Jul 8, 2010

On Going S-L-O-W in a GT class

The point was made that if I slow down my delivery to the point that even the slowest student in my class can understand, then I am hampering all of my other students. Is that really fair for me to do, especially considering I am trained in teaching GT students and am working towards my master’s in GT education?

Yes, it is. Because the underlying assumption is that if I slow down my delivery there is nothing left for the advanced students. But therein lies the beauty of TPRS. In any traditional class, during the direct instruction all the students are learning exactly the same information at the same time. Or at least, they are being exposed to the same information. The students at the top of the curve have already mastered the material, and they are now bored. The students at the bottom of the curve aren’t ready for it and they react by looking bored or uninterested. But really, they are just overwhelmed.

In a TPRS class, however, this is not true. Although the teacher is standing in the front of the room talking (sometimes), this is not direct instruction in the way we have always envisioned it. The teacher is leading a group into a collective effort, but each student is focused specifically on the information that is new to him/her. Slower processing students are focused solely on the words and trying to construct meaning. Faster processing students are focused on the underlying grammar behind the words, and how to construct meaning. Faster processing students are honored because they are often the students who can think of clever new scenarios in the stories the class is creating.

There have been a few studies that have shown that mixed level TPRS classes have been the most effective. I know that Michelle Whaley has posted about the results of her mixed level Russian classes on Ben Slavic’s blog, and Blaine Ray has referenced another teacher who had astounding results with her levels I-IV in the same class. When the vocabulary and the speed were not an issue, students could truly acquire some of the more subtle parts of the language. These kids often nail grammatical points that usually stick out as the immediate flag that a person is not a native speaker (in Spanish the use of the subjunctive, por and para, ser and estar) and they do this because “it sounds right” and because the many pop-up grammar lessons infused throughout every class stick.

As a teacher, I can pop-up anything I feel my students need to work on. So, for my slower students I pop-up, “Why did I put an –n at the end of that verb?” (It’s plural) and for my students who are beyond that I will point out that although this is an –ar verb, it ended in an –en, why is that? (It’s a plural command)

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