This is the fourth post in the series “TPRS® 101: Teaching Proficiency is Really Simple“.
STEP FOUR: DEBRIEF
By now, the acronyms TPRS®, CI, and TCI are rolling off your lips without a second thought. You understand the goal of a TPRS® lesson, and you’ve seen one in action. Maybe you used this list to find a teacher near you to observe, or perhaps you were lucky enough to attend iFLT or NTPRS. Or maybe you had to settle for watching videos of TPRS® lessons until school starts up again and you can get into an actual classroom to observe. Regardless of how it happened, you’ve seen a TPRS® lesson.
But what did you just see???
I remember sitting in Michele Whaley’s Russian classroom back in 2009 thinking the same thing: what in the world is going on? What is this woman doing? How did she get her students to do this? How are they understanding when I have not heard one word of English this entire class period? What planet am I on?????
After you’ve seen a lesson by a formally trained TPRS® teacher, it’s time to analyze what you saw so that you can begin to learn how to re-create it. It’s time to DEBRIEF!
The first thing to do is sit down with a notebook and write down what you saw. Michelle Kindt had an excellent list of questions at her NTPRS sessions for general debriefing; and if anyone has a link to that list of questions, I’d love to add it to this post. Laurie Clarcq (www.heartsforteaching.com) shared with me four questions that she teaches her coaches to ask teachers in their coaching groups:
- What did the teacher do to make the students feel comfortable?
- What did the teacher do to make the language comprehensible?
- What did the teacher do that recognized and supported student/class success?
- What did the teacher do that resonated with you/gave you new insight?
The most important question for you to focus on at this point is, “What did the teacher do to help me understand?” As you take notes to remember your experience, write down everything that you can think of that the teacher did to help his or her students–and you by extension–understand the target language.
Once you’ve finished your initial reflections, I recommend reading about some of the essential skills used to make a TPRS® lesson successful. At this point, your purpose for reading should be the reflective question, “How did the teacher that I observed employ this skill?” Take time to think back on the lesson that you observed and make notes about any instance in which you recall the teacher using the skill. How did their use of that strategy help you to better understand the target language? How did it help you to feel at ease? I highly recommend writing down your observations and discussing them with a colleague. This will help you to think through your experience well and it will cement what you saw in your mind.
To begin, I recommend reading about “The Sacred Seven” skills of TPRS® (not to be confused with Terry Waltz’s “Super Seven” verbs!!). I’m calling the skills listed in the image here “The Sacred Seven” because when I observe a teacher that demonstrates mastery of one or more of those skills, I see beams streaming down from the heavens and hear the angels singing “Ta-da!” (*cough* Linda Li *cough*). Truly, it would be impossible for the students of any teacher that has mastered these skills to not learn the language. I know that it sounds like I am exaggerating and giving way more weight to this TPRS® thing than it merits, but I dare you to go sit in on a lesson by Linda Li or Laurie Clarcq or Michele Whaley or Grant Boulanger (or any number of other teachers!) and then tell me that I’m crazy. Having sat in on their classes as a student, I was drawn into their world and the language that narrated it in a way that I never experienced in my own language learning experience. I understood everything that they said without trying to because they did their job as the teacher and ensured that everything–EVERYTHING–that they said was comprehensible to me and all of my classmates.
There are other essential TPRS®/CI skills (pop-up grammar comes to mind) that are very much essential, but studying The Sacred Seven will keep you busy enough for now.
Some general manuals that will cover all of the skills and more are
Fluency through TPR Storytelling, 7th Edition by Blaine Ray and Contee Seely – Dubbed “The Green Bible”, this is the original (although updated!) how-to manual for TPRS®. It is a must-read for anyone that is considering the switch!
TPRS with Chinese Characteristics by Terry Waltz – This is my current favorite manual! Terry explains the how and why of TPRS® very practically and with just the right amount of detail. Some information is specific to Chinese teachers, but most of the content is applicable to teachers of any language.
The Big CI Book by Ben Slavic – Although I have not yet read this, Ben’s most recent publication, I have learned much from his previously published instructional manuals. Since this is the most comprehensive and shows in the Table of Contents that it covers all of the essential skills, I recommend this with confidence.
The Basics of TPRS® by Bryce Hedstrom – Shorter than the other resources–and free–this is an excellent quick-reference guide!
TPR Storytelling on Wikipedia – Another good quick-reference guide
TPRS Jargon by Judy Dubois – A great dictionary to look up quick definitions of terms that you come across as you learn more about TPRS®
In addition to reading these manuals, there are many resources available online to learn about individual skills. Here are some helpful links:
Teach to the eyes by Michel Baker (see last three paragraphs in particular)
Teach to the eyes by Scott Benedict of Teach for June (see second page, top-right)
PQA in a wink! by Ben Slavic (Personalization is explained in the first 12 pages, available for free. Then buy the book to learn how!)
Please remember your purpose for reading! It is not yet time for you to study with the goal of learning how to use those skills yourself; at this point, your purpose for study should be purely reflective. Don’t take notes on how to perform these skills; add to the notes from your observation about how you saw the teacher employ these skills and how they affected the learner’s experience. Release yourself from the pressure of reading to learn; instead, read simply to reflect. The pressure will be on soon enough…like in Step 5 😉