Rebranding Our Product Within School Buildings

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37 thoughts on “Rebranding Our Product Within School Buildings”

  1. Here’s an update:
    My principal says I can call my course whatever I want. It gives a more accurate description of what I am doing. And I hope makes it clear that a Spanish Fluency program is different from the Spanish 1 HS program, a traditional program (textbook scope & sequence). My admin and I have decided that preparing kids for HS 1 and 2 is not our school’s goal.
    The one thing my principal does not want is to cause “division” or to use this to offend anyone else. I also want to avoid that. But to not rename what I do for the sake of not rocking the boat also creates more confusion. As it is, my parents likely wonder why their kids are not skipping into level 2, many not even placed in Honors 1, after 5 years of elementary & middle school Spanish. I want to be clear that my content, tools, approach, assessments, and goals are different. And that’s okay.
    I am open to suggestions. If you think this is a bad idea or can suggest how I approach the high school to share this course title change, then please, advise me.

    1. Eric, I think it is great that your principal is so supportive of what you do. My suggestion is for the name of the course: Spanish for Fluency. I think adding the word “for” helps to avoid the concerns that a couple of people raised about expectations. Most people won’t distinguish between “fluency” and “micro-fluency”, and if the course title is simply “Fluency”, then they may expect more than you are able to achieve.
      In addition, I think you will get push back from the high school, no matter what. Some of the h.s. teachers will probably be miffed and claim, “But we teach for fluency as well.” We know that this is not true, but some teachers genuinely believe that learning all the “rules of grammar” will lead to fluency. C.S. Lewis, whom I admire and whose writings I enjoy, once used learning Greek as an analogy, and he expressed this precise thought. (“The Weight of Glory”, 1942) Of course, he was writing in the 40s and 50s (died in 1963 the same day as JFK and Aldous Huxley) so did not know what we now know about language acquisition, but teachers today still hold to this idea.
      On the other hand, Lewis also wrote the following about his own experience in advanced Greek:
      “At nine o’clock we sat down in the little upstairs study which soon became so familiar to me. [snip] We opened our books at Iliad, Book I. Without a word of introduction Knock read aloud the first twenty lines or so … [snip]
      “He then translated, with a few, a very few explanations, about a hundred lines. I had never seen a classical author taken in such large gulps before. When he had finished he handed me over Crusius’ Lexicon and, having told me to go through again as much as I could of what he had done, left the room. It seems an odd method of teaching, but it worked.
      “At first I could travel only a very short way along the trail he had blazed, but every day I could travel further. Presently I could travel the whole way. Then I could go a line or two beyond the furthest North. Then it became something of a game to see how far beyond. He appeared at this stage to value speed more than absolute accuracy. The great gain was that I very soon became able to understand a great deal without (even mentally) translating it; I was beginning to think in Greek.
      “That is the real Rubicon to cross in learning any language. Those in whom the Greek word lives only while they are hunting for it in the lexicon, and who then substitute the English word for it, are not reading Greek at all; they are only solving a puzzle. The very formula, “Naus means a ship,” is wrong. Naus and ship both mean a thing, they do not mean one another. Behind Naus, and behind navis or naca, we want to have a picture of a dark, slender mass with sail or oars, climbing the ridges, with no officious English word intruding” (Surprised by Joy, pp. 140-141).”
      I think the last paragraph in particular is a good description of the difference between what we seek to accomplish and what most students exposed to traditional instruction achieve – and most teachers confuse solving the puzzle with fluency.
      The author of the blog where I found this closes with this thought:
      “Tools can help, grammars can help, tutors can help, but reading that is not simply recoding just requires time voraciously reading. [Emphasis mine]
      “Of all that things that I wish for, time is probably the most elusive to obtain. About the time I think I have time, I seem lose it to some other demand. Becoming proficient at Greek can be aided by a number of things, but time reading remains an inflexible, compulsory ingredient. Finding or making time requires saying ‘No’ to competing things. So you have to ask yourself one question: How badly do you want it?”
      One of the commenters noted that two good points in Lewis’s experience are that the teacher read the text aloud (and translated it) [i.e. connected visual to aural and then ensured understanding] and read large portions at once, rather than a few disconnected sentences [i.e. maintained language in context].

