I received an email from a new-to-TPRS®/TCI reader this morning, and it is one that I’ve read many times in different forms:

“I have been trying your curriculum maps for Spanish I & II for 3 days.  Spanish I has been going okay.  Spanish II has NOT.  I tried the fue activity, and to my horror, the storytelling lasted about 10 mins (I really am not proficient at these methods yet).   […]  I am not proficient in the storyasking/circling methods & feel that although I take work home every night and try to familiarize myself, I still end up embarrassing myself the next day by not having enough to say. If you have any suggestions, that would be helpful! I may end up having to do some of the same stuff I’ve always done for Spanish II this year & switch to TPRS next year (after they have had a year of it in Spanish I). I want to move toward a more effective classroom, but I don’t want to go crazy either!”

Girl, I feel your pain!! I think that everyone has had the experience of a storytelling or PQA session falling flat, leaving the teacher in front of the class feeling inadequate and embarrassed. (I would argue that that happens in non-TPRS® classes, too–ever have a great idea for a communicative activity or sweet grammar notes that make no sense to students?) We are students of the teaching profession, no matter how long we have been teaching!

Here are a few pieces of advice for anyone that finds themselves in a similar situation:

TPRS is just one form of CI instruction

Remember that TPRS® is only effective because COMPREHENSIBLE INPUT is effective. TPRS® is just one way to provide students with comprehensible input, and it may not be the best fit for every class. The strategies used by TPRS® teachers–personalization, circling, checking for comprehension, pop-up grammar–can be applied to any CI method. If you are struggling with TPRS® in one or all of your classes, check out methods like MovieTalkEmbedded Reading, and PQA. Use readers designed for language learners, like the ones available from TPRS Publishing, Mira Canion, or Blaine Ray. Check out the webinars at Fluency Matters for training in these varied methods.

Seek out TPRS Training

Make a plan to get training. You can learn so much from online sources, but nothing will benefit you more than attending an in-person training with an actual human being that is considered to be an expert in the field. As with anything, improper training will lead to mixed results; often, more bad results than good! Conferences like iFLT and NTPRS are costly, but if you make a plan NOW to obtain a grant or save money throughout the school year, you can make it happen! Karen Rowan was at both conferences this summer, and she is an incredible resource to teachers that need help learning to maintain engaging, personalized class discussions–the foundation of TPRS®. There are also many regional workshops offered from Blaine Ray workshops and TPRS Publishing. Another idea is to locate or start a TPRS®/TCI mentoring group in your area–the MoreTPRS listserv is a great way to find one of these! 

Take a break from TPRS

Don’t feel guilty if you have to just give yourself a break! Your students learned before you stumbled upon TPRS®, and they will continue to learn without it. While your ‘comfortable’ methods might not be the most effective methods, they will most likely not do any harm to students’ proficiency. Similar to cleaning your house (you can only accomplish so much in one day, so you tackle one project at a time), cleaning up your curriculum and instructional methods might happen in baby steps. As they say in Meet the Robinsons, the important thing is to “Keep moving forward!” You’re on the right track!

For more tips for making TPRS and other CI-focused teaching methods work in your classroom, check out this page.

12 replies on “TPRS® is failing…what to do?

  1. I soooo feel that teacher’s pain. Last year was my first year and I teach all of our school’s Sp 1 and then 1 Sp 2 class (we’re on the block). Spanish 1 was always very successful and I used your weekly curriculum ideas fully. My Spanish 2 was a flop. I stopped with the stories, moved into Movie Talk and reading, reading and more reading. The whole semester was a struggle. This year, I have the same schedule. All of the students in my Spanish 2 class had me for Spanish 1 last year, so I am planning on using stories and more of your curriculum map. I’m not sure I’d go full “tprs” into a Spanish 2 class that was previously taught in a different way. I’d sneak Comprehensible Input in, but I wouldn’t make too many huge changes.

