Claire Ensor on ESL/TPRS

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27 thoughts on “Claire Ensor on ESL/TPRS”

  1. I think Carol Gaab is a very helpful resource for the CI-ESL connection, since she teaches English to the SF Giants who come from Dominican Republic and other, mostly Spanish speaking countries. Carol is under scrutiny for results, and she has students are mostly thinking about their job prospects and want very practical language skills which will help them in the real world situations in career and in daily life. She is probably required to keep a lot of documentation, and she has created many resources.

    1. Thank you for mentioning her. I’ll check into what she has to say about ESL. I honestly disliked her books for Foreign Language. There is nothing worse than boring required reading. It turns kids off to reading who, with the right book in their hands, could be voracious readers. I never appreciated how little choice Foreign Language teachers have in good books. Second language teachers have it made in the shade when it comes to access to ability and age appropriate books of interest to students. Foreign language, not so much.

      1. Are you using Foreign Language to describe a Second Language a learner is a acquiring without a shared language? I thought the term was completely out of fashion, but now it might be logical the way you are using it.

        1. Foreign languages are languages that are not the primary language in the country of instruction. I realize it is an unfashionable term in certain groups: but it is a very important distinction here. “World Languages” or Foreign Languages are those that are learned in a classroom in a country where the language is not spoken. Second languages are the languages learned by students enrolled in schools and living in a country where they are not proficient in the primary language of instruction (for me, English). The language of academia used in second language settings is much more challenging than foreign language.

          Michael below mentioned Eric teaching English in Honduras. That is English as a Foreign Language, not English as a Second Language. The language of most schools in Honduras is Spanish. The distinction has to be made for us here, because second language reaches up to higher levels of language and literacy.

  2. There are a couple of reasons why ESL teachers don’t want to or can’t use TPRS:
    1. Time. Most ESL teachers work in a framework where it is rarely possible to use pure TPRS (3 steps a la Blaine Ray). Last semester, I had a 45 minute group using TPRS, this semester my schedule changed and I can not teach any pure TPRS classes: my beginners are mixed in with my higher kids. If there are advanced students in my class (and they are mixed into every class as ability grouping is almost never possible), I can not use TPRS because advanced students will not grow. It’s okay if your heritage student sits in on a TPRS class and only squeezes in a little ability-appropriate instruction at the end of class. They aren’t growing much, but it doesn’t matter. My kids have to grow by 2 years for each year in my program if they are to get up to grade level and be ready to graduate and go to college. TPRS is awesome, but not if it’s holding back students from grade-level literacy needed to graduate.

    2. ESL teachers will resist TPRS because they will ask “Why bother if TPRS is only useful for a fraction of my kids?” I chose to bother because I love those newcomers, that first year is impossibly hard for ELLs. Also, I think TPRS is fun. Some ESL teachers are scared of fun; they’ve been brainwashed with “rigor, rigor, rigor.” Most ESL teachers have too much on their plates already and won’t make time for learning a whole new method only useful for the 10 of 60 students on their caseloads who would benefit from TPRS.

    The first fight, before training ESL teachers in TPRS is t0 change programming at a district level. Since the recent wave of unaccompanied minors, many districts are moving away from immersion models for beginners and establishing “newcomer centers” where beginners can learn Conversational English at a specialized school. Beginner Students are all clustered together in one building, usually for half a day or occasionally all day, but only for the first year in US schools. Newcomer Center ESL teachers can teach TPRS to 100% of their kids, 100% of the time. It could be paradise.

    This requires money, logistics, and very knowledgeable administrators and powers that be. It’s slow in coming, but eventually, it will happen. And we’ll have TPRS ready for when ESL teachers reach the “Newcomers Center” Promised Land.

      1. The short answer: because TPRS eventually becomes too easy.

        TPRS teaches Basic Interpersonal Conversational Speech, context-embedded language that is useful on the playground, at parties, or in the cafeteria.

        My intermediate and advanced students are proficient speakers of BICS (conversational English). They only lack Academic English, the context-reduced language used in US schools.

        TPRS can teach BICS, which takes around a year to acquire (enrolled full time in US schools), while it takes about 5-7 years to master Academic English. Therefore, most of my time in class is dedicated to teaching students who can not use TPRS.