      1. Thanks for sharing this classical example, Robert. Even in the Classics, there is and has always been this movement of eccentric teachers and students who really wanted to achieve fluency, even if only reading fluency, and recognized the difference between that and decoding, which is not something that most lifelong learners of language enjoy doing, except for publication. Unfortunately, many of these scholars died in WWI, and things sort of went back to normal in the US and UK, although those early efforts led to the “natural method” and the like, which is a step in the right direction.
        As far as getting in a few more hours toward that Krashen-reccomended quantity of reading, I am embracing FVR/SSR, 15 min twice a week, using Bryce’s reading log. I don’t have measurable results, but I am observing a lot of positive things in my classroom during this time: kids getting some much needed down-time during their hectic day, kids choosing what to read, kids laughing out loud at a silly Latin story, kids asking me to help clarify the meaning of words/phrases. I will post more on FVR/SSR, but I can say now that even if your library is limited (and every Latin teacher’s library is limited), it is still worth doing.

      2. Robert, the following is taken from Justin Bailey Slocum. It sounds like CS Lewis is describing the approach discovered by Justin, but I am not fully sure.
        (Please see: for the complete article.)
        “Here, for reasons I can’t recall, I made a decision that worked wonders for my reading ability: I didn’t abandon the book, but neither did I turn my energies to studying the vocabulary that seemed to be my stumbling block, as I had tried when going through the Aeneid. Instead, I simply started back at the beginning of the book, and again read as far as I could. I figured, correctly, as it turned out, that I would internalize a bit more of the vocabulary each time I re-read the chapters and thus would eventually make it further and further through the book; in the process, I hoped, the syntax would become second nature. I might read chapters 1-7 three days in a row, then chapters 1-9 four days in a row, then chapters 1-12 several days in a row, and so forth. (There are 35 chapters, of which the last is a grammatical dialogue adapted from Donatus’s Ars Minor.) In this way, after a few weeks, I was reading up through the chapters in the mid-twenties, at which point, for time reasons, I began to divide my reading of the book over multiple days. After about two months, I could flow through the entire story over the course of two or three days, without any problems of vocabulary or syntax. Eventually, I completed the same process with Volume II: Roma Aeterna, although it took a lot longer than with Volume I.”

      3. I think I’m discovering that the only reason I do pair translations of readings is because it’s the only way to make sure that all of the students actually read the story. If I give it to them and say, “read it over, and then we’ll discuss….” there is a wild variety of reactions that range from speed-reading to window-gazing. It’s also a formative assessment comprehension check. So, maybe not an acquisition activity but necessary under the circumstances. What do others think?

        1. I agree Angie. And I had a mother tell me that her son (IEP for slow processing) didn’t think that he was getting Spanish… UNTIL we did a volleyball reading in class one day. It made him feel success because he THOUGHT that he now understood (even though the mother and I both saw the obvious corollary that he was processing the auditory language as well otherwise he’d never have been able to translate the text as he did. So, it has that benefit of “apparent ability” for students too.
          I’ve also been doing more SSR this year in level 2 (not level 1 much at all). We’re increasing time and they’re cruising through books. I’m holding them accountable by doing a short interview with a student or two about what they read during that time, randomly. Overall the kids are reading. The students know they could be asked about what they read. In fact yesterday I chose a girl to talk with who obviously was not reading, and it was kind of embarrassing for her because she didn’t know what happened in the reading. (It was not b/c of incomprehensibility I’m certain). She wrote down and said that she read 12 pages. She clearly did not. Now my schoolteacher self wonders how I will penalize her for clearly not doing the assigned work and fibbing about it…

    2. I wouldn’t approach the high school. They don’t get you. They don’t get what gains your students have made, as in, they can’t see them. Best to leave it alone. I do think personally that although the word “fluency” is what you want in the title of the course, nobody will appreciate the depths of your use of the word. They can therefore call you effete. Rather, find a word that defines how your instruction is different from them, clearly different, so that they can’t retort with, “Oh, we address fluency as well. I don’t know what he is talking about.” Just my two cents.

  2. Luckily, my MS teaching experience did not have a Latin feeder school per se, though a handful of high schools in the area did offer Latin. When I taught CI Latin 3 days a week at the middle school level, and had admin support, I was very clear with parents on back to school night, and on a parent info web page my recommendation that students begin with Latin 1 in high school. As reasons for this, I gave:
    –the variety of approaches and paces of various HS programs
    –the introductory and communicative nature of my classes and approach
    –the fact that we meet for only 3 days/week
    I listed as a benefit of entering Latin 1 again, that students will be able to analyze the language that they have been acquiring with me.
    I then added that students who were interested in entering Latin 2 in a specific program with a specific textbook could work independently under my guidance.

