Slow Down — it’s not just about how fast you talk

Dear New-ish TPRS Teacher:

So, you’ve done the workshop. You’re excited about the possibilities of using TPRS and Comprehensible Input in your classroom. And you’re right to be. You’re starting on the next phase of your teaching career, and you’re looking forward to seeing the results that have been demonstrated in the videos and the lectures and the books.

Maybe I was your presenter. Maybe I wasn’t. Either way, I want you to succeed with TPRS. I present to a lot of new TPRS teachers, and I hear or read about hundreds more. I want all of you to succeed with TPRS. And I want you to avoid the things that make people give up.

Which is why I’m telling you this: the number one skill you need to work on, right now, is going slow.

Not talking slowly. Not going through your curriculum more slowly. Those are both important changes to make, don’t get me wrong. But even more important is for YOU to go slowly.

You’ve just learned about a bunch of new skills. They’re not hard skills. But they are new things for you. This is the time to slow down and concentrate on those new skills, and to enjoy seeing how using those new skills produces positive changes in your classroom.

We all want to do the best for our students. As teachers, many times that means we are perpetually searching. We want to find a better activity, a better way of doing things. We want to provide more variety, more interest, more engagement. But sometimes striving for those things while the new paradigm-changing method you just trained in — TPRS — still has that “new car smell” to it, isn’t the best thing to do.

MovieTalk. PictureTalk. What sort of input should I be using? What about FVR? What kinds of readings do I need? Should we start a group to share readings we write? What about brain breaks? I should share what I learned with a group at my school so they can start doing this, too.

All of those things are good — eventually. But the majority of failures in TPRS happen because people don’t just slow down and focus on getting their feet under them with TPRS. Plain old “boring” vanilla TPRS Classic. They want to branch out and grab this shiny thing and that sparkly toy. And all those things are wonderful. They’re beautiful. But if you hang them on a Christmas tree that has a shaky stand, the whole thing will topple.

TPRS is that tree. It encompassses all the skills you need to do every truly CI-oriented way of teaching I have yet seen. This is because those “variations”, if we can call them that, came out of TPRS. There are very few people promoting truly CI-based ways of teaching who did not come out of the TPRS tradition, whether or not they say so publicly.

If you will just stick with the basics for half a year, make sure you are very, very solid on the skills you will need to do all kinds of cool CI stuff later, your students will thank you for it. Your mental health will thank you for it. Your family or spouse will probably thank you for it, too. TPRS is not hard, but it deserves a bit of time just to itself before you drop it and reach for the next thing, especially since that next thing is probably based on TPRS skills to begin with.

TPRS works. Just by itself. Plain, old, unexciting talking to your kids in a way they can understand makes them acquire language. No bells and whistles. No videos, props, classroom libraries that don’t align to your input, certain numbers of minutes doing this or that. Just talk to your kids and watch how they react. Give it six months before you try to expand your repertoire. No serious musician sight-reads a piano piece for a concert and then stops practicing it because they got new music that’s cooler. First make sure that concert is going to go smoothly, then order all the new music you want.

Slow. Down.

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