  3. There is a third reason, but I’m gonna get flack for saying it. I’m gonna stare long and hard at the “Post Comment” button debating…but if you are reading this, I committed blog suicide and posted it. I love you,

    3. ESL teachers won’t use TPRS because of Non-ESL TPRSers. You. You won’t accept ESL TPRS teachers. Maybe initially, but not after we get momentum going.

    ESL TPRSers (when they exist–right now I’m the only unicorn) will eventually see how awesome TPRS is and try to combine it and use it within a Content-Based Instruction (CBI) framework, but you won’t like the result. Some of you threw shame at Ben for trying out new things… imagine what you’ll do to me. If you could see what I am doing with some of my more advanced ESL students, you would run me off this blog with pitch forks. Not because I’m not providing i+1, but because their “+1” looks really hard (incomprehensible). It isn’t incomprehensible, and in fact, anything easier would be boring and not compelling, as well as not allow kids to grow. But it will look different enough for you to reject it. And that’s okay. You don’t need what I teach. Foreign Language kids don’t need anything but TPRS.
    Second language kids need TPRS, but only until they are ready to move up to grade-level proficiency in Academic Language and Literacy. CBI is about teaching ESL students to create comprehensibility for themselves, even when they are faced with incomprehensible input in their math, science, and SS classes. Most of you don’t accept CBI as a valid method, and that’s unfortunate, but not a real problem since you will never need it. It does limit how we can communicate with each other.

    TPRS is a bouillon, a reduction of all things best practices for providing comprehensible input, and CBI is adding water to TPRS practices to make a soup. While my advanced kids need “watered down” scaffolds so they can grow, you will hate how “watered down” my version of TPRS is and I understand that.

    I get that you need certain guidelines so you can discuss best practices as a group. Otherwise, Ben said TPRS may be becoming “unrecognizable.” You don’t want ESL teachers mudding the water with “watered down” TPRS/CBI soup. I respect that.

    Maybe ESL TPRS teachers need to call it something different and have a different place to have similar discussions. In the meantime I’m going to try to tone it down my ESL rants in the future and focus on what I can learn from you. Unless Ben kicks me off… sorry, Ben.

    1. In a video online I heard Stephen Krashen say something like: We are in the middle of a war in language education, but it’s a good war because no matter who wins, we all learn something! One of the things I love about Stephen Krashen and Bill Van Patten is that in addition to being serious academics and passionate educators in their field, they also are jolly! Just put your work and your passion and your beliefs out here…there’s enough back-stabbing and fear in the classrooms and meeting rooms of our profession to fill a thousand blogs, but in my opinion when it comes to this forum, we aim to be supportive and to listen to one another well. I have learned such a tremendous amount from this group in part because it’s a safe space to take a risk.

  4. *”CBI as a valid method”
    Oops, CBI isn’t one method, but an umbrella for methods like SIOP, CALLA, and various bilingual education methods.

  5. Michael Coxon

    TPRS and CBI are very closely related as I see it. This is a very common discussion among TPRSers…and frankly CBI is the future of TPRS and Language learning instruction.

    Claire, I don’t think shame was cast upon Ben on this blog. Ben made some challenges or shared ideas that his friends can and should think about and question. That is not how we operate here. Innovation is welcomed but if innovation is to be accepted I think teachers want the full picture. What goes into instruction and what are the student results…

    I would love to see your classes in action. You seem to be cautious of how people will react to your innovative techniques…people are kinder here than you think.

    Eric Herman has some videos of using TPRS to teach English in Honduras. Not sure if there are a lot of ESL TPRS videos out there. Putting yourself out there on video is a scary thing but I would love to see what you are talking about….

    1. “Shame” wasn’t a good word choice, sorry. You are right, people here are kind, and I will put together something to share. Thank you for being open to giving me feedback.

      I don’t know what I’m scared of, except that I am unsure whether or not you all will have a framework for understanding what I am trying to accomplish. You are all amazing educators, so I don’t know why that surprises me that you are more receptive to CBI that I had thought.

      1. Also, Claire, your more advanced students have much more language than our first few years of foreign language classes. For a lesser example, I teach my upper-most level Chinese class differently from the level one and two classes, too. It’s still CI, but the students are ready for less limited language, more conversation and writing on their parts, etc. When we do story-asking, it is far less sheltered because they don’t need the sheltering at the level of first- and second-year students. They still do need sheltering, because authentic materials are just barely (if selected by me) comprehensible enough for them, but they’re starting to be able to use them.

