What China’s Education System Can Learn From Finland’s Education Reform

“Finland is becoming more and more known for being a happy place. This is a direct result of the education.” – Peter Vesterbacka, CEO of Rovio at MindTrek in Tampere, Finland in October, 2018.

Mr. Vesterbacka was referring to the World Happiness Report that anointed Finland as the happiest country in the world. During his speech, Mr. Vesterbacka went on to compare Finland’s education to Singapore’s, which he identifies as “the world’s worst education system.” He described an unhappy Singaporean society where students are cheating each other, increasing suicide rates, and rising stress levels as a direct result of the competitive education system. Actually, these issues are very similar to the situation that exists in China.

Peter Vesterbacka gives a speech on Happiness and Education at MindTrek (10.2018) (Photo by Brad Walsh)

China’s education does have its positive aspects. Teachers are highly respected in Chinese society. China’s education system can pump out large amounts of students who score highly on the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), which is something many schools across North American drool over. Personally, over my ten-plus years living here, I have notived the Chinese education system breeds a strong culture and respect for learning from which the Western students can learn. However, despite these strong aspects, student well-being is still a major concern.

In order to improve student well-being, education reform in China has been a hot topic, and the Finnish education system is a model of excellence to which Chinese educators are focusing their sights. However, the question remains: Can China’s education system become similar to Finland’s? To do so, we must first understand what makes the Finnish education special, and how the two education systems differ on these aspects.

Misconceptions

There are some common misunderstandings about the Finnish education system that cause people from other countries to thinkg ‘that model doesn’t work for us’. Oftentimes, Chinese educators don’t believe the Finnish model will work in China because it involves too much Project-Based (PBL) and Play-Based Learning, which contradicts or disrupts teaching the national curriculum. One of the Finnish schools I visited only does PBL for one week per semester, and it is up to the teachers to decide what teaching strategy suits them and the students best, so play-based learning is an option, not a requirement. Also, there seems to be a general belief that Finnish students have no homework, classrooms are much smaller than average, there are no textbooks, and there are no assessments of students. When visiting Finnish schools a few weeks ago, our tour group noticed every classroom desk had a textbook on it, and the teachers also complained about too much homework for their students/kids. Most classrooms were the same size as typical public and private schools (25-30 students). Finally, as I stated in another article, Finnish students are assessed, but the focus and method just differs to what we may be used to.

Students engage in play-based learning about recycling outside of the Nature School in Tampere, Finland. (Photo by Brad Walsh)

Teachers as Expert Educators

Finnish teachers are developed to be professional practitioners that advocate change and innovation in the education system while Chinese teachers are trained to implement a set curriculum. In Finland, teachers are required to have a two-to-three-year master’s degree in education. Teachers combine four years of learning theory and pedagogical practice with two years of education research. In China, teachers are largely taught content and pedagogical practices in a four year education degree.

Finnish teachers are required to have a Master’s degree in education. (Slide from Sirpa Eskela-Haapanen, Head of Department of Teacher Education, University of Jyvaskyla, 10.10.2018)

A System of Trust

There is a communal trust between the school and community because teachers have thorough educational backgrounds. At one school I visited, the principal was proud that he had no idea what his teachers were teaching. We went on a hunt for classes to observe, but didn’t find any because he didn’t know where his teachers/classes were located that day. “I am not the right person to tell (teachers) what to do. They are highly educated, and they know their students,” he said to us. Compare this to schools in China where micromanagement of teaching duties is excessive. In China, all public school teachers have to hand in every lesson plan for inspection to comply with school regulations.

Overall Teacher Well-Being

A study by Sohu in 2016 found that 72% of Chinese teachers polled said they would not want their kids to become teachers. Chinese teachers largely believe being a teacher in China is too stressful due to the long days. By contrast, in Finland, teachers work shorter days and less days per year than in most countries, and are much happier in their profession.

