Richard asked, “Aren’t there ‘predictable obstacles’ or challenges that most of us are likely to encounter along our way toward using TPRS primarily in class?”
This (again) is a wonderful question…and this post is just a compilation of my thoughts and observations. What are the challenges/obstacles for teachers who begin to teach with TPRS?
1. Fear of the unknown.
Will it work? What will work? How do I know it’s working? What do I do if..? What do I do when…? The list of worries is …well, unending. Without experience we are walking on faith (or hope) alone. That is not easy to do. It takes courage.
The best way to handle this is to watch other teachers whenever possible: conferences, demos, in person, via Skype, on Youtube. And watch the students. Watch them closely. When we are teaching this way, we are constantly reacting to our students….so pay attention to the students when you observe, not just the teacher.
This will give us more of an idea of what to expect from our own students…and what to ask for from them as well.
2. Not knowing how to prepare students to be successful.
Trainers and presenters have SO much to share about preparing to teach with TPRS, and usually not nearly enough time to do it. Unfortunately, we often do not show teachers how to prepare the students for this new approach. Here are some past posts that might help teachers to do that:
Rules and Expectations Part 1
Rules and Expectations Part 2
Rules and Expectations During A Lesson
R and E: Trust and the Rules
When Students Are Lost
3. Trying to be someone else (and forgetting all of the wonderful things we already bring to the classroom)
When teachers want to change their actions in the classroom, they often want to emulate the teachers/presenters they have seen. This is a GREAT way to start, but please don’t forget that you are your students’ already amazing educator. When we try to “be” ___________ (insert your favorite presenter here) we set ourselves up for failure.
Your students don’t want Blaine, Jason, Carol, or anyone else to be their teacher. They want you. They know you. You will be there every day for them. Bring yourself first. Then add the actions, expressions, motions, ideas of your mentors.
If you aren’t sure how to incorporate your teaching personality, ask someone in your TPRS/TCI community about the teachers/presenters that they have seen. There is no “perfect” personality for this job. You can be loud or soft-spoken, high energy or completely chill, left-brained or right-brained, organized or impetuous, stand-up-comedy funny or steady and serious. Really. I promise!! The steps will be the same…and you get to be you!!
4. Biting off more than we can chew.
There are many teachers who ‘jumped in with both feet” to this way of teaching. “I threw out all of the textbooks!” “I decided never to go back to my old ways again!” “I ordered class sets of all of the novels and started the next day!” Teachers tell me this all the time.
But I meet just as many teachers who say: “I tried it but it was too overwhelming.” “I spent hours scripting stories.’ “It was so exhausting.’ “I have 5 preps, I just couldn’t do it.” “I was great for a week, but then the kids and I lost interest. I didn’t know what to do next.”
My suggestion is to start small and start slowly. We set our students up for success. We need to set ourselves up for success as well. Some ways to start slowly:
a. Only incorporate circling. Practice using a variety of questions and responding to students’ answers.
b. Have a conversation with students about a picture. Ask a lot of questions using the circling techniques and practice getting choral responses and individual responses.
c. Ask a story that they already know well in English (but ask in the Target Language!) Does Cinderella or Goldilocks dance with the Prince?
d. Use a story script. ‘Ask” a story for 5-10 minutes and then stop. Don’t worry if the story isn’t finished!
e. Try a Movie Talk. The video clip will provide instant structure, comprehensiblity, and interest!
5. Trying to do it all alone.
It’s not hard to do, but it is hard to do alone. I really meant what I said about connecting with a colleague or a community of support. Talk with other people. Let them share with you. Share with them.
6. Not being able to let things go.
There is a lot to let go of. Along the way we will begin to let go of our fears and insecurities, our old lessons, our imperfections, our former expectations, our need to control stories, our desire to wax poetic over grammar topics, our beloved projects, our bell-curve practices, so much of our former teaching selves. When we hold on too tight to these things, we fail to make room for our newer selves and a new, exciting experience for our students.
How do we learn to let go? We practice embracing the unknown. We prepare our students for their new role (and ours). We remember that we are not letting go of our true selves. We let go a little at a time, and we let in new experiences a little at a time. We share our worries and our successes with others. And we relax. And it happens.