Rachel, a French major from Colorado State University, spent the entire week observing my classes. She is writing her capstone thesis for the honors program at CSU on TPRS and wanted to observe a classroom where she did not know the language so that she could experience the method from a student’s perspective.
I was particularly pleased that she got to observe a less-than-perfect week. She saw some classes that did not go completely smoothly. There were two disciplinary actions. I used these opportunities to emphasize to her that perfection is not the goal, but recovering from imperfection and improving continuously–both in our teaching, and in our relationships with the students.
Here are Rachel’s observations:
5 things that I learned this week:
1. There is more to TPRS than storytelling
– The goal of TPRS is language acquisition which is why stories are told, but there is more to TPRS than storytelling. If we told stories all the time it would get boring for the students and exhausting for the teacher. Some weeks there is less storytelling, but the classroom is always filled with comprehensible input.
2. Each class is different therefore the actions and reactions of the teacher change
-The culture of each class changes throughout the day. This plays a role in how quickly the class is able to progress as well as how they can be interacted with as a whole.
3. Young man cheating and then apologizing
-I got to see Mr. Hedstrom deal with a student cheating. Rather than shame or embarrass the student in front of his peers he simply took the test from the student quietly, made a note of the cheating, talked to the student briefly after class and called the student’s mother later that day. It seemed almost magical as the student walked into class the next day and greeted Mr. Hedstrom. The student went on to apologize for cheating. It was absolutely stunning to watch as the student and teacher ended the interaction with respectful words and a handshake.
4. Young man having an outburst (This was a student that rarely attends school. He is struggling in Spanish class and in other classes as well)
-This was particularly valuable to have seen as I got to observe a student losing his cool and Mr. Hedstrom’s reaction. The incident began with something small like Mr. Hedstrom asking the student to put his phone away which the student chose to make a bigger problem than it actually was. It then snowballed into the student disagreeing with Mr. Hedstrom in a disruptive way in front of the class. All the while Mr. Hedstrom’s procedures for misbehavior were followed and Mr. Hedstrom kept his cool. He was able to deal with the situation without distracting too much from the other students’ time.
5. Young man moving away
-Getting to see this student’s last day was a real treat. Mr. Hedstrom and the class honored this boy’s last day at the school by having him be the persona especial (special person). Mr. Hedstrom interviewed the student and the other students in the class learned all about him–all in Spanish in a level I class.
The students all participated and Mr. Hedstrom was able to have fun with the students as he asked questions about the boy and commented vs. explicitly teaching the words they needed to learn. This was an excellent example of Krashen’s ideas concerning learning vs. acquisition.
Throughout the week, and in many classes, I have been absolutely astounded by the level of communication that it is possible to achieve with students in the target language, but also by how engaged the students are as they go about acquiring more language. As this student left the classroom and said goodbye he even said, “I love you” and “I love this class” to Mr. Hedstrom. High school boys rarely, if ever, say this about any class or to any teacher, much less directly. I firmly believe that this is a product of the method that is used in Mr. Hedstrom’s classes and the sort of relationships that this method allows students to build with each other as well as with their teacher.