Some History

(Warning – long post with rant qualities in it, although not a full on rant.)
Lance wrote:
…is One Word Image under a “TPRS umbrella” if we create a compelling scene, and then leave it without developing a plot, or dramatizing it? Sounds like CI only to me….
Here’s some background on that. People can draw their own conclusions.
In June of 2010 (I think) I was sitting with Meredith and Joe and Paul and Nina and Sally and Reuben (DPS writing team) one Saturday morning in a school waiting for Diana to arrive with breakfast when we started thinking of terms to replace TPRS with. It was on the heels of that (2008-2013) political situation going on with Blaine which I feel it best to leave entirely out of this narration, which is too long anyway.
We were throwing out alternative terms to TPRS around the room. Diana seemed to be never arriving with breakfast, and we kept tossing out terms. Finally Meredith (Richmond) haltingly said “Teaching with Comprehensible Input”. I remember the moment, where I was sitting, the way the morning sun was slanting in from the east into the school over the Denver skyline.
So we started using it in DPS and the next years – and this is still going on – people in DPS started using TPRS and TCI interchangeably, but there was always the vibe to it that if you said or wrote TPRS that was not politically correct.
A full on movement came into being in our district to describe this new broader kind of TPRS that wasn’t always just about creating stories. The general opinion was that there was a wider umbrella term that better described what we were doing in those years around 2010-2013 in DPS. It was generally agreed that since we were doing “more than stories” that we should therefore not use the term TPRS anymore. The die was cast for TCI.
(A side bar here is that by 2010 teachers nationally had so shredded what Blaine had invented – just trashing it in their classrooms but calling it TPRS when it didn’t even come close to being anything slightly resembling TPRS, that the general public, long enamored of bashing Blaine since the 1990’s because of his truly different ideas about teaching, correctly found ample reason to reject it because they thought that the garbage teaching going on their buildings that was being called TPRS was just terrible. No blame is being directed on those people – we all are doing the best we can – but I always felt a sense that so many people were just jumping on a bandwagon, the latest thing, when in reality we had found what could possibly be the best way of teaching a foreign language in the history of the world – because we all don’t have Rassias for our last names nor are we able to teach in settings where we slow down brain waves and teach as per Suggestopedia. And what we had had actual research behind it! But the misuse of it by so many rankled me. Those few who at that time were rying to stay true to the Three Steps did so amidst things getting wider and wider and more diffused, like a mushroom cloud, and about 2013 the whole thing – all this is my own opinion – was so far out of control that it was in risk of general collapse, except in the Denver Public Schools where Diana was doing the leadership work of ten people. and spending large amounts of time in classrooms observing and training so that we have gone from 5 of 100 TPRS teachers in DPS to over 80 right now. My own reaction to the general crusade personally spurred me on into a kind of day and night frenzy that has gone on for at least ten years now to protect, defend and illustrate the core beauty of the Three Steps. To me the Three Steps contain the secret to a new kind of art in teaching. Now that blurting is no longer happening in my classroom, I find that I am able to be a real artist, responding to whims one after another as I teach, responding to whimsy and happiness (the blurting was stopping it) so that I can say now that I would rather be in a classroom than out of it, because it’s so fun to teach when the Three Steps, that secret, are there helping me be a teacher I could never ever be except in my dreams before these happy days.
So it never felt right to me, that term TCI. I always felt there was that political piece that was spurring people to use it. So I kept using the term TPRS, and I remember there was always a vibe in DPS that I should be using TCI but the vibe of TPRS felt truer and more honest to me and still does. As if we don’t have enough weird stuff going on with acronyms. But the TPRS vs. TCI deal has been going on now for too many years. To me it’s all TPRS but here in our blog discussions people still don’t know which acronym to use as they write comments here. Here on the blog most people seem to use TCI. But the way I see it is that it is it all TPRS but also we owe Blaine. He was Jack up the beanstalk and brought back the golden egg. His vision in bringing back the golden egg can’t be dismissed.
Let’s say it again and be really clear – the core of TPRS is the same core of everything we do regardless of how we package it, so why do we call it something else. Every strategy that I have shared here over nine years is just TPRS as per the revolutionary process of establishing meaning of a few structures, practicing them, creating something with the kids using those few structures and previously learned words, then reading it.
What also happened round about 2010? We started doing iFLT conferences and part of that was connected to separating out Blaine for reasons beyond politics: money. There are other wrinkles to this but that was a big one.  TPRS had become by 2010 a way to teach that was connected to the cult of one personality – Blaine’s. I always felt that some real giants, Gaab, Noonan, Jason Fritze, and especially the great Susan Gross were kind of diminished in stature under Blaine’s profile. A really weird situation! Plus Blaine’s little chapter books really sucked. Gaab solved that one, beautifully.
But, again, when I was inventing new things for my own classroom to me it was just TPRS. There was always the establish meaning part. There was always the practice getting reps by asking questions part, even if we didn’t call it stories. There was always the creation of something with the class in the TL whether it was a story or not. There was always a reading. Just one example of many is that when I invented One Word Images and started doing sharing that and other strategies in conferences, etc. as a way of simplifying things for teachers who wanted to dip their toes into stories and not dive in headfirst, to me it was always some form of the Three Steps. Large numbers of people and most on this blog will most likely disagree – that is why we are a strong group – because we can disagree strongly and still love and support each other, but in my view the work we do will always be due to the core sequence invented consciously by Blaine in the early 1990’s as he sat down with Krashen’s research and painstakingly and, again, consciously set out to apply those ideas to something new. I see no reason to stop crediting him for the invention of the wheel – which is what TPRS is on the level of, because he did invent the wheel.