Finnish teachers also have considerably lower teaching hours and more holiday time (Slide from Sirpa Eskela-Haapanen, Head of Department of Teaching, University of Jyvaskyla, 10.10.2018)

 Education Reflects Society’s Needs

The Finnish education system focuses on 21st Century Competencies, which reflect the needs of local, national, and global communities. Tampere, Finland wants to become a carbon-free city by 2020, so the schools are now focusing on developing the 21st Century Competencies its citizens need to help the city attain its goal. In the Chinese curriculum, the focus is on preserving traditions and culture, so teachers are tasked with teaching the complex Chinese language and traditional poems and stories.

School Organization

All Finnish schools have a wealth of learning resources and facilities available to them, which is publicly funded. Teachers also stay with their class throughout the years, and classrooms sizes are manageable. These are luxuries some schools in China can only dream about. Finally, Finnish schools are about joy and collaborating to make a stronger learning community – “Nobody can tell you what the best school is in Finland – they are all fantastic! There is no such thing as an Ivy League school, and there is no competition to be the best,” responded Mr. Vesterbacka to a question about how the schools are rated in Finland. Are Chinese schools competitive? (Author’s Note: *emphatically proclaims* They are!)

A typical classroom in Finland with SMARTboards and projectors to ensure children get plenty of modeling practice for their workbook-based school work. (Photo by Brad Walsh)

 So, this leads us back to the original question: Can China’s education system become similar to Finland’s? The simple answer would be to say that China’s education system shouldn’t have to do so because the Finnish education system works for the Finnish context, and China should find an education system that works for them. But this answer ignores a great model educational success from which China’s education system can learn.

“To learn from Finland, China needs to look past quick-fix methods, such as taking a curriculum and implanting it in their schools. If China wants education reform, schools should take notes on how Finland’s education reform happened, not just what they are doing,” says YuZhou Cai, Director of Sino-Finnish Education Research Center. He explains “Finland’s education system in the 1960-1970’s was very similar to what China’s education system is today; lessons were centered around the teacher’s ability to deliver them, students had to select vocational and academic paths, and schools varied in quality.”

Mr. Cai explains three key strategies that will help China’s education system become more like the successful Finnish education model. “China should continue its education reform. Reform has to start with unifying ideas and values on education, working with foreign expertise to adapt their methods to the localized context, and most importantly, to be patient.” Chinese schools can push educational reform by adopting Finnish techniques in teaching and learning that fit within the Chinese context. As that model succeeds, then more schools will take notice, and the whole system will gradually change.

ETU School in Beijing is one such school that is working on such a Sino-Finnish education model. ETU is currently working with experts from Finnish Universities to create a Finnish-inspired curriculum suited to the Chinese context. They are closing the gap between Chinese and Finnish teacher expertise by offering unique professional development and training programs in pedagogical practices from Finland and around the world. The schools provides the national curriculum taught through student-centered practices (play-based, project-based learning) combined with content focusing on sustainability in their local and greater communities. Specifically, students are learning how to face issues of tomorrow and not just textbooks of today.

Powerful Project-Based Learning Professional Development

Teachers are inherently lifelong learners. They thirst for new ideas and practices to add to their teaching repertoire. However, teachers often feel overwhelmed when trying to innovate their teaching craft. Through well-designed Professional Development (PD) programs, schools can empower their teachers to be more innovative.

Teaching Efficacy in Professional Development

Self efficacy is an attribute that allows us to explore and implement new concepts and strategies in our daily lives (Bandura, 1977). In education, it is more finely defined as teaching efficacy (Protheroe, 2008). Essentially, the higher your teaching efficacy, the more likely you are to experiment with new teaching strategies in your daily practices, which facilitates professional development.

According to Bandura, efficacy can be developed through four modes of induction: performance accomplishments or mastery experiences, vicarious experiences, verbal persuasion, and emotional arousal. In PD, efficacy is built through plenty of modeling, suggestions, self instructions, relaxation, feedback and desensitization to potentially averse emotion-inducing situations.

Professional Development Focusing on Project-Based Learning

I was recently tasked with the responsibility of facilitating a PD on Project-Based Learning (PBL) for new teachers. The teachers’ experiences in PBL varied greatly. However, the majority of the teachers in the PD had never taught a PBL lesson before.

