I have learned three things from my student teaching experience: effective pedagogy, classroom management, and humility. In this expository essay I will briefly explain each of the above-mentioned and explain why it is important. Among foreign language teachers, there is debate about how to most effectively teach. The debate can be simplified to two pedagogical approaches; grammarbased vs. immersion-based.
The grammar approach to learning a foreign language is traditional and still the dominate pedagogy in use today. If you took French, German, or Spanish in high school, this is how you were taught. The grammar approach is a mechanical approach to language-learning and has advantages and disadvantages. For example, if I am teaching a student the verb “to go,” I would write the various forms on the board: I go, you go, he/she goes, etc.. I would then direct students to practice this verb through written or spoken activities. When I think that I have adequately taught the verb, I would likely give a formative assessment to check student comprehension. And so it goes, piece by piece, I put together a language for my students.
The advantage of this approach is that it is simple and very comprehensible. It’s like putting together a puzzle, one piece at a time. Students do not experience tremendous anxiety and do not feel lost in a sea of incomprehensible words. The principle disadvantage of this approach is that it is slow to build fluency. For those of you who took a foreign language in high school or even college, how much do you really remember now?
The solution to the problem of fluency is immersion. One form of controlled immersion is called “TPRS,” and is the focus of the next few paragraphs. Language teachers and learners know that the key component to learning a foreign language is to travel abroad and live in that country. Teachers began experimenting with ways to duplicate this powerful learning experience in the classroom, and I feel that TPRS is the most successful imitation of it to date. TPRS stands for “Total Proficiency through Reading and Storytelling.” This pedagogical technique recognizes that a class meeting five days per week for less than an hour cannot imitate a true immersion experience because true immersion involves a 24/7 experience. Instead, TPRS imitates the most salient and valuable features of immersion. Like the grammar approach, it has advantages and disadvantages.
In TPRS, the teacher selects the most critical, high-frequency words and tells a repetitive story with them. For example, if I were teaching my students the same verb “to go,” I would invent or borrow a simple, silly story. Then I would repeat “to go” over fifty times in that story. Prior to beginning the story I would briefly explain “to go” and write it on the board. Students are repeatedly exposed to important, high-frequency words in context, similar to what happens in the true immersion experience.
Like the true immersion experience, TPRS builds fluency well. This better fluency is possible because the pedagogy imitates a part of the true immersion. The disadvantage to TPRS is that the grammar is delayed. A first-year TPRS student might say something weird like, “I eats peaches,” because he hasn’t yet learned that it should be said, “I eat peaches.”
I conclude that TPRS is the most effective pedagogy. Compared to the traditional grammar approach, it builds fluency faster. The TPRS students I speak to report that they feel like they’re learning more and more engaged when compared to their previous grammar experiences. I believe that building fluency is the most important thing I can offer language-learners, and therefore my introduction to TPRS was the most important pedagogical event in my world. Because pragmatism is central to my teaching philosophy, I will most certainly use this technique.
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