My introduction to TPRS

So it was June 2010. I found myself in a three day workshop being taught by Donna Tatum-Johns in St Louis, Missouri in a La Quinta Inn conference room.

I had heard of Teaching Proficiency through Reading and Storytelling (TPRS) before but it was referred to as a 'Guru-method' by a teacher and I dismissed it.

Nevertheless, Donna did a demonstration of TPRS in French and I could not believe how engaging it was to watch.  While we were watching we were also picking up vocabulary in French.  I could not use it as easily as I could listen to it.  But that I came to understand that that is how the brain works anyway.  Our understanding of language is always higher than our ability to produce it.  This was proven to me once when I was backpacking through Costa Rica and I came across some people on vacation from Italy.

I had taken one semester of Italian a few years prior to this experience.  When they were speaking I understood almost everything that they said.  Nevertheless, when I tried to talk to them, everything came out very slowly and was much harder to produce.  Imagine how I felt later when I had to translate on the beach for them to explain how the sea turtle laid eggs!  Yikes!

That helped me realize how easy it is for us to understand without being able to speak something.  Even in our own language, we can usually understand many other people but not reproduce exactly what they say.  This is a fundamental aspect of how we interact with language.

So as a teacher in that workshop, I noticed how the presenter only asked for one word answers about her story.  I found confidence in being able to answer those questions with one word or two words.  I did not have to create full sentences during her story unless she helped me with the construction in the question.  As a result, she helped build my confidence and that of the rest to build the language of French by baby stepping.

Since that workshop, I have dedicated myself to trying to teach each year incorporating elements of TPRS in my classroom.  There will be times where I'll explain things I do and also things that one should do with TPRS as I work through the mess that is my mind on this subject throughout the years!  I might also share my successes (few) and failures (many).

And I prefer to call what I do CI (Comprehensible Input) these days because there isn't always a focus on the stories, but there is always a focus on structures and the kids.