Oh man! I wish I could be there!
Here it is folks. Sorry for the delay. I was super busy last week.
Ben Slavic TPRS DVD Review
There are five DVDs totalling just under eight hours of material. Some of the material is repeated though (more on that below). They cost $35.
Each DVD has a little menu. The picture and sound quality are pretty good. One minor issue though is that in a couple of videos, the camera is set up in a stationary manner and some of the kids are off-screen when speaking. Unfortunately, one of the DVDs was damaged in the post (Ben is sending me another), so I couldn’t watch all of The Tall Hat. This review is for the first half of that DVD and the other four.
Before watching the DVDs, the first thing I would recommend doing is reading the handout here:
It’s a 47 page Word document, but it’s well worth reading as it explains a lot of the techniques and concepts of TPRS. I started watching the DVDs before reading it (and he only makes reference to it late in the first DVD or possibly early in the second) and was a little lost in parts. I then read the handout and went back and watched what I’d already watched and it was really easy to follow from there. The first track on the first DVD in particular was difficult to follow as it had very few explanatory pop-ups. Even if you don’t get the DVDs, it’s still worth reading that handout and you could learn a lot about TPRS from it.
The first DVD (Starting Out) and part of the second (The Tall Hat) basically take us through the basics. Ben shows us how his classroom is set up (and you can get some of the posters from his walls from his website also) and how he uses different areas of the classroom, what he puts in folders and so on. One really cool little thing he does is that when the class is creating a basic description of something (a one word image) or creating a story, he gets one student to come up with a list of yes/no questions based upon the information in the image or story. This then becomes the oral quiz for a subsequent lesson (and on the first DVD he shows a quiz taking place).
He also shows us his classroom management techniques (though he mentions these on other DVDs also) and he shows us the basic activities he uses to build a sense of community and participation in his lessons, as well as getting the students in the right mode for language acquisition via TPRS.
From there, he shows us how he goes about putting together the skeleton of a story by introducing a few basic phrases and some vocabulary in the stories (though lots more vocabulary comes up by itself in the stories).
The remaining three and a half DVDs (The Show, Max and Reed) show some different stories, as well as the follow up reading lessons to those stories. The readings are fairly similar to the oral stories, but Ben changes a few points and introduces even more vocabulary to the kids, which they seem to be able to handle without difficulty.
Aside from the first track on the first DVD, all of the tracks have lots of little pop-ups where he will make reference to a particular skill (so you can refer to the handout) or begin and end with a longer explanation. Sometimes, he talks directly to the camera about what he is doing and why. It’s all very helpful. Whenever anyone is speaking French (which is more than 95% of the time), there are subtitles. However, he also repeats one of the stories without subtitles, interruptions from him or pop-ups, so you can see if you can follow along. That’s a nice touch.
At first, it is a little confusing to work out what’s going on and why, but between the pop-ups and the handout, I felt pretty comfortable following what he was doing fairly quickly.
The kids in the videos range from only having studied French for a few lessons as part of an exploratory class for a few weeks (seventh grade) to students in the eighth grade who have been studying French for a year or less (I think some are doing some sort of summer course in a couple of videos, so those kids would have had one year of French). It is absolutely phenomenal how much French the kids can understand and even speak. A couple of the stories take over an hour to create and tell (obviously, there’s a lot of repetition) and the written form for one looks to be at least a couple of hundred words long. It’s pretty impressive. Throughout the stories, Ben asks the kids to retell the stories to him or to answer questions he throws at them about the stories. During the reading classes, the kids are able to translate the story on the fly into English. Done well, as it is on these DVDs, this TPRS stuff obviously works and most of the kids seem to be genuinely interested and involved almost all of the time. Ben shows real enthusiasm for what he’s doing, as well as the kids, and they really run with that and produce great results.
There are only a few things lacking with these DVDs, and they’re mainly to do with a couple of things in the handout that he doesn’t get into. The first is to do with questionnaires and other ways in which he collects personal information about students at the beginning of the year so he can incorporate that into the lessons. He alludes to it very briefly on at least one occasion (when he shows us the folders with that information in the classroom tour), and he has a questionnaire form in the handout. Still, I would have liked to see this in action a little.
The second thing I think he could have added would have been something to do with writing skills and a few other activities, both of which he mentions in the handout. It would have been nice to see what he does with those things. Between those and something to do with the questionnaires and incorporating that stuff into lessons, he probably could have covered it all with one more DVD.
One more minor point is that he doesn’t number the DVDs. Obviously, “Starting Out” is the first one, but it’s not instantly obvious which order they should go in from there. By the end of them, a natural order kind of emerges, but it’s not necessarily that easy to figure out without watching them.
