If you are like me, the three letters “TPS” means two very important things. First, it can mean “TPS Reports” which Wikipedia tells me stands for, “Testing Procedure Specification Reports.” I don’t know what that really means. Mmkay, this clip from the movie “Office Space” shows me that it is very important to include the new cover sheet on all TPS reports. Based on the movie, TPS reports in my mind have taken on the meaning of some sort of mindless task we must perform as a condition of our employment.
The other TPS is something I have given even more thought to and is more likely to be found on an ELT blog. This TPS stands for “Think-Pair-Share” and it is a technique I have found to be very useful in class. Instead of just asking questions to the whole room and expecting students to confidently share their answers I generally like to give students some time to think about the answer individually (THINK) and then talk with a partner (PAIR) and then open things up to the whole class (SHARE). This can be modified for a few different rounds of sharing that need not be the whole class but could be different or larger groups. This is a very simple technique, but I think it can be extremely helpful. I have been a believer in this TPS for a few years now and these three simple letters guide my thinking a lot in terms of planning and teaching.
You know that sinking feeling when you as a teacher ask a question to the group and nobody answers and then you feel compelled to fill the silence and keep talking instead of students? I think TPS is a good way to prevent this because students have already had a chance to think about it and then even talk about it in the relatively safe situation of talking to one partner. I think TPS can go a long way to prevent those face-threatening situations where students feel put on the spot. Long live TPS!
I have long thought two of the most useful techniques for new teachers to master would be jigsawing and TPS. With these two done well, I think teachers can cover a lot of ground and can cover up a lot of potential problems. In fact, in I had moments were I thought introducing and practicing these two would make for a good workshop for beginning teachers.
Lately, I have been wondering just how effective this TPS stuff is for my students. In one specific class they have all told me that they want to be able to speak English more quickly and without hesitation or mumbling and struggling to get started. This desire matches with my thoughts and observations.. They are quite strong at English but it often takes them some time to warm up. They can take some nice long turns and can share complicated thoughts freely and well. The challenges tend to come when they are put on the spot and need to answer a question immediately. They are great when they have time to gather their thoughts. This is probably not atypical. I can’t help but wonder if my devotion to TPS has served them as well as I would have hoped. I am not really looking for suggestions on activities to try, to be honest. I fully realize there are plenty of ways to add a bit of rush or useful tension. I am mostly just wondering if too much TPS can be a bad thing. I am worried that by continually giving thinking time it has become a sort of crutch that works in class but isn’t helpful when this time simply isn’t available.
Moments when I am at the front floundering and hoping someone will bail me out by answering a question are extremely rare. As are moments when students give less than thoughtful and reasonable answers. Students generally seem comfortable discussing in pairs and then groups with confidence and without much nervousness. I am trying to think of the benefits of TPS beyond these aspects. I can see how repeating similar answers would help students become more comfortable but I am not sure how much this would carry over to another time when the students feel the need to answer quickly. I suppose my question is if by making things easy and smooth for me and my students I have made it too easy for them. And if by making things less stressful for the students I have robbed them of the chance to experience said stress in a safe and supportive environment. I am not quite ready to get the tattoo removed quite yet but it is something I have been thinking about.