37 thoughts on “Some History”

  1. Brilliantly stated Ben…
    “There was always the establish meaning part. There was always the practice getting reps by asking questions part, even if we didn’t call it stories. There was always the creation of something with the class in the TL whether it was a story or not. There was always a reading.”
    Because of what you articulated above…this is why I consider every CI activity that I do to be TPRS. Even in advanced classes we are doing this work (at least in my classes) except it may look and feel different because students tire of the modality of several year of a TPRS environment.

  2. Forgive my ignorance but what are you referring to about Blaine’s politics? Is there some public resource about these actions? If not, it is not necessary to share here (I think partially of people raising objections to TPRS based on Blaine that I wouldn’t mind being prepared for) since most others – like myself – presumably wouldn’t know about it at all.

    1. You are right Matthew. I should have left that part out of my post. In fact, although in almost ten years I have never deleted a comment here, I did so in this thread. I encouraged without being aware of it a discussion of politics. But I have to manage the site for no such thing.

  3. Point well-taken Matthew. The details of this matter are mostly private and revolve around Blaine’s political actions based on being a devout Morman. Ben was very diplomatic in discussing the matter…I on the other hand may have overshared on the matter.

    1. It’s over and we’ve moved on. We healed in Lyle. We can all get back on our ponies and ride together again. I certainly don’t feel like I want to explain anything here. Blaine doesn’t read this blog and is not here to defend himself.

      1. Sounds good to me! I’m glad to hear that the parties came together again and were able to talk and presumably forgive. That just doesn’t happen very often because it takes a lot of humility.
        I’m also surprised to hear that anyone would disagree that Blaine is to be credited with the three steps, i.e. as far as I knew there was no dispute about that (but again I’m pretty new to this all).

  4. I could hardly dispute any credit owed to Blaine, but many of these connections to TPRS are unrecognizable to anyone post 2010. I don’t have much to contribute here, except that I began using the term TCI independent from knowing this history. If I “picked it up” somewhere, I now use it because there is a clear distinction between TPRS, and things TPRS teachers also might use (note that this varies widely).
    There wasn’t always just Three Steps (i.e. wasn’t it something like 10+ steps? I can’t find old handouts online, but a colleague showed me one from a 2002 workshop…no wonder many language teachers didn’t fall in love with the method!), so even that has shrunk in number, but grown in what could be considered TPRS.
    Everything CI (TPRS, TCI, whatever) is evolving at such a frantic pace, it’s difficult to keep up. We have daily updates to current practices, reanimated activities, and old “tried and true” practices somewhat lost in the shadow of new exciting stuff. TPRS might be better thought of as a lifestyle rather than a method. It continues to absorb other things and reinvent itself.

    1. ….wasn’t it something like 10+ steps?…
      As I remember it got up to 17 steps. But that was just tinkering and an attempt to help those who couldn’t get their minds around the three steps and it was all the three steps. Actually the ten steps period helped me a lot to wrap my AP teacher brain around it. But that period was brief.
      And not to forget that the Three Steps were not part of this way of teaching from the beginning, but rather there was nothing formulaic. They added things like PQA because nobody could grasp it. Susan Gross was heavily involved in that around 1995. But it was all just in response to a need to make it something one could grasp. The real process is so simple – ask questions.
      Corrections invited on the above points.