    1. That was very smart, John. My MS students went to a variety of high schools, some placing at level 2, some at level 1. It always seemed to be thought ill of when they placed in level 1. Sometimes I agreed – they weren’t zero beginners, and it was sometimes the inability of the next teacher to incorporate students with any background besides her textbook. One high school Chinese teacher talked with me at length about how very, very difficult Chinese is, because you have to memorize characters, pinyin, master pronunciation, etc. Obviously a very, very, very different philosophy.

  3. John, that’s brilliant.
    Since Eric is feeding into one high school program, in 8th grade he can offer their textbook to any student eager to jump into Spanish 2. Otherwise, students should just “expect” to begin Spanish 1 and have a more “nuts and bolts” language experience. What happens next is up to the HS.

  4. Something very important is happening right now…
    We can’t equate what we do in our classes with what happens in another teacher’s 19th century language class. As Eric puts it, “we teach different subjects”. All of us who teach in these feeder programs need to advocate for a total separation from our high school colleagues’ programs. If kids want to take Grammar Chart class in high school let them start that process fresh in high school. It is NOT our job to turn our elementary and middle school classes into Grammar Charts 1.
    I was initially going to recommend all of my current 8th graders to take Latin 1 in the high school, out of contempt for my fellow Latin teachers, but now I feel completely justified. I’m now also convinced that making an elementary or middle school class identical to a high school class is an unacceptable flaw in program design.
    As I prepare for yet another punitive meeting tomorrow morning about my former students fleeing in droves from Latin 2 in the high school to Latin 1 (or Spanish), I feel very lucky to have happened upon this thread.

    1. Don’t forget, John, that the burden is on them (in theory at least), to justify their practices. You as a professional middle school educator, are teaching language in an AGE APPROPRIATE way, one that follows the research of the past 50 years about how we learn languages.
      If your former students are dropping their classes, it must be asked whether or not these teachers are honoring the Latin that they know already, or by dismissing their knowledge, are basically telling them that they know nothing and that their time with you was a waste. Regardless of what a student previously learned, it is NEVER okay to label a student as ignorant/stupid, which is what these teachers are doing. The question should be: what are these teachers doing to build upon and honor the enthusiasm and knowledge that they bring to HS? If the answer is nothing, then those students should definitely be taking another language in HS, and you, John, should be their advocate and advise them into those other languages (except for the 4%er Stockholm syndrome kids–that’s the Classicist’s inner child.)

  5. Also, it’s really important to make sure admin is not judging the “Success” of a MS program by the % of students who continue in the language and/or place in year 2,3, etc. This is a problem, because when students decide to branch out and study another language in HS, that is a ding against the MS program. When a student does not pass a ridiculous placement test designed by some teacher 85 years ago, that is a ding against a teacher like John B. These policies get put in place, and data are collected, without any thought to the implications. Make sure your administrative system is not stacking the cards against you or your program.

