The Realm Simplifies TPRS

When a teacher has a pre-arranged word list and a pre-arranged script they are often too much the teacher, trying to teach something that they think that their students need to know (words, a story), instead of, purely and simply, language.

Pre-arranged word lists and scripts lead the teacher down a certain path, the path of teaching some kind of content. This is highly effective, but creates less space for spontaneity, one of the great attractions of TPRS.

Many TPRS classes spend up to ten or fifteen minutes establishing meaning of certain words only to have those words never appear in the story. This is not bad in itself, because words are being learned, and would not be a problem in a longer class of 83 minute, perhaps. However, when the class is only 53 minutes long, it takes up valuable time which could be used in building a strong and vibrant story, one with depth. When the story is allowed to begin without fetter and to fly immediately, it is stronger.

The Realm makes things so easy for the teacher – they need but start speaking in the target language, first to sum up the events of the day before, and then to continue to the imagined events of the new day. When the teachers does this, they literally don’t know where the story is going, and that is a good thing.

In this space of not knowing where the story is going, there is great openness and power. Some would think this place too vulnerable, but the great power of TPRS is that the skills of slow, circled questioning, and pausing and pointing, coupled with strong classroom discipline and so much already pre-established information., erase any vulnerability.

As long as the interlocuter in any conversation can ask simple, comprehensible questions in a quiet classroom and receive humorous, lighthearted answers, there can be no real vulnerability, only imagined vulnerability.

So there is no need to fear things when no one in the room knows where the story is going. Indeed, such places contain within them and provide the power for the best stories by far. By giving up control, the teacher gains a high degree of control.

In the Realm, the instructor is not shackled with the need to do ANYTHING. New meaningful events effortlessly drive the acquisition of new vocabulary. The vocabulary is relevant to the discussion, and so is retained. The instructor need not try to force the story to go in the direction of any pre-set vocabulary.

Moreover, time is saved, as the instructor doesn’t have to ask the “set up” questions necessary to start regular stories, questions such as: “What is the name of the damsel in the castle?” or “How old is she?”, all such things having been established weeks or months earlier.

In this way, character is developed more freely. Characters don’t just exist for one class period, but become quite familiar to the class. A whole new aspect of personalization is created for individual students – Richard is not just Richard the skateboarder, but Merlin the Magician, and not a faceless middle school student.

So also is plot more developed in the Realm, which perhaps explains in part why the Realm gets such high marks with teachers and students who have used it. Many teachers are quite unaware of the great amount of time lost, when doing stories, in establishing basic information, particularly in classes lasting less than one hour.

The procedural simplicity of the Realm, its deeper creation of personality and plot, as well as its natural pull on the kids’ imaginations, create ever deepening interest. The Realm uncovers entirely new vistas of TPRS.

The Realm differs from traditional TPRS classes in that they begin with clearly pre-defined characters at the start of class. Pre-defined characters are easiest to establish in an ongoing virtual class community like the Realm. A vibrant, running plot with clearly developed characters from previous class periods obviates the need for steps and the confusion that results from trying to do them properly.

When students are in the Realm as active participants from the episode of the day before, the instructor need only grab one or two new identity cards from the extensive pool of candidates for the Realm (process described in PQA in a Wink!) and begin speaking in the target language.

In stories, energy has to be developed and a lot of simple questions asked, because there is confusion about who the characters will be and what the plot will be. In the Realm, however, the story instantly develops – the interest is already so high from previous classes that the instructor need not establish anything.

To gain a perspective on why this is so interesting to the students, the reader is asked to think of any compelling soap or TV series that they may have gotten pulled into – it is the recurring development of meaningful story lines and characters and their interplay over months that makes them so compelling.

In Realm classes, it is possible during the last ten minutes of class to project, using an LCD/laptop, the events in the Realm on that day. By eliminating the need for a separate step three the next day, more time is made available for CI in the Realm.

The advantages of instantly writing and projecting the story line onto the big screen are many:

1. the material, being just freshly created, holds higher interest to the students. 2. the material is personalized to the students in the room, unlike generic stories read the next day, thus boosting interest. 3. since the students are reading about an episode that is being written by the teacher in real time, they learn how to write by watching the teacher write. What they are seeing written means something to them. 4. the teacher can pop up grammatical details while writing. Again, because the students understand the context, the grammar makes sense. 5. since the students are reading chunks of text in the same time frame as it is being asked, instead of waiting a day to decode a story that merely resembles it, they learn to read at a deeper, more meaning-filled level.

