Revisiting Vygotsky: TPRS in the Primary Grades

Jonathan Harris, Executive Recorder and Editor of the Cardinal
Spanish Teacher, St. Gabriel Consolidated School, Cincinnati

As a teacher of younger learners, I am on the lookout for research and theories to assist me in the classroom. Sometimes, this involves learning and/or re-learning something from long ago. As a teacher that uses TPR (Total Physical Response), and in re-visiting why I use this method, I found these two quotes. “The TPR (Total Physical Response) teaching method is a continuous application of Vygotsky’s Scaffolding Strategy, which is defined as the teacher demonstrating the meaning of the new word and gradually withdrawing assistance as the new word is learned (Cantoni 1999:54).” Lev Vygotsky developed this strategy and it relates to his concept of the zone of proximal development, defined as “The distance between the actual developmental level as determined by independent problem solving and the level of potential development as determined through problem solving under adult guidance or in collaboration with more capable peers (Vygotsky 1978:84).”

Cantoni in her article stated that she uses this strategy to teach modifiers (Cantoni 1999:54). For example, she will teach the word gato (cat) by having students hold up a doll or picture, and then use that word to teach modifiers such as “big cat.” For Kindergarten through Second Grade at my school, I use their pencil box. This incorporates TPR with the scaffolding in a similar method. Whenever I (the instructor) say crayón for crayon, they must get a crayon from their pencil box. They also learn the words for scissors, glue, pencil and eraser. During our first class on this topic, these five vocabulary words are sufficient, but for the second the colors are added. Red, rojo, and blue, azul, are first because these are the most common and are used with crayón, as in crayón rojo or crayón azul. Other colors are added along with other activities to reinforce the learning of the colors, but eventually all the common colors such as yellow, gray, green, orange, purple, pink, black and white are all used. TPR is used as a beginning link to help students learn that nouns come before adjectives in these types of phrases.

How can you revisit Vygotsky in your classroom? This article explores TPR and scaffolding, and how to teach modifiers with this method. As we begin our school year, we can explore both old and new methods to assist our students in World Language learning.

Cantoni, G. P. (1999). Using TPR-Storytelling to Develop Fluency and Literacy in Native American Languages. In: Reyhner, J. Cantoni, G. P., St. Clair, R. N. and Parsons Yazzie, E. Revitalizing Indigenous Languages. Flagstaff, AZ: Northern Arizona University. Pages 53-58.

Vygotsky, L. (1978). Interaction between Learning and Development. In: Mind in Society, Vygotsky, L. (translated Cole, M.) Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Pages 79-91.


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