  6. I, on principle, will not teach to the HS’s textbook curriculum. I have brought my admin along with that. I’ve found this to be an easy sell to parents and admin, especially if they themselves have ever suffered the grammar reign. And especially once they observe our classes.
    So, this is about making it clear that I teach a different subject. And yes, it would make sense for my kids to go into their level 1 program, because we teach different content, in different ways, and assess and grade it very differently.
    The HS can claim they also teach for fluency, but in the same breath have to also list every other thing they teach for: grammatical accuracy, culture, literature, and all 4 skills. It becomes obvious that my program is devoted 100% to fluency and maybe only 10% of my class time is spent not working towards fluency. And like I said, the HS “maybe” has a column on the rubric for “fluency,” but to me, it’s the only column. The HS has to admit that their number one goal is “accuracy” and they expect accuracy along the way, after each and every unit. IF I test, it is usually only for reading and listening fluency.
    Fluency again means: SPEED first and foremost, comprehension/comprehensibility, and non-rehearsed.
    I see the point made about “Spanish FOR fluency,” because this is a journey, not an endpoint. But I don’t think anyone expects biology to produce biologists or history to produce historians. I don’t think people will even notice the subtle difference with an added “for” in the title.
    My principal said very matter-of-factly: “Yeah, you want conversational fluency.” But I can’t say “communication” or “conversation” in the title, because then the HS will really take offense, because they claim that is also their goal. But everything about how they get to that goal is different from my program. What really distinguishes us is the fluency:accuracy ratio.
    I give a few grammar classes towards the end of 8th grade to lessen the “shock.” I have never given those lessons before the HS placement test. And 1 of the 5 total students from 5 different schools who is in level 2, because they passed the grammar-intensive placement test did so entirely on “feel” (acquisition). That is really impressive! I mean, I teach for fluency and there are no apparent differences between my kids and the other elementary schools trying to teach more to the high school curriculum!I’ll give the grammar lessons before the placement test this year and it may give a few more brainy 8th graders a chance to get into level 2.
    I tell myself that I’m not afraid of conflict. In reality, the meetings are very uncomfortable for me. As the grammar teachers make jokes about kids’ grammar mistakes (e.g. like when a kid says “gusto” instead of “me gusta”). Not funny at all. The joke is on them. But I think in education, we cannot be afraid to be different and to make those differences clear. Change is uncomfortable. And I wouldn’t choose comfort over change.

    1. On this: “I see the point made about “Spanish FOR fluency,” because this is a journey, not an endpoint. But I don’t think anyone expects biology to produce biologists or history to produce historians. I don’t think people will even notice the subtle difference with an added “for” in the title.”
      I think it still might be worthwhile to say “for fluency.” At my previous school, kids a few years ago had Spanish from Preschool through grade 3. There were some parents vocal and insistent that their children should be “fluent” in Spanish after 30-60 minutes per week those years of school. Parent expectations had to be more realistic.

  7. Eric, once again I want to express thanks for leading the charge on another very worthy endeavor.
    I’m following this thread because I’m one of those lone wolves in a HS with a lot of admin/parent support and wonder how a rebranding could work in my own situation. So far I’ve only done so in the course description (ie this is a Spanish acquisition class). Perhaps that’s enough for me and my students. The biggest question would be colleges looking at transcripts and if an explicitly named “fluency” course (which is what mine is also) would fit the bill for students’ crediting needs. Probably different whims for any college.
    If there is some rebranding action happening I want to help it along in the way I can where I’m at if able.

  8. I just read Ben’s post on a “Wednesday”. He described an earlier time in TPRS when things were whacky. In many ways TPRS is still being rebranded from the early days when bizarre was what the early practitioners thought was what made for compelling input. Yes, even I enjoy the ocassional whacky but we now have solid “school” lessons too. More and more TPRSers are on the cutting edge of creating content-based instruction in level 1 classes. I can’t ever see a textbook curriculum do that. I am proud to speak of being a TPRS teacher, it is the foundation of everything I do in the classroom.
    Fast forward to 2015 and the presenters are better than ever, practitioners are more in touch with SLA theory than most, the materials in TPRS are ample, results of student development can be shared throughout the world, and TPRSers do this job better than anyone out there. This year we have had to full conferences in the US and a blossoming conference in France and plenty of comrades at the ACTFL conference this November. Not to mention tons of newcomer activity on Facebook and Twitter. The FB group is over 1000 people that are checking in on a weekly basis. There were around 600 member requests after July conferences.
    I wonder if TPRS has been naturally rebranded through the hardwork and diligence of the teachers in this very PLC?
    I wonder if Spanish or French or Latin “through TPRS” is the best title after all. If anyone wants to laugh at the title TPRS I take it as a challenge and expect them to show an awesome collection of learning results. Guess what? That never happens! Any educator that has been critical can’t backup their hasty judgement with anything better. This is why sharing free writes and videos of students using the language benefits us all.
    My vote for you Eric is “Spanish through Teaching Proficiency through Reading and Storytelling.” Wear that title proudly and in 2015 it is an awesome title to have!

