Hobby Horses

Q. What do you say to those who think that TPRS is about kids running around in the room, pretending to be animals, turning classrooms into a kind of “romper room” scene?

A. Some of our detractors think that storytelling means riding a hobby horse in class with our kids, acting like kids, everyone on a hobby horse, the only difference being that the teacher’s hobby horse is a little higher up in the air than those of the kids. That is ridiculous.

We are the adults in the room. We are the carriers of the language. We carry an innovative language delivery system, TPRS. If the delivery system had proven that snorting at the kids produced acquisition, we would use it. If the research said that standing on our heads and spitting wooden nickels provided the best language gains, we would use it.

But, the last time I checked, Krashen didn’t talk about snorting or spitting wooden nickels. He just talked about language that was interesting to the kids. He said that if language is meaningful to the kids, they would learn it.

Then Blaine and Susie said, “Well, let’s talk about the kids! That might be interesting to them.” And now all of us are riding a torpedo, skimming silently through the water, aimed dead on at the battleship that is the old way of teaching languages, waiting to time our jump off of the torpedo at just the right moment to save ourselves, float to the top of the water, and watch that ship blow up.

It will blow up, or, if TPRS hadn’t have been invented, it would have imploded on itself, because it is based on the idea that the teacher, or the language, is the center of things, which is a false idea.  The new paradigm is that the student is at the center of things.

The students get to ride their hobby horses and play in a fountain of beautiful language as they revel in the creation of their stories, and we, the teachers, the adults, need simply ask the questions, but questions that appeal to the right brain, not the left brain, of our students, and therein lies all the difference of how TPRS produces authentic acquisition kids vs. the old ways.

Our children are actually interested and part of what we are talking about! The best classes always occur when we fully engage in and enjoy our students. Period.

We would do well to think very seriously about that part of our work with these kids, the “engaging them” part.  If we believe that the best classes always occur as a result of careful planning, with the focus on the lesson plan, in our cases as storytelling teachers the story, we are wrong.

When we focus on the kids and teach at their speed, doing so on a heart level and not a purely mind level, the kids acquire the language.

The greatness of teaching lies in the laughter and spontaneous enjoyment of our kids. It does not lie in the subject matter. Ironically, when we have the former, we have much greater success in the latter.

We have such a heavy responsibility here – we must show up as adults every day with not just the method, TPRS, but also with our minds fully open to the kids around us, to what they say and think. We need more than TPRS, we need an open heart. An open mind is not enough. To get the academic gains, we need an open heart as well.

Eric Jensen, in his book Joyful Fluency, said:

“…humans are designed to learn complex languages effortlessly. The reality is, therefore, that language fluency ought to be a joyful process.”

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