TPRS/TCI Is About Grammar

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27 thoughts on “TPRS/TCI Is About Grammar”

  1. That’s awesome that an admin recognized the grammar being taught without the grammar being explicitly taught in English with drills and worksheets and nifty games learned at a conference.

  2. Ben, exactly! I grow weary of Latin teachers who say to me, even after fairly lengthy conversations or workshops demonstrating how CI works that I “don’t teach grammar.”

    Example. Today, with a very short little story, and by simply reading and then paraphrasing a few sentences, I introduced my Latin 2 students to indirect questions, which, in Latin, require the subjunctive. I did this almost entirely in Latin, speaking Latin, rephrasing sentences so that they could hear and see what was happening, and then inviting them to respond to the story as we re-told it in Latin.

    Of course, this will require numerous repetitions in various ways over the next few days, but they understood today and it required no English explanations of grammar. It did require teaching them how to enter into this kind of communication in Latin. And so, that’s how we spent our time.

  3. And Bob the irony is that if we don’t spend the time teaching grammar through correct speech, and continue to present only shadow grammar to our students by keeping it in two dimensions on paper, we lose all that time when we could have been teaching the three dimensional kind.

      1. Yes, I too really like the notion of 2-dimensional vs. 3-dimensional grammar. This is a great way to respond critics, both the interior and exterior kinds. On the yoga example, I often have used the example of swimming: a person can have a PhD in the physiology of swimming, but throw them in a pool and they’ll drown if they haven’t physically practiced swimming.

  4. Great discussions this week; I’m just catching up.

    I put your quote about grammar and yoga on today’s agenda so that my students can read it on their laptops before they get to class.

    I just found out yesterday that I will not be able to continue working with this same group of students next year in Spanish III; my students are unhappy about going back to conjugating verbs and memorizing. I am trying to encourage them that they know more grammar than they think; it’s just that they know it in context from books and songs and stories. And yet, I wonder if I am kidding myself. I hope they don’t feel betrayed by me next fall…

    1. They DO know more grammar than they think–but not out of context. You are NOT kidding yourself. They WILL feel betrayed next fall–some will blame you, and some will blame their new teacher. It’s a NO win, in my opinion.

      This is one of those areas of worry that we HAVE to let go of. We either believe what we are doing is the best thing for them, or we don’t, and we do something else. Can’t stand on both sides of this fence.

      Believe me, the grammar teacher is not worrying about whether the kids will be successful in YOUR class. If she/he is a good teacher, they will meet the kids “where they are” and teach them, just like you do.

      1. This is a great reminder Jody:

        “Believe me, the grammar teacher is not worrying about whether the kids will be successful in YOUR class. If she/he is a good teacher, they will meet the kids “where they are” and teach them, just like you do.”

        I am in a similar position. I guess we all are. We can only put our attention and energy into what we are doing right now. We have to let go of what happens next.

        That last part of Jody’s quote is worth remembering…meet them where they are. It is all we can do and it is enough.

      2. Thanks for the wise words, Jody. Guess I’ll have to let go. It will be the same thing next year–me sandwiched between the same teacher for Spanish I and III. That’s just the way the scheduling works in our small school. Does it even do any good to have one year of CI in between two years of projects and grammar? I don’t know. If I were a student, I might just be frustrated with the changes.

      1. love your no-beating-around-the-bush style “Benny”!!! 🙂
        (sorry ….I am feeling today what Jen is feeling. It really hit me hard today – the kids kept asking if they would continue with me in the Fall. Probably not, with our usual scheduling (which I am OK with – we lose our numbers in the upper levels, so I teach Levels 1A & B, and 2B. they will go to the other teacher for 2A and although she says that she wants to teach for communication, I still see a lot of use of the textbook and its ancillary materials. I use some of it, but mostly it’s ME and the kids working together. and I have been having more fun teaching this year than I have in my previous 3 years) Many of the kids that I have this year started with a chip on their shoulder – they didn’t want to take Spanish. One of my biggest sour pusses in September said in class the other day to the other students, “we always do such neat stuff in here. This class rocks!” She has also told me that although she has taken Spanish before in a couple of other schools in 5th and 7th grade, she NOW finally understands how to conjugate. (and the whole class does too because of her! I wasn’t going to go into it, but she asked me to give a lesson on conjugating and everyone else wanted it too) she thanked me in private saying that the stories and the readings and THEN my explanations using those contexts finally made sense to her! I’m not trying to sound my own horn – I am just trying to say “thank you” to this community of teachers for training me to help my students ENJOY acquiring a language! I could not do it without this support and sounding board after crappy days like today! Sorry if I sound like a broken record!

