In exactly one week, I will be attending my first formal Teaching Proficiency through Reading and Storytelling (TPRS) training. As a comprehensible input / communicative / authentic resources teacher (or wanna-be?), I would love to blend TPRS into my teaching style while answering a few doubts about how to keep the learning as authentic as possible. So when my colleague Teri Wiechart invited me to join a TPRS workshop in Agen, France, I decided to sign-up.
This is the first installment of (hopefully) a series of posts about the TPRS workshop I am about to attend, and my thoughts about how and/or what parts of TPRS to integrate into my teaching style. I shall begin this journey with my two main expectations for the workshop:
1) I want to learn how to keep my stories engaging for students
When I taught the structures “s/he should” and “s/he should not” in French 3, I used a series of very short “flash stories” accompanied by images where my students had to decide what the main character should or should not do. Vignette #1: “Jasmine has a math exam tomorrow, she has not yet studied. She receives a text from her friend, asking her to go out with her tonight. Should she stay home and study?” At first students would simply answer “yes/no” and I would answer “yes class, I agree, she should stay home”. Later on, the vignettes included a choice. Vignette # 4: “Patrice is driving. He receives a text on his phone. Class, should he answer the text or should he not answer the text?”. My 6th and final flash story was about whether a member of our class should or should not go to French 4 next year. I even threw a spontaneous class vote about the topic of going to French 4. The “flash stories” were a hit because they were simple yet relevant to their lives.
But I find the “relevant to their lives” stories difficult to sustain, especially in lower levels. Once, I was trying to teach the structure “do you have…?” and “does s/he have…?” in French 1 and pretty much all we knew was days of the week and classroom objects. So I came up with a story about a girl who does not have her stuff and needs to ask her classmates for everything. It was a big flop! By the second round of questioning, I was getting glassy eyes and yawns. I tried having my students act out that story with props, another flop.
If I reflect on this past year, I can count successful stories (i.e students learned AND were engaged) on the fingers of one hand. Yikes! They tend to become repetitive and boring. I have big hopes that this workshop will help me generate more engaging stories that still provide students with the frequency they need, or give me better skills at telling/asking a story.
2) I want to learn how to strike a good balance between authentic resources and TPRS stories
I love finding authentic resources, and I love creating activities and assessments that heavily rely on authentic skills. A perfect illustration of this is when I created a unit on the Olympics for my 8th graders this past winter, where the ultimate communicative goal was to tweet with French athletes. During this unit, students had to read an authentic article about the French ice skaters Nathalie Pechalat and Fabian Bourzat, read fan posts on Facebook, and watch a short video clip with an interview of the athletes. With each authentic resource, I carefully planned exactly how much information they were supposed to comprehend. For example, in the article, they simply had to find the nationalities of the gold, silver, and bronze medals, and whether or not Nathalie and Fabian had made it to the podium. I used a ton of scaffolding but I let my students grapple with these authentic resources. I only used a little bit of TPRS at the very beginning of the unit to teach some fundamental structures such as the Olympics, ice skating, winning, losing, medals, etc. I can honestly say this was one of the most memorable units of the year: students were so surprised to receive answers to our tweets to Nathalie and Fabian, and to able to comprehend the key elements of these athletes’ Olympic adventure.
Every time I come-up with my own story or use a reader, the part of me that loves authenticity dies a little. I can absolutely see the value in doing both authentic resources and TPRS stories/readers, but I would like to figure out the right balance.
In closing, maybe these two expectations reflect what an ignorant I am, but writing this post definitely helped me set a starting point and some goals for my TPRS journey. I would not be surprised if my expectations and goals got completely transformed after day 1 at the workshop, and that makes me ever more eager to start this journey!
On the TGV from Paris to Agen, I finished reading “TPRS in a Year!” by Ben Slavic, which was an excellent choice because:
1) It confirmed some of the things I am already doing fairly well for my novice learners (establishing meaning, circling, using comprehensible input, and allowing students to show comprehension in a variety of ways such as gesturing or drawing),
2) It generated curiosity and excitement about things I am not doing or not doing well (“personalization” and engaging stories),
3) It made me uncomfortable and it raised questions (What? Showing beginners a text full of French words, despite the fact that French is pronounced so differently from the way it is spelled? Using translation to understand a text? Doing dictations?).
I am definitely ready for my first day of TPRS!