  9. I don’t know Eric…is TPRS just one teaching tool?
    For me TCI and TPRS are the same. TPRS means the teacher has a greater understanding of the role of the teacher in the classroom. Earlier this fall Teacher’s Discovery catalog was calling a French poster of greetings ” a comprehensible input resource.” That is scary!
    A couple of years ago I was into the hybrid of TCI/TPRS but I now see that others were (IMO) trying to get away from the image or reputation of what TPRS once was. If you circle, point and pause, expect choral responses, go slow, and stay inbounds while personalizing your class in any way by using the power of story… I am going to think you are a TPRSer.
    What does TCI look like in the first 2 years without TPRS?
    I was conflicted at iFLT when Carol Gaab told the auditorium “Enough on circling already…” She has made a push for TCI and yet has TPRS Publishing company and show cased the finest TPRS practitioners that very week…which in fact circled heavily in their respective classes.
    During iFLT it was such a pleasure for me to watch Sabrina Sebban-Janczak again. She has a wonderful personality and is one of the very BEST at using her FACE when she teaches. She teaches to the eye, goes slow, points and pause with the best of them! In my opinion she is a master TPRS teacher but I saw her do things that were not always under the umbrella of storytelling. During one brain break she played a French dancing video and the whole class was “getting down” while following the YouTube clip. Even though she did “other” things, I absolutely consider her a TPRS teacher.
    TCI can be TPRS and TPRS only works when it emphasizes CI. TCI can be other things that look nothing like what we consider good teaching. One could justify flashcards as comprehensible input because it is information that is understood. This is not what WE mean when we use the term TCI. At this point my brain goes back to the way Robert Harrell describes what language learning looks like in a 4 year sequence. Heavy on aural input in the early years as students progress in their fluency. We start with TPRS (maybe 2 years) and naturally continue with providing CI in a different manner in years 3, 4, and 5.
    Has and does what falls under the umbrella of TPRS keep getting larger? Absolutely. Blaine emailed me a few weeks ago that he was using MovieTalks in his trainings. He saw the power of relating story through video clips…he just posted on the FB page the following…
    “TPRS at its best is when we use student actors. It doesn’t matter whether we are doing a story, a reading, a novel or Movie talk. Student actors make what we do interesting. It gives students the practice they need to internalize the language.”
    This leads me to come to the conclusion that TPRS is a CI monster that will gobble up various strategies that will yield the best results in student learning. Maybe this is another topic we should hash out?
    Once and for all how do we identify ourselves, the TPRS versus TCI debate…what do these terms mean and how should they be used?

    1. Mike, I would be happy to explain my interpretation of approaches, methods, tools, etc. but to spare everyone, maybe save it for our next Skype session? There is a lot that needs to be defined before we can even discuss these things.
      Briefly, and basically . . .
      We need to stop thinking about “methods.” There are approaches that are principled (think: Krashen’s hypotheses turned into pedagogical statements) and tools that fit the principles. TPRS is a tool, not a set of principles. These tools are essentially sets of strategies and skills, in our case, strategies and skills for making input comprehensible and compelling.
      TPRS to me is: sheltered vocabulary (comprehended input + storyasking)
      Terry Waltz’ equation for TPRS is essentially the same: repetitions (comprehensible input + personalized/customized)
      ER/FVR, MovieTalk, TPR . . . these are different tools from TPRS. TPRS cannot subsume everything before it and everything after it, if you take as I do, that TPRS is a tool and not an approach.
      TCI taken to mean “teaching with comprehensible input” is to me the name of an approach. The term may possess more clarity and have less “baggage,” but I consider the “Natural Approach” to be synonymous, especially if viewing the Natural Approach as a set of pedagogical principles to align with Krashen’s theory.
      Input = meaningful/communicatively-oriented language that is heard or read and attended to for meaning. Alternative definition = meaning-based language that learners hear or see in context with the primary goal being to comprehend the message. By this definition, flashcards are NOT input.

      1. Eric, you once again are right on. I tend to look at this dicussion and most of these discussions as a classroom teacher only. You look at it from a perspective of the field of language learning in general. Both are valuable…admittedly, my view is sometimes narrow because I want the answers to questions that help me identify ME and what I do or am trying to do.
        Do you think we can consider the various strategies in TPRS to be what we can call a set of Natural Approach pedagogical principles? I do. We are optimizing the natural way of learning a language by using all the tricks we can think of.
        I also don’t agree that TPRS cannot subsume various strategies before it or after it. Why not? Why can’t the method implement various CI strategies? Ultimately, this has already happened as the Green Bible is now in its 7th edition.
        TPRS is a tool and I also see it as a method, process, and teaching approach. I know I am using these terms in a general not specific way but I don’t think I am alone in this. I do see what you are getting at… we can’t really call TPRS a teaching pedagogy in the traditional is not. This will be a challenge though because many educators are not thinking about this stuff in the terms you are describing. Personally I think whatever rebranding takes place that the “principles” need to be tied to specific and tangible resources and lessons that others can observe and evaluate. This is why the “method” part of these talks needs to be discussed. This is how most think…the scary part is that most teachers are unaware of the teaching methods or the pedagogical principles they are using and say they just do a little bit of everything.
        However you decide to rebrand it will definitely have to be dummy proof since there are a lot of dummies out there.