PBL has always been a difficult PD focus. For teachers that are new to PBL, it can seem like a daunting task of implementing it in their classrooms. Teachers feel that using the PBL approach requires overhauling their existing teaching metods. There is a lack of clarity in PBL pedagogical practices, which can be confusing to teachers. PBL is also a relatively new concept for teachers, so they have limited-to-no first-and second-hand experience to draw from in lesson planning and implementation.

The PD as a whole was designed as a “project slice” – a wonderful idea borrowed from PBL training gurus at High Tech High. A project slice takes teachers through a project from start to finish. During this time, teachers get a feel for the project process through the eyes of a student. The project process involved seven steps that were derived from Buck Institute of Education’s (BIE) PBL Handbook : project launch, building general knowledge, team organization, building specific knowledge, creating a product, presentation and reflection, and assessments.

At each point throughout the project, I introduced specific teaching strategies used to facilitate a PBL classroom. The teaching strategies used were highlighted on a large printout of the Gold Standard of PBL model, and teachers were asked to reflect on these strategies at the end of each day as part of their “teaching toolkit”. They posted these reflections (how and why each strategy is used) on the school’s blog as a means of documenting their new teaching strategies, which could be easily accessed during their upcoming semester.

This practice of connecting practical teaching strategies to a conceptual model helped with bringing PBL to life. As one experienced teacher described: “Connecting specific teaching practices to the components of this PBL model is brilliant! I have been doing PBL for a few years now, and this model has never made more sense to me.

After each key learning point throughout the PD week, we stopped to take a mindful minute and reflect on our processes. The teachers vocalized their fears, concerns, or excitement about the processes of the strategies or information provided. There was no need for feedback at this time, but silent recognitions (the sign language action for “agreement”) were conveyed when a sharing was provided . This part of the PD was overwhelmingly successful. The teachers were impressed at how good it felt to voice their opinions, and the mindful environment within which they did the sharings reduced their existing anxieties.

Protocols were used to facilitate experiential learning and discussions on some more complex portions of the PBL process. During team norm settings, the teachers did an Inner-Outer Fishbowl protocol, which brought about a deeper discussion and sharing of norm setting and building strategies used by teachers. As one teacher shared: “Having students understand something as complex as a definition of what a behavior looks and feels like was something I either did too much of, ineffectively or avoided altogether. The fishbowl activity really brought to life simple, yet structured approaches that I will surely use in my classroom this semester.”

After we had completed the project slice, we circled back on the whole process through a case analysis. The teachers read a complete PBL case that was taken from the BIE PBL Handbook. They then designed a visual timeline of the strategies and protocols used at each point of the PBL process. “Creating this (visual representation) really helped me review the process again. It will come in handy when I get down to actually planning my project for the upcoming semester.

TImelines designed by the teachers on the Project-Based Learning (PBL) process. Image: Brad Walsh

Finally, a mini assessment was designed from the PBL Teaching Efficacy Scale (Tschannen-Moran et al, 1998) to see how the PD participants’ teaching efficacy in PBL grew over the PD week. Teachers provided their personal assessment on two main questions at three points throughout the PD week: 1) I have a good understanding of PBL curriculum and lesson design, and 2) I am able to organize and manage PBL activities effectively. As we reflected on our growth, the teachers were also invited to share the thought processes and experiences that got them to each point.

As a teacher coming from a public school, I was required to attend a PBL PD once. It was a lot of discussion about theory and making a lot of posters. After the PD ended, I really had no idea what they were talking about. What was PBL? How could I use it to help me become a better teacher? (This week’s) PD made me realize how valuable it is to actually practice and experience what PBL is if I ever want to truly implement it in my classroom. I am really excited for this upcoming semester, because I am going to put everything I learned here into practice!

 

Teachers’ self assessments on PBL teaching efficacy taken at the beginning, middle, and conclusion of the PD. Image: Brad Walsh

References:

Bandura, A. (1977). Self-efficacy: Toward a unifying theory of behavioral change. Psychological Review, 84 (2), 191-215.

Protheroe, N. (2008). Teacher Efficacy: What is it and does it matter?. Available at: https://www.naesp.org/sites/default/files/resources/1/Pdfs/Teacher_Efficacy_What_is_it_and_Does_it_Matter.pdf (Accessed: 08/20/18).

