German TPRS Conference in Sweet Briar, VA
Trip Start Jul 20, 2007
4Trip End Aug 23, 2007
Map your own trip!
Show trip route
So why was I headed to Sweet Briar, Virginia?
I have been introduced to a great teaching method called TPRS: Teaching Proficiency through Reading and Storytelling. It is a communicative approach, and the emphasis is on acquisition, not "learning" per se. TPRS is based on research in Second Language Acquisition and brain research, and it really works. Since I've started using it I've seen the German program at Pacifica grow from three sections (level 1, level 2, and a small combined level 3/4/AP) to seven sections. In fact, we had to recruit one of the math teachers, who knows German, to teach beginning level. Last year John taught one section of level 1. This fall he will have two sections. I'll be teaching two classes of level 2, two classes of level 3, and a class of 4/AP. Who knows, maybe some day we'll get to split level 4 and AP (Advanced Placement)!
All of that to say that I headed for Sweet Briar to attend a conference/workshop on TPRS for German. There is also a National TPRS conference for all languages, but I wanted to go to the one for German teachers. Sweet Briar College is about 20 minutes from Lynchburg, Virginia, but it was much cheaper to fly to Dulles and drive down rather than fly into and out of Lynchburg. I had rented a car, and then two other teachers posted about the possibility of transportation from Dulles to Sweet Briar. They arrived a little earlier than I did, so we met in the baggage claim area and carpooled.
The conference was great. There were three "strands": beginner, intermediate, and advanced. I joined the intermediate strand since I've used TPRS for a couple of years but don't consider myself an expert. We had good discussion and got lots of ideas on how to provide significant amounts of Comprehensible Input for our students. Research shows that the single most important thing for learning a language is to receive meaningful messages that are understood (CI or Comprehensible Input). TPRS isn't the only way to do this, but it is one of the most effective, and it incorporates other aspects of both SLA and brain-based research. For example, by telling stories that are bizarre, exaggerated and personalized, students maintain genuine interest longer. By making grammar explanations meaning based rather than just a set of rules, students see the need for them and are more receptive. By keeping explanations short, there is less opportunity for students' eyes to glaze over. By presenting students with "whole language" in stories and conversations that are interesting to them, their brains subconsciously begin to map the workings of the language. More overt grammar comes after they have begun to master the structures of the language - just like in learning the first language. So, we spent the week getting both some of the theory and lots of practice. On Thursday I was one of the ones from the intermediate strand that was asked to join the advanced group and prepare to be a "coach" for a small group of beginners. I had four other teachers who had been learning some of the basic techniques of the method and helping them get more practice with guidance and recommendations. They did a great job.
The other component of TPRS is literacy/reading. It is a completely different set of skills from listening and speaking, but reading has been shown in any language to be one of the best ways to improve fluency and accuracy. In addition to regular short readings based on the stories we tell in class, sustained silent reading is integral to TPRS - but of course that means having a lot of books at various levels. So, one of the things I'll be doing in Germany is looking for books for the class.
Sweet Briar College is a women's college that was founded in the early 1900's by a plantation owner. The campus is huge and includes a farm, dairy, riding center, forest, and lake. So the setting was beautiful, although we spent most of our time indoors. Still, in the afternoon we had the opportunity to get out and enjoy the scenery. The weather was pleasant as well, so that was great.
Friday was the last day of the conference, and we had a final session to sum up, give final instructions, receive certificates of participation, and say good-bye to the people we had met. It was nice to be able to put faces to the names that I have been reading on the German TPRS listserve. After lunch Ursel, Andrea and I headed back to Dulles airport. We split up at the concourse, since Ursel and Andrea were headed back to California while I was headed for Europe.
I got to the British Airways desk and asked if I could check in for my flight. They said sure but warned that the flight was delayed. Because of the delay they gave me a voucher to get dinner. Following check-in I cleared security (having remembered to put my new tube of toothpaste in the checked bag) and went to the gate area. Original departure time was 10:00 p.m., but the delay was until 1:00 a.m. British Airways was very good about keeping us informed. There were two reasons for the delay. First, they had to let a sick child and her family off in London, which meant finding their bags as well. Then, when they finally started out, they clipped another plane, which meant that aircraft couldn't fly at all. The staff at Dulles then had to take the plane scheduled for an 8:00 a.m. departure and get it ready for our flight, which was full.
Since I had such a long delay I bought a book to read. It was "The Last Templar", a "Da Vinci Code"-type detective story. In this one, though, it wasn't a re-hash of something about the Grail. Supposedly the Knights Templar had in their possession a diary written by Jesus, which of course would bring the structure of the church crumbling down. The Templars supposedly were collaborating to unify Judaism, Christianity and Islam as a first step toward uniting all the world's religions. It was a good book for spending several hours at the airport, even if there were some places where people spent too much time expounding theories, and the premise was a bit preposterous. But then, conspiracy stories always sell. I won't give away the ending, but it had a nice ironic touch to it.
Finally the plane was ready, and we were able to board. I had checked in online and gotten my seat assignment the previous evening, doing so at the first possible moment to be sure I got in the emergency row. So, I had plenty of leg room. Once again, I was asleep almost before we were off the ground and didn't wake up until the next morning. In fact, when I did wake up the flight attendant had put my breakfast on top of the case for the emergency slide. By the time I finished we were getting ready for our final descent into Heathrow.
I had scheduled my trip to have a couple of days in London before heading on to Germany, so I'll write about that in my next post. Until then, "Cheerio".