Adding Legs to the Snake


There’s a reason there isn’t one of these in every American living room these days. Besides the fact that we’re now looking at DVDs and not VCRs, that is.

On a teachers’ list during a discussion of cold character reading, a teacher recently suggested — with great enthusiasm and support — “Maybe when you read you stand? to add some movement?”

I get the hope of improving something. After all, the only way we get new techniques is by trying new things. But these days, there is so much of this “let’s lump everything together without thinking about what each piece should be doing and when” that sometimes I really fear that the basic principles that make TPRS work are being lost.

And to be clear — why is that a bad idea? Because if you have kids stand when they start reading with you, what happens to the kids who don’t yet feel comfortable reading out loud? They get to sit there, obviously not “with it”, while the other ones are all standing up? The whole point of CCR is to get kids to read in a relaxed, confident manner — and with everyone “getting it” over a short period of time. Showing up the ones who don’t get it right away won’t help with any of those objectives.

You don’t have to address every single objective, cultural point, grammar item or thematic thing in a single lesson (regardless of what Ms. Danielson may say on her rubrics). When an activity works, and by that I mean “works for language acquisition as shown by spontaneous use of language”, not “keeps everyone happy while it’s happening”, I would spend more time thinking about why it works rather than trying to change it.

This reminds me powerfully of the experience I “enjoy” nearly every summer, when I get to read a written report on a project I work on. Every year, it’s a variation of “wow, this is really producing great results. Now, all you need to do is not use English anymore, and have the kids talk more than the teacher, and…” Which would negate all the gains.

Don’t be a box-checker. Don’t “add legs to the snake”, as the Chinese say. Take the time to get good at the basics of TPRS, because it works. Already.

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