Tschannen-Moran, M., Woolfolk Hoy, A. & Hoy, W. K. (1998). Teacher efficacy: Its meaning and measure. Review of Educational Research, 68, 202 – 248.

Show Some Love for Pets – A Kindergarten Class’s Journey in Project-Based Learning

Last semester, our two Kindergarten classes engaged in a Project-Based Learning (PBL) adventure about pets. The students researched their favorite animals throughout the year from experts, story books, movies, and informational texts, and then turned their knowledge into content for a storybook that they affectionately called “P is for Pets.” The students illustrated each page of the book using collage art. They also designed songs for an accompanying music album. The project culminated with a book publishing event complete with a screening of their music videos, a book reading, and book signings by the authors.

Here is the digital version of the book they designed with the accompanying songs.

 

P is for Pets is a book two kindergarten classes designed over a school semester. Source: Brad Walsh

The Gold Standard PBL model was used to highlight key elements of the P is for Pets book publishing project.

This project followed the Gold Standard PBL model.
Source: www.bie.org

 

Challenging Problem or Question /Essential Question

All of our teachers own or owned pets, and we had noticed students were also passionate about animals. One of our school’s core values is “show some love to others,” (care and empathize with others), so we decided that caring for pets was a great way for students to understand this core value.

Some ideas for essential questions we originally came up with were “How can we care for animals?” “Why do people care about animals?” Eventually, the students and teachers tied the essential question and project outcome together after analyzing models of excellence for the storybook design. “How can we show some love for pets?” was the final iteration of our project’s essential question. It came from a student sharing his thoughts about how a book about pets could inspire others to care about pets.

Project Launch

The children interacted with the animals and insects at Chaoyang Park in Beijing over a few weeks to help them relate to the goals of their project. Source: Brad Walsh

At the beginning of the semester, we had the privilege of being located in ChaoYang Park in Beijing. This allowed us to get outside and be one with nature. It also provided us with the great opportunity to see firsthand the children’s interactions with animals and insects. We reflected on these experiences with the children using thinking strategies such as “I used to think… Now I think…” and “I see… I think… I wonder,” which helped them make connections to our project topic. For example, we interviewed a woman running a goldfish fishing game about how she cares for the fish before they are caught, and if she wonders about the fish safety and well-being after they are taken home. One student’s response to this event was “I used to think these goldfish were happy, and now I think people treat them as toys. I hope people can show more love to them.”

Sustained Inquiry / Need to Know / Knowledge Harvest / Research

First, students brainstormed pets and animals they knew. We also did some fun phonics activities to help students identify and categorize the pets according to their initial letters.

Many letters had more than one pet/animal associated with it, so the students did class surveys to identify one favorite animal for each letter (This is why we ended up with odd pets, such as a narwhal!)

The kids surveyed each other to decide on which pets they wanted in their book. Source: Brad Walsh

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Next, we held reading workshops and prepared Teaching Proficiency through Reading and Storytelling (TPRS) activities such as MeTalks, PictureTalks, MovieTalks, One Word Images, and StoryAsking to build the students’ English language fluency in the target language they would use to create content for their book. After each activity, students shared their learning in a KWL reflection exercise, which we documented.

The students researched and documented the content for their book. Source: Brad Walsh
The students performed TPRS activities, such as Story Asking, to build up their target language skills in before developing the content for their book. Source: Brad Walsh

Some other authentic activities that helped build the students’ language skills and knowledge for creating the book content include:

  • Caring for class pets (butterflies and hamsters).
  • Talking with insect guest speakers
  • Interviewing policemen who care for police dogs
  • Interviewing people who manage the goldfish fishing activities in Chaoyang park.

