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As a Dutch ESL teacher I was searching for a new way to teach fluency (speech), a skill not covered in abundance in most secondary school methods here in Holland. The title of the book “Fluency through TPR Storytelling” caught my attention as I saw my interest in stories combined with learning how to speak a language. As with my review on "How to Mindmap" there are two issues to be discussed: the content and how it is written, in this case TPRS and how it is explained. Both were dissatisfactory so far.

What is TPRS? TPR (Total Physical Response) is a method in which a language is learned through actions, TPR Storytelling does so by telling stories. The teacher makes up a story in which his/her class has to answer questions. The pupils have to guess and respond with “Oooh”, “yes/no”, “Susan”, “twelve” etc. The teacher decides if a suggestion is used or not. Pupils listen, translate paragraphs, write texts in which quantity is more important than quality (I know this is a bit short-sighted, but it roughly gives the method in a nutshell).

I had to spend some time reading before I actually understood what TPRS actually is. The book somehow has difficulty in explaining the workings of TPRS in one paragraph (or even one chapter). I often had to translate the text into a class situation of my own, and was puzzled. It was as if I was skimming the surface without getting the opportunity to fully understand the idea behind TPR(S) and its practical use. It was bits and pieces; the book lacks structure and clear comprehensive information.

One of the major problems I was facing was the difference in second language teaching in America and in Europe. I couldn't quite establish levels. Although there is some scarce information on Basic, Intermediate and Advanced levels (where Advanced level in this book is being Intermediate for my Dutch students) it is difficult to place the assignments into a Dutch system. In Europe we have the CEF (Common European Framework, see in which we somewhat can establish the kind of level students have to achieve. Such a framework is not found in the book, which makes it very difficult to find out how much students actually learn. Enthusiastic claims like “84% of my students received A's or B's on the first test...” are difficult to place on a level of quality.

The problem I have with the TPR(S) method is the way the teacher is in control. The pupils are like sheep bleating words in class. The 'acting' by the students is reduced to following up orders by the teacher and even the input from pupils is controlled. Pupils are puppets. I'm quite sure if I have to teach my 4th graders (15-16 years old) with TPR(S) they will find it much too childish, much too controlled and boring. My pupils want to have their own voice in a story. TPR also treats the class too much as a group rather being individuals with different problems and fluency. I'm, for example, not sure if choral respondence is a handy tool for giving evidence of comprehension (p. 23).

Furthermore, the book assumes you have five classes a week (where I only have three at best, two at worst): two days mini-story, two days reading (translate the extended reading and discuss it), one day timed freewriting and reading. I'm much in favour of combining skills in one class to keep attention. I can't imagine reading or translating a whole class can make my pupils enthusiastic for English.

One of the other annoying things of TPRS is that the books claims that half-measures will not work. TPR has to be at the center of your teaching, you have to adapt your book to TPR (or skim it at the end of the year), not the other way around.

"Fluency through TPR Storytelling" claims to be a method on fluency, but reading and translating on paper sneaks in quite a lot. And fluency (speaking) has more to do with listening to the teacher than with talking for the pupils. TPRS wants 100% comprehension from the students but fails to let pupils produce their own text in a foreign language.

I often got the feeling I was reading a commercial. Not only are you advised to buy more books of TPR, a whole chapter is devoted to users of TPRS who threw out old methods, saved their lives, made tedious pupils enthusiastic again and fought successfully against old-fashioned grammarians in adapting TPRS. In my opinion a method has to sell itself.

There were some good insights in the book though. Humor, for example, has to be an important element in class (don't be afraid to be a bit absurd from time to time). But as my pupils desperately ask for some basics, some rules on language they can learn, a foothold (because we lost a lot of grammar teaching due to 'elevating' ideas from the government to focus on skills rather than knowledge), I don't think TPR(S) will get my students top notch in fluency.
… (mais)
Reddleman | Jul 2, 2010 |

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