  10. I speak for many who teach higher levels of language (advanced/intermediate ESL): TPRS is it’s own separate technique. It is the means to an end: Comprehensible Input.
    CI can be achieved through many methodologies, and there are cases where TPRS would provide too much CI, and not enough challenge (i +1). Eventually, students outgrow TPRS.
    Generally speaking I use:
    TPR- beginner -first few weeks in the country
    TPRS- first year students or years 1-3 of a Foreign language
    CALLA/SIOP or other sheltered instruction classroom – Intermediate or Nearly Proficient in Langauge and Literacy (with a much heavier concentration on literacy).
    My view is CI is just a distilation -a heavy concentration of all things best practices for second and foreign languages. The more scaffolding a child needs, the more support in the methodology to achieve comprehensible input. Conversely, for more advanced students, they need fewer supports (thus no TPRS for children who master Basic Interpersonal Conversation Speach (BICS). If you used TPRS for advanced students, they would get bored. They would get the I (input) but not the plus 1 in Krashen’s formula. You can scaffold too much.

    1. Claire,
      Point well-taken. TPRS is a tool that leads to less predictable ways of providing Comprehensible Input in advanced courses. We have seen discussions with many frustrated TPRS teachers on the morelist when TPRS fails in upper level courses…TPRS is not just circling and going slow. As you stated advanced student need less support than beginners.
      Thanks for sharing what you do in your course…it is helpful! Just curious how you might title yourself…
      are you a TPRS practitioner or are you a TCI language instructor?

  11. Hmm…”Teaching Proficiency through Reading and Storytelling.”
    Is One Word Image under a “TPRS umbrella” if we create a compelling scene, and then leave it without developing a plot, or dramatizing it? Sounds like CI only to me.
    A method is a procedure. Grammar-Translation (learn rule, apply rule, application evaluated on accuracy) was the only procedure for a long time until something more effective came along. If time tells that MovieTalk, or VPQA is more effective than creating class stories, we ALL better be able to recognize and adapt. They are not part of the TPRS steps, though used by its practitioners.
    Claire, why would advanced students find stories boring? Adults don’t simply “grow out” of fiction! Maybe your advanced stories need to be more compelling, and closer to reality. Leave the purple elephants for younger, less-advanced students, but create truly suspensful and political narratives for older, more-advanced students. Just like how circling is less-necessary after a while, so is the predictable story format.

    1. Advanced students love stories.
      They do not love hearing language that is too easy for them repeated slowly. In the Big CI book, Ben shared an analogy a student told him: pedaling a bike too slowly, you tip over; circling too slowly (or simplifying language too much) bores students and impedes growth.
      However, you are right that fiction is a wonderful vehicle for acquiring language at all levels. Stories are always beneficial, but storyasking has it’s limits. While the word “refrigerator” begs us to make up goofy stories, it is not possible to create a TPRS story to learn the word “molecule” or “circumference.” For academic language, props and repeating slowly are no substitute for background knowledge and metacognition.
      I realize you don’t have to teach academic language as foreign language teachers, but when deciding what we want to call this methodology, maybe we should leave the door open to allowing TPRS to be a separate entity that ESL teachers can take or leave for their classrooms as appropriate for their students’ ability levels, while still embracing TCI.

    1. …Does that make them all TPRS?…
      In my view yes. But it depends on how much you are attracted to the TCI term. Many people use it now exclusively. My desire is to honor Blaine’s vision but then you have the fact that the term TPRS has become a lightening rod for tension and arguments in buildings. Maybe we should call it Majang.