Levels of interest in single stories can waver. Some are great, others dull. The teacher has to work hard to make stories interesting, never knowing for certain if they will be. There are so many factors in play that one is never sure exactly what will happen. The first step may go too long. The third may never happen. School activities often interrupt daily scheduling. The teacher has trouble remembering “where she is” in the instructional process, being typically loaded down with five classes.

None of those problems occur in the Realm. When the students are creating what amounts to a daily soap featuring, each day, the same characters, themselves, as characters in the Realm, they always know exactly what is happening. Meaning is established, the episode unfolds verbally and is read all in the same contiguous time frame.

Since students read the story at the end of each class period, content is interesting, personalized, and “alive” to them. They process at a noticeably higher level. This ease of reading brings with it a clear feeling of success.

Example:

If the town fool, wandering around the village at the end of the previous day’s episode, had just gotten into an argument with a duke named Duke over a loaf of bread, this can be used to start the next day’s class:

Classe, le duc a mangé la ficelle et le bouffon avait toujours faim! Class, the duke ate the bread and the fool was still hungry!

It’s like the story from the previous day never ended.

Often, at the beginning of class, I grab from the pool of available Realm characters an artfully done card of a new character and just carry it around during class to remind me to try to get that character into the Realm. When a student sees the instructor holding their card, they are super focused. They want in. Everybody wants to get into an episode of the Realm, some desperately, which is kind of sad.

Whether the motivating factor is the bean bag chair that goes with being a participant in the Realm, or the need to be acknowledged by peers, or just pure love of a good story in a foreign language, it works.

Once that first line has been sufficiently circled, myriad options for the direction of the episode became instantly available, and the story line moves forward effortlessly. There are so many possible scenarios involving so many students, and so many cute answers being suggested. Focus is high.

At the opportune moment two or three times during class, I input the new information into the laptop, and onto the big screen at a font of 16 or 18 to make it easy to read from any part of the room. The students guide me along in the target language with the details.

Letting things unfold naturally in the Realm may be hard for people who need everything they do in class to be organized. However, language that has space for spontaneity is much more interesting than forced language, as is true in life.

At the end of a typical class, the kids walk out talking about what just happened in their class’ episode, while the other class walks in planning their episode. Kids talk about possible episodes at lunch and in the hallway. There is certainly no lack of ideas to get a story going in the Realm. On the contrary, there is often too much energy and too much information. The safest thing to do to combat this is to simply allow the events of the previous day to furnish the content for the new day.

When beginning an episode in the Realm in this way, by jumping right into an existing story line at the start of class, you do not have to try to force or drive the story into any one pre-planned direction. This always gives the story line greater capacity to go into an interesting direction.

After class, the teacher is free to relax, knowing that she doesn’t have to “dig up” a story from somewhere, or choose some specific story for some specific reason like it must contain food vocabulary. Such stories are never as interesting as stories created uniquely from and for the students in a particular class.

The circled questions about the fool soon give rise to a second line of text:

Alors, classe, le bouffon est allé à la boulangerie! So, class, the fool went to the bakery!

Here is a district mandated place name – the word bakery! However, because it was actually suggested by the class, and emerged as a chunk of knowledge with words around it, it carried greater meaning to the kids.

When the kids are focused on the message and not the individual words, they learn the language. That the word was supplied by a kid, and not the school district, gave the word a much greater chance of being authentically acquired. This is another way we personalize the TPRS classroom – we listen to what the kids say.

And now the story about the fool effortlessly progresses because the input is not only comprehensible but also meaningful. Now in the Realm, there is no pressure of any kind. The instructor is free to not do everything perfectly. As long as comprehensible language is being provided to the students, the pressure is off. The instructor can just teach.

By absorbing steps one and three of TPRS into one contiguous class period, episodes in the Realm become stepless, thus more organic and whole. Instead of consisting of pieces, class is just one thing, and thus simpler. There is no need to plan which days to do what, how to choose and get a story going, which words to teach, which part of planning period to write out five stories for the next day’s reading, etc.

PQA is a natural part, an organically interwoven part, of class discussion in the Realm, and occurs whenever the instructor chooses to ask a Realm character a question about how many cats they have, or what kind of house they live in, etc.

PQA is more interesting in the Realm – even simple questions like how many cats a knight has at home are more interesting. Students would much rather do PQA with the instructor about their life as a knight in the Realm than as a student at school.

Precisely because they are not connected to complexity of any kind, virtual communities like the Realm are easy to do, and can build the confidence of people new to the method.

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