Total Physical Response
Total Physical Response (TPR) is a language teaching method built around the coordination of speech and action; it attempts to teach language through physical (motor) activity. Developed by James Asher, a professor of psychology at San Jose State University, California, it draws on several traditions, including developmental psychology, learning theory, and humanistic pedagogy, as well as on language teaching procedures proposed by Harold and Dorothy Palmer in 1925. Let us briefly consider these precedents to Total Physical Response.
Total Physical Response is linked to the "trace theory " of memory in psychology, which holds that the more often or the more intensively a memory connection is traced, the stronger the memory association will be and the more likely it will be recalled. Retracing can be done verbally (e.g., by rote repetition) and/or in association with motor activity. Combined tracing activities, such as verbal rehearsal accompanied by motor activity, hence increase the probability of successful recall.
In a developmental sense, Asher sees successful adult second language learning as a parallel process to child first language acquisition. He claims that speech directed to young children consists primarily of commands, which children respond to physically before they begin to produce verbal responses. Asher feels adults should recapitulate the processes by which children acquire their mother tongue.
Asher shares with the school of humanistic psychology a concern for the role of affective (emotional) factors in language learning. A method that is undemanding in terms of linguistic production and that involves gamelike movements reduces learner stress, he believes, and creates a positive mood in the learner, which facilitates learning.
Asher's emphasis on developing comprehension skills before the learner is taught to speak links him to a movement in foreign language teaching sometimes referred to as the Comprehension Approach (Winitz 1981). This refers to several different comprehension-based language teaching proposals, which share the belief that (a) comprehension abilities precede productive skills in learning a language; (b) the teaching of speaking should be delayed until comprehension skills are established; (c) skills acquired through listening transfer to other skills; (d) teaching should emphasize meaning rather than form; and (e) teaching should minimize learner stress.
The emphasis on comprehension and the use of physical actions to teach a foreign language at an introductory level has a long tradition in language teaching.
Asher does not directly discuss the nature of language or how languages are organized. However, the labeling and ordering of TPR classroom drills seem to be built on assumptions that owe much to structuralist or grammar-based views of language. Asher states that "most of the grammatical structure of the target language and hundreds of vocabulary items can be learned from the skillful use of the imperative by the instructor" (1977: 4). He views the verb, and particularly the verb in the imperative, as the central linguistic motif around which language use and learning are organized.
Asher sees language as being composed of abstractions and non-abstractions, with non-abstractions being most specifically represented by concrete nouns and imperative verbs. He believes that learners can acquire a "detailed cognitive map" as well as "the grammatical structure of a language" without recourse to abstractions.
Abstractions should be delayed until students have internalized a detailed cognitive map of the target language. Abstractions are not necessary for people to decode the grammatical structure of a language. Once students have internalized the code, abstractions can be introduced and explained in the target language.
This is an interesting claim about language but one that is insufficiently detailed to test. For example, are tense, aspect, articles, and so forth, abstractions, and if so, what sort of "detailed cognitive map" could be constructed without them?
Despite Asher's belief in the central role of comprehension in language learning, he does not elaborate on the relation between comprehension, production, and communication (he has no theory of speech acts or their equivalents, for example), although in advanced TPR lessons imperatives are used to initiate different speech acts, such as requests ("John, ask Mary to walk to the door"), and apologies ("Ned, tell Jack you're sorry").
Asher also refers in passing to the fact that language can be internalized as wholes or chunks, rather than as single lexical items, and, as such, links are possible to more theoretical proposals of this kind, as well as to work on the role of prefabricated patterns in language learning and language use Asher does not elaborate on his view of chunking, however, nor on other aspects of the theory of language underlying Total Physical Response. We have only clues to what a more fully developed language theory might resemble when spelled out by Asher and his supporters.