The children participated in a variety of real-world connected activities to help them come up with content for their books. Source: Brad Walsh

Publicly Presented Product

The teachers decided on a book as a publicly presented product, but we respected “student voice and choice” as much as possible in other project aspects, such as the book’s layout and illustrations on their own. The students also composed a music album. They felt the songs would make the book more attractive to students their age who couldn’t read. Here is how we designed the book step by step with the students’ voice and choice at the forefront:

Part 1: Designing the book illustrations

The content for the book was inspired by the book E is for Earthworm.
Source: http://modelsofexcellence.eleducation.org

For the illustrations, we began by analyzing and evaluating ‘Models of Excellence (MoE)’ in order to create our own guiding rubric of the work we produced. We looked at different children’s books, such as the book “E is for Earthworm”. They loved the book’s collage artwork, so we looked at more books with this illustration style, such as works by Eric Carle (i.e. The Hungry Caterpillar). To help maximize the outcomes of these brainstorms, we had the children share their thoughts using “I see… I think… I wonder…” The teachers recorded the children’s thoughts on the artwork.

Students practiced layering techniques for their book’s artwork. Source: Brad Walsh

Some artwork ideas the students came up with included:

  • using contrasting colors
  • using similar color themes (i.e. different shades of red)
  • using playdough for animals
  • use colored paper
  • layer the paper for a 3D effect
  • taking quality pictures of the artwork
What happens when the quality of work doesn’t match expectations? This happens in just about every project, and ours was no different. Our first final draft was largely left to the students’ own creations, but the final outcome was not up to their high personal standards.
The original drafts of each page in the book were not up to students’ expectations, so they continued to evaluate and revise their work. Source: Brad Walsh

So as not to discourage the students, but still push them to persevere in improving their work, we held art design skills workshops guided by Critical Friends sessions. The students gained the constructive feedback necessary to guide their iterations.

The students were given a chance to draft their drawings of different pets first. We got inspiration for this drafting process from Austin’s Butterfly.

A  student’s pet frog drawing before and after receiving feedback and revisions. Source: Brad Walsh
Source: Brad Walsh

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After, students practiced designing their collages. They learned how to center the pets images on the page, how to layer, how to design color themes with similar and contrasting colors. Eventually, the pages started taking on personality. Most importantly, the children were satisfied with the quality of the artwork they designed.

The students practiced layering techniques to make their collages more vivid. Source: Brad Walsh

For example, students chose various shades of blue and orange as the color theme for the narwhal page. The students identified ice, sea, splashing water, sky, fish and clouds as the elements in a narwhal’s environment, and then we matched appropriate shades of blue for each of those elements. The contrasting orange was used for the sun.

The students learned how to select color themes for each pet page. Source: Brad Walsh

Part 2: Designing the book

We used Book Creator to design our books. We first familiarized students with its functions, such as uploading pictures, writing different text fonts, adding in sound, deleting images, drawing in images, and adding background colors.

When the students were comfortable with the Book Creator functions, they worked on designing the page layouts.

The students used Book Creator to add illustrations to connect with the book content. Source: Brad Walsh

During one Critical Friends session, a student pointed out that some  of the text wasn’t represented in the artwork. So, we went back through all of the pages to fill in the missing illustrations. For example, on the ‘H is for Horse’ page, students noticed that hay and a brush needed to be added to the picture to support the text, so they drew it in using Book Creator’s drawing function.

The author’s page was a last-minute personalized add-on, which made the kids laugh and scream with excitement. We saw how the children’s faces were superimposed on the worms in the book “E is for Earthworms,” so the students all agreed to include this in their book. This aspect really made the book publishing experience authentic for the children.

Personalizing the book with the students’ pictures on their favorite animal helped make the book publishing experience authentic for the children. Source: Brad Walsh

Part 3: Designing the music

We spent some time with the students in sampling children songs, selecting rhythms, adding and mixing beats, and allowing them to practice singing their lyrics to the beats. The student’s enthusiasm for the songs is almost tangible as they listen to their CD at home and at school every day. They have also memorized all the song lyrics. You can listen to the music here:

Authenticity – Exhibition Day

We planned a book publishing event to celebrate the publishing of our book on Amazon for just this reason.

Students also designed a music album for their book. Source: Brad Walsh

Before the book release, we had professionals discuss with students what a book publishing event is, and discuss book publishing choices, such as binding options, book cover and printing options, ISBNs, etc.

