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14 thoughts on “ELA/TPRS – 4”

  1. It’s something of an elephant in the room that kid’s simply can’t understand a lot of what they are made to “read” in their English classes. Talk to a few about Shakespeare or Austen or Frost and you’ll see what I mean.

  2. Be careful not to compare apples to oranges here.
    Kids in an FL classroom have, perhaps, up to five hours of exposure to the target language (from one person) per week STARTING in high school.
    Kids in ELA classrooms start at different times in their school career to acquire/learn English–often in the lower grades. By the time they get to high school, they’ve had many hundreds to thousands of hours of exposure to English (from classmates, many teachers, television, the internet, pop music, etc.). Their ACADEMIC levels are, often, very low (depending on when they entered the U.S. system, whether they received any first-language support in the early years, level of parental education, economic situation of family, segregated situations of poverty in schools, etc.–all extremely important when considering the whole picture). Their reading levels are, often, quite low which, of course, leads to low academic levels.
    This is not a tprs/ci vs. ela thing in my opinion. This is much more about providing adequate bilingual support to ELA kids in the lower grades to boost academic access at all grades as they acquire English. When there are excessively high concentrations of poor, ELA students of the same language group in a school, those kids acquire more slowly. There are tons of reasons for this that have nothing to do with instruction.
    When there are low concentrations of kids from a particular language group in a mostly English environment, those kids (especially if they are from more middle-class families) acquire quickly and make the transition to academic functioning much more quickly.
    This is a very complex, highly-studied phenomenon for many, many decades. The fact that research about the incredibly positive effects of good bilingual and DUAL-immersion programs for immigrant students has been utterly ignored by most school districts and anti-immigrant public and politicians. This should be no surprise to us. Research about what we do with FL is, also, being ignored.
    Comprehensible Input is the BACKBONE of all good sheltered-academic instruction programs which are meant for students who have reached a high-intermediate, low-advanced level of English oral language. It always has been. The fact, again, that the research is being ignored and ELA students are SUBMERGED in English from Day One and that teachers are not any longer being adequately trained to meet the needs of “other language” students in our schools makes me crazy. This is a political decision–not an educational one. We have returned to the dark ages. This is not about TPRS/CI vs. ELA. ELAers are dealing with a VERY different situation that FL folks. That needs to be heavily acknowledged.
    Krashen has been talking for decades about free, voluntary reading being a PILLAR of the solution to low academic levels of ELA students. Is anyone doing THAT in ELA classrooms? No.
    Once again, I repeat: This is not a us (trps/ci) vs. them (ela) debate.
    I KNOW CI (sheltered instruction) has a place in ELA classrooms–particularly in middle school and high school. This is ancient news–decades and decades old–ask Krashen. Missing pieces in that discussion might be around more effective and culturally relevant classroom management tools for poor, immigrant students and other strategies like how to best personalize CI–but not about whether to use collaborative story asking in the classroom. Using TPRS stories with students who have thousands of hours of English exposure already??? Really not so sure on this one.
    I don’t know if the above tirade is comprehensible to FL teachers. Having worked as a bilingual teacher, dual-immersion teacher, coordinator of a bilingual and ELA program for recent immigrant students in middle school (150 kids) for many years before I became an FL teacher makes me talk like this. Be careful of comparing apples to oranges.
    If TPRS is appropriate in any classroom, go for it. TPRS is the best tool I can think of for providing basic language structure to students who have limited instructional time in a language. After that structure is there, reading and discussion (good CI being provided) are the tools that make the most sense to me–but NOT reading at grade level–incomprehensible to most of those low-academic kids. The trick is finding (mostly doesn’t exist) appropriate reading material for these students that they WANT to read.
    OK, I’ll stop now.

    1. Thank you Jody! I think / wonder about all of this stuff. All the time. I tend to oversimplify / overgeneralize that TPRS / CI is the magic pill for all situations. And it is AND it isn’t. Great reminders about and insights into the many different situations and the apples / oranges comparison. I’m utterly convinced though about that submersion stuff going on. Constantly. In lots of different contexts, including the ones James mentions in his comment above. So disheartening.

  3. Thank you Jody. I can always count on you to take it up a notch. I don’t know about the politics and I have a limited background as an ELA teacher myself, so you really helped me understand that my request of the group may not be as simple as I thought.
    However, I think it’s worth exploring. I would at least like to give Larry Ferlazzo something. I feel on an intuitive level that stories can offer much to ELA and I certainly don’t see it as an “us vs. them” thing, but rather as a chance to explore commonalities between the two groups for the common good. Our method is too powerful not to do that. We have too much to offer them.
    You said this:
    …using TPRS stories with students who have thousands of hours of English exposure already??? Really not so sure on this one….
    This gives me an idea. By doing TPRS stories with kids whose needs are not being met as you describe above, we could use the stories in the following way:
    1. Since the kids make up the story, they will feel less forced to speak, as they are now, about topics that don’t interest them. Not being forced to speak is at the core of all that we do. We give the brain the time it needs to form the language for real. So the personalization piece right there could diminish the angst in class that these ELA kids currently feel, which would be a good first step.
    2. We could spend a very limited amount of class time on creating stories. In our FL classrooms, we sometimes spend days creating stories, and laughing all the way. But if we created a story, one created by the ELA kids, in, say, fifteen minutes, we could then turn the hammer on to the TPRS Step 3 activity of Reading. But this time the kids would be reading about something they created. Ownership is a powerful tool in education. This is a point of critical importance. By getting the buy-in that is missing in their ELA classes where they are forced to read about historical events and stories that just don’t interest them, they would develop a different attitude toward what they could do as language learners. It would shift the fulcrum to their side of things.
    3. So to spend maybe 10% of a story on its creation, and then spend 50% of the time on doing some embedded reading work with it – we could consult with Laurie and Michele on this – we could then spring from the reading into distributing the remaining 40% of the time on writing. We could do dictation as per the model first presented here years ago. We could do lots of free writes (probably the best option that we have to use on developing writing) and we could do some of Bob Patrick’s OWATS idea to get some group work in and further build community while teaching writing.
    I do think that it is the lack of community that cripples ELA learners, especially those who have never experienced the safety and support of community anywhere else except on the streets with their L1 language friends (thus keeping them polarized from the non-ELA kids in the building). Perhaps stories, because of their elegant capacity to build community in a classroom, could indeed be a starting point for bridging the ELA/TPRS classroom gap.
    In short, to prevent submersion, we must give the kids water they can swim in, and a desire to stay afloat. TPRS stories, with the instructional minutes being redistributed as per the above suggestion in favor of the skills the kids really need, reading and writing (because speech can never be forced), might be able to do that. It warrants further study.
    Thank you for your insights, Jody. Your ELA experience is critical to this discussion.