For anyone who does buy the DVDs, I’d probably watch Starting Out first, and then The Tall Hat (it has the classroom tour on it and it and Starting Out both show seventh grade students, whereas the other three DVDs are more involved and have the eighth grade students). I’d probably watch The Show and Max next. Both have stories and follow up reading lessons. The follow up reading for Max is longer, so that might be better as the fourth DVD. Reed is the story that has a version without any text, so that might be good to watch last to put yourself in the shoes of a student if you have little to no background in French or just as a fly on the wall in the classroom to watch Ben without any explanation of what he’s doing to see how much of it you can recognise by that point..
Despite the few extra things I would have liked to see added, I thought Ben covered the stories well, and I learnt a lot of simple techniques there. I think I definitely got value for money from my purchase and it would be nice to get more access to TPRS workshops here in Taiwan.
Track Listing (as per the in-DVD menus):
One Word Images, Word Chunk Team, Quiz 52:10
Word Association, One Word Images, Word Chunk Team 12:19
Word Association, One Word Images, Word Chunk Team 18:10
Classroom Tour 8:51
The Tall Hat 29:25
The Show 1:03:17
The Max Story
The Reading class 42:48
The Reed Story
Story with Titles 40:40
Story without Titles 37:14
Can't wait 'till you're here in October/November, Ironlady!
That's an excellent review, GiT. Where can we purchase the videos? Did you give a link earlier that I missed?
Indeed a great review.
The DVD's and some books are available from Ben Slavic's website
Thanks. I'll check it out.
I was thinking of making some copies and sending/ending them to people, but to be honest, I'm kind of against that because Ben obviously had to put work into making these things (as well as further time in actually going out and sending them) and so he should get paid for that, rather than all of Taiwan getting a copy and effectively just paying him once.
I totally agree.
ironlady (I thought I'd post this here rather than as a pm as it might be helpful to others also): What visual aids, if any, would you have in a classroom? I'm going to have a list of classroom rules, but other than that, I'm not sure what else to put in my classroom to set it up to be TPRS user friendly.
Here's where this question is coming from:
I'm specifically thinking of the point and pause skill.
I don't speak/write Chinese anywhere near well enough to be able to write English and Chinese on the fly in class (obviously, the more Chinese I can learn, the better, but that's going to take time). I could try to get around this in one of two ways:
2.1. Use a co-teacher to help me in this instance. Two potential drawbacks would be:
2.1.1. I might not have a co-teacher in the classroom. This is especially true at my junior high school.
2.1.2. If I did, it would require a co-teacher who would follow a CI approach, rather than always hijacking the flow
of the lesson and turning it into something more traditional, or there simply being far too much Chinese in the
lesson. Obviously, this could create all sorts of problems with me putting my foot down, so I'd rather not go there to
begin with, as far as possible.
2.2 I could use a student to translate on the fly with the aid of the computer, as you have suggested before. The major
drawback of that is that it would really drag the flow of the class down.
With almost all of my students, I have to assume that they're sketchy on the basics. This is certainly true of the elementary school kids who have had very little English already, but with my junior high school kids, I've increasingly realised that they're real false beginners and there are gaping holes in a whole lot of really basic areas (such as common/basic questions) that need to be addressed before we can do more complex things.
Do you think it's worth making charts of words or basic sentences for the classroom walls? For instance, question words (who, what, where, etc.?), pronouns, some really common verbs, etc.?
4.1 If so, would you suggest keeping them entirely in English, or would you also include characters beside them?
4.2 I'm not constrained (currently) by having to teach particular vocabulary lists.
How would you go about dealing with common questions that arise in class? For instance, students asking to go to the bathroom, telling me they feel sick and need to see the nurse, apologising for being late, etc.? Would you use hand signals or some other non-verbal cue? Would you allow the students to say these things in Chinese (I understand all the common things that come up) and repeat it back to them in English? Forcing language production seems like the wrong way to go about it. Likewise, drilling and killing them definitely seems like the wrong approach, but trying to couch them in some sort of story seems like it could be a little fake also.
Increasingly, as the year winds down, I have periods where I have a lot of time on my hands and I'm trying to think of how I could prepare for the coming year so that I can hit the ground running. Actually, if you have any suggestions for how you would prepare to implement TPRS as I am planning to do, I'd be really grateful.
Incidentally, I've started experimenting with TPRS with one of my classes (a really enthusiastic eighth grade class with reasonable English), and it seems to be good so far. We did some one word images a couple of weeks ago, and then last week, we created a story, which the kids seemed to be quite into. I asked the kids at various points to show me how much they understood on a scale of 1-10 with their fingers and almost every kid showed close to 10, and I was trying to monitor their eyes also. I did lots of circling and retells. I know I probably need to go a lot slower still. Point and pause was also a problem. Anyway, we're doing the follow up reading this Friday.
