Friday, April 29, 2016

One Step at a Time

Over the past few weeks, I have had a number of informal discussions with teachers who have tried CI/TPRS this past year but have abandoned it. In these discussions, I just wanted to hear what they had to say, so I simply listened and asked questions. I was not interested in trying to win them over back to CI/TPRS or to fix the problem, because that is not what they wanted. These folks simply wanted to be heard.

In each of the cases, these teachers truly wanted to implement CI/TPRS. They all had attended CI/TPRS workshops, so they had seen it in action. At the beginning of the school year, they began to use CI/TPRS, and things went very well...for awhile. The honeymoon, however, wore off, and trying to keep up the momentum became more of an effort. Essentially, they had no idea where they were going after a few months. When I heard all of this, I could totally relate, because when I first learned TPRS years ago, I went full bore with it, only to burn out after 6 weeks. Quite honestly, I was ready to give it up completely, but I had seen a change in my students' acquisition of the language but more importantly, students began to ask me how come we were no longer "doing the stories about students in the class." That is the reason why I decided to try out TPRS again the following year; that year, I lasted 9 weeks. By my third year, I had a much better and realistic idea about what to expect.

These discussions got me thinking: Why is that so many teachers who in good faith and with the best of intentions and enthusisam try out CI/TPRS but leave it behind to return back to their previous methods? Here are my reasons:
  1. Trying to do too much too quickly. I liken one's first year of teaching CI/TPRS to one's first year ever of teaching: it is all so new, and there is so much to learn. In their zeal, so many first-year CI/TPRS teachers try to take on too much right away, and suddenly, it becomes way too overwhelming, because no true foundation has been established.
  2. Feeling like one has to go "all in" or else. For a number of reasons, I hate hearing folks say "If you really cared about your students and truly understood what true second language acquisition was all about, then you would jump on board with CI." Number one, that statement is incredibly arrogant and employs shame to get folks into facilitating CI, but more importantly, it gives the impression that there is no middle ground/transition for new CI/TPRS teachers. There are certain CI/TPRS teachers whom I will deliberately avoid in person or online purely because they come across as intolerant of anyone who supports traditional methodology or textbooks. Although I can understand their zeal, essentially I find them very negative, because there is no middle ground or transition in their worldview. 
  3. Doing it for the wrong reasons. I have seen teachers jump on the CI/TPRS bandwagon, because it is trendy. When a new trend, however, comes about, they abandon CI/TPRS. 
  4. Lack of support. The reason why most professional developments fail is because there is no adequate follow-up or support. Speakers come in and then go. At most inservices, information is cast out among teachers, but the net is never pulled in to see who is interested and wants to explore it further with support. Instead, interested teachers are left to operate on their own with this information, which usually results in frustration and abandonment. So imagine a world language teacher embarking on CI/TPRS on his/her own for the first time. Though he/she may have blogs and online communities to rely on for support, these cannot compare to a live, in-person CI/TPRS support group. This is why instructional coaches can play such an important role in the school environment.  
So if you are new to CI/TPRS or are wanting to implement it but are still hesitant, here is my single piece of advice for you: continue what you are doing but take one or two CI/TPRS strategies, and run with it. Do not feel like you have to abandon the textbook right away. Pick a strategy such as circling or an embedded reading to do with your students. If you can Ask a Story, then do it. Implement an activity like TPR, One Word Picture, Stultus, or a dictation. Have your students do a Ping Pong/Volleyball reading. There is no rush to get it all right the first time. When you feel up to it, incorporate a new activity or strategy to add to your routine. The idea is to build up your CI/TPRS muscles one step at a time. Think of it like stretching a rubber band: in the beginning, you may only be able to stretch a rubber band so far, but after awhile, you realize that you can stretch it further. 

I hope that many of you who have fallen off the CI/TPRS bandwagon will one day get back on!


  1. Thank you. What I so love about your blog is that you are so very real about the challenges, so open about where you are in this process, and so accepting of where others are on their own journeys. You help me find specific ways to improve classroom instruction & accessibility. I signed up for a TPRS conference this summer because of your gentle prodding and leading by example. Thank you for sharing with such thought and compassion.

    1. You are too kind in your compliments. I actually feel like I am still learning how to be a CI/TPRS teacher! I am glad to hear that you have signed up for a TPRS conference - for which one have you signed up? If you will be attending IFLT, I'll be there both as an apprentice coach and as a presenter, so please say hello. I am certain that you will learn so much at your conference!

  2. Thanks for your post!

    I think another big turn-off for people as well can be trying to make a change that TPRS/CI asks for in their teaching and other department members not seeing the value in that activity as much. At the end of the day, we want to help our kids be/feel successful and if we aren't preparing them for another level, that can leave us with feelings of inadequacy, don't you think? ;-)

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  4. Great counsel, Keith, especially now at the beginning of the year, especially since there are now so many many more Latin teachers interested in trying CI.