Textbooks and TPRS

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I’ve received several emails lately from teachers that long to use TPRS, but feel trapped because their department requires them to teach textbook units and give textbook assessments. Most of these teachers have heard that thematic units go against everything that CI stands for, and that the two are diametrically opposed. While it is true that most CI teachers (that are able) do not use textbooks and avoid thematic units, the two are not as incompatible as they may seem. Be encouraged!

Here is an excerpt from a recent email response that I wrote to one teacher that finds herself in the textbook battle:

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With storytelling (and discussion of a topic, for that matter), the development of miniature vocabulary lists are almost inevitable. They are certainly not as lengthy or…useless…as many of the lists found in textbooks, but you will find that many of the words are common to both. When we did the story “La Universidad“, for example, my students learned the Spanish words for several languages/nationalities (alemán, japonés, ruso, etc.) and classes (ciencias, matemáticas, inglés, etc.), and professions (ingeniero, secretaria, médico, etc.). When we did the story “Ladrones“, we learned different clothing vocabulary. When you discuss where kids go on the weekends, they will learn and retain places vocabulary because–hello–they want to be able to talk about their lives.

Find (or write) stories and discussion questions that allow students to practice some of the words on your required vocabulary lists, and students will learn them well because they will have a higher retention rate since they are learned in context and through many repetitions. If you have to assign an additional 10 related words for them to memorize, that’s what you have to do. But at least they will have learned several of them well, and those will most likely be the ones that are most useful and meaningful to them because they chose for them to be used in the story: when kids have the chance to choose a language that someone speaks in a story, they’re going to choose one that they want to talk about. You end up with student-generated “high importance vocabulary lists” that are a sub-set of the textbook lists. You’ll never get (most) kids to memorize and retain words like “barbershop”, “globe”, or “peas” because most kids don’t ever use those words in their every day lives! Focus on the high-frequency and high-relevance words, and let the chips fall where they may with the rest of the list. Do your job and provide students opportunities to practice all of the words that they will be required to learn on the tests, but don’t stress if kids don’t remember those outliers in six months (or one month, for that matter!). If your kids can talk about things that they would normally talk about in their first language, you are doing great 🙂

Here are some specific ideas for adapting the Realidades textbook and the Avancemos textbook to TPRS®/CI.

I’d love to hear what teachers that are in this situation are doing to balance the two (textbook and TPRS)! Your comments will surely be helpful to other readers!!

11 comments

  1. Hola! This is my first year using TPRS after 15 years of teaching out of the textbook. Since there are only two teachers in our department and the other teacher teaches right out of the book, I was left wondering how I was going to cover everything in the book so that my students who end up in her Spanish 2 class are not left behind. By midsemester I got the hang of writing stories and incorporating vocabulary they needed to learn into them. Since it was my first year, I honestly did not cover all that I had to to keep up with her. I ended up giving vocab lists to memorize so that they can at least have some exposure. I know that next semester I will be better able to incorporate all that the book covers. My plan, make a list of all I need to cover and start marking them off as I go along. In the end, students who learn out of the book never recall it all anyways, so I am not too concerned. AND most of my students loved my class through TPRS that I am sure I will be seeing them in my Spanish 2 class anyways. Martina, your activities have been a life saver. I have used so many of them in my class and I am amazed at how much they love your activities and how well they learn. I will never go back to the textbook! Thanks for your posts! Nancy

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    1. It is a difficult balance! Sounds like you have a good plan. And if you absolutely must cover ALL of the vocab, giving lists for students to memorize will cover you, and your students will be no more unsuccessful with it than the other teachers’, haha! You can rest easy knowing that at least they are retaining SOME things, and the things that they are retaining are IMPORTANT.

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  2. Hi, Martina!

    I’m going to expose myself and say that I was the person to whom you sent that quote as part of your email correspondence. I see what you mean about doing what one must under the conditions in which we are asked to teach. Can I ask how you organize your thoughts and plans as you begin to adapt the textbook to CI instruction? In relying on so many of the great TPRS materials out there, I find that I’ve been using all kinds of different story scripts at random without really keeping tracks of words and grammar topics I’ve taught. I was doing this based on recent conversations I’ve had with other CI teachers that feel since language learning is such a subconscious process, there is no point in working ourselves to the bone with detailed lesson plans that focus on particular themes or vocab lists…unfortunately, in a more traditional school, I feel it would be best to present what I’ve been doing in the form of actual lesson plans in order to prove that SOMETHING of value is happening in my classes (note: I’m not asked to hand in plans to my supervisor AT ALL so I’ve been very lax but I think it would help me to organize if I kept track).