  5. …TPRS might be better thought of as a lifestyle rather than a method….
    This is spot on. It’s not a method but a process and an attitude for running a WL classroom. People looking for a detailed method to make it happen won’t find one. That’s why so few people do it. People actually have to trust the process of teaching and to welcome the unexpected into their classes. It’s all based on the very subtle yet massively intimidating concept that you can’t teach a class that feels fresh and exciting without leaving elements of it to chance.

    1. “People actually have to trust the process of teaching and to welcome the unexpected into their classes. It’s all based on the very subtle yet massively intimidating concept that you can’t teach a class that feels fresh and exciting without leaving elements of it to chance.”
      I’ve been gone from the blog for a couple, three weeks… too long. I can’t let that happen again, not with this kind of clarity describing what we do.
      I only teach heritage Spanish classes this year, but I still start my classes, every class, checking-in with students. We talk about the weather, Halloween, sports, or whatever is on our minds. It’s great. But I could only go so far as to say that my purpose behind it was to personalize a conversation. Now I see how I’m welcoming the unexpected in my classes. Kids don’t get bored… it’s probably the least boring part of my class, and all I’m doing is opening up a conversation with them, free-flow, comedy-improve like.

      1. Your personalized lessons I’m sure build the student’s confidence. My experience is that Heritage speakers need that additional support. I cringe whenever I hear teachers hyper-correcting with grammar issues or invalidating a variation of Spanish that students speak. Definitely an issue here in California.

    2. This reminds me of conversations I’ve had recently with a very determined, very analytical Chinese teacher who found TPRS recently. In trying to teach herself TPRS, she’s planned & planned & written down all the questions she wants to ask, working herself out of all deeper interaction with the students, it sounds to me. She created a 5-day lesson plan incorporating about 7-8 major approaches, each one which could take at least 2 days for me. Sounds like way too much, way too planned, and way too much burden on the teacher. Just let it go! No wonder the first time she thought she was using TPRS to teach, she thought it was very teacher-centered. Actually, it sounds like she was just doing circling questions that she’d written out in advance. And not asking for student details. Plus, she “taught” 11 vocabulary items in one class period. That isn’t TPRS.
      I’ll get to meet her in person on Sunday. She asked if I’d look at her 5-day plans. I hope I can gently give a sense of the value of leaving space and time for the unexpected from students. I can understand someone new wanted some kind of scripting for their questions on a first go with asking and responding to students’ answers. I’m not sure she yet sees how stifling it’d be if she works from that approach. Then again, she’s coming from a task-based, authentic resources, never a word of English background as a teacher. Those are not student-centered, though she doesn’t see it that way yet. She is reading SLA theory via a lot of TPRS bloggers, though.

  6. … it’s difficult to keep up…
    And I see that as a message to not keep up and each person makes it their own. That’s kind of an obnoxious thing to say to new people just trying to learn it, and there are things one can do that are like training wheels, but in the end we take from what we study in TPRS those aspects/strategies that reflect our own teaching personalities. We have to make it our own. The key skills however must be kept:
    1. SLOW
    2. Staying in Bounds
    3. Mega reps

    1. Haha so far I have never been tempted to think I could do this without Ben’s blog. It is just extremely helpful for me in so many ways (to say it in an inadequate way).

      1. Well said, Matthew. It is a temptation to leave the blog, somehow to think that I can do it on my own. It’s my pride. Of course I can’t. The resources on these pages are sooooo helpful and really I wouldn’t be who I am today without what’s here. But every once in a while a post shines, if you know what I mean. This is one of those for me.

  7. Well it’s good to hear that Matthew. I’ve tried so hard to keep things understandable. It’s been a real passion for a really long time. I feel that there is so much at stake.

  8. I’m always going to use the term TPRS because to me the essence of what Blaine did was stories. And stories remain the single-best vehicle for mega-uploading loads of vocab into people’s heads.
    After four years of TPRS, and trying literally everything under the sun, I return to the basics: establish meaning, ask a story, do PQA by asking class members the questions I ask the actors, read and discuss embedded versions of the stories, R&D novels (and some Movietalk and L&D using structures found in stories). Stories are front and center. Stories are what I teach.
    I have found that other activities and devices– word walls, CWB, Three ring circus, random PQA, etc etc– provide what I’d have to label as decontextualised input. I have found that unless stuff is embedded in stories, it’s simply not retained.