Our book publishing event involved a screening of music videos from our album and an autograph signing. (The students absolutely loved signing their names on the author’s page right below their pictures!)

The students held a book signing for the release of their book. Source: Brad Walsh

We also published the book online using an Amazon online seller account through Amazon’s CreateSpace. Check out our book here!

Assessments and Reflections

We reflected on our creativity, communication, collaboration, and critical thinking growth in the project using these rubrics. We also had a “What I know now…” discussion about our pet knowledge. Perhaps the most impressive reflection on the project came from a young girl in class. She said “I know now that books are magical. They help you share something you love with many people, which can help make us all better. More kids should publish books about what they love.”

____________________________________________________________________

If you’d like to join our WeChat groups of over 600 educators across China and the world, scan the QR code below to be added. 


Brad Walsh
I am ETU School’s Vice Principal in charge of Project Based Learning Curriculum Development and English Teaching. Throughout my teaching career, I have been specializing in developing positive psychology in children through STEAM-based (Science, Engineering, Art, Technology and Mathematics) activities, and have even written and published textbooks with my team in these subject areas.  I am also very passionate in learning about innovative classroom projects, so please feel free to share your ideas with me!

Email: brad@etuschool.org
LinkedIn

 

Teaching Proficiency Through Reading and Storytelling – Engaging EFL/ESL

What is your biggest hope for your students at school?

Most educators would say they want their students to “achieve high academic goals” and “be engaged in learning.” If you are anything like me, then building engaging lessons for your students is a priority. Academic achievement isn’t an afterthought, but a direct result of engaged learning. If you have ever taught English as a Foreign Language (EFL), then you know that engagement is especially important for learning. Learning foreign languages is stressful, so engagement is the key to avoiding students tuning out their learning.

I began teaching over a decade ago at a prominent English language school in Taipei, Taiwan. I overcompensated for my lack of teaching experience by being the fun teacher. This involved mainly learning through games. My go-to classroom materials were the sticky ball, a flyswatter, stuffed dice, cards, crosswords, word searches, a “star” leader board, etc.

Over time, I realized engaged learning is more than just fun and games, and so my teaching strategies matured. A friend and mentor of mine introduced me to Teaching Proficiency through Reading and Storytelling (TPRS). TPRS made learning more engaging for my students. Classes were more active and comprehensible. My student’s language acquisition and classroom behavior also improved after I started teaching with TPRS. Most importantly, TPRS has made me confident that every class will be an engaging learning experience for my students, and thus I enjoy teaching much more.

I have worked in multiple cities across Asia and North America, and found that TPRS is not well known or practiced in EFL/ESL teaching circles. This is surprising to me because it is such a fun, engaging, and effective teaching method. In some schools, TPRS has improved enrollment in post-secondary foreign language studies programs by 400%. My colleague and I even had our current school’s EFL department adopt TPRS as our key form of instruction. In this article, I will briefly introduce TPRS in hopes to inspire more EFL/ESL educators to adopt it as their teaching practice.

What is TPRS?

TPRS is an effective method for teaching proficiency and fluency in foreign languages. Its goal is to immerse students into a foreign language so the language is subconsciously and effortlessly acquired as opposed to consciously learned.  This is done by teachers making class content comprehensible and meaningful to the students through story asking and a lot of reading. Conversely, the Skill-Building Hypothesis of language learning involves memorizing grammar rules, which is slow and restrictive to the thinking process.

TPRS children's drawing
With TPRS students design personalized stories every 1-2 weeks.

TPRS is an evidenced-based teaching practice grounded in research. The main research supporting this practice is Stephen Krashen’s Theory of Second Language Acquisition and its five main hypotheses. A discussion of the research into TPRS is beyond the scope of this article, but you can find more information about it here.

TPRS started as Total Physical Response (TPR), which involved students simultaneously listening to and performing commands from instructors. TPRS was then developed by Blaine Ray in the 1980s so teachers could expand teaching imperative language with the TPR method to the narrative and descriptive modes of speech. This is done by having students read stories and design their own stories with target language.

How does TPRS create an engaged learning experience for EFL/ESL students?

  •  TPRS is personalized.