  2. This post really resonates with me. I first encountered TPRS 15 years ago, as a student teacher, and while I think it’s nothing short of magical to see a really great TPRS teacher in action, it’s just not a method that goes well with my personality or natural teaching style. I’ve been to multiple conferences and workshops over the years in order to improve, but I finally came to the conclusion that it’s not for me. HOWEVER, I’m a huge believer in CI and feel that there are many ways to have a CI classroom without doing TPRS.

  3. Spanish 2 was my difficult group last year, too (which was also my first year trying TPRS). Thanks for the ideas and encouragement, Martina!

  4. I love this advice. Trying anything new is going to have its challenges. Teaching with CI looks easy but the success comes with many failures and flops. It takes time to become coordinated with the true process of student learning and how to effectively provide CI. A flop is really a success for finding one’s way.

  5. I second the suggestion to switch to reading, MovieTalk, and other input methods for your Spanish II. It will talk the stress off of you to create stories in front of them, and it will help counter any resistance you may be getting from them because it’s not familiar. Reading feels more like ‘real school’ to kids than storytelling, in my experience. Use your Spanish I to work on your story skills, and definitely try to get to a conference! I went to IFLT in San Diego a couple years ago, and even though I already felt comfortable in the method, I’m now at a whole new level. Barring that, Ben Slavic’s professional development blog has been well worth the $5 a month for me.

    1. I think it’s true that everyone goes through the flop stage. I don’t know if it ever completely disappears. Ben Slavic has a whole category called bail out moves, and I think they’re just for such situations. So much great advice has already been given. And your plan seems like a realistic approach towards success. Here are some more thoughts. If you’re wanting to grow in your skills are four areas that I think would probably help. The first is circling technique. Has circling gotten predictable? If you’re doing the TPRS 2 step (doing all the questions in order), the students are probably bored. To grow my skill in that area, I scripted out questions for a couple of statements, making at least 50 questions for each. When they’re not looking at you and there’s no pressure, you can be creative and think of new things. It helps you find your rhythm. If you get stuck, add a character, add a detail. Then practice until it gets easy. Feel free to repeat to repeat yourself. Ask questions over again as if you have really forgotten the answers. The second area for me is personalization. When the method puts such a heavy cognitive load on the teacher, it’s easy not to see the students on the other side. The third thing for me is finding what makes a good story. Conflict and layers of meaning add interest. Jim Wooldridge did a session NTPRS 2013. He whispered something to participants and then had them do an otherwise dry dialogue about the weather. It was really funny. A girl was told she thought the guy was about to ask her to marry him. The guy was told he was about to break up with her. The audience was left trying to figure out what was going on. Conflict, suspense and subtext at the beginning of Spanish 1! Sr. Wooly is a master at this… His songs are good examples. A fourth thing is teacher presence. Do you believe you have a good story to tell even when you are standing in front of them? You can draw them in with the suspense you put into the words “there was a girl.” And even as I write this I keep thinking that you said your biggest problem is winning over grammar trained students. I have heard that one way to win them over is to show them what they are working toward. If you are backwards planning from a novel or a song or whatever, just show them a bit of what they will read in the end. If they think it is hard, and they know that everything you are doing will lead to their being able to do it, they may stay more focused.

  6. Here is my struggle: I have a blend of native speakers and they hate stories. (The rest of the kiddos love them and say they learn more this way than the way I used to teach.) They hate having to respond, they hate circling, they think it’s repetitive, and so on. (Also, middle schoolers, but…)

    I am trying to personalize for them, give them different jobs in the class, and of course, ask them more challenging questions, but it isn’t working for them. Ideas?

    1. Check out the MoreTPRS listserv archives. This is a common problem for all WL teachers, and it pops up on there quite often. I’ve done many of the same things that you have–finding jobs and what not (like reading and editing the texts that I create). Have you seen my Independent Textivities post? It was a strategy that I used in a multi-level class successfully. The students participated in some full-class lessons, but on select days they did free-reading and activities on their own. It challenged them enough at their own level and provided enough self-direction in their learning (by being able to select the novel that they read and the activities that they completed) that they remained engaged when they were asked to participate with the rest of the class. http://martinabex.com/2013/09/12/multi-level-classes/

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