This is an update of an article from 2007:
My stretching of the silly putty that is TPRS has taken many forms over the past years, as I’m sure is true for all of us. I have tinkered and probed, laughed and gnashed my teeth, dreamed and lay awake at night thinking about the next day’s story, all in my quest to get to deeper levels of the method.
I have explored what it means to authentically personalize a class. I have experimented around with various ways of reading. I have gotten in deeper than I wanted, but I couldn’t help it. The method is compelling. It’s getting better, at least I don’t wake up as much in the middle of the night with new ideas.
It is important to say is that after stretching that silly putty of TPRS in all sorts of directions, it has bounced back into shape every single time. The Three Steps are what they are – inspired. I now feel that I shouldn’t stray too far from them. I have challenged them and they have proven themselves.
The more we think we are “adapting” TPRS to our own needs, perhaps we are really unwittingly pulling ourselves away from it. If we were but to do it as it is done by the master teachers that set the stage for the rest of us over the past twenty years, if we could get to that point of mastery, it would serve us beyond our wildest pedagogical dreams, and we would never look back.
There has been a desire by some to simplify the method, to rename it, to package it in a way that would make it more easily accessible to those who can’t seem to learn it. The thinking by those people, perhaps, is that if it were repackaged, it would work better. I don’t think this is true.
Whether we call it storyasking or storytelling or comprehensible input teaching or TPRS doesn’t matter much, really. What we call it shouldn’t be related to politics or anything else. Indeed, the only change in terms I have offered has been to use the term “extended PQA” instead of the confusing and inelegant terms PMS and passive PMS.
I would bet that for every teacher who uses one of the terms above, there would be a different definition of it. That is good thing, as we all drink from the pool Krashen built using our own taste buds and implementing the method to reflect only ourselves as individual teaching artists. Because of that, there is never a need to attack a teacher for something they do when applying Krashen.
It is not the method nor its terminology, but we who need to change. We need to open up our minds to what CI really is the way Krashen laid it out and apply it in a way that WE think is best in our classrooms. We need to open up our hearts to what P really means – that again is an individual thing because we all interact and reach our kids in different ways that reflect our own personalities.
We can call it what we want, but I have not seen anything that I couldn’t call TPRS, even thought we interpret it in our ways. That is what I call a strong base – it is strong enough to allow individual interpretation while remaining unchanged itself.
We need to get more into little groups of people working together and share our ideas about what TPRS is and explain why we want to call it this while they want to call it that. We need to take responsibility for our emotional reaction to what TPRS asks us to do. We need to make the internal and emotional changes that allow us to get PQA and stories going in our classes.
We need to get off the pity potty that we run to when we blow up in the middle of a story, and look honestly at what we did and what we can learn from that event. Many teachers need to own their part in it when the method fails them. They need to stop saying that the method failed them and ask how they failed the method.
It is really cool to be able to test something this intensely, pummeling it, beating on it, crying, yelling, falling down, getting in a few good shots, only to have it smile lovingly back and say, “Having fun?”
The three steps work together in a way that I had not seen until now to produce huge gains in acquisition. We all know that the Three Steps are powerful, elegant tools in teaching language. But there has been in the TPRS community a kind of “let’s tinker with this and that” and “TPRS is always changing” and “I do TPRS but I only do these things and not those things.” Maybe we should not do that.
I am not saying we shouldn’t move forward together – of course we should and we will, those of us who can stand the heat. But let’s not tinker so much that we overly stress the silly putty. Let’s not make TPRS so much “our own” that we can’t recognize it’s basic ingredients, for then our teaching will suffer in the same way that Classic Coke was rejected because it didn’t have the real Coke in there anymore.
I am not saying there aren’t great new things to uncover in TPRS – there are, because the method is an ocean. But we must also remember the truth from Beaumarchais – “the more things change, the more they stay the same”.