The Comprehensible Classroom

TPRS® is failing…what to do?

I received an email from a new-to-TPRS®/TCI reader this morning, and it is one that I’ve read many times in different forms:

“I have been trying your curriculum maps for Spanish I & II for 3 days.  Spanish I has been going okay.  Spanish II has NOT.  I tried the fue activity, and to my horror, the storytelling lasted about 10 mins (I really am not proficient at these methods yet).   […]  I am not proficient in the storyasking/circling methods & feel that although I take work home every night and try to familiarize myself, I still end up embarrassing myself the next day by not having enough to say. If you have any suggestions, that would be helpful! I may end up having to do some of the same stuff I’ve always done for Spanish II this year & switch to TPRS next year (after they have had a year of it in Spanish I). I want to move toward a more effective classroom, but I don’t want to go crazy either!”

Girl, I feel your pain!! I think that everyone has had the experience of a storytelling or PQA session falling flat, leaving the teacher in front of the class feeling inadequate and embarrassed. (I would argue that that happens in non-TPRS® classes, too–ever have a great idea for a communicative activity or sweet grammar notes that make no sense to students?) We are students of the teaching profession, no matter how long we have been teaching!

Here are a few pieces of advice for anyone that finds themselves in a similar situation:

  1. Remember that TPRS® is only effective because COMPREHENSIBLE INPUT is effective. TPRS® is just one way to provide students with comprehensible input, and it may not be the best fit for every class. The strategies used by TPRS® teachers–personalization, circling, checking for comprehension, pop-up grammar–can be applied to any CI method. If you are struggling with TPRS® in one or all of your classes, check out methods like MovieTalkEmbedded Reading, and PQA. Use readers designed for language learners, like the ones available from TPRS Publishing, Mira Canion, or Blaine Ray. Check out the webinars at Fluency Matters for training in these varied methods.
  2. Make a plan to get training. You can learn so much from online sources, but nothing will benefit you more than attending an in-person training with an actual human being that is considered to be an expert in the field. As with anything, improper training will lead to mixed results; often, more bad results than good! Conferences like iFLT and NTPRS are costly, but if you make a plan NOW to obtain a grant or save money throughout the school year, you can make it happen! Karen Rowan was at both conferences this summer, and she is an incredible resource to teachers that need help learning to maintain engaging, personalized class discussions–the foundation of TPRS®. There are also many regional workshops offered from Blaine Ray workshops and TPRS Publishing. Another idea is to locate or start a TPRS®/TCI mentoring group in your area–the MoreTPRS listserv is a great way to find one of these! 
  3. Don’t feel guilty if you have to just give yourself a break! Your students learned before you stumbled upon TPRS®, and they will continue to learn without it. While your ‘comfortable’ methods might not be the most effective methods, they will most likely not do any harm to students’ proficiency. Similar to cleaning your house (you can only accomplish so much in one day, so you tackle one project at a time), cleaning up your curriculum and instructional methods might happen in baby steps. As they say in Meet the Robinsons, the important thing is to “Keep moving forward!” You’re on the right track!

For more tips for teachers that are new to TPRS®/TCI, check out this great post from Crystal Barragán!