Jun 27, 2010

TPRS in a non TPRS department

TPRS in a non-TPRS department

There are 9 teachers in my department. I am the only teacher who is trying to use TPRS. I have taken a softer, gentler approach this year. Meaning, I have not advertised my use of TPRS, nor have I chastised the other teachers for using the methods they do. Instead, I have sought to find places and times where what I believe can be shared in an open way. For instance, I shared a participation rubric that Ben Slavic posted on his blog. I have shared strategies for reading skills.

I discovered that in my case, it is not that my department is anti-TPRS, it’s that the bureaucracy of the district I teach in requires a high degree of lock-step teaching. We are expected, district wide, to be on the same chapter as every other teacher within a few days.

It is also a lack of familiarity. When I have made comments, such as referencing the top 100 words used in spoken Spanish, or that “even stupid kids growing up in Spain learn to speak Spanish” that my ideas are listened to. I even brought up the topic of homework not having an impact on learning. One of the teachers decided to try an experiment with her students – and she is the most traditional teacher in the group. Not everybody agrees with me, but that’s ok. I didn’t become a teacher to have everybody agree with me. It’s enough that we can all listen to each other with respect.

Now, I don’t share everything. In part because TPRS sounds so fuzzy and not well prepared if you don’t SEE it. I mean, telling other teachers that you aren’t too worried about grammar just rings all sorts of alarms. And it isn’t even true. But, it’s hard to put into concise words what we do. So, mainly I share in small bits and pieces.

Towards the end of the year I gave up and taught the old way. The kids had to have a certain amount of information in order to be able to pass the standardized exam, and I didn’t have enough time to cover it all in a traditional TPRS manner (we lost 11 instructional days this year to snow just for starters) and the amount of vocab and grammar just cannot be acquired in that time. So, I used all the time-worn strategies of language teachers everywhere. A lot more of my students failed the second semester than the first, and my exam grades were consistent with first semester grades.

Sooo... now that I am on break I am plannning to use Backwards Designing to map out my own personal TPRS curriculum that aligns with the district pacing guide by semesters next year. There is a rumor that we might be able to keep our students for the whole year, which would ease some of the stress too. I would have a whole year to get students to where they “belong.”


  1. What do you consider the top 100 words in spoken Spanish? Do you have a list of these available?

    Thanks for the info!

  2. The list I use is found in the Book Fluency Through TPR Storytelling fifth edition by Blaine Ray and Contee Seely. The list was adapted from A Frequency Dictionary of Spanish by Davies.

  3. Thanks for the post! I'm starting my first year as a TPRS teacher in a non-TPRS district. The part I fear the most, is that the rest of my department/administration won't understand. You have shown me, however, that I can take a quieter approach and just share little bits. Keep us updated how your backwards planning goes, as I have thought about doing that myself!


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