  12. I have been having a good feeling in my classroom lately. It feels like I am actually teaching stuff. I think to myself after asking a story, “Man, thank God, I just did some good work.”
    WE WORK.
    We don’t just give a book and expect the kids to learn the vocabulary. Man, I TEACH vocabulary. You better watch out, son, you’re fixin’ to learn something. It feels good. There’s a swagger we should all have.
    WE WORK.
    That’s our brand.

  13. New thought. I would like TPRS to fully embrace what it means to teach communicatively. Rather than talk about the structures and words we are teaching, which sounds way too much like traditional teaching, we should be talking about the stories we are telling, the problems we are solving in the stories, the information we find out about our students, and what kids can accomplish with the language (accomplish with whatever linguistic resources available – what is important is successful communication).
    More and more people are realizing we don’t “teach” a language, meaning it’s not explicit teaching. We are using the language to communicate some message. Just like in an immersion school, the kids take “math” in the L2, but they call it “math” class. So we should name our courses based on the content, e.g. “Spanish Stories,” “Story Spanish,” “Spanish Storytelling,” etc.
    What it means to teach communicatively is that we are no longer working on a grammatical nor a vocabulary syllabus. We no longer force acquisition of anything, no longer expect acquisition of anything at a given time. The approach is exactly what researchers Lightbown & Spada called “get it right in the end” aka “Teach for June.”
    I think rather than say we “target,” we should be saying we “shelter.” The word “target” seems to me to be too tied to trying to teach something, when what we really want is comprehensible communication. We shelter in order to be comprehensible.
    We give students the ingredient they need to acquire (input) and let the brain’s internal syllabus do the work. Along the way, we may assess them based on what they CAN DO and whether they are learning the content (the story plot).

    1. I love the last comment you made “assess them based on what they can do.” Instead of starting from a deficit: “they don’t know food words yet, that’s chapter 3” (someone told me that today).
      Your students are so lucky to have a teacher who wants to acknowledge their growth.

    2. Eric, I wonder if you and I both just heard something at TCI Maine that led to the same thought of including “stories” or “storytelling” in the renaming of your courses. If the HS teachers think they are teaching for fluency, your change to “Spanish for Fluency” will anger them. They actually cannot claim to teach storytelling at all, which might truly set apart your classes.

    3. Two zingers from Eric’s comment:
      1. …we no longer force acquisition of anything, no longer expect acquisition of anything at a given time….
      This is profound. It means that our attention should be entirely on process (think about that one for a second or two) and we fully let go of the need to “teach something”. We fully let go of the desire to measure anything, completely crushing the need to test and count things. Released from that expectation, we sense that we can be a little freer in our classrooms, a little less nervous, a little less forced to do something measurable. We grow closer to a fuller acknowledgement that the unconscious mind, closer to the heart, is where language really lives and that gains there cannot be measured. We grow closer to the idea that what counts is not visible to the eyes. We don’t get to take our amateurish human-made computing devices down to measure “gains” – what does that even mean? – in the far more sophisticated area that is not human-made but rather divinely inspired (think about what learning a language really means, why it was invented, Who invented it, how it was invented, what an incredibly fine and gracious thing it is, etc.). In a way, we all suck because we are trying to target and assess things that really just cannot be measured. We begin to see that our focus on teaching was all a big joke and that we can’t teach a language, only provide the input and let it go. We have tried to keep something that is of joy trapped in the mind when it can only live in the heart. No wonder the kids rebelled against the verb charts. Their message was, “Hey, if there isn’t fun in this and maybe a laugh or two, then I ain’t doing it!” Why did they say this? Because they were trying to point us, their teachers, in the direction of where languages move and live. I was in a store in Delhi earlier and a French couple was in there. I heard them speaking and stopped and we agreed on how much fun it is to hear French, how it makes us feel good, our 20 second interaction was about a linking of hearts. In the heart is also humor and that is why stories have so much humor. Humor is of God. This is far beyond what teachers used to think they are there to do. Given the dismal failure over centuries that they have had, as Eric said above (“no longer expect acquisition of anything”), we then become aware in these initial days of something stupendous, something so great that it drips with happiness. It’s nothing less than a new definition of what teaching even is. I therefore love this other statement by Eric:
      2. …rather than say we “target,” we should be saying we “shelter.” The word “target” seems to me to be too tied to trying to teach something, when what we really want is comprehensible communication…..