        1. Your note made me smile–about the “sourpusses in September.” Almost all of my students had chips on their shoulders at the beginning of the year. And my biggest supporter last week admitted that she “strongly disliked” me at the beginning of the year. It takes time with this method if they’ve already had a whole year of being turned off to languages.

          I’m trying one more, last-ditch effort, to teach a few of these students who do not want to go on to Spanish III with projects. I mentioned to our guidance counselor that I would love to teach an elective Spanish conversation/literature course next year; I suggested that it could cross grade levels. She likes the idea, but it would have to be OK’d by the principal. I wondered if any of you have tried teaching an elective-type language course rather than just the standard I,II,III, AP, etc. classes?

        2. I may sound like a broken record, as well, to echo what you said here:

          …she NOW finally understands how to conjugate….

          That is, in wonderful fact, due to your having used grammar this year in three dimensions, as sound. It’s real. I mentioned here recently that when Anne got through training her fourth year Hogs in German up in Maine (yes, those Hogs – the famous ones), one of them had a light bulb go off when Anne, for the first time in four years, wrote a conjugated verb on the board, as she told me, for no real reason, just to do it.

          This child, who had by now acquired all the forms but had never seen them written down that way, suddenly exclaimed in class to Anne, “Wow! Thanks for the filing system, Frau Matava!”

          So by keeping that grammar in three dimensions for four years in the form of sound and reading, and then suddenly showing it as a “filing system” in two dimensions, it caused the reaction described above, reflecting what MB says above.

          We can easily go from three dimensions in grammar instruction (correct sound) to two dimensions, but we can’t go from two to three dimensions.

          Also, MB – the thing is can you press to get them to stay with you next year? It’s gonna be ugly if you don’t, especially if you are in the same building. They will adapt, as they are children and used to such outrages from adults*.

          But how will it affect you to hand over kids trained in the art and beautiful give and take of comprehension instruction to others who do not show kids that beauty, that human quality, that good feeling of learning in a fun way?

          I did it last year, with some real polyglots with test scores to prove it, and it wasn’t easy, but at least I went to another building so the break was clean.

          *That is not too strong a word. When a child goes from feeling smart and capable in something and then loses that in another classroom over one summer, yes, to me that is outrageous.

        3. I *HAD* to share! I had a really good day today! I met with my colleague and we worked on curriculum. We went through the book (which we just bought last year) and determined “what they will be able to do” at the end of each level. BUT….she IS on the same page as me as NOT PUSHING them beyond where they can go. I showed her the writeups (can’t remember where I found them) and then the corresponding NC Dept of Public Instruction WL Standards that explicitly point out the number of hours each “level” of a WL would entail, and the subsequent level of ACTFL proficiency. She is in 100% agreement! The only thing that we are having a hard time seeing eye-to-eye on, is the use of READING! (she has been burned by parents pretty hard – not her fault! Kids have been placed into her Level 2 class from the middle school, when they should have been repeating Level 1. (another long story) She is gun-shy to make kids do things that will be too difficult. She is ok with them reading, but from the very easy readers i.e. “Beginning Spanish Reader”. She also is leary of reading the novels because (and I later figured out from talking with her) she doesn’t really know the background/history that is embedded in the TPRS novels, which I think make them so much fun!! (I have dual certification in Social Studies, so I *LOVE* being able to teach the history!!) I see these novels as great supplements to culture teaching. I told her that they all come with great teacher resource packages, and that I would be happy to teach her too (she DOES value my knowledge of history.) So, we ended our curriculum workshop with it all written Levels 1-4, with READING worked into it!! I am OK with the “themes” and grammar, because I will just do what Terry Waltz says to do re: weaving the vocabulary and structures into stories. I only wish our textbook mfr. would have TPRS materials!!!! (Descubre by Vista Higher Learning – if anyone knows of anything!)
          Other GREAT news! this is in regard to attitudes in a TPRS classroom: I ran into my sub when I went to the cafe for lunch today. He said he had to stop me and compliment me on my classroom management. (huh?) he went on to explain that he has subbed for so many different teachers, but he has never seen classes as well-behaved as mine. “It was SO apparent that they knew the rules and what they can and can not do in your room. It shows that you are consistent. thank you – it sure makes MY job easier as a sub! I swear, I have never been in another class where the kids did not try to use electronic devices, pack up early, stand by the door till the bell rang — I got NONE of that from your classes!”
          All I could think was: it’s TPRS… has #1. given me confidence in dealing with students #2. I do deal with my students — one at a time! (now) #3. I am having fun in the classroom and including them in the “play time” so they are having fun too. #4. They respect me for that. #5. I respect them by giving them TIME and lots of repetition to learn what I am trying to teach. #6. in return, they respect me some more. #7. since they respect me, they understand why I need for them to respect my rules and policies and procedures for the safety of all in the classroom.
          BOY…..I sure do hope that that truly IS the reason!!! because I’ve had some doosies of years (last year and the year before! — I swore that if this year was like those two, then I was quitting teaching.)
          Thanks again all of you!!!

