I have returned from my first NTPRS (National Teaching Proficiency through Reading and Storytelling) Conference in Chicago. I had a wonderful experience, and whew, my brain is absolutely full from everything which I learned.
Quite honestly, I was kind of tentative about attending NTPRS, because although I use TPRS in my classroom, it is not my primary CI method of teaching, as I implement many other CI strategies/techniques as well; folks had cautioned me that NTPRS was directed specifically at TPRS and not other CI strategies. I had wanted to attend the iFLT Conference in Denver the week before, but it conflicted with SALVI's Pedagogy Rusticatio which I was attending, so I decided to attend NTPRS and to glean whatever I could for my TPRS usage. Wow, was I wrong! Yes, TPRS strategies were addressed, but that seemed to be only a part of the entire conference, as CI was the overall theme.
Now going into the conference, I had felt that I already possessed a pretty good knowledge about teaching CI, but gosh, this was like a full-week of graduate school on CI. I have a MUCH fuller and deeper view now on CI and how to use it more effectively in my classes.
What I enjoyed most was how friendly everyone was but more importantly that I was with other world language teachers who shared the SAME pedagogical view as I did. I did not have to defend my use of CI/TPRS to anyone, because all of us were on the same page! I could openly discuss what I was doing in my classroom, ask others how to do something specific and encourage folks who were just beginning to use CI/TPRS.
I was surprised by how well run the conference was. Participants pre-self rated themselves based on their familiarity/usage of TPRS, so there were three tracks: Beginner, Intermediate and Advanced - I was on the Advanced track. For the first three days, the morning/afternoon sessions were dedicated to one's particular track, and participants had the chance to learn and to be coached according to their levels. Following that, there were elective sessions which folks could attend based on specific CI topics. I will address much of what I learned in later posts, but here are the basics:
- Learning Japanese with Betsy Paskvan - My first day's morning/afternoon sessions were with Betsy, where she taught us Japanese using only CI. Because I am of Japanese descent, I think that most folks in my group (and the instructor too) thought that I already knew Japanese or at least some other Asian language, but the the truth is besides English, I can only speak Latin - I know absolutely no Japanese. In the beginning of Betsy's session, I was lost, because Japanese is such a technically specific language (Latin seems like a cakewalk compared to Japanese), and it took me awhile to get accustomed to the sounds of Japanese, but Betsy patiently brought us along slowly through LOTS of repetitions and of meaningful interactions with the language through listening, questioning and reading. Suddenly, somehow, during those 5 hours, it began to all click and by the end, I was able to speak Japanese (albeit it was limited) and to read/write Japanese (using English letters). It has been 5 days since I had that session, and I have still retained ALL of that Japanese, which I acquired subconsciously through CI. Because I got to experience learning another language via CI, now I know how my own students must feel and just how important it is that I implement these CI strategies both to aid in language acquisition and to keep the affective filter low. I want to move to Alaska so that i can learn more Japanese from Betsy!
- Session with Blaine and Von Ray - Wow, what could be better than 5 hours with the developer of TPRS and his son? Too much to discuss, so I'll leave that for a future post, but I have definitely added a lot more to my TPRS arsenal.
- Embedded Reading - I attended two elective sessions on Embedded Reading led by Laurie Clarcq and Michelle Whaley, the developers of this CI strategy. When I entered their first session, Laurie saw my nametag and immediately said to me, "Keith Toda, can I have permission to use your blog post about embedded reading on my website?" I was absolutely floored that Laurie even knew who I was; that she knew I had a blog post about embedded reading, which I had just written last week; and that she wanted to use it as a link on her blog! I was on Cloud Nine after that! Anyhow, I can listen to Laurie and Michelle present on embedded readings for hours, because first off, they are a hoot to see present in person but more importantly, this strategy addresses so many issues. Even Blaine Ray is a huge believer now in embedded readings! I do not know why English/Language Arts teachers do not use this strategy, since it addresses literacy.
- Research on TPRS - This was an important session to me, because as data now drives our schools, we as CI/TPRS need actual statistical results to validate our methodology; anecdotal evidence (such as student enthusiasm, fewer failures and higher student retention in the upper levels) is nice but that does not prove anything big picture. The presenter, who is a professor at North Indiana University, presented current statistical research which compared results of TPRS students vs. traditional-methods students on standardized language tests and how the TPRS students fared much better. Although this presenter only focused on TPRS and not on other CI strategies, the statistical data showed that this form of CI truly had an impact on learning.
- Reading Strategies with Carol Gaab - Wow, this 5-hour session alone was worth the price of the entire conference. I cannot put into words what I learned from Carol, because she gave us all such a incredible treasure trove of CI reading strategies/techniques and presented it all with an incredible amount of energy, humor and humility. Carol had me fully engaged during those 5 hours. She gave us reading strategies using excerpts from her CI-based novel Brandon Brown Wants a Dog (which is actually written in Spanish), and now I want to learn Spanish, purely so that I can read that book - I have a bunch of theories about the plot and how it ends, but since I do not know enough Spanish, I cannot read it! Most importantly, Carol imparted the following gem of CI wisdom which has now become one of my CI mantras:
The brain craves NOVELTY - Comprehension/circling questions can get old REALLY fast for you and your students, so change it up with a new activity every two minutes or every 4th question
At the exhibitors' tables, all of the CI materials/readers were geared towards the modern languages - absolutely nothing for Latin. When I asked an exhibitor if there were future plans for any Latin materials, the person said, "Even if we were to publish readers in Latin, there just aren't enough Latin teachers out there using TPRS to make it cost effective." Well, buddy, maybe it is time for me to write some original TPRS readers in Latin and sell them myself!
So I write this not out of bitterness but more to say "Watch out, NTPRS. I plan to return next summer with a number of Latin teachers hungry for CI in tow, and we will make our presence known!" I really want there to be a Brandonus Fuscus Canem Vult novel! Any other Latin teachers want to join me next year ?