Silly Putty

My stretching of the silly putty that is TPRS has taken many forms over the past few years, as I’m sure is true for all of us. I have tinkered and probed, laughed and gnashed my teeth, dreamed and lay awake at night thinking about the next day’s story, all in my quest to get to deeper levels of the method.

I have explored what it means to authentically personalize a class. I have experimented around with various ways of reading. I have explored the Realm, which, as Regina Oliver and others are proving, is a wonderful if controversial application of the method.

All I can say is that after stretching that silly putty in all sorts of directions, it has bounced back into shape every single time. The three steps are what they are – inspired. I now feel that I shouldn’t stray too far from them. I have challenged them and they have proven themselves.

The more we think we are “adapting” TPRS to our own needs, perhaps we are really unwittingly pulling ourselves away from it. If we were but to do it as it is done by the master teachers, if we could get to that point of mastery, it would serve us beyond our wildest pedagogical dreams, and we would never look back.  

There has been a desire by some to simplify the method, to rename it, to package it in a way that would make it more easily accessible to those who can’t seem to learn it. The thinking by those people, perhaps, is that if it were repackaged, it would work better. I don’t think this is true.

Whether we call it storyasking or storytelling doesn’t matter much, really. Indeed, the only change in terms Susie Gross and I think is needed is to use the term “extended PQA” instead of the confusing and inelegant terms PMS and passive PMS.

It is not the method nor its terminology, but we who need to change. We need to open up our minds to what CI really is. We need to open up our hearts to what P really means. We need to get more into little groups of people working together. We need to take responsibility for our emotional reaction to what TPRS asks us to do. We need to make the internal and emotional changes that allow us to get PQA and stories going in our classes. We need to get off the pity potty that we run to when we blow up in the middle of a story, and look honestly at what we did and what we can learn from that event.  We need to stop saying that the method has failed us and ask how we have failed the method.

Now, if I am in the Realm, I want to keep somewhat closer to the three steps than I had been doing. Anything I do, I don’t want to stray too far from those heavy hitting ideas that lay in them, as they wait every day to help us create great stories if we but focus properly, instead of improperly, on them.

It is really cool to be able to test something as intensely as I have these past few years, pummeling it, beating on it, crying, yelling, falling down, getting in a few good shots, only to have it smile lovingly back and say, “Having fun?”

I have learned that if it ain’t broke I shouldn’t try to fix it. If TPRS is employed in the current form that Blaine and Susie teach at the time of this writing (end 2007), it will not fail any honest teacher.

The three steps work together in a way that I had not seen until now to produce huge gains in acquisition. We all know that the three steps are powerful, elegant tools in teaching language. But there has been in the TPRS community a kind of “let’s tinker with this and that” and “TPRS is always changing” and “I do TPRS but I only do these things and not those things.” Maybe we should not do that.

I am not saying we shouldn’t move forward together – of course we should and we will, those of us who can stand the heat.  But let’s not tinker so much that we overly stress the silly putty. Let’s not lie to ourselves by claiming that there is a different form of TPRS for every teacher out there. Anything tested too severely can fail the person testing it. That would be a great loss to that person.

I am not saying there aren’t great new things to uncover in TPRS – there are, because the method is an ocean. But we must also remember the truth from Beaumarchais – “the more things change, the more they stay the same”.


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