Students buy in to learning when it is about them, but teachers struggle to personalize lesson plans to all the unique personalities in their class. Personalization is a key to TPRS lesson plans. In TPRS, the focus is on the students rather than the content being taught. This is achieved during Personalized Question-Answer (PQA) time. During PQA time, teachers personalize lessons by asking students about topics relevant to their lives.

With TPRS students design personalized stories every 1-2 weeks. These stories are for the students, by the students. When students take the lead in story creation, they often use names, places and issues meaningful to them. After, students dramatize their stories for a public audience, which solidifies their ownership and engagement in learning. Finally, students publish their books using media design programs, and then place the books in a classroom DIY library where they can curl up in a bean bag chair to read and laugh a with classmates.

TPRS book page about owls
Students publish their books using media design programs.
  • TPRS facilitates active thinking/learning.

Active learning is the essence of engagement. Students that are participating in class are engaged, and are thus actively learning.

One example is TPR. TPR is still used in the TPRS classroom as a vocabulary introduction technique.  In TPR, the teacher repeats commands in varying sequences while the students execute those commands. The students are actively thinking about what the teacher is saying by doing the actions proposed to them.

For example, in a TPR classroom the teacher may say the command “stand” as she and the student perform the standing action together. Then, the teacher will say “stand” again, but delay her action to allow the student to respond independently. After, the teacher may say “stand” and “walk,” or other verbs, to chain commands together. Finally, the teacher would include descriptors such as “slowly and quickly” to the commands as the student follows them.

The repetitive nature of the TPRS classroom requires teachers to constantly ask students questions. The TPRS teacher navigates from class-directed to individual-directed questions throughout the class, which keeps students attentive. Also, the questions being asked are at a level where all students have the confidence to respond, so student participation is always high.

  • TPRS makes content comprehensible for EFL students.

In the TPRS classroom, the teacher conveys language audibly and in print to the students using a technique known as circling. In circling, the teacher scaffolds content down into simple and repetitive questions and/or statements, and incrementally has students build more details about the story by asking increasingly complex questions. Questions go from dichotomous (yes/no, either/or) to open-ended (who, what, where) as the students’ comprehension increases.

Krashen’s Affective Filter hypothesis states that motivation, self-confidence and anxiety have a major effect on learning languages, so foreign language learning environments must remain motivating, positive, and confidence building. Therefore, in the TPRS classroom, teachers respect the native language barriers to learning by slowing the pace of their class and doing native language comprehension checks. Texts are also presented bilingually so children can quickly confirm their assumptions of language meaning. This goes against most immersion class rules of “no native language in the classroom,” but it is a very effective method for increasing engagement and respecting culture in the foreign language classroom.

  • TPRS is fun for you and your students!

A typical TPRS class involves storytelling, story writing, reading, video viewing, media design, drama, and art!

  • TPRS makes you a better educator.

TPRS will make you a better communicator because you will learn to ask students more questions at levels they understand. I have often heard teachers say that more questions equates to more thinking in the classroom. I would adjust that to say “more quality questions equates to more thinking in the classroom.” The circling technique has done wonders for the quality of communication I have with my students. I am able to pace my thinking better, and ask questions they comprehend while simultaneously building up their thinking to a higher level.

*****

Implementing TPRS into your classroom is one definite way to make your teaching more engaging and effective. TPRS has brought my students deep and rich learning experiences over the years. It creates a fun and interactive classroom where students are fully engaged in their learning. It teaches students in a meaningful and non-stressful way because the input is comprehensible to them.

There are many ways to practice TPRS in the classroom. Here are some great TPRS sites that provide some insight into TPRS teaching practices:

Ben Slavic – A Happier Way to Teach Languages

Susan Gross TPRStorytelling


Brad Walsh
I am ETU School’s Vice Principal in charge of Project Based Learning Curriculum Development and English Teaching. Throughout my teaching career, I have been specializing in developing positive psychology in children through STEAM-based (Science, Engineering, Art, Technology and Mathematics) activities, and have even written and published textbooks with my team in these subject areas.

Email: brad@etuschool.org
LinkedIn

 

Photos: Brad Walsh, All Rights Reserved