TPRS Empowers Students

Here is a full, academic write-up of this article

As I wrote my Philosophy of Education statement in undergrad, I cited Alfie Kohn when he said that education should empower students by allowing them to take ownership of their learning. I wrote that, but I had no idea of how to make that a reality in a real life classroom.

This was me.
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Now, in my fourth year of teaching, I am starting to feel the awesome power of this philosophy. As I was reading this article by Alfie Kohn, I recognized that TPRS gives students that ownership.

Through TPRS, students are actively learning because they are the curriculum.

“Naturally, teachers will have broadly conceived themes and objectives in mind, but they don’t just design a course of study for their students; they design it with them, and they welcome unexpected detours.” (Kohn 2008)

As TPRS teachers, we know the structures we want to target, but we wholly embrace the detours that will engage the students and personalize their learning. As we are storyasking, we are taking risks because we do not know how the story will end, but the rewards are that the students create a story unique to them.

Students are essential to the classroom by taking on leadership roles.

All students are part of the learning process. I reinforce this by giving them student jobs and by embracing their unique talents. This year, I have trained students so that 15-20 of them currently have a job.

Some jobs we have added are:

  • Counters – 9 students use the pitch counters to count the target structure
  • ¿¿Por qué?? – a student dramatically shouts por quéééé every time I use the word. It is quite humorous.
  • Story Artist – a student creates a cartoon based on that day’s story
  • El Caballero – the Knight presents the foam sword to the Cantaninja
  • Host – welcomes visitors into the class to make them feel part of our community

Students take on these roles with pride and it helps our class run smoothly. I honor these roles by praising the students and by incorporating their roles into the learning as much as possible. One of my story artists is incredible so I added his drawing into the embedded reading the next day. This drawing is of a student meeting Justin Bieber.
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We create a community of caring by listening to each other.

“Children learn with and from one another in a caring community.” (Kohn 2008)

Through TPRS, each students’ experiences are valued. If something good happens, a designated student responds with “¡Excelente!” If something bad happens, a different student response with “¡Pobrecito!” If a students gives personalized information, I excitedly reiterate it in the 3rd person and we all respond with “Oooohh!” Students leave feeling important.

My next unit is centered around Bryce Hedstrom’s Persona Especial interviews. One student is interviewed each day. The information they bring is then used to teach structures personalized to them. We listen and learn about each Special Person and we continually review the previous Special People. Students are held accountable for their knowledge of their classmates by taking quizzes after every 4th or 5th Special Person.

I also listen as students evaluate themselves and give me feedback.
In progressive schools, students play a vital role in helping to design the curriculum, formulate the questions, seek out (and create) answers, think through possibilities, and evaluate how successful they — and their teachers — have been” (2008).
(Here is one of the best evaluations I got from a student last week. It is written on the back of Karen Rowan’s Self-Evaluation form. Of course, I whole-heartedly listen even when they evaluate me less positively!)

Screen Shot 2015-09-27 at 3.49.48 PMThese are the little things that make teaching with TPRS so worth it.

Students create experiences within our community when they add surprise details to our stories, when we create an inside joke as a class, when we build something new. Each time we laugh together, we strengthen our community.

Students are empowered by their success.

“Their active participation in every stage of the process is consistent with the overwhelming consensus of experts that learning is a matter of constructing ideas rather than passively absorbing information or practicing skills” (2008).

On day one of my classes, students were putting together open-ended sentences that they created on their own. Students were stringing together sentences like “Kim Kardashian no está contenta porque no tiene burrito” or “Kim Kardashian no está contenta porque tiene Kanye.”

Here is a parent note after a student retold the first story of the year:
It says “I enjoyed hearing the story about Kim K. 🙂 I was surprised to hear the words Gianna already learned and her pronunciation was excellente!”

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Thanks to TPRS, I now have an idea of what I am doing. I have strategies for giving students ownership of their learning. When students are empowered, they are intrinsically motivated to learn; they learn academic and interpersonal skills; we enjoy our time together.

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