    1. There are three jewels in Chris’ comment. We can’t just let them go:
      1. …stories remain the single-best vehicle for mega-uploading loads of vocab into people’s heads….
      I too have returned to stories here in India. I have lively 11-13 year olds, small classes, and everything else is a shadow event to a good story. I will add lots of Gaab readers in to the mix, and ROA will do its powerful Step 3 thing after the stories, but what Chris says is true. The times, perhaps, to not do stories are (1) when the instructor needs some training wheel activities while building up their own story telling skills, and (2) when classes are full of students who have had their senses of play and creativity beaten out of them by the culture in the building and they need to brought back to life slowly.
      Further support for stories lies in this, also in Chris’ comment:
      …I have found that other activities and devices– word walls, CWB, Three ring circus, random PQA, etc etc– provide what I’d have to label as decontextualised input. I have found that unless stuff is embedded in stories, it’s simply not retained….
      This is a fact. Things other than stories, though useful as described for fledgling teachers or really boring sets of kids, should not be seen as options to stories with the same kick. I should make that clear in my books that describe such options.
      2. ….do PQA by asking class members the questions I ask the actors….
      The depth of this comment is also easily missed. Chris is saying that he keeps PQA going right through the story, during the story. He turns to the class during the story, and simply increases the reps he gets by taking a break from the story. Do PQA during the story. Why not?

      1. What is so valuable about the idea of doing PQA during a story is that it stays true to the deepest most important thing that we must do while asking questions – repeat the same target structures throughout the lesson. That is what PQA is supposed to do. The kids don’t notice our focus on the target structures; they are busy focusing on the story and the personalized questions – the message. It’s a trick.

  9. The middle step is doing something with the language in a creative way with the kids. Blaine discovered that stories were a great vehicle for this. Stories are composed of at least three things: narrative, description, and dialogue. How many “story alternatives” do not contain something besides varying proportions of narrative, description, and dialogue? Is there something out there that is not stories? How interesting can description remain with working in some narrative plot. How interesting will dialogue be if it is not letting us into further description or plot development? I have not gone through the inventory of possibilities as I wrote this, so maybe we have many options that are story deficient that are compelling to our clientele in general. How many fit this description?
    Related to this, up here at TCI Maine 2015, we just witnessed a most impressive TPR demonstration by Sabrina. It had an underlying story line. She directed Eric and AnneMarie through a series of actions and bits of dialogue in which in which it was obvious the intrigue and betrayal which involved MB and another which teacher in the audience. It was more than a predictable Gouin series. It was more than a series actions. And she never forgot about the audience which was also brought into the (TPR) action(s). It was masterful.

      1. I too would love to hear more about this if it’s at all possible to convey in writing. I had been looking forward to the Maine conference for months but unfortunately I couldn’t make it.

    1. That might be tough, because it was all about the experience Sabrina created for us. At first, she said that she hoped French speakers wouldn’t find it too boring. With Sabrina as your input provider, that’s just not possible.
      AnneMarie, Sabrina, and Eric sat in chairs. Sabrina began with “I get up” and modeled the action. I can’t write the French because Sabrina waits to show her students written mesages after getting an ear for the language. Eric stood up, so Sabrina looked at him and said “Jai!” and modeled it again. Then she said “she gets up,” then “he gets up,” then “you all (the class) get up,” then repeated a few things. She used very few command forms. She added “slowly” and “quickly” and then “sits” followed with many repetitions of everything.
      Now, if she had continued this format I probably would have checked out. Instead, she used novel combinations “I scratch my head/belly button/nose.” It’s true about stories…even though my brain needed reps of all the French, it didn’t mean much without a compelling context. Sabrina began to create a compelling narrative that had AnneMarie, Eric, and other audience members in some kind of odd love triangle with scratching their belly button as an affectionate, at times seemingly lustful (oh my!) expression. The only dialogue was really “oh no” and “oh yes,” but somehow there was a lot of infered comprehensible meaning in this little scene.
      I began to forget about the language and experience the story. It should be noted that although I was actively trying to distinguish between the different forms of verbs, none of them stuck. I still understood what was going on, and that surely they were different, but don’t have a solid grasp of the conjugation system. Guess what, I don’t care. That experience was fun and got me interested in hearing more French.

