The Gains Will Skyrocket

The interface between ESL and TPRS is found in the word “compelling”. Stories bring the highest levels of compelling instruction. Therefore, all the ESL folks need to do with their students is some stories while dropping all that other stuff they do that makes their instruction so dry.
If ESL instructors were to make up a story with their students, they would see them smile and kick up their heels. Students whom they thought boring and distant would begin to show them sides that they never even imagined were there.
And ESL instructors need not teach so much grammar either. They embarrass themselves when they do that. There is nothing good in forcing ESL students to manipulate grammar terms.
ESL teachers need to stop bringing in all that boring social studies stuff also. Grammar and social studies don’t belong in ESL classrooms – they stifle learning. ESL teachers need to let their students out of their straitjackets.
And why do ESL researchers who never lived in classrooms advocate forcing kids to speak and write beyond their capacity? When ESL instructors force kids to speak and write beyond a level that is fun and comfortable for them, they turn their students off to the language.
It’s easily changed. Talk more about them. Respect their interests. Find out what those interests are and shift the focus on the class from the language to the meaning of what is being discussed. When focus shifts away from language to meaning and especially meaning that is personally connected to the lives of the students in the class, the language gains will skyrocket.

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3 thoughts on “The Gains Will Skyrocket”

  1. I very much agree. Except when the ESL students already have BICS. When working on CALP, that involves more academic study, focus on the Academic Word List (AWL), and can include Sheltered Subject Matter Teaching.* But making it personalized/customized should be attempted the whole way and using stories (and reading!) whenever possible.
    The other thing Claire pointed out is that TPRS is extremely “sheltered” (targeted). But that decreases as word size grows, in order to continue to recycle what came before and in order to rep those words of mid and low frequency. Scroll down on Paul Nation’s website and find FREE mid-frequency graded readers at various word levels!!!
    http://www.victoria.ac.nz/lals/about/staff/paul-nation
    Sheltered Subject Matter Teaching is different from Sheltered Instruction Observation Protocol (SIOP), the latter which is an eclectic, mixed bag. People may use the term “Sheltered Instruction” to refer to practices that include a focus on input, output, grammar, and everything in between. See Krashen, 2013 in IJFLT:
    http://www.sdkrashen.com/content/articles/siop_research_support_claims.pdf

    1. Eric, you’re 100% on it.
      SIOP is easy to get “wrong.”…but when it’s good: it’s great.
      I chuckled when I saw Ben’s social studies comment because that was my first SIOP fail. In grad school, my very first SIOP unit had everything my textbook said it should have: it was content-reduced and context-focused, had strong language objectives, and learning strategies, but it was just straight-up boring. My professor took one look at it, as I was handing it in, before reading more than the first few lines and said “this looks boring.” (She’s actually an amazing educator but hilariously frank). At the time, I wasn’t pleased, but now I appreciate her candor.
      Here are some myths I’ve dispelled since that disastrous Social Studies blunder .
      1. SIOP is for students who already master conversational speech (as Eric mentioned). These kids are very fluent in English. Telling stories to improve their conversational speech would be like giving bubble gum to a four year old (my husband tried this yesterday). It would be fun for a little while, but mostly pointless and could get messy. That doesn’t mean we don’t tell stories… we just don’t go through the three steps of TPRS. I do use TPRS with my beginning students, though.
      2. SIOP is not grammar focused. Just like in TPRS, we just “sneak” it in. I am convinced the only way to become good with spelling and grammar is to read, read, read. Krashen has a lot to say about teacher’s roles in encouraging free-voluntary reading, and my class is 100% about letting students 1) pick which subjects/books are interesting to them and what they will read about and 2) never make kids read text that is too hard for them.
      3. SIOP does offer comprehensible input. I can see how someone who works with beginning language learners would be shocked by how “few” scaffolds there are (yes, even the most advanced French III student would still be considered a “beginner” in the second language classroom)…but some of my kids only need a moderate support. Some of my advanced students listen and speak like native speakers, and are only a grade level or two behind being completely English proficient. They need to be challenged. Yes, I know…not too much. Just because my more advanced classes look extremely rigorous to you, doesn’t mean I’m not offering appropriate scaffolding.
      4. SIOP is not boring. SIOP is not boring! SIOP is about as boring as drunk Nicki Minaj selfie. Too loose, maybe. Too boring, never. I’ve had nay-sayers claims this isn’t “academic” enough, but I’ve never had anyone say it’s too boring. Teachers can pick boring content-areas if they chose. But the method lends itself to inquiry and discovery of new subject-matter and rich mastery of a new content-area which can (and should be) exciting and fun. Here’s what we did Friday:
      We are mid-way into a unit on American Football, we continued “recycling” (as Eric mentioned) words and building on concepts about the sport. We read a simple text (I created -it was a poster we read together with the rules for a play to be considered a touchdown). Then, I modeled and students worked together to create a list of criteria: students dictated/wrote on the board. We looked at a slide-show of pictures, each time answering the question: is it a touchdown? Orally, students determined if each was a touchdown. I modeled referencing/pointing at and thinking through each element in the criteria (our class list). I reminded them/modeled and got student volunteers to “justify” (we learned this earlier this week along with the word “because”). These are exclusively intermediate and advanced students, who were itching to talk about each play. There was some lively debate, in fact: was the ball really in their hands? Was the player in-bounds? Did the ball really cross the line into the end zone?
      Wouldn’t you like to discuss these questions about your favorite team’s latest game? Come to Tennessee and join us because we were having fun. Packer fans are always welcome.
      When students finally did produce writing of their own (some had to copy from the text, and that’s okay)… they were excited to create using what they had learned and had seen and heard several language models as adequate scaffolding. Instead of TPRS only allowing them to create parts of the story, they could control it all… and they loved it. Groups planned a scene, then acted it out with football players stepping in the end zone, out of bounds, etc. and a referring calling the play. It was really fun. And that’s what every Friday is like in a good SIOP lesson.

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