      1. By the way, “sheltered instruction” is the ESL version of “Teaching Comprehensible Input”
        We do say “comprehensible input” (especially pre-service) but our big buzz word is “sheltering” — which is the same thing. A lot of the choice to use the word “shelter” came from Deborah Short at the Center for Applied Linguistics.
        It a nice “cozy” word for me. “Shelter” like a warm, fuzzy ESL blanket.
        You’re talking my language now and I love it.

  14. …by the way, “sheltered instruction” is the ESL version of “Teaching Comprehensible Input”….
    Stephen Cook says things like this to me all the time when we meet. Our conversations are peppered with “Oh, that’s just what we do!”
    The one thing that Stephen does not identify as commonly done in ESL is the personalized and co-creating part of a story that shifts the language instruction into the “compelling” area away from the area of mere “instruction” which, it seems, ESL is very good at without much in the way of results, however. It is in injecting specific TPRS personalization strategies into his instruction where Stephen has noticed a sudden heightened involvement from quiet students.
    When Stephen plans a lesson based on what he is learning about TPRS, he always reports back to me after the class that his students were “more involved”, “more alive”, “more interested” because of the new personalized aspect of the class.
    It is important that you stay in this discussion, Claire. I am weary of wondering why there is such a distance between what ESL does and what TPRS does. I wondered how long I was going to have to wait to see some actual cross pollination in concrete terms between our two camps. With each comment, you provide concrete proof that the already thin wall between us is getting thinner.
    (Dr. Krashen would be most happy to hear this. He knows it will happen and he knows that the mother and child reunion will occur when we bring his favorite word “compelling” into our common instruction. And, back to what Chris Stoltz keeps saying, stories bring the highest levels of compelling instruction. So maybe all the ESL folks need to do is some stories and drop all that stuff that you all do to make your instruction so dry. Let loose a little. Make up a story with your ESL students. Watch them read it after you create it. They will smile and kick up their heels in your ESL class. Students whom you thought boring and distant will show you sides you never imagined were there. And stop teaching frickin’ grammar so much. There’s nothing there for you. Stop bringing in all that boring social studies stuff also. Grammar and social studies don’t belong in ESL classrooms – they are stifling your work. Let your students out of their straitjackets. And why do ESL researchers who never lived in classrooms advocate forcing kids to speak and write beyond their capacity? All you will do in ESL classrooms when you force kids to speak and write beyond a fun and comfortable level for them, is further turn them off to the language. Quit being so haughty in ESL and get on the floor and roll around with the kids and learn to laugh. Good lord people, I thought WE were full of ourselves.)

  15. We might be splitting hairs on whether everything we do is TPRS or whether Blaine gets credit for all the other grass roots stuff that came after his groundbreaking 3 Steps. I use the term T/CI because I see young kids and feel that lots of the stuff I learned in the Ray workshops is too developmentally advanced for my young novices (much less use of/reliance on the written word). But the core of my practice is the 3 Steps, no question.
    I DO see Movie Talk and other strategies as a vehicle for TPRS. Instead of asking the story freestyle, we have visuals – footage – to guide the process. Other times we use a picture, or a picture book, artifact, song, poem, cheer, chant, etc.
    We front-load the pre-selected structures, we can ask the details for student engagement. Blaine didn’t develop MT (Hastings did), but it’s in alignment with Blaine’s beautiful, simple, crystallized 3 steps. The 3 Steps guide our practice no matter if we’re engaged in extemporaneous banter, teaching a Halloween song, or getting ready for a leveled reader.
    When I did the ‘How to Draw a Rabbit’ Youtube video as an extension of a picture book we’d just dramatized, played with and read, I front-loaded the structures necessary for my Ss to distribute the materials (dry-erase boards, markers) and draw along. We practiced the drawing prep – passing and collecting boards & markers again and faster – piling on the reps! (Thanks to Bryce Hedstrom). Then, after the drawing, we did a dictado about it (another day).
    Establish meaning; get reps in novel, engaging ways; literacy activity.
    Solid gold, no matter what we call it.
    An interesting aside – We can’t do Blaine’s Step 3 with pre-literate students (his work was developed for older/literate students). But I still give a Ray treatment to my 1st and 2nd grade lessons – I just use the enormous and growing toolbox of teacher-developed great ideas to provide CCCI!!! (Carol Gaab: Comprehensible, Compelling, Contextualized Input).

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