        I think there’s another term getting used by you in a different way than I’ve been used to: “second language acquisition.” As I have been used to that term, it means “acquiring another language in any setting, by any person.” I read your use of it to mean more specifically, “acquiring the language of a new location in which the person now lives.” Same thing in your use of ESL, which I’ve been used to applying to anyone teaching English anywhere in the world. But I encountered the EFL/ESL distinction online elsewhere recently, so now I see what you mean. The difference of the context — being in an English-speaking country, or being in a country where another language is primary — does make a lot of difference in what the school expects of the students, and therefore what the teacher is expected to do.

        1. It gets confusing.
          I’m so happy to see that you and most people here are interested in learning and seemed to get the the foreign language/second language distinction…which you explained perfectly above, Dian.

          1. Actually, when I was a freshmen-sophomore in high school, I insisted on people spelling my name Dian. I wanted to be different. How it irritated my teachers when I told them to fix the roster and have my name as Dian.

            Glad I understand the distinctions right — really, that’s going to be something most world language teachers would confuse, I think, since we’re all using the same terminology in different ways.

  6. Michael Coxon

    I also would love to hear any commentary about the advantages ESL students have living in an English speaking country as they learn English…

    I imagine that daily immersion outside of class, the motivation to communicate with peers, and the overall pop culture stuff are all strong advantages to ESL students in the US learning as opposed to Latin or Chinese learners for example.

    Maybe I am off on this but would love read discussion.

    1. I don’t think comparisons to other languages should be made. We’re SOL for Latin, it’s true, and there are limited Chinese speakers around. Still, US Spanish students have native Spanish speakers in close proximity, especially in more urban locations, yet do they interact with them?

      I think it’s all the extent to which students use the resources. ESL students vs. EFL students have more resources available, but that doesn’t mean they’ll use them.

      1. Michael Coxon

        I don’t agree Lance. If I am teaching Spanish as a second language in Spanish speaking country it is only logical that those students will have more exposure to Spanish. I know we cannot quantify in a scientific way but to deny this variable is not logical.

        This distinction should be made. ESL in a English speaking country and ESL in a non English speaking country has distinctions.

        As you point out Spanish learners in the US may have an advantage over other languages. This is why I bring up Latin and Chinese. For most studying those languages in the US exposure is a little more limited. I am talking about street signs, television, background noise, daily interaction.

        1. I studied in Greece for a year, and I did not acquire very much Greek. I recently heard about a man who lived in the Phillipines for a few years, but could not speak Tagalog to people other than the same “survival” phrases of Greek I memorized.

          The point? We didn’t take advantage of the advantage, for whatever reason.

          Also, I was in Rome for a month during a Latin immersion experience (= the sink or swim kind, not pedagogically sound), and two Columbia undergrads were there for vacation. They refused to participate in Latin and went to Rome’s center each day. They acquired nothing.

          The point? In perhaps one of the only environments with an advantage when it comes to acquiring Latin, people chose not to take advantage of the advantages.

          So, my commentary is that the advantages pose no difference if unused, and it’s possible to find input in many different sources if not in the native country. You don’t need the advantages for acquisition to take place.

          1. The internet is also a great help in this. I listen & read in Chinese every day, and talk with Chinese friends at least once a week. My students can, too, if they want (and some do a lot online with music and find people who speak Chinese where they go — I hear fun stories about that, including students from different classes who talk with each other outside of class in Chinese).

        2. “As you point out Spanish learners in the US may have an advantage over other languages. ”
          But Lance’s point is this may be an advantage or a disadvantage, depending on whether or not people chose to use the language.

          Access to comprehensible input is important, but it’s also about choosing to listen to compelling messages (like with Lance’s example of students who “refused to participate” in learning Latin).

          My grandmother was a snowbird from Quebec who retired to South Carolina and for the last 20 years of her life. She never spoke a word of English (not that I heard)…until, a few days before she passed. I was visiting her in the hospital and I heard her demanding “More Drugs!” in English. I felt awful, but I couldn’t stop laughing. She had never been so motivated to speak English before.