  10. Missing you all in Maine. Think about this. Anne gets to drive back to the Maine coast from there. There she can walk down to the beach and breathe some of the best air in the world. Now think of me in the most polluted city on earth. (It’s much worse than I thought it would be). Then think that no cities in the US even come remotely close to the pollution here. OK, now send me some sympathy! Not only do you get to be together and hang out (is Bracey there?) but you get to breathe actual air.

    1. I really missed you in Maine, Ben. I was feeling such love and connection with all of us from the blog working and learning together…it’s amazing how well I felt I knew Lance in the moment I met him in person for the first time…yeah, Bracey was there to introduce us!! I hope you can come next year…think about it! Big thanks and love to Skip and Beth for making it all possible.

      1. Thank you Angie. Did you talk to John? Did any of John’s story get into the discussions? We always need to keep thinking of John at least until he gets out of his current building.

        1. Yes, I agree. It’s amazing how strong and centered he seems to be, and how much he is still able to enjoy his students even under so much pressure from his colleagues. John, you are so warm and positive and you deserve to be someplace where you are respected by admin and colleagues!

  11. I’m not a hugger, but we need a group hug. This post and your comments are beautiful.
    From an “outsiders” perspective …until reading this, I was blissfully ignorant of the TPRS political drama. Sadly, it doesn’t surprise me.
    Many foreign and second language educators of different varieties have experienced political strife. Before class one day this week, some kids and I discussed “pastagate” in Quebec (a place language learning and use is highly political). Chompsky tells us language is a huge part of politics. Although it’s inevitable that what we teach will be politicized, it’s still very sad…sad to see good methods warped into something ugly due to politics and misunderstanding.
    ESL educators feel your pain. Krashen’s theories in ESL classrooms helped to create Content-Based English Curriculum. Over the years, CBEC got a bad reputation when people jumped on the bandwagon and didn’t know what they were doing. I have personally seen administrators trying to turn CBEC into something despicable (think math tutoring time, not comprehensible-input in the target language time). Ewww.
    Billingual educators actually have it worse than anyone: their entire way of teaching/licensure/programming (and their jobs) are highly political… no kidding. Not only is the outreach to the Spanish-speaking community itself political, but the perversion of bilingual education by a handful of poorly-run programs has given bilingual education a bad name.
    No matter what you teach, it’s sad to see a great methodology turn ugly. Please know that you TPRS/TCI educators are not the only ones. In fact, you are in good company. All of this political strife probably means you are doing something right. Instead of allowing language instruction to remain stagnant and just pick up the textbook and teach using the same methods we used 100 years ago, you are innovating.
    It’s so up-lifting to see what you are doing, Ben… and everyone on this forum. To see educators like all of you in the forum who really care. You care not just for your students in your building (which is huge), but also for the craft that you practice. Keep soldiering on because you are helping to elevate pedagogy in general –so dramatically that other (non-foreign language) educators are starting to take notice.

  12. This is so beautifully written and really gets at the heart of the evolution of TPRS. One of the biggest concerns I have still exists today, in my opinion. TPRS is fundamentally based on our relationship with our students and the joy, passion, enthusiasm, and energy we put into every day with them. This is where Blaine´s genius lies, in my opinion. If you´ve ever taken a class or a workshop with Blaine, he is 100% focused on the students/participants; he teaches to the eyes; he smiles; he laughs; he incorporates cute ideas. This in conjunction with SLOW, point and pause….make TPRS the powerful method it is. Ben is a master at this as well, as his posts show. So is Karen Rowan. I´m sure most of you reading Ben´s blog are as well.
    But in my district we have many teachers who think they use TPRS because they give commands, or their students read a Blaine Ray or Carol Gaab novel, or they use a graphic organizer from Martina Bex. But they´re not using TPRS, their students are not engaged and immersed in CI, and I have a feeling that is what Ben is referring to. What´s missing is HOW the language is used, both comprehensibly and personalized.
    That´s why, when a lesson doesn´t go so well for me, I´m back reading this blog or re-reading an old Susie Gross post. The basics of TPRS are what will get me back in sync.

  13. It is so reassuring to see people having the real conversation about what communication is. Maybe one day people will see that the movie we’ve been watching in our WL world for decades has been in black and white.

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