This past year, in working with the untargeted storytelling approach with the Invisibles, in giving up the idea that I needed to start my stories with the classic TPRS list of three target structures, I found more happiness and ease in storytelling than I had ever experienced. And now I can’t not share. It is as if lightning struck in New Delhi and set my teaching on fire, and now I want to fan that flame until it lights up other classrooms, so that we can burn down the boxes we have put our stories in for so long – the boxes of targeted language.
I found, feeling it out as I went, with a growing realization that we were on to something, I found that with the characters that the class had created and with the seven levels of stories and the new student jobs, my interactions in the classroom began to get more and more authentic, more and more responsive, and the content of the stories got more and more interesting to the students. At this point I am convinced that working without targets is best for our collective mental health – students and teachers.
If we can find the courage to move towards untargeted stories or untargeted interactions with students, even if we just try it out, we can truly start putting students and their ideas at the heart of our work. Our vision and energy will be more focused on the humans in front of us, and their ideas, and their creativity. You might find that whatever amount of courage it takes for you to try this approach in August or September – and for some of us more plan-oriented souls that is going to be a lot of courage indeed! – might just well be repaid tenfold or a hundredfold in smiles, connection, and the real authentic human interaction that a language class should really rest upon.
In response to the usual response I get to this pushing of untargeted storytelling, that I have been teaching using stories for 16 years and it’s not so easy for beginners, I can only say that with the right training and the right mindset anything is possible. The fact is, the great potential of storytelling has always been limited and scary to do with only targets. The two forms of storytelling that I see as being the most powerful are the only two I have ever used with any power and will continue to use are Matava/Tripp scripts (they are exceptional and totally rock the house) and this new untargeted idea that I describe above.
If you search the many articles on “Flow” here, it will enrich this idea of untargeted storytelling. Flow is necessary in stories and it can’t really happen when we are trying to teach a certain target connected to some list thematic unit (when are we going to drop that perfidy once and for all?) or some novel we want to teach later (don’t tell Diana Noonan or Joe Dzeitzic I said that).