Disciplining yourself to write down ALL the out-of-bounds words and pause and point to them is very, very useful for getting yourself to go slower. Remember that it only feels like it takes forever to write them out to YOU. The students don't feel like it's that long a time.
So, there are three issues:
a) What words will you need? Anticipate as much as possible. Use pre-made word cards -- pass out questionnaires at the beginning of the year asking for favorite actors, singers, colors, foods, places, as many as you can think of. Copy them onto those little flashcard cards you can get in the stationary store, and keep them in ziplock bags or some sort of container, divided up by type. So when you need a person/character, just reach into the Characters container and pull one out -- voila! -- complete with Chinese characters, Pinyin, zhuyin and English. Then, appoint a Class Secretary for the day whose job it is to neatly and quickly copy that information onto the board in very large clear writing. Use a kid who is either too itchy to do well, or who is going to get bored with a "special job" in honor of his/her advanced status in English.
b) Can you write the words you already know in Chinese? If you are just forgetting the characters (like, ahem, me... :aiyo: ) I actually have a solution for you, or rather it's at the printer now. More on this when they arrive...
c) If you don't know the word in Chinese and need it on the fly, you'll need to have a good electronic dictionary (Pleco on an iPod, iPhone, or Android is my recommendation) to provide the information. Use this opportunity to model for students that a good language learner keeps learning all his life, and isn't afraid to look things up.
I think you're right about avoiding the co-teacher if possible, assuming that s/he isn't into CI.
This will happen naturally when you go over to all-CI input, since the use of questions is so frequent that kids can't help but acquire the question forms.
Question words -- YES. I even sell question word posters pre-made for teachers of Chinese. But you can easily make them yourself, or, depending on the numbers in your class, have the kids make them for you on some day that you feel less than ambitious. I would have the English in large type and the Chinese characters underneath in smaller type but still visible from all the seats in the room. I usually use a single sheet of A4 paper for one question word. These are left up all the time.
I used to have the colors up on the wall in my Chinese classroom. You could do this with any set of words you were working on slowly -- using as detail in input, without being the main focus of the lesson. It saves you having to write them all the time. I also put up a few things like tall/short, etc. for my beginners, to help provide instantly pause-and-pointable details about characters in stories.
I had a sign on the wall for "May I use the restroom?" since this was such a popular request. I didn't make them say it if they didn't want to, but I would say it. "Oh, you want to go to the restroom? Okay. You go to the restroom now." Or whatever. They will acquire it, like anything else.
The rule in a TPRS classroom is that there is no native language DURING INPUT TIME. There are times that may be deemed "non-input", and at that time if there's a shared native language, people use it. It's unnatural to force non-fluent people to use the target language "spontaneously" especially when it exceeds the bounds of what they've acquired. One of the best classroom managers and a TPRS teacher has a construction-paper thing on the wall with a "hand", like a clock hand, on it. One side says "Francais" and the other "English". When the "hand" is moved to point to French, only French is allowed.
Practice circling. Circle everything you can think of. Get someone to count your repetitions of specific items. Circling is the heart of TPRS and if you can circle unconsciously, varying the order, getting your comprehension checks in there and not speeding up while doing it, you'll be much happier.
It sounds like you're doing a great job starting out with TPRS! Those are the main things to be watching for. If you have kids who are more advanced or who need "jobs", get them to occasionally count your repetitions of a certain word, or count how many questions you ask in a minute. All of these things are benchmarks that can show you your own progress as you move along in CI instruction.
ironlady: Thanks for that. There's a wealth of information there. I'm going to be ruminating over it in the next few days.
Awesome review GiT. I got the DVDs about two weeks ago and got stuck on DVD 1 as I didn't know what the hell was going on. I also got TPRS in a Year and PQA in a Wink!, so I've started reading TPRS in a Year to get a handle on it. Having read this review of yours again I'm going to first read the handout on his website and then try and watch the DVDs again, then work through TPRS in a Year and PQA in a Wink!.
Very important IMO.
I'll be taking this advice, also.
Thanks for the review and the pointers.
As an added note, I also want to say that Ben is an awesome bloke. When I mailed him to let him know I was going to purchase the books and DVDs he immediately mailed me back and sent me an e-book of TPRS in a Year to get me started before the stuff arrived.
He is very helpful and friendly and really goes out of his way for you.
I can't praise him enough and would highly recommend any and all of his TPRS/CI products for people trying to get into this method.
