Solve the Puzzle

What is the point of interface between ESL and TPRS? It is the point where students are allowed to express themselves in human ways about human things. The point of interface is compelling personalization. The extent to which an ESL student is personally involved in developing the curriculum of an ESL class will determine the success of the class for him or her as a student.
ESL “curriculums” that focus on grammar and social studies topics cannot succeed. Teachers who force students to address those two things in speech and writing will always wonder why their students aren’t more involved in class. The reason they are not involved is that they are not involved as people and that they are being forced to be involved as robots. Change that and solve the puzzle.

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2 thoughts on “Solve the Puzzle”

  1. Amen to point about grammar. Grammar Nazis make me sad.
    I love the idea of letting kids “expressing themselves in human ways about human things.” Whether through student-selected texts, self-to-text connections, PQ&A, etc., personalization encourages students to speak when they have something to say and write when they have something to write about. They use for themselves the “compelling” language you mentioned in other posts. They create knowledge.

  2. Warning: super-long ESL rant:
    In 2010, I told my first TPRS story with elementary English as a Second Language students, and since then I have tried so hard to recreate that first, best story I ever told.
    I had started the semester with six of the sweetest 4th and 5th grade girls ever and I was trying to get to know them, asking them to choose between their favorite subjects to read and learn about. If these had happened to all be boys, I’m sure we would have ended up studying cars or football. As it happened, the school had a dance program (one of only a handful in the state to offer dance in elementary school) and my girls expressed an interest in ballet. Honestly, what 9-year-old girl doesn’t have an interest in ballet? (It helps that I was passionate about dance as well.)
    They voted unanimously to read a graphic novel about the life of Siena Carson Siegel, a little girl from Puerto Rico who becomes a professional ballerina. We followed her as a girl admiring the big girl’s tutus, dancing on stage for the first time, moving to New York and learning English, making new friends and missing her family, etc. My kids were enthralled. We pulled in nonfiction texts about dance and the girls were eating content-based English curriculum out of my hand. They had the bug: they were ballet junkies.
    The dance teacher would tell me how excited the girls were when my girls (who never got to be experts amongst their English-proficient peers) beamed as they demonstrated what they knew in her class. Content-Based Instruction (CBI) has an undeniable power to provide compelling, comprehensible input, but also to make kids feel empowered to learn more about a field they are experts in.
    On the day of my first not-exactly-right TPRS story, I had something else planned. It was a nonfiction text about types of pointe shoes. I brought in my old shoes from college (so really, really old) and we sorted them into 3 piles given the categories in the text: performance shoes, unbroken practice shoes, and broken-in practice pointe shoes. My girls’ passed the pointe shoes around reverently with their eyes as big as saucers, until one girl had a self-satisfied smile as she noted that she felt like Goldilocks and the Three Bears. One shoe was too soft, one was too hard, and one was just right. I was so impressed by the cleverness of this idea, I thought the only way to honor it properly was to try out my first-ever TPRS story …okay, not really because I hadn’t incorporated gestures or circling, a script, and I probably didn’t “do it right” -but I didn’t know what I didn’t know, so I went with it.
    The girls took the lead: they knew how the story would go: Isabella (the student actor) was going to Ms. Ensor’s ballet studio, but no one was there. She snuck in. She tried on the first pair of pointe shoes, but it was too soft. The next pair was too hard, the last were “just right.” At the last statement, my little prima ballerina actor held her head high, wagged a finger and corrected me with “not just right… broken-in” -incorporating content-area vocabulary just because she could.
    The girls controlled their giggling long enough to get the rest of the story out. Next, of course she had to try on all the tutus (cue giggles). They felt very clever when they ran through the types and lengths of tutus they had learned about. I let them lead. The girls settled on the “romantic” tutu, which was not too long, but not too short. I tried again to say “just right” but got some serious side-eye and a “ROMANTIC tutu!” from the adorable storytelling divas.
    It was so important to them to get the story right. There was an infectious enthusiasm that felt equal parts clever and silly. They had the idea for the story in the first place and they controlled all the elements.
    Years later, I have never been able to replicate that level of authenticity in a story.
    Later that week, I read more and watched “real” TPRS demo classes. I felt disappointed that even though I thought my story was awesome, I wasn’t doing it the right way.
    Since reading the above post by Ben and doing some soul-searching, I’ve decided that my version of TPRS doesn’t have to look like yours—like at all. My French TPRS classes will look similar, but not my ESL classes. I’m now okay with that. It doesn’t have to be done “the right way.” It only has to look like what my students need it to look like.
    After several months trying to incorporate elements of TPRS in a CBI classroom, I’ve also decided that the 3 step regimen is incompatible or at best feels contrived when used with CBI. My version of TPRS from here on out will look more like my naïve first attempt at storytelling. I will use stories with students who are storytelling to show off what they have learned in a content-area of interest to them… just because that is what works for me. So long as it is in bounds, comprehensible, student-directed, and interesting to students, I’m no longer concerned with doing things the right way.
    Yet another revelation: I no longer feel like I have to choose between usin CBI methods or TPRS. Since reading the “There Are No Experts” post, I feel like I can experiment with a system that works to combine these two amazing methods.
    I know you had a bad experience with a Social Studies/ESL observation, Ben, but CBI in general is amazing! Unlike with WL students, who feel special just speaking a little French, for ESL students, a lack of confidence is my enemy number one. One ESL student once told me, “Back in my country, I was so smart. Here, I am stupid.” The number one affective-filter destroying weapon I have in my arsenal for English Language Learners is CBI. It is mastery of a content-area of interest to students. CBI is confidence for language minority students. CBI is teaching metacognition to help students who would otherwise feel lost. CBI is academic language. CBI is a bridge to grade-level literacy. CBI is like ballet: it is a little more work, and can be boring if you aren’t swept up in the passion of it. But when it’s done well, with shoulders back, head held high, it is stunning.
    I keep reading “TPRS must provide input that is compelling and comprehensible.”
    I’m going to take that and make it my own: Second Language Acquisition requires CBI and TPRS together to provide input that is compelling, comprehensible, and empowering.
    Thank you, Ben, for moving away from rigid TPRS steps and “experts” and empowering me to do the same.

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