Archive for October, 2007

The 50% Rule…

October 18, 2007


I am convinced that if we plan too much, we lose. Isn’t that the whole thing about TPRS?

Very little in Blaine’s model jives with the old model. The old model offers a controlled, planned, fragmented approach to classes. Blaine’s model says, “Let’s explore new vistas in whole language! Let’s see what we can create together! Let’s work together and communicate fun ideas that carry meaning to each other!”

This idea of working cooperatively with students to create entertaining language, which is what TPRS is, made me think of a guideline we could call the “50% Rule”. I use it every day now. What is the 50% Rule?

It states that if the instructor is not holding the students 50% responsible for the success of the class, then the class cannot work. In my recent efforts to fully understand and define classroom discipline in the TPRS classroom, I have come to realize that few teachers actually hold their students responsible for much of anything, taking way too much on themselves. Of course, this is typical of most teachers. They think they are the only ones who can make the learning happen. But that in my view is the old model of what a teacher is.

In Blaine’s new model, the kids get involved to a very strong degree. Not only must they listen with the intent to understand (which creates instant classroom discipline all by itself), but they must help co-create the story. Contrast that with the old model, where the teacher is the center of everything

Can it be that TPRS doesn’t work for a lot of people because they are applying old ideas to a new model? Blaine’s new model simply doesn’t work with all the old ideas about how students interact with teachers in foreign language classrooms. It is an entirely new paradigm.

And the new paradigm is not an option for any teacher. The coming changes in foreign language education can be summed up in one sentence – teach for auditory competence – and those changes are not optional.

Districts are hip to what has been going on now. In my district, we are writing pacing guides around the standard of listening that is driving people who are tied to the book nuts.  Now, we all must teach our kids in an auditory way. It is required, so that our kids will have the skill in the workplace that they will need in the coming economy. If we can’t do that we need to get out of the profession.

I made a big poster for my classroom and just put it up today. It says:




The first sentence is clear. It tells the student to “be visible” (sit up, clear eyes, squared shoulders). The second sentence tells the kids that they can’t just blurt out cute answers all at once – they have to listen to each answer one at a time so I can select the one that I like best and that will best help the story. I point to that poster often, whenever they forget, which they do because they are children and must be reminded.

Exactly what does the 50% Rule require the teacher to do? Here are just a few ideas. Some jobs of the teacher in the TPRS classroom are:

  • to ask good quality circled questions.

  • to convey a sense of happiness, of lightness. In my opinion, a lot of Joe’s genius lies in this quality of fun that he naturally brings to his students. No kid wants to offer cute ideas to a grump (teachers seem to become grumps when they think that what they are teaching is more important than whom they are teaching.)
  • to back off on all the planning. How is a good story going to fly if all the creativity is limited to the teacher? The last thing kids want to hear is a one man band kind of teacher.
  • to assure personalization, which is necessary for TPRS to work.
  • to enforce the no English rules.
  • to make sure the kids know their responsibilities.

What are the kids’ responsibilities in the TPRS classroom? Here are just a few ideas I can think of. Some jobs of the student in the TPRS classroom are:

  • to speak English only as per certain rules. I have mine that work for me, but each teacher must have some clear way of enforcing rules about English. Kids need to be told.
  • to sit up, squared shoulders, clear eyes.
  • to suggest cute answers.
  • to listen with the intention to understand.
  • to be visible and conscious.
  • to make sure that the instructor knows if and when they don’t understand.

To me, when both the teacher and the kids do their 50%, a TPRS class can work. Again, the old model where everyone just fakes listening to the teacher and only the 4%ers participate, contrasts so starkly with Blaine’s model, where everybody participates. Walk into any classroom where TPRS is working and it becomes instantly clear that the old method cannot survive. Soon the old model will only survive in the minds of those who still think that they ought to teach in the same way that they were taught.

There are many young teachers out there who are getting into TPRS in a big way. Maybe it is through them that that the TPRS tsunami will come. My colleague Amy Catania ( was in Rochester, NY for a professional meeting a few weeks ago. She told me this:

“The weird thing at that Rochester conference was how you could spot the TPRS friendlies from a mile away. There was a crew of youngish hip NYC types that came on by and just ate it up. They were all over our books and ready to slam the grammarians big time. They even scammed me a boxed lunch the last day and brought it by for me. Neighboring tables were very impressed.”

I just love that quote. Maybe new, young, people who have vision will be able to do what we have not done so far in TPRS – create a tsunami. They can make it happen, because they don’t have the dust and rocks in their head from being taught in a certain way. One thing that helps me get the dust and rocks out of my head is the 50% Rule.