Theory of learning
Asher's language learning theories are reminiscent of the views of other behavioral psychologists. For example, the psychologist Arthur Jensen proposed a seven-stage model to describe the development of verbal learning in children. The first stage he calls Sv-R type learning , which the educational psychologist John DeCecco interprets as follows:
In Jensen's notation, Sv refers to a verbal stimulus—a syllable, a word, a phrase, and so on. R refers to the physical movements the child makes in response to the verbal stimulus (or Sv). The movement may involve touching, grasping, or otherwise manipulating some object. For example, mother may tell Percival (age 1) to get the ball, and Percival, distinguishing the sound "ball" from the clatter of other household noises, responds by fetching the ball and bringing it to his mother. Ball is the Sv (verbal stimulus), and Percival's action is the response. At Percival's age, children respond to words about four times faster than they respond to other sounds in their environment. It is not clear why this is so, but it is possible that the reinforcing effects of making proper responses to verbal stimuli are sufficiently strong to cause a rapid development of this behavior. Sv-R learning represents, then, the simplest form of verbal behavior.
This is a very similar position to Asher's view of child language acquisition. Although learning psychologists such as Jensen have since abandoned such simple stimulus-response models of language acquisition and development, and although linguists have rejected them as incapable of accounting for the fundamental features of language learning and use, Asher still sees a stimulus-response view as providing the learning theory underlying language teaching pedagogy. In addition, Asher has elaborated an account of what he feels facilitates or inhibits foreign language learning. For this dimension of his learning theory he draws on three rather influential learning hypotheses :
1. There exists a specific innate bio-program for language learning, which defines an optimal path for first and second language development.
2. Brain lateralization defines different learning functions in the left- and right-brain hemispheres.
3. Stress (an affective filter) intervenes between the act of learning and what is to be learned; the lower the stress, the greater the learning.
Let us consider how Asher views each of these in turn.
|Other items introduced were:|
|Rectangle||Draw a rectangle on the chalkboard.|
|Pick up a rectangle from the table and give it to me.|
|Put the rectangle next to the square.|
|Triangle||Catch the triangle and put it next to the rectangle.|
|Pick up the triangle from the table and give it to me.|
|Quickly||Walk quickly to the door and hit it.|
|Quickly, run to the table and touch the square.|
|Sit down quickly and laugh.|
|Slowly||Walk slowly to the window and jump.|
|Slowly, stand up.|
|Slowly walk to me and hit me on the arm.|
|Toothpaste||Look for the toothpaste.|
|Throw the toothpaste to Wing.|
|Wing, unscrew the top of the toothpaste.|
Next, the instructor asked simple questions which the student could answer with a gesture such as pointing. Examples would be:
Where is the towel? [Eduardo, point to the towel!]
Where is the toothbrush? [Miako, point to the toothbrush!]
Where is Dolores?
Role reversal. Students readily volunteered to utter commands that manipulated the behavior of the instructor and other students....
Reading and writing. The instructor wrote on the chalkboard each new vocabulary item and a sentence to illustrate the item. Then she spoke each item and acted out the sentence. The students listened as she read the material. Some copied the information in their notebooks.
Total Physical Response is in a sense a revival and extension of Palmer and Palmer's English Through Actions, updated with references to more recent psychological theories. It has enjoyed some popularity because of its support by those who emphasize the role of comprehension in second language acquisition. Krashen (1981), for example, regards provision of comprehensible input and reduction of stress as keys to successful language acquisition, and he sees performing physical actions in the target language as a means of making input comprehensible and minimizing stress (see Chapter 9). The experimental support for the effectiveness of Total Physical Response is sketchy (as it is for most methods) and typically deals with only the very beginning stages of learning. Proponents of Communicative Language Teaching would question the relevance to real-world learner needs of the TPR syllabus and the utterances and sentences used within it. Asher himself, however, has stressed that Total Physical Response should be used in association with other methods and techniques. Indeed, practitioners of TPR typically follow this recommendation, suggesting that for many teachers TPR represents a useful set of techniques and is compatible with other approaches to teaching. TPR practices therefore may be effective for reasons other than those proposed by Asher and do not necessarily demand commitment to the learning theories used to justify them.
