The New PQA

PQA – step 1 of TPRS – is the foundation of our fluency house not just in the form of rebar on each floor, but it is literally the foundation of steps 2 and 3, of the entire structure. To understand the rebar analogy, see the important PQA related blog posts here:

Think of a two story house. The top two stories, the story and the reading, depend entirely on the soundness of the basement level foundation that are the three structures.

However, for as long as PQA has been a part of the TPRS method, people have been frustrated with it. Not only do they find it awkward, but they have obsessed over the need to have in it no new structures, nothing that hasn’t been taught before, in the targeted story script. This has been a cardinal rule, an idée reçue that has prevented people from making stories really work in their classrooms.

The reasoning used to be that if the structure had not appeared in some previous form (from a Word Wall, a Verb List, in early year training using the Circling with Balls card or One Word Images, or in a previous story), then the story couldn’t work because the kids didn’t know all of the structures in it. So teachers avoided stories that didn’t fit that model.

Avoiding stories with structures that haven’t yet been taught, however, is no longer necessary. I suggest a new kind of PQA, one that doesn’t last merely a few minutes, which is what I call the “old PQA”, but one that lasts as long as is required to build a strong, much stronger and complete, foundation for the house, one that thus guarantees much more support of the two higher floors of the house, the story and the reading.

Doing five to fifteen minutes of PQA and then launching into a story is irresponsible. It represents shoddy construction. The first floor (the story) and the second floor (the reading) won’t be as solid in the minds of the students unless some good hard work and time are spent on the foundation – this is the New PQA.

I suggest spending at least a class period (45 min.) and, really, two to three class periods to properly preparea each story. Then a teacher can choose any Matava script they want, any time they want, for any level class. Why do I say a Matava script? Because, in my view, they are by far the best scripts out there and add a dimension to TPRS that only kings could dream of in terms of story quality.

People have expressed reservations with Matava scripts, saying that they are too random in their choice of target structures. But that is why they are so good! Amy Catania wrote a series of scripts years ago in which the vocabulary actually is systematically introduced through a series of simple stories that, in fact, are boring.

Most scripts are boring. The lack of knowing how to do proper PQA and how to use a story script that actually appeals to teenagers is one of the major stumbling blocks and reasons for their failure with TPRS.

Most scripts force the teacher to use the stories in order, as explained above. But it is precisely in the lack of order, the randomness of the language found in Matava’s scripts and also in those written by Jim Tripp, who in my opinion is also a creative genius in terms of script writing, that we find the real interest. This explains the high interest in Matava’s scripts by teachers in the TPRS world. 

TPRS teachers use Anne’s scripts precisely because they are not tied to some kind of word list or curriculum. Scripts that are tied to curriculae are bad scripts that rarely work. We have all experienced this.

The teacher who, in the past, has avoided using a Matava script, even though they know that those scripts are much more interesting to the kids (scripts that can routinely become home run stories) need no longer avoid them simply because some of the vocabulary in the body of the story hasn’t been “taught”.

Teach all new vocabulary in the PQA session by expanding the length of the PQA session! Expand the PQA session to one, two or three days or even a full week by pulling out and doing fun and thorough PQA on every single word or structure in the body of the story that is new to the kids. This is a new kind of PQA.

Just to restate in very clear terms what the new kind of PQA is – it is teaching not just the target structures but every single new term the kids don’t know in the script, resulting in a much longer PQA build up to the story. When you do this new kind of PQA, the result is a much stronger foundation and a successful story every time. Identifying and teaching all new vocabulary in this new form of PQA builds a much better foundation for the TPRS house.

So what if it takes more time? Just do it. It’s pure high octane CI. I will be training people how to do this in the summer conferences. This longer PQA process, this big new expanding of step 1, creates exponentially more possibilities for raucous and enjoyable kinds of PQA than in the older form of PQA, because there are more structures to work with, more combinations of potential fun!