You know, I have yet to meet a TPRS teacher who isn't willing to go out of their way to help someone wanting to get into the method. My hypothesis is that once you stop the negative mindset of "the kids don't study, they don't work" it just brightens up your whole life. You realize that it's just input, and let Nature take its course. In the faculty room, the rules-and-output teachers would be complaining about this kid or that kid, and the TPRS teachers would be boring each other talking about what the kids had said in class that day.
That's for damned sure!
I have some classes that are really fantastic. I love teaching those classes, and the kids come up with some hilarious stuff. I can already see how much their English has skyrocketed in the past few months, and how willing they are to participate in class. Their confidence levels have shot up. We have a great relationship.
However, I still have one class in particular that just doesn't get what I'm on about and just doesn't care. Even though many can often offer the information for the lesson, most just don't care, no matter how much I try to make it about them. They have real issues with turning up on time, sitting up straight, looking and listening, and keeping their hands to themselves and other really basic behavioural problems. I still get very patchy help from my colleagues with them (who seem to either have the same problems and have given up on them, or are extremely authoritarian with them in order to keep them in line). I really don't think I'm doing much that is different to all of my other classes, and it's really frustrating. To be honest, I think they probably need to just get out of the classroom all together because I think that these issues are so severe that I am pretty much wasting my time, though I've seen them with their P.E. teacher and she has absolutely no control over them either. There is another class that had some similar issues, largely driven by one boy in particular (the first class has a large number of hardcore students though), and I spoke with his home room teacher, who removed him. In their case, I've seen them turn a corner in their behaviour (though they still have the potential to go crazy at a moment's notice) and their English and confidence has turned a corner also. I have to admit though that the first class really have got the better of me. I don't get upset like I used to, but they're still frustrating and it's frustrating that I can't really turn them around.
Regarding Ben, he is great. The first lot of CDs he sent me got damaged in the mail. Then he sent some more (including the non-damaged ones), but they didn't turn up. Finally, he sent a third lot (including the non-damaged ones) to my parents' address in Australia because I was going to be there at that time. He must have lost money on the whole deal.
Well, I got the TPRS in a year, PQA in a wink, Dvd set and the two story books (can't recall the name now) and have used TPRS for a few months now in conjunction with the textbook we are using. It is a lot easier to come with stories if you have used a few samples and it is really easy to adjust it to what is happening in the classroom. One of the first things I did was ask the kids to secretly rate how much of my story and how much of the story in the book they understand. It has steadily increased and recently we started prep work with two classes for the Cambridge YLE starters and movers tests. We spend about a month reviewing vocab and the test format. The first practice test we did had even my weakest student score very well in listening and their speaking is really solid. Due to spelling errors and not putting together words and/or phrases with similar meanings, the weaker students still have a hard time with the writing part of the test, only meaning they score between 70 and 80.
This is really highly recommended, just a pity so few are willing to really fork out the cash and try to learn it.
Are you doing timed writes with them regularly? That will really help their speed in writing, and will also get them writing from their inner English voice instead of translating.
For spelling, you might like to give a simple homework assignment like "Write 3 sentences to finish this story" or something, and specify that they have to use a particular word that you want spelled correctly. "You will get 4 points for doing the assignment. If you want 5 points, spell that word right!" In other words, focus on one thing at a time in literacy and output. Writing (at least its mechanical aspects) is literacy, so it's not acquired, it has to be memorized.
I don't do writing with the students. We don't have enough time. We do the listening/story in the first lesson, and in the second, we read the story they created in their first lesson.
The ways I gauge understanding are:
-- Looking at individual students
-- A show of fingers (10 = fully understand, 0 = don't understand a thing)
-- "How do you say _____ in Chinese?" and also general comprehension questions, e.g. How old is the tiger? Is the tiger eleven or twelve years old? We do this both for the listening and the reading. We also do this as a competition where the students get points for their teams, and also team points for behaviour, towards an end of semester prize. I do it all in teams so the other students will pull their team members into line for the behaviour/paying attention part of things.
-- A brief listening quiz at the start of the second lesson (after I have retold the story to them at least once. The test doesn't count for anything real, it's yes/no (so they can guess, I suppose), and they can cheat to some extent (though I try to monitor that). It's partly for me to see how much they've understood and partly so they can get easy high scores and improve their confidence. After the quiz, I ask the class to see who got which questions correct. If lots of kids got particular questions wrong, then I go over those parts of the story more than the other parts.
I have a problem getting the kids to do any homework. The adults all do what I ask, even though I tell them they don't need to. :idunno:
bismarck: Most kids anywhere have to be threatened with thumbscrews to do homework. Adults are not as sensible like that.