GPA for kids


My husband and I have learnt Indonesian through a wonderful method called GPA that was developed by Greg Thompson, but I am yet to discover others who have successfully implimented it with children aged 4-12. Children in this age bracket have needs, challenges and also many great advantages when learning a second language. When exploring options for more child friendly resources,  Ibu Tasya was born. I just couldnt find what I was looking for, and I knew that with some time and hard work I could create exactly what I was looking for and I hope others might make use of them too.  GPA was created for adults and thus lots of its resources, while having toys and pictures, was not very child friendly. I wanted to make resources that helped kids stay on track and focus what they were learning, not be confused with dolls or a busy picture, that was, well, just too busy! Some of my materials are more Australian Curriculum focused than pure GPA, but all of them have the heart and ideals of the GPA phases running through them. When looking to adapt the curriculm for children I looked to the new Australian National Curriculum, firstly because it is great, but also because it leaves scope for different methods such as GPA, but also gives clear progression of what might reasonably be expected from a say 7 year old and a 10 year old. Indonesian has been taught in Australian Primary schools for over 50 years, and we are one of the top 3 countries for teaching it as a foreign language. So I feel Indonesian teachers in Australia do have a little experience. Unlike myself!

The GPA method, as I understand it, in its first phase uses a lot of Total Physical Response, as well as a lot of picture cards and busy pictures. All these things work great with young children learning a second language. Some key features such as the ‘silent phase’ when the learner only listens and are not aloud to respond, can be quite tricky with children! I agree that children shouldn’t be pushed to respond before they are ready, but young children especially are experts a mimicing exact sounds from a native speaker, after as little as one or two repetitions. Their brains are still in the language development phase where they can actually ‘hear’ the sounds and reproduce them correctly. If the children are living in a second language environment, as my girls have, they have also already had years of exposure to the language. They have in some ways had a year of ‘silent phase’ as the language is spoken to and around them and they have been unable to respond. 

This first phase is all about vocab development, verbs, nouns and adjectives and using this vocab in context. It tries to mimic natural speech development, when a 2 year old might say ‘up’ to mean ‘pick me up’ or ‘dog’ to mean ‘there is a dog,’ but then move to simple created sentences, such as ‘me, pat, dog?’ The focus is on understanding preeceeding the learners ablility to use the language. So the learner may have a wide and vaied comprehensible understanding, while only contructing fairly simple sentences. Grammar is taught naturally, embedded in story, discussion, or through methods like ‘imput flooding’. Writing and reading ability is developed last as a natural outworking of comprehension and speaking ability. For adults doing full time language study, this stage lasts about 3 months or 150hrs. So I am not exactly sure how we will go about this or if the children will develop vocab faster, as with only doing 1 hr a week, we would be in this phase for a number of years!!!

The second phase of GPA uses a lot of picture books and story telling! Perfect for children! It starts off looking at the pages of wordless books and finding things that they know how to say, and looking for things that they want to know. Because wordless picture books are written to tell a story without language they provide much of the comprehension, so that the imput given maybe comprehensible also. After focusing on the pages individually, the teacher also goes back and tells the story. The last part of this phase is the learner begining to tell the story. It is an accumulation of all the words and chunks of language they have learnt from the book, and sentences they have heard many times from the teacher, to retell in a simple way, what is happening in the story. It is a huge leap but a very satisfying one. I found this stage hard, but fun, and I am looking forward to seeing how they kids react to this phase! I would love to hear about other children who are doing GPA and how they have found it, but at least if I document how these kids go, if I do find someone we can compare notes! Personally I found this stage a little repeditive, and totally dependant on the books we used. So I have purchased and collected some awesome wordless picture books, that I know they kids will find engaging and with be rich in language development opportunities. Something I also have not mentioned is that with adults we do a lot of recording of our teacher saying the words, puting new words into sentences, giving page descriptions, telling stories etc. For adults the expectation is that each night or inbetween lessons, you spend time listening over the recording from your previous lesson. Any suggestions about how this can be done with children? Sure we could do the recording and play them while the children are drawing or something… But I cant see them sitting still long enough to listen, or it happening enough to be useful! Sure recording stories in their zpd (zone of proximal development) may be enticing enough to get them to happily listen to language outside their lesson, but everything else, I cant imagine. We’ll try out a few things and see how we go. But so far, we are missing that fairly important part of GPA. 

There are four more phases. Phase Three is all about shared stories moving from personal stories of life events, to world stories such as cinderella, and then to local stories and fables from the people group. This moves from know events and known context, to a known story in a new context, to unknown stories from new contexts. I found it such a big jump to Nusentara stories, suddenly having to understand and decipher strange events and happenings with no knowledge of the story, but being able to understand these stories as my teachers is speaking about people turning into snails, mountains etc, was very satisfying. Phase 3 lasts 300 hours, or about 6 months of full time language. Phase 4 is 600 hrs or a year long process of interviewing people you meet and asking them about their life story. Phase 5  to me is more about not settling with ‘good language’ but pursuing near native speech, developing a wider  and deeper vocabularly about technical topics, and Phase 6 is sort of the ‘never ending’ language learning stage of a near native speaker. As the first 3 stages give us enough hours for 100 hours a year for all of primary school, I dont think our children will reach phase 4 in primary school. When I look at what year 11 and 12’s are expected of in the Australian Curriculum, that looks very much phase 4 to me as they converse about topics, issues and events, and 600 hours is enough to get us through all of high school so that sounds about right.

Of course the big focus for GPA is growing participation in the world of the language, and for my children this is why we have started then on their own gpa journey. At her TK she learnt many songs and words in Indonesian. She can understand quite a lot without realising she does, but she is still separated by a wall of noise. She struggles with being surrounded with people speaking at her. She is easily overwhelmed and cannot participate in life here. Other send their children to a local school and make them struggle until they pick it up… And I guess we will do that if GPA for kids doesnt work. But I have hope. Other things I haven’t mentioned here are the comic strip ‘survival phrases’ and situations we are taught. I want and need to develop a group of survival phrases and situations for my girls. Before starting gpa they knew their colours, animals, and basic vocab, but they can’t participate. They can’t use those isolated words to do anything meaningful. But GPA, through storys makes that accessible. Well for me it did, so I am really hoping it can for children as well. There is so much power in being able to tell stories, because really life is all about telling stories, both our own and those around us. We do life together through sharing stories, and that what I want for my girls.

This is just my interpretation of GPA that I have experienced and how I see it working with children. I have been to one of Greg Thompsons Language Learning Advisors courses, and am now a qualified GPA Language Learning Advisor.  If you want to read many more articles about GPA please head to www.growingparticipatorsapproach.wordpress.com.  They have all the details and information straught from Gregs material. Greg also has a blog at www.growingparticipatorsapproach.blogspot.com but it isnt updated very regularly and doesn have all the information, articles and resources that the first site has. There are also Vimeo interviews with Greg and friends explaining activities in Phase 1 at growingparticipator.com

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