Countless stories have fallen flat because many of the three target structures didn’t even lend themselves to PQA that was interesting to the kids, the teacher would try to PQA them anyway, then give up after a few minutes and start the story, with predictable results.

The New PQA simply requires more time. As stated above, this is not a drawback. Instead, it creates stories that are solid and secure and much easier to build, because the step 1 PQA foundation is so strong.

I will add a chapter to my book PQA in a Wink! on this idea, and others related to PQA, and update the book for the summer conferences. As soon as those additions are completed, members of this PLC will be able to just print the new updated information and put it in their own copies of the book.

Building a strong step 1 foundation using the New PQA can make a big difference in our work with TPRS. It can take our Matava and Tripp scripts to the next level. Can you imagine what those houses would look like?



5 thoughts on “The New PQA”

  1. I picked a few structures off the list that you and Paul came up with. Il a l’air, il vient de and il est en train de. Since exams are finally over and a kid broke his shoulder snowboarding, I got a lot of miles out of those structures – 80 minutes over two days. Thanks, guys!

  2. Ben,

    I’m glad that you blogged about PQA today. I love PQA! In my opinion, it’s the magic behind CI. This year I am acknowledging that I am not a very good story teller; and instead of trying to suffer through forced stories (I’ll practice those skills during the summer), I am relishing in PQA. In one of my classes, we spent at least six weeks discussing the likes and dislikes of the students without it becoming too mundane or dull. I feel like the class united during that time; several students earned nicknames and we laughed together a lot.

    It was not easy for me to do this at first. I finally understand the importance of going SLOW – too slow for my own comfort. Just because I am bored doesn’t mean that the kids are bored. I think our knee-jerk reaction is to speed up; and that’s where we lose the kids. I like to “sit” in PQA for as long as I feel that it’s not forced. The kids can tell when it’s forced. And sometimes I might not even get to a story. I’ll never forget attending my first TPRS workshop and hearing Susan Gross’s voice saying that it doesn’t matter if you ever get to a story; and that CI + P is the key.

    Even if I don’t get to a story, I still work from a script or a TPRS curriculum; and sometimes I don’t care if there are structures in the reading or readings that I don’t get to. I will provide a quick translation during the class reading. I don’t think we give our brains enough credit for what they can absorb on their own while we read.

    I just try to make conversation with the kids with a particular reading in mind; and I PQA the most important vocabulary and structures. PQA lets me be creative in the questions that I ask and the statements I make. For example, today I insisted a boy in class is a shepherd and owns 100 sheep. Of course I got blank stares of confusion, but then I explained that he likes to count sheep to go to sleep (it was previously established that he likes to sleep). I went out on a limb and the kids liked it so I went with it and we went on to describe the sheep; and the boy left class as “le berger.”

    PQA has really made me slow down because I write so much on the board to keep it comprehensible to the kids. I was frightened at first by the silence when I turned my back to write on the board. Now I enjoy it because I know in my heart that the kids are anticipating total comprehension. I hope that makes sense.

    Thanks again for everything that everyone does here. I read often, but rarely post. Thanks again!

    1. …I don’t think we give our brains enough credit for what they can absorb on their own while we read….

      I have this thought every day. I did some reading classes today and couldn’t believe the level of engagement. But then, whenever I do PQA, I say to myself, “All I want to do is this.” Then, I say the same thing in stories, and the same thing in readings.

      Ain’t it great?

    2. Le Berger is so happy. Why shouldn’t he be? He walked into a secondary school classroom and, instead of being met with bullshit he’s not really into, you started talking about HIM. You stayed with it. The result was magical. Wonderful!

      And post more! You are doing some awesome work.

      And just one word of caution – avoid too many new Point and Pause invaders into the flow of the CI. They can only take so much new stuff. Even if you have bright and engaged kids. Focus on the word you are teaching, at least one repetition of it in every single utterance. I’m preaching to the choir here.

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