  5. Well, I have a colleague who inherited a class I had last year and who is now reading TPRS in a Year, trying to figure out how those kids got to be so good. 🙂

    1. Grant Boulanger

      I was recently observed by a teacher who in the past has sent (directly and indirectly) my students back to level 1. I thought the particular class this person observed sucked. Very little magic, though there were kids producing quite a bit of unsolicited, accurate language. She read the writing of one of the higher performing students and readily said that it was more natural than the language being produced by kids in years 2 and beyond that were not taught this way. She also said it seemed easy, which as we know is both true and false at the same time. Anyway, as Jody said, the proof will be in the pudding.

  6. I had the same reaction from the same person who observed Grant. I am hopeful. 12 of 22 WL teachers in our District will have read/had access to TPRS in a Year and PQA in a Wink! by this summer. I also spoke with a colleague who is interested in changing up the Level III course so it deals much more with readings and CI and less with grammar charts (I teach the Level IV classes). Again, I am hopeful. I feel the Earth, move, under my feet…let’s see.

    It feels as if we’re back on track as to where we were, at least where I was, in the early ’90s. Somehow, we/I got sidetracked by technology, testing and teaching lock-step within the Dept. Maybe, just maybe, we’re back to true teaching again.

    1. Shannon–what do you teach in level IV? At our school, we’ve only had independent study for that level, but I’d like to start up a real level IV class in two years.

      The other teacher in the dept. suggested Dual-credit instead, but I don’t want to follow a college syllabus; I know it will be grammar-based.

  7. Hi Ben and Everyone,
    What is the best format for teaching vocabulary themes? Is it by circling each word or creating a story around the whole theme? For example The bakery – cakes, pies, baker, oven , flour, icing , cookies, gateau, birthday cake etc.
    I’m thinking – break it into two parts – bare listing of the terms with the image and L1 & L2 translation . And in the second part , create a short story around it . The problem is, I will have to to more than 3 words as the new words in the lesson .
    How would you go about it ? Thanks in advance

  8. I think Ben would tell you the best way to teach vocabulary themes is “don’t”.

    However, if you have to, you are still better off teaching in context than as a bare listing. Perhaps . . .
    -bakes a cake
    -eats a pie
    -rides a bicycle
    Then “bootleg” a lot of the other vocabulary into the story that arises from these structures. “Does he bake a cake or cookies?” “Does the baker or the butcher bake a cake?” Use the pictures to help reinforce the vocabulary – give a picture to a student, and every time you say that word, the student holds up the picture and shows it around (just one idea).

    Why the extraneous “rides a bicycle”? It could have been anything that looks totally unrelated. Part of the tension (and therefore interest) is the question of how this seemingly unrelated structure will fit in with the other two obviously thematic structures. Of course, choosing the right structures is an art; I would see if an Anne Matava or Jim Trip script had something incorporating these “themes”.

