The Comprehensible Classroom

TPRS® 101: Teaching Proficiency is Really Simple

In the past few weeks, I have been flooded with emails from readers that have just read about TPRS® and TCI for the first time on my blog. I am THRILLED. I have always written this blog for teachers that already use TPRS® and other Comprehensible Input strategies in their classes, and it never occured to me that teachers might hear the good news here first! This is so exciting. The only thing that could make me happier is if y’all read about Jesus here first, cause He’s the very best news I’ve got to share 😉 While He may have changed my personal life, TPRS® gave me a new professional life. After not even a year as a full-time teacher, I was discouraged by my workload and the lack of progress that I saw in my students. When I observed TPRS® for the first time in Michele Whaley’s Russian classroom, I was mesmerized. It was unlike anything I had seen before, and I had to know more!

So, wow–I’m sorry. You are probably feeling overwhelmed. There is so much to know, and there are so many posts to sort through on this blog alone–never mind the rabbit trails! Over the next few weeks, I will be posting a series called “TPRS® 101: Teaching Proficiency is Really Simple” to help you figure out where to begin. I must credit Carol Gaab over at TPRS Publishing, Inc. for the brilliant twist on the TPRS® acronym, and I am using it with her permission. My plan is for this to be a 11-post series, but we’ll see how it turns out. All of you real experts out there, please add comments to each post as it comes out!

And with that, I give you….

STEP ONE: DECIPHER THE ACRONYMS

CI

Stephen Krashen theorized and we testify that proficiency improves when we receive (hear or read AND understand) language that is one step above our current level of proficiency. Comprehensible Input (CI), therefore, is language that we receive (read or hear) that is comprehensible to us (we understand it). When we make sense of new language because it is contextualized in language that we already understand, we are able to acquire it. When I say that we teach with Comprehensible Input, that means that we want nearly everything that our students hear or read in our classes to be comprehensible to them.  To learn more about Comprehensible Input, check out these resources:

TPRS®

TPRS® stands for Teaching Proficiency through Reading and Storytelling. It was developed by Blaine Ray and spun off the work of James Asher, although it is now very different than its ideological father, TPR. TPRS® is a specific instructional strategy that consists of three phases: establishing meaning, storyasking, and reading. The way in which those three phases are realized varies greatly from teacher to teacher and from lesson to lesson, but the three phases are always there. We’ll talk more about the three phases later on, and for now the most important term to lodge in your memory is “storyasking”. Basically, storyasking is the process of telling a story in which some of the details are not predetermined. The storyteller storyasker (the teacher) asks the audience (the students) questions to determine the details of a story. We’ll talk more about storyasking when we talk in depth about the three phases, but for now just visualize a teacher telling a story to his or her class and allowing the students to decide some of the details. Remember, TPRS® is an instructional strategy, much like “Cooperative Learning” or “Literature Circles”. TPRS® is considered an instructional strategy that provides comprehensible input because the goal is to make sure that students understand nearly everything that they read and hear in class.

TCI

While many teachers self-identify as “TPRS® teachers”, there are extremely few (maybe none; I couldn’t say for sure) that are TPRS® purists: teachers that use TPRS® also employ a myriad of other instructional strategies that all fall under the umbrella of “strategies that provide Comprehensible Input”. Therefore, we are better dubbed “TCI” (Teaching with Comprehensible Input) teachers. Our goal is to gently stretch students to higher levels of proficiency by embedding new language within familiar language. There are many different instructional strategies that can be used to provide comprehensible input (one of which is TPRS®) and you are probably using some of them already without even knowing it! This doesn’t mean that we never provide incomprehensible input to our students or that we never provide opportunities for output; we simply use them in moderation and only when our students are prepared for them through comprehensible input.


I feel like I’ve already said too much.

Just remember, TCI teachers use TPRS® and other instructional strategies to provide their students with comprehensible input because language proficiency improves when we receive comprehensible input (read or hear language that is one step above our current level of proficiency). Stay tuned for Step 2: Understand the goal of a TPRS® lesson!