter. Superfluous objects like books, notebooks, pencils, clickers, too many posters, and things like that in the room affect the quality of communication in the classroom much more than one may think. Attempting to teach a TPRS class in clutter is like driving a Cadillac through a junk yard.
- The students must function with clear eyes, squared shoulders, and no slouching. This goes for every student for the entire class period. When students perceive that the teacher is willing to not be listened to, they will not listen. What, then, is the point of learning any of the TPRS skills, if this is not done?
- The teacher must not function as a clown or as a cheerleader. The teacher who clowns around a lot thinking that the method can work in that setting, or the one who loves grammar and tries to bend and push the method into their way of doing things, or the one who uses English too much – those teachers end up bending the method so out of shape that it can’t work while at the same time bringing discredit to Blaine Ray and those other pioneers who have paved the way for the rest of us. Why paint a Cadillac in circus colors or drag a load of bricks around behind it?
So, if you are a clown teacher, stop seeking the approval of your students. Do not display to your students a kind of suck of neediness that they enjoy the class. You don’t need to entertain them so they’ll like you. I tried that for over 30 years. You will only become tired and burned out and they won’t respond.
Just speak the language or have them read it. That’s all you have to do. Funny, bouncy, it’s-all-about-me TPRS teachers are candidates for teacher burn out. Remember, when it comes to who is funnier, the teacher or the kids, the kids are funnier.
And if you are a grammar teacher, stop hauling bricks. The method does not function well under such conditions. Better to not claim to do the method at all rather than slant and skew it into a distorted form like those seen in funhouse mirrors.
Your classroom is not a funhouse and language is not about arranging bricks (grammar rules) into various shapes on the floor of your classroom and pointing to them as if they mean something. They don’t. They are just stupid grammar rules that very few people who are fluent in their own languages even know, so why teach them to someone who doesn’t even know the language?
Give the method some credit, learn the skills, and learn how to make TPRS function properly for you. Go willingly through the necessary internal and emotional changes to do that. At least, go through those changes if you wish to be employed in language education in five years.
Ultimately the biggest stumbling block in TPRS/CI instruction, the biggest point of failure, is that it somehow conveys the message that we are supposed to be something that we are not in the classroom. I would guess that more teachers have said “I can’t do it” about TPRS than any other idea in foreign language teaching ever. What a sad thing, given the true greatness of the method properly done.