A query re tprs

This in response to a request on my views re tprs and on staying in the TL:

First of all, thanks for recognizing that I am not a shrill proselytizer for one method or another.

Just between you and me, I have a sneaking suspicion that tprs will become the dominant paradigm for teaching fl in the U.S. (and then be overthrown, of course). The reason is not so much that tprs has a monopoly on good teaching practices. I think of the AVID program out of San Diego which has an excellent fl strand in its training, of PACE as laid out in Shrum & Glisan and detailed by Cherice Montgomery, of VanPattens series out of McGraw-Hill on structured input and structured output, of more idiosyncratic and personalized methods like Rassias, and so on.

What tprs offers is what Americans need: A PROGRAM! It is something people can identify with and you may have seen this at the conference: tprs-ers tend to edge toward fanaticism – in a nice way. If you get on the moretprs listserv, you will find my voice as one of the few acerbic ones. Most people are very nice and mutual assistance is the tone of the List and, I think, of the Movement in general.

I say Movement b/c I have watched this thing grow pretty much from the beginning. Two early converts taught here in the Phoenix area and presented at local conferences. Blaine’s ties to the LDS community helped, I believe, in attracting teachers to his method b/c many of our teachers in the West are RMs, returned missionaries. As these early recruits demonstrated at the work place and at conferences how tprs works, more and more people tried it.

Recently on flteach you’ve seen complaints I don’t understand that tprs keeps changing. It certainly does. It is constantly being refined by classroom teachers. Perhaps it is this grassroots nature of tprs that upsets some teachers; I don’t know. Maybe it’s the fact that they are a moving target. One criticism that, to me, reveals the petulance toward tprs is that tprs “uses translation.” This is a semantic trick b/c the critics are linking the fact that tprs writes the L1 translation of the target structures on the board to the old Grammar/Translation method – absolute nonsense and, IMHO, dishonest.

The reason I don’t use a lot of tprs is that I was very busy developing my own approach using as a basis the findings in what has come to be called communicative language teaching. I’m not sure about why Terry Waltz on flteach rejects that “method” and uses instead what she calls “input based”. Apparently, a lot of people use the term communicative when they are drilling on patterns, etc. I’m just not sure; I’ll have to reread some of Terry’s posts. The upshot though is that I use the term communicative to label a method that uses L2 as a form of communication.

That is deceptively simple but a lot of teachers will do something like – and this is the classic example – ask the class what color blouse Mary is wearing when Mary is sitting right there and they can see her blouse. That is not communication. If you know the activity called information-gap, that is what communication is all about: saying something generated by a desire to convey some information your interlocuter doesn’t know and to comprehend similar information.

In order to generate the desire, the information should be personal. In my own practice, I’ve found that young students are interested in their teachers: what kind of music the teacher likes, his family, pets, personal background, etc. Again, I think many teachers are stymied by the belief that they must project some sort of distant authority in the classroom. This can also be a personality or even cultural issue, but for most American teachers, telling about your family and work and interests is no big deal.

Once you’ve done that, you can very slowly have them begin to do the same thing about themselves. In order to speed up the input, you can have them read. Fortunately for Latin, we have a very good textbook that takes a Roman boy through many interesting adventures on into manhood in the form of many connected stories, a narrative.

Once some sort of identifiable characters have been established, they can be interwoven into these personalized narratives. You can take the students for a walk around the school identifying buildings, people, jobs, etc. This latter activity has to take place when the students have enough vocabulary to comprehend most of it, what Krashen calls comprehensible input. I show you a pack of cigarettes (not on campus) and say Ich habe zigaretten, between your already knowing ich habe and the combination of cognate status and visual, you get a new word.

Teachers like Daniel (in pulling up an old post of yours so I could figure out which listserv you are on, I noticed you responsed to him – and also that you teach Fr so I should have written j’ai des cigarettes) run into trouble b/c they want to maintain a rigid schedule. That doesn’t work but going the students’ pace seems to many teachers a violation of standards; I call it Devil take the hindmost.

Back to j’ai des cigarettes: I’m reasonably sure that French requires a determiner there, either des or les. I’m not sure about German and I used the bare word. That’s the sort of thing teachers want to teach as a rule and then expect students to apply it. Communicative types like me do not believe that works; we believe – and I use the word believe advisedly b/c there is no proof for any of this and the tprs-ers like to cite Krashen as if he is the be-all-and-end-all – that when a learner reads/hears and comprehends the message, that the brain automatically registers the rule but unconsciously.

Many teachers are very uncomfortable with the ’unconsciously’ part b/c they value explicit knowledge so highly. Maybe we could test fl teachers for artistic temperment and correlate that with success in teaching fl. What distinguishes me from tprs-ers is that they believe massive repetition of features in context and in a comprehensible format (or, more accurately, a format that makes it comprehensible) results in learning. For me, there is a critical moment of acquisition, although it may require many reps for that moment to occur.

Anyway, the flexibility, the personality, the goals, the school culture, and other factors all determine how well a teacher will take to tprs or to communicative approaches in general. What tprs offers is a highly structured way to teach fl that incorporates all the best features of what I call communicative teaching and Terry calls input based. I don’t use tprs exclusively or even a lot for the reasons I stated, viz. I have my own way of teaching I developed and I love it and keep refining it. However, when I attended a Susie Gross and Carol Gaab workshop on tprs (Carol lives in my town and I’ve had a chance to talk with her a few times), Susie praised my tprs performance when my turn came (b/c I did it in Russian, a language other attendees didn’t know – they used Hebrew). However, what I did was pretty much what I usually do in class.

One thing that is very valuable about tprs and that is the crux of your question that elicited this long response (which I’ll post to my blog, too) is that tprs keeps the teacher and the class in L2. I don’t do that. I struggle and struggle with it but so much of my teaching involves a lot of things other than just going for proficiency in the TL. However, I think that staying in the TL is very valuable and see no problem with it as long as your goal, your principle goal, is proficiency in the TL and your students are reasonably cooperative.

I am open to more discussion. I start back to work tomorrow but hope to maintain my blog and respond to personal e-mails

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