Back in April an ex Spanish student of mine contacted me because he wanted to learn French. I for sure accepted and offered him to meet him online via Skype twice a week for 30 minutes sessions. In the past, when I was teaching Spanish in middle and upper school, I started to impart a lot of comprehensible input using Martina Bex’ wonderful resources but although I had read the green bible: Fluency Through TPR storytelling by Blaine Ray and Contee Seely, I had not dared doing it fully step by step in a whole lesson. I think that the thought of having to manage classroom behavior and at the same time being in front of the class trying to ask an interesting and engaging story which would also be comprehensible to all was kind of scary to me. So when I got the opportunity to try it on a single learner, I decided to take the plunge and do it the “real TPRS way”: doing personalized questions and answers, asking a story (not telling a story which I was used to doing) and circling, circling, circling… I just didn’t realize that I was not in a “real” TPRS setting with a full class of students and that I was going to be face to face with one single learner (which would have its advantages and its disadvantages too!).
We started the 30 minutes sessions with lots of TPR (Total Physical Response) because I had read it was best for the learner to acquire more words faster so that he could then create stories with my help. I also made a point of always starting each session with personalized questions about how the learner’s day went or if the session was at the start of the week, I would ask about his weekend. Therefore the learner was not only receiving input in the present tense but also in the past tense.
When I was then confident that my learner had acquired sufficient high frequency words, I started asking stories using the vocabulary he knew and introducing target structures. As I mentioned above, being face to face with one single learner has its disadvantages… Well, some days the inspiration and creativity would be hard to find and when you only have one source to create a story, the story can fall flat! However, most times we managed to co-create stories which had a twist and were fun to ask. I also got inspired by Putting it together – TPRS for English Language Learners, Teacher’s guide by Elizabeth Skelton and Denise Milligan to have structures which would help my learner to become fluent and proficient in French. As well as face to face sessions with me, I would ask my learner to read parallel stories similar to the ones we had built up together and to answer comprehension questions on Edmodo.
Then one day, my learner’s dad asked me if his son would be able to go to France at the end of July to join a French immersion program for three weeks. Typically his son would stay in a French family and he would attend French lessons in the morning and go sightseeing in the afternoon. The only bump in the road was that students joining this program were required to have had two years of French instruction prior to coming. The dad was asking me if his son would be able to join although he only had started French a few months ago. I must admit that at this point I didn’t think too much about this (silly) requirement and replied a prompt “yes” to the dad thinking it was an amazing opportunity for my learner to travel to France! We continued our sessions the “real TPRS way” until he departed to France and as the days went, I was confident that my learner would be able to deal with any situations in French in France! I was truly amazed at how he was understanding everything I was telling and asking him and also at the range of vocabulary he had acquired!
When he departed for his first trip abroad on his own, my learner had 14 hours of TPRS French under his belt. I was intrigued to find out how he would cope compared to his fellows who had many more hours of French… When he returned from France, I received two ecstatic emails. One came from my learner stating: “I wanted to thank you for the excellent classes you gave me to learn and improve my French. The time I had in France was one of the best in my life and I am very happy that I had the chance to experience such an adventure and this could not have been possible without you.” and the other one was from his dad: “Thank you very much for all you did for max! He had an amazing time in Antibes in all ranges (“I love France and the French”). He was surprised, because the school put (only) him into the advanced course…”
The advanced course??? What??? I could not believe it!!! I asked my learner to explain to me how he was put into the advanced course and he told me that they had a test at the start of the course where they had to write about a book or a film they had read or seen, or a political situation. They also had to translate sentences from French to German (his mother tongue). The fact is that he merely did any writing with me. He only did two free writing tasks and the rest was listening, speaking and reading! When I asked him how he felt about having to write in French, he told me he chose to write about Harry Potter and was OK doing it! He also told me that at the end of the three weeks course, he told his French teacher the truth: no he had not done two years of French before coming over, he only had started with French a few months ago! Needless to say her French teacher could not believe him!
I am still in shock by how successful the TPRS approach has proven to be with an online French learner! I was already astonished at the way my Spanish learners improved in just one year but this is beyond belief!!!
What about you? Do you have a TPRS success story share?