We Can't Screw This TPRS Stuff Up

I’m listening to Carla Bruni’s L’Amoureuse right now. I had a shock. I thought about what a terrible loss that sometimes kids get turned off to stuff like this in the name of grammar study. This song, French songs, French film, French poetry, French novels are uplifting me and Paul and Diana in a way that we could never describe, just like the German culture lifts Mike and Anne and Spanish lifts Ynes and Bryce and Vicente. And we would like to share that with our kids!
What would happen if we were the ones responsible for closing the doors to this kind of music and language to tons of kids for their whole lives? Is it an exaggeration to call that a major loss? To me, it would be no less.
We can’t turn the kids off to beauty, to the beauty of other cultures that can maybe fill holes in their hearts that were put there because they were American teenagers growing up in a time of unprecedented confusion. We have the potential to give those kids reasons to love something. We just can’t screw this TPRS stuff up.
Maybe people who consider TPRS people freaks can now get a little insight into WHY we are freaks, in the light of the above thinking. Right now L’Amoureuse is over and now I’m listening to Tiken Jah Fakoly’s Un Africain à Paris. Tiken is telling his mom not to worry because he is in Paris. He tells her he is o.k. even if he is not living first class. He tells her not to worry.
I don’t know, y’all, don’t we have a sacred trust to deliver these cultures, this awesome stuff, to our kids? Don’t we at some point have to admit that over the past decades we just haven’t been getting the job done, with 90% of American foreign language students quitting once their requirement has been met?
O.K. now L’Amoureuse is on again. “Even the pebbles are acting important because they know that I am in love.” Teaching languages. It’s more than it seems. It’s kind of a sacred work. It’s gold, Jerry. Gold. Let’s not screw this TPRS stuff up, y’all. We know how to do it. We can and will do it. Life will become thrilling again.



2 thoughts on “We Can't Screw This TPRS Stuff Up”

  1. I can’t write blogs unless I am on my computer at home and I want to process a morning block class this morning, so I’ll just put it here:
    I just left a VERY DIFFICULT group of 35 first period kids, but they were only difficult for the first ten minutes of the ninety minute class and then they turned into the (East High) Angels that they really are. (Many in that particular group of kids are caring super heavy loads in life and are just waiting for a chance to test if my classroom is a place where they can unload some of the weight they carry).
    ONLY BECAUSE of the no English rule I put in today (as a result of my discussions with Paul last week and this past weekend) did this work. I think the class would have been much more difficult had ANY English been allowed – even the two words.
    So, what started out as a bunch of depressed kids hating life soon became a bunch of fun kids loving our story – based on a Jim Tripp story script. It was about me getting hit in the head while watching television last Wednesday night. I was hit by a super small black sledge hammer nine times that was in the hands of the super small son of Mr. T, Mr. B, who then ran away. Then I went to North Carolina and, while swimming, got headbutted by a super small hammer head shark and so I went home. The leit motif (skill # 40 in TPRS in a Year!) of everything being super small, by the way, lifted the story in a powerful and unexpected way.
    There are three important things about the story that felt different/were different that I would like to process here. One thing was that since it was 7:30 in the morning after a long four day weekend I just didn’t have “it” – that kind of teacher presence of positive energy and “we’re going to speak French and it’s all great” thing – going on. I mean, it just wasn’t going on and the kids were cranky and all I wanted to do was curl up with a cup of coffee and think about how hard this all is. So I started the story, Jim’s script in hand like a life preserver, and started going through the drill by circling the first sentence, “Class, last night I was sitting in my house and a monkey hit me in the head” which became, “Class, last week I was sitting in my house watching television and a super small sledge hammer hit me in the head nine times.” So the girl who offered up the sledge hammer as a cute response, who was all kinds of difficult last week, immediately got riveted into the story and stayed there the entire time – she knew that she wasn’t going to get to use any English at all and it worked. (This is not a girl who is going to win any contests in conjugating verbs, but my oh my did she shine today.) The point here, however, the first point about how things felt different/were different today was that I didn’t have that “ain’t it great” energy of positive teacher energy. I just didn’t have it. And – here’s the point – I DIDN’T NEED IT for the story to work. I didn’t miss it, and, in fact, being able to just do the class without trying to be an entertainer made a huge difference in the success of the story. It’s like the hope that the story would succeed, by being absent, unavailabe, actually helped the class by getting me and my needy teacher personality out of the way. Strange…
    Anyway, the second thing that felt different/was different today, and this is major, was that not one word of English, not one word, was used in the 50 minutes of the story, as I said. I did that because Paul and I had decided to try it last week, and also to honor Diana Noonan’s request that her DPS teachers use English no less than 90% of the time as per our new pilot project of the next three years, which is going to get us some major kick ass data if we do it right. Now, that was the first time in nine years that I have allowed no English in my TPRS classroom. The kids wrote down their cute answer suggestions in their composition books and held them up. Paul is trying it with small white boards, and I am trying it with just the composition book. It so worked.
    The third thing, then, was that, since the kids were not calling out the two words in English, and since there was no English, I again found myself really tuning into their eyes much more than usual. I could have filled out a chart of what percentage out of 100 each kid was understanding, to an accuracy of within one or two percentage points. Seemingly a non sequitor, this is nonetheless true. Additionally, I noticed that, as opposed to when we were using the two words, there were a lot less suggestions, which ironically produced a deeper focus on L2, and less interruption. I didn’t need a lot of suggestions. I only needed one or two suggestions to each question. There was much less noise and much more focus. Talk about a new TPRS learning today! I never would have guessed that not allowing any English at all would lead to a much increased focus on the story. Neither could I have guessed that I would need a lot less cute suggestions for the story to work. All those superfluous cute answers in English do is eat up time and pollute the airwaves with English. I wish that Blaine or Susie or Joe would have slammed me about the two words of English when I first suggested it five years ago in my rules chart. It doesn’t work as well as Blaine’s original way of doing it. This may be true of PQA as well. I think that the whole PQA thing is overated and given more importance than is needed. I am not saying that it is not useful – just talking to the kids about whatever topic is wonderful. But, it is hard to talk to one kid when there are thirty four others wanting us to talk about them. Spinning PQA into a story is also great. But the top quality CI results of the story of today would not have happened without Jim’s script today. I go back and forth on this topic, and reserve the right to do so because none of this TPRS stuff is set in stone. Tomorrow I may say that PQA is really cool and the way to go. But, if I had to pick one today, (this conflicts with something I said in TPRS in a Year!) I would pick the stories, for the safety of the ground beneath me. And this is not to say that I am advocating changing the two words of English rule to a no English rule, but that I am certainly, based on this morning’s class, seriously thinking about it.
    So, today I learned that
    – I don’t need the “isn’t it all so great, kids?” histrionic posturing (which is a kind of suck that the kids feel that I NEED them to learn and which they respond to by naturally pulling away),
    – no English is better than two words of English. There is a sacred part of their brains that must not be polluted, desecrated, with L1, any more than one would honk a car horn during a Beethoven sonata. The skill of Point and Pause is there to put the new information in English into the part of their brains that wants it (meaning of the word) and not into the part of their brains that doesn’t want it (sound of the word) – the two parts of their brains are different and must be kept separate during the TPRS lesson, and Point and Pause allows that.
    – I only needed one or two suggestions to each question – it avoids cacophonous teaching and greatly increases the focus on CI in the classroom.

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