The Definition Of CLT
Communicative Language Teaching (CLT) originated from the changes in the British Situational Language Teaching approach dating from the late 1960s (Richards & Rodgers, 2001). Stemming from the socio-cognitive perspective of the socio-linguistic theory, with an emphasis on meaning and communication, and a goal to develop learners’ “communicative competence”, Communicative Language Teaching (CLT) approach evolves as a prominent language teaching method and gradually replaced the previous grammar-translation method and audio-lingual method (Warschauer & Kern, 2000). Since the concept of “communicative competence” was first introduced by Hymes in the mid-1960s, many researchers have helped develop theories and practices of Communicative Language Teaching approach (Brown, 1987; Canale, 1983; Hymes, 1971; Littlewood, 1981; Nattinger, 1984; Nunan, 1987 &1989; Richards & Rodgers, 1986; Widdowson, 1990). Hymes coined this term in contrast to Chomsky’s “Linguistic Competence”. As Stern (1992) explicated, “Competence represents proficiency at its most abstract and psychologically deepest level” (p.73). Chomsky indicated that underlying the concrete language performance, there is an abstract rule system or knowledge and this underlying knowledge of the grammar of the language by the native speaker is his “linguistic competence”. In contrast, Hymes argue that in addition to linguistic competence, the native speaker has another rule system. In Hymes’ view, language was considered as a social and cognitive phenomenon; syntax and language forms were understood not as autonomous, acontextual structures, but rather as meaning resources used in particular conventional ways and develop through social interaction and assimilation of others’ speech (Warschauer & Kern, 2000). Therefore, speakers of a language have to have more than grammatical competence in order to be able to communicate effectively in a language; they also need to know how language is used by members of a speech community to accomplish their purposes (Hymes, 1968). Based on this theory, Canale and Swain (1980) later extend the “Communicative competence” into four dimensions. In Canale and Swain, “‘Communicative competence’ was understood as the underlying systems of knowledge and skill required for communication. Knowledge refers here to what one knows (consciously or unconsciously) about the language and about other aspects of communicative language use; skill refers to how well one can perform this knowledge in actual communication (Canale, 1983, p.5)”. From this perspective, what language teachers need to teach is no longer just linguistic competence but also socio-linguistic competence (“which utterances are produced and understood appropriately in different socio-linguistic contexts”), discourse competence (“mastery of how to combine grammatical forms and meanings to achieve a unified spoken or written text in different genres”), and strategic competence (“mastery of verbal and non-verbal communication strategies that may be called into action for compensating or enhancing communication”) (Canale, 1983, pp.7-11).
Elements of CLT
Communication – According to Ability
Whether CLT should be considered an approach or a methodology is a more abstract debate and here I want to deal with its more practical aspects. In fact, it is those very elements, and the name itself, which have been used to challenge the future relevance of CLT. Firstly, the label implies a focus on communication and some might argue that this method can't be employed genuinely with low levels as there is no authentic communication, due to a limited vocabulary and restricted range of functions. Initially, many of a learner's utterances are very formulaic. As an aside, consider just what percentage of our own English expressions are unique, and how often we rely on a set phrase; just because it is delivered unselfconsciously and with natural intonation does not make it original. The aim is that the length and complexity of exchanges, and confident delivery, will grow with the student's language ability.
With the emphasis on communication, there is also the implication that spoken exchanges should be authentic and meaningful; detractors claim that the artificial nature of classroom–based (i.e. teacher - created) interactions makes CLT an oxymoron. Nevertheless, a proficient teacher will provide a context so that class interactions are realistic and meaningful but with the support needed to assist students to generate the target language. We need to consider that producing language is a skill and when we learn a skill we practise in improvised settings. For example, before a nurse gives a real injection, they have punctured many a piece of fruit to hone their technique.
Accuracy as Well as Fluency
It might also be argued that the extent of some of the structures or functions may never be used in real life. One example is adjective order; I have given students an exercise where they have to produce a phrase with a string of adjectives, such as "a strong, orange, Norwegian, canvas tent." This is very unnatural, as most times we only combine two or three adjectives. The other example is directions – we have students follow a map and negotiate exhaustive directions which suggest maze-like complexity. In reality, most of us probably are only involved in a three-phase set of directions. In fact, what we are doing with these exercises is exposing students to patterns which they can later activate.
