Back in March, I attended the Central States Conference on the Teaching of Foreign Language. It was my first time to attend any such conference, and though I was not really sure what to expect, I was hoping to come back with some new tools for my “teaching toolbox.” My expectations were far more than exceeded, and instead of gaining a few new ideas to implement into my current method of teaching, I simply threw out my old toolbox, and brought home a new one. Wait, I didn’t bring home a toolbox. I brought home a treasure box, filled with my newly discovered treasures of Comprehensible Input and TPRS. I had never heard either of these terms before the conference, but after seeing them put into action, I knew they were exactly what was missing from my teaching.
Before the weekend was over, I realized that what I had learned at Central States would transform my teaching, but was unsure how long that transformation would take. My initial plan was to return to my classroom and implement a new lesson using CI and TPRS in my 2 kindergarten classes. I thought I might possibly manage to do something similar in my 1st grade classes as well, but didn’t want to expect too much of myself the first week. By the end of the week, however, I had used CI and TPRS (or at least something similar to it) in all of my classes but one. Overall, it was a huge success!
Just a few highlights from my first week of teaching using CI and TPRS:
1. I started speaking A LOT more Spanish in the classroom. I was afraid the kids might not like it, but they LOVED it! They were able to comprehend most of what I was saying, and that was exciting both for me and for them.
2. I had FAR fewer discipline issues. I generally am able to manage my classroom well, but there are always a few students who like to constantly test the boundaries and disrupt the class. I had virtually no problems this week (except for the one class in which I didn’t use TPRS!).
3. The students were much more engaged. Even those students that generally don’t pay much attention or don’t care to participate were very much engaged and quite eager to participate. The fourth grade boy who is generally sitting with his arms crossed and head down with a pout smeared across his face was stretching his arm as high into the air as he could manage, practically begging to participate.
4. Some fun comments I heard from the kids:
“I can’t respond back to you in Spanish, but I understand everything you are saying.”
“I LOVE when she speaks in Spanish!”
“This was the funnest Spanish class EVER!”
“Is it time to go ALREADY?”
With all of those positive things being said, I still had some challenges during my first week:
1. Due to the interactive nature of teaching with CI and TPRS, the kids need much more freedom to speak than I have given them in the past. Up until this point, students were only allowed to talk if I called on them, or invited the entire class to speak. I can already see that this won’t fly in a TPRS classroom. In a few of my classes it is going to be a challenge to find a new balance where I still maintain complete control, but the kids have the freedom they need to speak out and participate.
I shared this concern with a more experienced colleague, and she gave me some tips on getting interactive ‘silent’ responses from students, such as giving a thumbs up for “yes” and a thumbs down for “no.” I began to implement this strategy, and it has helped immensely, especially with my “young learners who have not yet mastered the art of whole-group conversation” – as my colleague so aptly phrased it.
2. This new way of teaching/learning was GREAT in 2nd – 5th grade, but much more challenging in kindergarten and 1st. As a wise, experienced TPRS teacher told me, “If you can teach the little ones, you can teach anyone.” Though I could see that the youngest students enjoyed this new style, it was challenging for me to keep them engaged in the story/sequence long enough to be able to practice those repetitions. After several classes of losing the attention of my little ones, I saw the need to learn more creative ways to repeat and review.
Once again, my colleague’s advice helped immensely – Stories for little ones should only last 5-10 minutes and have 3 quick, concrete points. In order to practice those repetitions, I should use hands-on activities, games, songs, sequencing activities, and the like. I now use lots of songs and sequencing activities to keep the children engaged and to expose them to as many repetitions of the story as possible.
Now I come to my Spanish class not with a toolbox, but a treasure box, given to me by some very talented and experienced teachers at the Central States Conference. Even in my first week using CI and TPRS, I was able to see how my teaching was being transformed for the better. I have so, so much to learn, but am so excited to be on this journey of learning and teaching, and am immensely thankful that I have others to support me and guide me along the way.
Emily Ibrahim teaches K-5 Spanish at Rock Creek Christian Academy in Louisville, KY. She has recently discovered the wonders of TPRS and both she and her little students are having a blast.