After teaching with CI and TPRS for a couple of months now, I know that I can never return to my old ways. Here’s why:
1. Teaching Children with Down Syndrome
I teach at an elementary school that has several students with Down Syndrome. These students are integrated into the regular classroom, and participate in all of the “Special Areas” (music, art, computer, etc.) with their classes. However, until this year, they had never participated in Spanish. When I started my new teaching position in this past Fall, my principal presented me with the idea of having a special Spanish class just for our students with Down Syndrome. Though I had never had any experience nor training in teaching children with Down Syndrome, I eagerly accepted the challenge.
Before beginning the class, there were some that were doubtful of the ability of the kids to actually learn any Spanish at all. Their line of thought went something like this, “These kids have trouble with their first language, English. Why are we going to confuse them by trying to teach them another language?” Despite the doubtful attitude of some that worked most closely with these students, I gave it my best, and bit by bit, they began to learn simple things like colors, numbers and animals.
About halfway through the Spring semester, I was introduced to the concept of Comprehensible Input and the method of TPRS. I immediately put them into effect in all of my classes, except for my class of students with Down Syndrome. I wasn’t sure if they would be able to function with me speaking to them mostly in Spanish. Would they understand? Would they learn? Might it simply overwhelm them and cause them to shut down?
A few weeks ago, I decided it was time to give it a shot with these special students, as well. I spoke to them mostly in Spanish, and used a somewhat modified version of TPRS. What fun! It’s so magical to watch these beautiful children understand and learn (or should I say acquire?) a second language, even though so many would say it’s not possible. I was fearful that if I switched to using mostly Spanish in the classroom, that the kids wouldn’t understand or be able to function, but they have proved me wrong. They function just as well as they did when I spoke to them mostly in English, and they are learning even more. I venture to say they could almost keep up with their peers if they were given the opportunity to do so. It has been a joy to watch them learn, and prove those naysayers (and myself) wrong about the abilities of these children, and the power of using the target language to teach the target language. There is no going back, now. TPRS with lots of CI in ALL of my classes.
2. A “Preview” lesson for Incoming Kindergartners
My small private school recently hosted a special event to attract incoming kindergartners (well, to attract the parents, I suppose). But the evening was child-focused. The children rotated with their parents and siblings of all ages to the different Special Areas for quick 10 minute lessons. So, I was expected to give a 10 minute lesson to demonstrate what Spanish class at our school is like. Hmmm…a 10 minute Spanish lesson to 4-year- olds, who have never been exposed to the language before. To make my job even more challenging, I was expected to teach a lesson related to cowboys, to stick to our theme for the evening.
To tackle this challenge, I used Comprehensible Input from the time the kids walked in the door. I didn’t use a lick of English until the end of the lesson when I told them our time was up. The look of surprise on the kids’ faces when I spoke in English for the first time in 10 minutes was priceless. Our lesson began with the “What’s in the box?” game, in which the students have to guess what’s in the box. It was a horse –score! – I was able to stick to the theme. I then narrated some videos of horses running, using the circling question technique, and we sang a short, rhythmic song about the horse running. It was a quick 10 minutes, and after an hour of these lessons back to back, I was out of breath! Acting like a monkey, horse, elephant, bear, bird and every other animal imaginable, then pretending to fly, swim, dance and run, then beat on my legs to make the sound of a horse galloping over and over was, well, tiring to say the least, not to mention I had bruises on my legs the next day.
But it was so exhilarating. Everyone in the room was captivated and engaged -from little baby to grandpa; from native Spanish speaker to the ones who have never had much exposure to Spanish. Administrators began to come in the room because they had heard such positive feedback from parents and were told they needed to check out the Spanish lesson. I had one parent tell me that they took six years of Spanish and learned more in the 10 minute lesson than in those six years. Others said if they came to my class, they could become fluent, though they never thought they could learn Spanish before. I say this not to toot my own horn (I’m positive there are other more seasoned TPRS teachers that could have done a much better job!), but to say that TPRS works. Comprehensible Input works. A small child and a “seasoned” adult can learn a second language if it’s presented correctly.
Before I end, I have one little confession. Are you ready? Here it is – I am an expert animal noise maker. For quite some time, I have wanted to reveal this exciting secret to my students, but knew I would lose control of them if I did. But now, with TPRS, the secret is out. Mrs. Ibrahim makes the best elephant noise. Ever. Now my animal noises work for me, instead of against me. It’s great. I will forever use TPRS, if for no other reason, just so that I can make my animal noises.
Emily Ibrahim teaches K-5 Spanish at Rock Creek Christian Academy in Louisville, KY. She has recently discovered the wonders of TPRS and both she and her little students are having a blast.