This focus on accuracy versus fluency is one of the issues not often considered in a discussion of CLT. The teacher decides to pay attention to one or other end of this band, depending on the type of lesson, or the stage of a particular lesson, and accuracy is their choice if they want to deal with students getting things right, take an opportunity for correction, or gauge the success of their teaching, for example. Freer speaking involves more choice, therefore more ambiguity, and less teacher intervention. While CLT implies the lessons are more student-centred, this does not mean they are un-structured. The teacher does have a very important role in the process, and that is setting up activities so that communication actually happens. There is a lot of preparation; accuracy practice is the bridge to a fluency activity. By implication, CLT involves equipping students with vocabulary, structures and functions, as well as strategies, to enable them to interact successfully.
The reference to strategies introduces the matter of grammatical versus communicative competence. If we view the two as mutually exclusive, then we are likely to champion one over the other, in terms of approach, curriculum or whatever else determines and defines our classroom teaching. In fact, Canale and Swain's model of communicative competence, referred to by Guangwei Hu, includes four sub-categories, namely grammatical, sociolinguistic discourse and strategic. They consider someone competent in English should demonstrate both rules of grammar and use.
This returns us to the consideration of who we are teaching, and why. Are our students aiming to learn or acquire English? Do they need to know lexical items and linguistic rules as a means of passing an exam, or do they want to be able to interact in English? For those inclined to maintain the dichotomy between learning and acquisition, and who argue that our primary focus is learners, CLT still has relevance. It is timely to review an early definition of CLT. According to Richards and Rodgers, in Guangwei Hu, CLT is basically about promoting learning.
Then again, Mark Lowe suggests that we follow Halliday's lead and drop the distinction between learning and acquisition, and refer to language mastery instead. After all, if the students master the language, they will certainly be able to perform better in exams, if that is their goal. In addition, those who do see a purpose beyond classroom-related English will be better equipped for using the language socially.
One of the constant discussions in all my teacher training groups was how to motivate students. This suggests that the focus on passing the exam was not always enough. Motivation relates to engaging students but also includes confidence building. If there is a climate of trust and support in the classroom, then students are more likely to contribute. One way of developing this is to allow pair-checking of answers before open-class checking occurs. Another way is to include an opportunity for students to discuss a topic in small groups before there is any expectation that they speak in front of the whole class. Evelyn Doman suggests that "The need for ongoing negotiation during interaction increases the learners' overt participation..." It is this involvement we need to harness and build on.
Sometimes the participation is hardly what we would define as 'negotiation', but merely a contribution. For a few students, just uttering a word or a phrase can be an achievement. Indeed, some of the teachers in the training sessions said this was the goal they set for their more reticent pupils. And I have had students who, after writing their first note or e-mail in English, expressed their pride at being able to do so.
If teachers consider an activity to be irrelevant or not engaging enough, there are many other tasks which may be more appropriate, such as surveys, using a stimulus picture and prompt questions (Who... Where... When...What...), or a series of pictures which need to be sequenced before a story is discussed. In this respect, CLT addresses another area which constantly challenges teachers, the mixed-ability class. When the lesson progresses to a freer-speaking activity, students can contribute according to their ability and confidence, although I acknowledge both need to be stretched. So there is a challenge for the more capable students, while those with an average ability still feel their effort is valid. This compares with the less creative opportunities offered by some textbooks, where students read a dialogue, perhaps doing a substitution activity, for example.
A basic responsibility is considering and responding to the needs of our students, so if the course book is inadequate we need to employ the following steps: select, adapt, reject and supplement. Moreover, because each class we teach has its own characteristics and needs, CLT will vary each time we employ it.
Too often, a 'new' approach appears to completely dismiss the previous one. This is not always the intention, but probably more a result of the enthusiasm of practitioners exploring and implementing fresh activities or opportunities. Also, throughout the CLT debate, there seem to be dichotomies which are employed to argue for its irrelevance. It is evident that CLT has gathered a range of characteristics, perhaps more through misunderstanding or by association, but it is actually not as incompatible with other valued practices as it is sometimes made to appear. In practical terms, whether assisting mixed-ability classes, aiding motivation, leading from a focus on form to one of fluency, or supporting learning, it has a lot to offer the EFL teacher