I was recently chatting with a couple of Vancouver teachers who used to use the Accelerated Integrative Method (A.I.M.) of language teaching. A.I.M., developed by Wendy Maxwell, is both a method and a program. It begins with “total immersion”: the teacher speaks only the target language in class, and uses gestures to support meaning. Students are expected to speak from Day 1, and to also use the gestures. There is reading, some grammar instruction (not a ton), and the whole thing is built around a set of stories, which are read, listened to, acted, watched, acted with puppets, etc, as well as responded to. Oral output is rehearsing a play, which is performed at the end of the year/semester. They have some reading materials. The curriculum is super-structured: you need to “do” all the stories in order to perform the play and they have very detailed lesson plans (and procedures) starting day 1.
Now, I have not used A.I.M.– I found out about it at the same time as T.P.R.S. and the latter intuitively appealed to me more– but I get asked a lot about what I think. So since I can’t speak for A.I.M., I’ll let Catherine and Natasha explain what they did and didn’t like about it:
- used AIM for about 2 years for French
- liked the intense “immersion” it offered– lots of French spoken in class and the T.P.R. (total physical response– words accompanied with gesture) aspect
- initially appreciated the rigorous structure: it was “easy to start” and there was no need to copy/borrow/adapt “materials” and “resources” from others.
Natasha abandoned A.I.M. and here is why:
- the TPR was only superficially and initially useful and eventually became a pain in the butt. Students also generally refused to do it.
- TPR created problems with ambiguity, and fossilised. For example, if a gesture accompanied “walks,” Natasha found that they would keep using “walks”in the wrong place with the gesture (e.g. “we walks”).
- the oral assessment– can the kids recite their lines in the play?– in her view was silly as it wasn’t even close to real language use. She also noted that the performers didn’t always know what they were saying.
- she found it very difficult to keep the kids focused on the stories, because they are the same in all their iterations. E.g. they would listen to it, read it, watch it, act it out, act it out with puppets, etc. There was, according to Natasha, no variation. No parallel characters, student-centered improv a la t.p.r.s., etc.
Catherine also used A.I.M. for two years and repeated most of Natasha’s comments (both positive and negative), with a few of her own. On the upside:
- if the whole languages department in a school is using A.I.M., the transitions between grades– i.e. “what should they know when they start grade ___?”– is very easy, as the curriculum is majorly locked in.
- the theatre pieces in which each year or semester culminates are pretty cool to look at (and, if your school has the resources for costumes etc, can be a lot of fun to put on)
On the downside:
- because the curriculum is so rigid, it inevitably leaves some students out. If students have not acquired ___, the curriculum marches ahead anyway.
- there is very little room for improvisation in stories
- teachers with a creative bent will be severely limited, because the whole A.I.M. package is “unified” and one has to “do” or “cover” everything for the final goal– theatre pieces– to work. This means that teachers’ ideas will have very limited room for exploration.
- much of the introductory stuff is boring. E.g. the class sits in a circle and the teacher says “this is a pen,” and “this is a desk,” etc.
(One of the interesting things for me was oral assessment: A.I.M. uses “real” language– i.e. student-generated output– right from the get-go, but assesses something other than “real language” in the theatre piece, while T.P.R.S. uses “fake” language– acted-out stories with simple dialogue– but assesses “real” language– teacher interviewing the kids one-on-one.)
T.P.R.S. answers a few of these criticisms:
- T.P.R. is only (and optionally) used for awhile, and generally with true beginners
- The method is infinitely flexible. We have Blaine’s “holy trinity” of story asking, PQA and reading…and we now also have Ben Slavic’s PictureTalk, Ashley Hastings’ MovieTalk, dictation…and even when we are using a “text” such as Blaine Ray’s Look, I Can Talk, or Adriana Ramírez’ Teaching Spanish Through Comprehensible Input Storytelling, we– and the KIDS– can change story details, locations, etc etc.
- The comprehension checks in T.P.R.S.– if regularly done– will provide super-clear feedback about whether or not students have acquired (on understanding level) whatever they are being taught. If a teacher gets a weak choral response, or slow/poor responses from the actor(s), we go back, add a character, etc.
- There is no “end goal” in T.P.R.S. If we are in the target language, and the kids understand, and we don’t overload them with vocab, they are acquiring. Blaine Ray has famously remarked that he spent four months doing ONE story with his grade 9s. We are not working toward an exam, a play, a portfolio. All we want to do is tell the kids interesting fun stories with vocab we can repeat zillions of times.
- If a story is boring, we add a parallel character, or bail out and start another one, or throw something random in. While we do want to stick to our structures, we can basically do whatever we want with them.
- If there’s ambiguity we just translate.
Another colleague, Katy-Ann, has this to say about A.I.M.:
“I loved using the AIM program!! It was a lot of work at the beginning to learn all the gestures, but I found that it worked so well. I could speak French for the entire time with my 8’s, and the majority of the kids loved the way the program worked. At the end of the year the students were capable of telling a story (based on the play that we read) in their own words, with a partner. The activity was completely unrehearsed, and as the students alternated back and forth telling the story, they had to listen for details and continue on where their partner left off. Most groups talked bath and forth in this way for a good 10 minutes. They were also capable of writing a massive story. I loved hearing them create more complex sentences and I could help them with the words they were stuck on without actually telling them the word. I could gesture and it would jog their memory. I found that this gave the students confidence. They were actually recalling things and not just repeating words back to me. At the end of the year the feedback from the students was overwhelmingly positive and the parents were very supportive of the method as well.
I’m a fairly animated teacher, so I felt comfortable making a bit of a fool of myself with the gestures, songs and games. My colleague and I collaborated a lot during the process and reworked the songs into raps to make them a little cooler. This style really suited my personality and I loved that I could actually stick to my French only rule in the classroom. I haven’t used TPRS in the classroom and unfortunately I’m not teaching French this year, so I can’t really compare the methods. If I was teaching French (and I had some pull at my new school) I would totally beg to do the AIM program again with the jr French classes. I’m not sure how the older kids would react to it.
Anyways, I hope that this helps. I think that the program is AMAZING. The kit that my school purchased is called Salut, mon ami. I only got through one kit in the year, because we added in a couple things, but I would recommend two per grade – or if you are just starting, then one. Of course there are some holes in the program, but the main thing that I noticed is that the kids were speaking in full sentences every day, they were successful and engaged. I could really go on and on about it because I’m a believer. I would totally take the seminar if you can. I did the three day course and by the end I knew it was for me.”
Anyway there you have it, some A.I.M. ideas. Anyone with experience with A.I.M. please leave some comments.