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    1. For the first year and a half that I did TPRS, my lessons were extremely scattered. Students were learning, but there was no logical sequence to their knowledge. Now that I follow a logical sequence in my beginning classes, I am frustrated with my now third-year students that don’t know structures that everyone should know (because I never taught the structures to them). I think that the most important thing is to map out high frequency structures–verbs, in particular–and then examine your textbook’s vocabulary lists to see how you can practice those words through the target structures. As far as grammar is concerned, Michele Whaley had the brilliant idea of creating a Google Doc survey for herself (it could just as easily be done on paper) that was a checklist of all of the different grammar concepts that must be covered at some point or another. Each day, she would take the survey and mark off any grammar topics that she “popped-up”. That way, she would have a record of the grammar that she had covered for anyone that was asking, and (more importantly) she would see what she needs to focus on and what to assess because students should be ready for it. She never ended up making one (to my knowledge), but one day she (we!) will! I think it’s an awesome idea. I think that lesson plans are a good thing, and for me they are necessary. Many teachers–Michele included–are awesome at ‘discussing on the fly’, but I am not. Only when I am well prepared with a plethora of discussion questions do I experience those situations in which the discussion takes off and becomes something real and engaging and wonderful. I need to plan a starting point. I also need to have story scripts planned out so that I get in repetitions of the target structures; often, the asked stories take on very different forms than the original one that I wrote, but because they began in the same place with the same problem, the reps are still guaranteed to be there. I need to have activities ready to go for different situations: lots of time left in the period, little time left in the period; finished the story today activities, need to finish tomorrow, etc. This is not the same for everyone. I am both a planner and a rule-follower by nature. When my principal says to have clear, well-mapped plans, I do it! When I am told to analyze data and set measurable goals, I’m on it! If I needed to use the textbook, I’d use it! (I don’t need to, thank the Lord, but I would if I did!) I do my best to fit what I believe to be best practice into the framework given to me by the authority under which I have been placed, and use the channels available to me to work for change where I believe that it is needed. This is not every teacher, and I am grateful for those that are more audacious than myself because their loud voices inspire me to work harder and think more creatively.

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      1. Thank you so much. This response was entirely relatable. I think I would have less anxiety if I were keeping detailed lesson plans and I remember reading about that grammar checklist from Michele. That is a great idea. Right now, I kind of feel like, being months into the year, I am lost and do not know how to pick myself up by the boot straps and FOCUS. I keep thinking during XMAS break I will be able to map some things out.

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  3. Hello! I am a former TPRS teacher and now a Realidades teacher (desafortunadamente- and I only say this because of the lack of results I am having with Realidades). I am working on bringing back TPRS into my curriculum. I am not the only Spanish teacher in my district (there are approximately 6 of us) and our district has adopted Realidades as our curriculum. We also have to give common assessments (final exams) that are the same across the district. These common assessments are currently 200 question scantron-type exams with about 50% vocabulary matching, 30% vocabulary and grammar use with multiple choice questions, and 20% reading and listening comprehension. This is my big hesitation/ roadblock because I know that my students are all required to take this exam and my evaluation is tied to their scores. I feel that they could be very successful with the vocabulary portion because it is very easy for most students. The multiple choice questions are more difficult. I think what Martina said about picking the most important, high-frequency vocabulary words and structures from each chapter is the key and then giving the kids the rest of the vocabulary to “memorize.” To be honest, the current method for teaching vocabulary in our department is to give the students the list on day one of the new chapter, translate the list to English, talk about the vocabulary words and structures, then start quizzing (translate from English to Spanish then Spanish to English). The words are drilled everyday orally and through rote practice like crossword puzzles, textbook activities, etc. The kids who “do school well” have them down in 2 days while the others never quite get there, which means KWDSW are bored for about 2 weeks and the rest hate their lives because of the vocabulary quizzes. Ugh! Not a pretty situation for anyone involved. I would appreciate ANY and ALL ideas you folks have!

    Martina- your site is absolutely fantastic and it is so awesome to have a virtual PLC thanks to modern technology.

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      1. Martina;

        I would love to see what you can put together for Jennifer. I also used Realidades. I am allowed to go all TPRS however, the other Spanish teacher uses Realidades. Somewhere along the way, I feel like I am going to have problems with my Spanish one students going into her Spanish two class not knowing all the vocabulary. I would love to see what you have for Jennifer. Would you include me in whatever you send her?

        Hope you are enjoying those babies.

        Nancy

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