Saturday, February 1, 2014

TPRS - A New Way of Learning

For this post, I mainly wanted to give a shout out to my boss and principal of St. Christopher's Episcopal Institute, Patricia de Lewis.
In 1990, a Spanish teacher from California named Blaine Ray invented a new method for teaching foreign languages called TPRS - Teaching Proficiency through Reading and Storytelling. TPRS lessons use a mixture of reading and storytelling to help students learn a foreign language (English, in this case) in a classroom setting. 
Without boring you to death with all the details and technicalities of TPRS, it basically means that students are able to learn a new language in a more interactive and interesting way. It's actually a brilliant idea if you think about it. When we were born, we didn't learn our native language by taking grammar classes, learning to conjugate verbs, and memorizing vocabulary words. We learned to speak our native language by listening - whether it was listening to our parents, our siblings, or whoever was talking. Once we were able to talk, THEN we were taught to read and write. And this is exactly what TPRS is proposing. This method allows students to be able to communicate and express themselves first, and afterwards they will be taught grammar.

But back to Patricia. Patricia has attended several TPRS conferences, and believes that this method is so effective that she decided to write her own TPRS textbook to be used and implemented into English classes at Saint Christopher's. After she wrote one textbook, she decided to write 7 more. She has written a textbook for levels Pre-K, Kindergarten, and grades 1-6. She has officially finished writing all of the books, and is in the process of editing and fixing last-minute details.

I have been lucky enough to help her with the final round of editing. Basically, I'm correcting and editing minor grammatical details and making sure everything is fit to print.  All I have to say, to all the editors and translators out there, is WOW! This is not an easy job by any means. It is the most meticulous and tedious job I have ever had to complete. As much as it is the "final round" of editing, I have had to read each book two or three times to make sure everything is completely correct. It's very easy to skip over a mistake and I have never been someone who notices minor details, so it's been quite the challenge!

A picture of a couple of the textbooks
That being said, I can't even imagine writing a textbook, much less 8 textbooks! I am in awe and very impressed by Patricia's work ethic, seeing as she balanced writing all 8 textbooks while still being the principal (a super stressful job, as I have observed). Very inspiring!

Without trying to sound like a commercial promoting TPRS, I am a huge supporter of this method considering I have also had to go through the process of learning a second language. I have taken several Spanish classes, and I remember that at least the first three or four levels of Spanish that I took focused on grammar, reading, and writing. By the time I was in my first year of college or so, I could fluently read and write Spanish. This was really great - I'm not saying I regret this in any way. But notice that I'm not saying I could speak Spanish. 

I loved Spanish so much that I decided to study abroad in Argentina during my junior year. Before I studied abroad, I had taken "conversational" Spanish classes, and felt confident that I could speak Spanish. Absolutely not the case. I will never forget the first few weeks in Argentina. I would end up in a situation where I would have to speak Spanish very quickly (on the bus, in a taxi, if I got lost, or any random situation) and all I could think about was how to conjugate words correctly. It was the most horrifying thing actually. I would be completely speechless and helpless in front of a stranger, which is basically the worst thing I could've done as a foreigner. Not to mention super awkward. Sometimes I would just be stuck staring at someone and all I could think about was how to say burrito and other food-associated words. I obviously knew an entire vocabulary of other words, but it's surprising how brain-dead you can go under pressure.

The point is, I couldn't actually speak Spanish because I had never been immersed by the language, much less speak it for more than a 5 minute speech (that was rehearsed) or a 2 minute conversation with a partner. I'm not saying that if I had taken classes that used TPRS, I would be completely fluent. Nor am I saying that TPRS is the most efficient and absolute best way to learn a foreign language. I'm not nearly educated enough on the methods of teaching foreign languages to make the call on what is best. However, I do think it's a really cool and effective method that could be very helpful, so I'm excited that it's being implemented in the school system. If you want to know more about it, you can look at TPRS's website!

In completely unrelated news, I forgot to tell y'all that I chaperoned at prom and I also got to attend graduation. This took place 2 months ago, so I'm clearly staying on top of my blogging. But, I believe I have written enough, so I'll let the pictures do the talking:

Co-workers before graduation!

The Boss!

A great photobomb

9th grade graduate!

10th grade student!

All of the 12th grade graduates got a shout out on the big screen. The coolest part was that the top 3 students of the class had to give speeches -but it's not that simple. The student that ranked #3 gave his speech in French, #2 gave her speech in English, and #1 gave her speech in Spanish (students most graduate with fluency in English and proficiency in French)

At prom with one of my 9th grade students!
Sorry for the super late update! I promise I'll try to keep it more current.

Thanks for reading!