  4. Exactly, Benmeister. You get it. It’s more about the customization/personalization and reading pieces with students who have arrived at the point of low CALP (Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency) in our school systems. To me, that is not exclusively TPRS/CI; they are classroom/instructional strategies that are just more humane and are applicable to ANY subject area classroom.

  5. My colleauge Adriana uses TPRS with beginner ELL kids (mostly Chinese). At start it’s mostly stories but very very quickly it moves into mostly reading (Blaine Ray etc novels) as they do get a ton of input outside class. Nothing beats good FVR once kids have basics.

  6. From a Krashen perspective, it’s acquisition all the way, which is responsible for automatic language competencies. And CI is the only way to acquisition. How many ELA teachers accept that one? Isn’t believing that a prerequisite to making your instruction comprehension-based?
    We have a lot of comprehension-based methods (TPR, TPRS, MovieTalk, FVR, sheltered instruction). Which are the more effective methods depending on the proficiency level of the student? Writing is another form of output and would not lead to more acquisition, though some “learning” may be a short-term patch that is necessary since ELA students have to swim so soon.
    I have an ELA teacher in my adult Spanish class and she started doing more comprehension-based instruction with her beginner kids, namely MovieTalks. Though, she felt restricted by a topic-based curriculum she was expected to cover, just like many of us in the FL field.

    1. Right now all the classroom teachers in Massachusetts are taking this grueling ELL-support mandated course. They all complain about how much work it is – lots of reading, lots of lesson-planning. And really tough grading. As I’ve heard it explained, it’s so much prep that it wouldn’t make it practical. And the course is not taught by a specialist in ELL. I don’t even think the person has worked in ELL. I think the instructor does a lot of reading off slides provided by the state. One of those slides, which my mom (4th grade teacher) showed me, is against self-selected reading!

  7. “Silent Reading NO
    May increase proficiency and confidence, improves motivation, but not proven effective for ELLs to learn NEW language.”
    That’s what the slide says. I don’t know what the instructor said about the slide.

  8. I’d like to speak up about the problem of “no shared language”, which IMHO is no longer a problem. I gave a presentation at a private school here in France which teaches French to students from around the globe. There were Koreans, Brazilians, Chinese, Germans, Swiss, Norwegians and Japanese all in the same class. I was told “We can’t translate for meaning because we have so many different nationalities in every class.” Yet, as the teacher wrote vocabulary on the board and began miming and gesturing, half of the students had their phones out and were looking the meaning up in their native language. When the teacher saw them, she scolded them and told them to put their phones away, but they were out again within 5 minutes. Personally, I think the students had the right idea. Since almost everyone has access to on-line dictionaries, why not use them? With the right guidelines to avoid confusion when words may have more than one meaning, I don’t think that there’s that much difference between ELA and other languages. Most of the ambiguities will sort themselves out during PQA.

  9. Just a couple of comments that may not even be on target:
    Any ELL or “typical” student can benefit from having a range of reading materials available. As Krashen may have said, and Bryce et al have supported, if the student chooses a book that is “too easy” for FVR, she won’t have to stick with it and will choose a book at a better level, whereas if a student chooses too complicated (above reading level), she will zone out or make trouble. It’s okay to “read down,” because then the brain is absorbing other things like advanced grammar, or punctuation, as long as it’s enjoyable (how many of us read at “grade level” for pleasure?). “Free” and “voluntary” may not describe what I have going on in my English class, since these kids rarely volunteer to read in their free time, but at least it’s “Personal Choice” reading.
    And when I ask a story using the vocabulary from or the story line about a reading coming up in my own high school ELL/low-level reading class, kids are much better able to tune into the reading to follow. I did the first, but not the second, about a reading today and immediately paid the price when we started reading our mandatory New York Times article. Bummer!

  10. So in the search to find things that work in the ELA classroom we can add to make sure that reading materials don’t challenge them intellectually, that texts should be easy and plentiful and below level. I so much agree. It sounds counterintuitive but it’s not. In my view and in my own experience I have drawn the conclusion that the more challenging a text is, the more it draws into play the conscious mind. But when they read in such a way that it all unfolds in their unconscious mind, the more it draws into play their unconscious arsenal, developed from hearing speech. The nature of comprehensible input is that it occurs below the level of awareness, and that goes for reading too. Susan Gross says a reading should unfold like a movie in their minds just like it happens with stories. So “reading down”. I like it. I’ll add it to my list of bridging ideas in article 5 here. I make no claims to any knowledge of ELA. I do make claims to trying to find ways in our own TPRS arsenal to maybe help some of these currently underserved kids.

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