  9. I got this idea from some list members (Skip and Therese), and tried it for the first time a couple of weeks ago. In fact, I had a visiting teacher from France in my room that day and she thought it was a GREAT idea!:
    I told the kids to look over the “themed” vocab (family) and write their own story using the vocab/verbs/adjectives — in English. Then I had them come up to read them in English. I jotted down notes from these stories. When they were done, I then created a story with the whole class using parts of their stories. It worked for me (I am not creative – that’s what makes this story-telling so hard for me!) They enjoyed it because 1) they thought I was off my rocker allowing them to write in English 2) they enjoyed being creative 3) their stories were shown importance by being used (kind of like Ben’s Circling with Balls — which I am still trying to get figured out with my less-than-creative mind)
    The visiting teacher liked the idea for all the above reasons, and told me it was OK for letting them write in the native language, if that sparks the creativity.
    I want to fine tune this idea, so if anyone can help, I will appreciate it!

    1. I have been working on this idea, or a variant of it, and there are so many nuances. In March I thought of creating an entire new way of learnign verbs – creating little two or three sentence stories/scenes kids make up whose verbs then become associated with them and no one else.

      I wanted to get a verb or two “attached” to one single kid – it would be “their verb” – so that an association was thus formed by the class and the verbs came to life more. So when David’s fellow students look at him in class, they would each time think of the verb “sees” and “runs away” because his little scene/story had those two verbs in it and we circled it a million times the day we did his story.

      I really got into this idea, like I got into the Realm so deeply years ago, but I don’t think it will work. It is just another arbitrary thought system created in response to the concept of comprehensible input, like so many others that have since been forgotten in the archives of this and that web site.

      We can’t help having these ideas – it is going to happen with something as explosive as what we have gotten into, which most sane people won’t touch with a ten foot pole.

      But then I have to just relax and take a deep breath and just realize that this is all evolving at its own rate, and then I can let so many ideas go and not feel as if I am losing something useful. I almost resent the nature of the mind to want to codify and create all these CI systems of thought, endless CI activities and whatnot – it creates so many ideas that we can’t relax, at least I can’t.

      Look. The Net Hypothesis is a fact. We learn languages by hearing vast amounts of comprehensible input in an unconscious way. We go to sleep at night, having hear a lot of input in different ways, then when we are in deepest sleep our minds parse in some stuff, into the soil of the growing language system, while parsing out other stuff. It is all so grand and magnificent that it can’t even be described!

      It, the unconscious mind, and not the conscious mind, is in control of this process of language acquisition. Ours is but to deliver the CI. We make it so complex with all of our ideas – at least I do. I think I once heard the same definiton as this one applied to the word philosopy – a simple thing made complicated. We need to get over ourselves and just deliver the CI. It would make life a lot simpler for us.

      I’m not saying the discussion isn’t good – it is life saving for me. But, I would like to be able to get out of my mind center a bit more as I get deeper into this. Language acquisition really is a visceral thing, a cell based thing, and I really don’t need to go around analyzing every little aspect of it. I need to trust the process that we have been given in the three steps and not try to change or add to it so much or come up with new ideas related to it.

      I hope my point is clear – I want the discussion but I don’t want to cling to it as important, as if we are still developing something new. The change is here, the new is here, and it is a relaxed thing that needs us to be fully relaxed in order for it to work, and to be more in our bodies and hearts than in our minds. That’s the way it works.

      CI works now in our classrooms – it’s pretty much a kick ass change, and we can all stop worrying about the details now. The tsunami has hit and we are still here.


      1. On “going to sleep at night” and “comprehensible input in an unconscious way”–one of the phrases that we circled last week was “que sucedio” or “What happened?” I’ve told my students before that when they start dreaming in Spanish, the words have really become a part of them. Sure enough, one girl came to my class all excited that she was having a weird, random dream and she remembered asking “que sucedio?”
        —“That is what I’m talking about!” I told her.
        It’s all so organic and “visceral” as you said. It’s swimming in a sea of language, not squirting little bits into our test tubes and examining them.

  10. This single fact that the entire process is unconscious should impact our work much much more than we allow it to. It is a game changing fact. If we can’t control what is acquired and what is not, and we can’t, then all our planning and organizing about what to teach and what not to teach is pointless. And yet we continue to do it.


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