As a former legacy teacher of Spanish (fully converted to TPRS/CI now) I used to work hard to sell my class to my students. I talked about the benefits of learning a language for entering the job market (and followed it up with clips from Shark Tank and salaries from local companies looking to hire Spanish speakers). I met with my students before and after school and at lunch to help them pass the fast paced textbook we had to complete. I had fun with my students, and know that they trusted me and enjoyed my class (in spite of the sometimes boring and challenging work we had to do).
Inspite of what seems like an expected level of success I didn't feel satisfied. While I did convince many students to keep taking Spanish after their requirements were met, many still struggled and would only complete enough to graduate high school (and some just barely). Average scores on End of Year exams were in the 70s (common across the grade level). As a student of the old method, this seemed normal to me from my days in school, and I would smile and nod when parents would talk about not remembering a word of "Spanish/French/German" from their high school days. Secretly (though I guess not so secretly now since I am blogging about it) I even felt jealous that Science, Gym, and Woodshop were always listed as kids favorite classes on the student of the month board. I wanted something more in my teaching, but didn't see how to get to it (or even know that it was there). I wanted language that was both fun to learn, and accessible to everyone.
Enter my first training with the great Blaine Ray. It was a short one day training in my district, never had I been so inspired by a PD before. I laughed almost the entire time, and remembered far more German in a one-day training than I had after a summer spent trudging through Rosetta Stone (which became boring to me, after the initial novelty had worn off). That very weekend I sat down to write my first story for the class (no it's not required that you write your own stories especially to start, but I like to dive in); it took me nearly 2.5 hours to write one 15 minute story. I don't say this to scare you off if you are new. The stories get MUCH easier with practice. You can read abouy my experience, and my advice for beginners here if you are new to TPRS/CI.
After practicing a bit with TPRS/CI in my classroom I attended a longer 3-day workshop with Blaine Ray, followed by an advanced 3-day workshop the following year with Craig Sheehy. In each workshop I grew confident in my skills both as a teacher and as a speaker of Spanish. Since then I've also attended IFLT and CiMidwest (and am planning to attend MittenCI in April).
Working closely with TPRS/CI has been an eye-opener for me, and one of the most EXCITING things I've realized is that learning a langauge is for EVERYONE. When students struggled in the past in a language I would follow my legacy teacher route for improvement. I'd contact home, advise parents to have their student study more, meet with the student before and after school for extra grammar practice, etc. Even with all this extra help I often felt I was just able to teach these students barely enough to pass the test. And of course, all the students would promptly forget what they had learned after the test. That is until TPRS/CI and neurology opened my eyes. Instead of thinking of the information I needed to cover for upcoming tests, I started thinking about the language journey of each child as a whole. Having my own young speakers at home (2, 4, and 6) also has allowed me to study the langauge acquisition progress up close and personal. Much like my students, each of my children learned to speak at their own pace. Never was there a need to study flash cards, or grammar to make progress with their learning. In fact, I can guaranty my children would not humor grammar lessons. My youngest can barely stand to wait 30 second for his birthday cake (as pictured above); can you imagine the volume of screams that would echo throughout my house if I tried to make him study grammar (I can, and believe me, it isn't pretty)?! What is more, when we communicate with each other, we aren't thinking about how to modify nouns or conjugate verbs. We just speak, and this is how we should teach languages too. We talk about the same thing every day, sometimes for days on end, but we do it in fun ways, in silly ways, in active ways, in compelling ways; and my children begin to speak.
At CiMidwest, Justin Slocum Bailey said, "the odds of everyone in the room being able to acquire the same target at the same time are 0." This stuck with me, we need to tier language teachings so all of our students, slow processors, fast processors, and all those in between, acquire what we are teaching.
It is this simple, yet profound aspect of TPRS/CI that makes studying a language really for everyone. Instead of following my legacy teacher route for improvement with my lowest students, I decided to stick to methods that held TPRS/CI as their core tennent. Instead of having these students drill with flashcards, I made sure to add something personal to each story that connected to them. It didnt matter if it was something as simple as the choosing the color hair the shark in the story has, to making their favorite stuffed animal in the class a character in the story, I always try to make sure something is extra compelling to these students. I also make sure to ask some questions I know they can answer in each class (even if the questions seem shockingly easy), and I give them a chance to answer them. When possible I also try to have a personal joke or phrase I use with each student (my artist, my helper, my minecraft expert) etc. This in addition to tiering material has been my main intervention for these students. Very rarely have I had parents concerned with progress, but when I did I referred them to a blog I wrote about watching cartoons in the language, listening to music, and playing on Textivate and Duolingo. Parents of fast processors are happy too as I try to ask a variety of levelled questions for all learners during class.
Just like that everything has changed. Students that would barely look up in class, now raise their hands eagerly. I know in my previous incarnation as a legacy teacher these kids would not have done well. I would have been able to get them through the tests, I would have thought that learning a langauge was not for them. I would have been so wrong.
These kids now eagerly raise their hand, they answer advanced questions in complete sentences, they love coming to class. They are communicating in a new language, building relationships with their peers, building confidence, and building future ready skills, all while having fun. Thank you TPRS/CI, I wouldn't have been able to do it without you!
Entering my 13th year in the classroom; I am a TPRS/CI Elementary Spanish Teacher. Passionate about TPRS/CI, Brain based learning, and using technology to bring the world to our students, and our students to the world.