          In an article Ben shared months ago, Krashen tells us it’s not “motivation” as much as the desire to communicate a compelling message. Messages where the ideas (drugs!) transcend the language used.

          With second language learners or even bilingual students, the choice to use one language or the other is a very personal one: who do I want to talk, what do I want to say, and in what language reflects their values.

          With my students, I read an awesome graphic novel, American Born Chinese by Gene Yang. There’s a moment (the image is in the middle of this page:
          when the main character is asked by an ESL student to speak in Mandarin, but he refuses, saying “You’re in America, speak English.” For most of the book, the language he choses to speak with his friends (and what languages they speak, race, and ethnicities they represent) is challenging him to deal with his being bilingual and bicultural.

          Believe it or not, some of my English as a Second Language learners do not like hearing Spanish or whatever their native language is. It’s not so bad in my room, but it can feel stigmatizing in mainstream classes, particularly for advanced students.

          Some kids have the opposite experience where they refuse to use English even if they know it (like Mémère until she needed drugs). She did come around when the message was more compelling than the language. (Am I the worst granddaughter ever?)

          I’m with Lance on this one… and by the way- Holy Cow, Lance, how many countries have you visited? Are you an international spy?

    2. Michael, fantastic question: why did I doubt for a minute that you all would be open to learning about second language acquisition?

      Lance hit the nail on the head: “I think it’s all the extent to which students use the resources.”
      Second language learners may have more L2 resources around them, but everything hinges on the extent to which students can use them. They may not be able to make use of any input in their classrooms or even in social settings if that input is incomprehensible.

      Sometimes immersion in a country where you are learning a second language is provides more comprehensible input: particularly for intermediate and advanced students who can read in the target language. They can go to the local library or ask their ESL teacher for comprehensible books on their favorite subjects (just another argument for CBI, helping kids find a niche, an area of interest to read voraciously in). When input is comprehensible, they can pick up language quickly.

      When input is comprehensible… but it isn’t always.

      Krashen describes immersion for beginning language learners as like trying to get a drink of water from a fire hydrant. For beginners, most of their day is just too much incomprehensible input. They go home with headaches, feeling defeated, and learning little language.

      Worse still, some of my youngest students develop what’s called an incomplete first language, where students have no dominant language. Although they have limited proficiency in English, that is the language they speak best. Last year, I had a first grader identified with ID, and I’m convinced it was related to the fact that nobody talks to him in his native language of Kirundi at home. Mom and Dad worked alternate shifts, and the only person who talked to him at all was his 5th grade big sister who is herself not proficient in English, even then only saying things like “go play outside” -nothing very cerebral. Incomplete first language is not unique to students in second language settings, but it is more common.

      Immersion in a second language is tricky: when it’s good, it’s great. When it’s bad, it’s horrible.

        1. I have read this, and like what he’s written on TPRS, he find the good and bad. The good (and it’s really good): SIOP provides comprehensible input.
          The bad:
          1. there are not a lot of comparisons to other methods as a control in studies supporting SIOP, therefore, the research is inconclusive. That said, there aren’t comparisons to other methods because there are (almost) no other methods out there for Second Language classrooms. CALLA, maybe but they’re so similar. Grammar-Translation-no one uses this anymore in ESL and with good reason. I agree that more studies should be done, but…in the meantime I’m happy with my personal experience with SIOP.

          2. The strategies (which Krashen refers to as skills based learning). There is some truth to this. There are 3 types of strategies: cognitive, metacognitive, and socio-affective. I can see his point with cognitive strategies (making generalizations, inferences, etc.) and I’ve backed off on teaching these. They are also really boring.
          I do teach the last two. Students can’t acquire these: you have to have direct instruction in metacognitive skills and socio-affective skills -so I guess I am breaking a rule, but I feel like it is important. I have commented on metacognition and why it’s important for second language, but not for foreign language, and I don’t want to sound like a broken record, but it’s something I really believe in.

          I also teach socio-affective skills because a kid’s gotta know how to ask to go to the bathroom. They do. Sorry, Krashen. They may also have to tell a bully to back off, or explain how confused they are to otherwise unsympathetic teachers. Sometimes just saying “I need to talk to you about ___” or “Can you help explain ___?” is really hard for English Language Learners.

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