Student perceptions on the motivational pull of Teaching
Proficiency through Reading and Storytelling (TPRS): a
Self-Determination Theory perspective.
Department of Education, University of Bath, United Kingdom
Email: email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org
Twitter: @liamprinter Website: www.liamprinter.com
Liam Printer is currently completing a Doctorate in Education at The University of Bath,
UK. He has taught in a variety of educational settings in Ireland, Switzerland, Canada
and New Zealand for over 11 years. He has presented on Motivation and Comprehensible
Input methods of language acquisition at the TPRS Europe Conference in Agen, France,
the Alliance for International Education conference in Amsterdam and the FEILTE Irish
National Teaching Council Conference in Dublin. He has also worked as an educational
consultant for a group of secondary schools in Finland. His principal research interests
are around motivation, foreign language teaching and learning, comprehensible input
strategies and active learning approaches.
Word Count: 7930 words (including abstract and references)
Keywords: Language acquisition, motivation, self-determination theory, TPRS,
No potential conflict of interest was reported by the author
Student perceptions on the motivational pull of Teaching
Proficiency through Reading and Storytelling (TPRS): a
Self-Determination Theory perspective.
This paper explores a group of secondary, international school students’ feelings about
Teaching Proficiency through Reading and Storytelling (TPRS) using a self-
determination theory (SDT) lens. It adds to the limited existing literature on TPRS and is
the first to study the approach from a purely motivational perspective. The paper analyses
the extent to which students perceived that TPRS satisfied SDT’s three basic
psychological needs of autonomy, competence and relatedness. It employs a case study
approach, using data obtained from classroom observations as well as background group
interviews and focus group interviews. The findings conclude that TPRS is a decidedly
motivating and engaging method for foreign language (FL) learners. The three needs of
SDT were found to be highly interrelated with satisfaction of one influencing positively
on the others. The findings suggest that the autonomous nature of TPRS, where students
co-create the stories with the teacher, result in a heightened sense of personal ability and
belongingness to the group. Additionally, the results reinforce the conclusions from other
studies, which suggest that activities that are perceived as fun, interesting, novel and
different are most likely to develop intrinsic motivation in FL learners. The findings have
implications for both pre-service and in-service FL teachers and replication studies
applying SDT to TPRS in other contexts are warranted.
Language acquisition, motivation, self-determination theory, TPRS, storytelling
The importance of motivation for successful second language (L2) learning is widely
recognised by researchers in both social psychology and education (Gardner, 1985; Noels
et al., 2003). Boo et al. (2015) note the vast surge of research surrounding L2 motivation
in their meta-analysis of over 400 publications between 2005 and 2014. Nonetheless, how
L2 motivation is actually fostered in the classroom remains a highly contested and
complex domain, around which there is little consensus.
Self Determination Theory (SDT) (Ryan and Deci, 2000) provides a motivational lens
through which L2 motivation can be explored. SDT posits that intrinsic motivation,
participating in a task out of sheer enjoyment and interest, is enhanced when learning
activities satisfy the basic needs of autonomy, relatedness and competence. While SDT
has been elaborated by different scholars (Niemiec and Ryan, 2009; Noels et al., 2003)
and successfully employed in a variety of contexts such as sports, medicine, coaching,
and education (Muñoz & Ramirez, 2015) its application in L2 motivation remains low.
Even less research exists around the construct from the students’ perspectives.
Empirical investigations focusing on motivational teaching strategies are scarce in L2
research, with some notable exceptions (e.g. Dörnyei and Csizér, 1998; Guilloteaux and
Dörnyei, 2008; Moskovy et al., 2013). In their seminal work, which explored
motivational teaching practices as a whole, Guilloteaux and Dörnyei (2008) called on
other L2 researchers to investigate more narrowly defined foreign language (FL) teaching
methods within a motivational framework. The present study responds to this call by
investigating the motivational impact of Teaching Proficiency through Reading and
Storytelling (TPRS) through an SDT lens. Its purpose is to consider how SDT might
inform understanding of students’ L2 motivation, and, more particularly, how TPRS
relates to the theory.
II Background and Context
TPRS is a language teaching approach developed by Blaine Ray in 1997 (Seely and Ray,
1997) focusing on acquiring language through storytelling, reading and personalisation of
themes (Dziedzic, 2012). It is based on Krashen’s (1981) theory of ‘comprehensible
input’ (CI) which hypothesises that in order for language to be acquired, learners require
vast amounts of understandable ‘inputs’ (Gass, 2008). Payne (2011), among other critics
of Krashen’s CI hypothesis, argues that it is flawed and unpractical in the ‘real’ language
classroom as it inevitably evolves into a ‘structured’, more traditional lesson.
Nevertheless, the model is widely known and used by FL teachers.
In TPRS, the teacher ‘asks a story’ rather than tells it, deliberately repeating the highest
frequency structures needed for communicating (Ray and Seely, 2015). Linking closely
to the constructivism, target structures are ‘acquired’ rather than ‘learnt’ through students
co-creating and participating in fun, interesting and bizarre stories. When learning
activities fail to engage students through interest or novelty, they experience boredom
and disengagement (Collins and Halverson, 2009). TPRS stories aim to be ‘compelling’,
as this intense interest helps learners focus only on the message they are hearing or
reading (Krashen and Bland, 2014).
The research around TPRS, however, remains scant. Most existing studies focus on
achievement outcomes, comparing TPRS to more traditional language instruction, with
little or no mention of its role in motivation. In many cases, publications are only
available in the form of a non-peer-reviewed book section or thesis and are often overly
biased towards the approach and lacking in academic rigour (e.g. Dziedzic, 2012;
Varguez, 2009; Watson, 2009). Foster (2011) is critical of this dearth in empirical
research, arguing that evidence supporting TPRS’s success is purely anecdotal.
Lichtman’s (2015, p.376) overview of all existing TPRS research, citing published
descriptive articles, empirical studies and unpublished theses, concludes that ‘TPRS is at
least as effective as, and often more effective than, other second language teaching
methods’. Her summary, however, is descriptive in nature and appears only as an
appendix in Ray and Seely’s (2015) TPRS instructional manual. Moreover, the synopsis
cites only five published empirical studies, three publications with no control group and
seven descriptive articles. In her investigation of the research, Lichtman claims only
Alley and Overfield (2008), which she notes is not an empirical study, is critical of
TPRS. In their chapter, the authors problematise TPRS as being overly teacher-centred,
with non-authentic stories that possess minimal cultural content.
Nonetheless, the few studies that mention TPRS’s role in motivation and engagement
report positive findings. Teachers perceive TPRS to be highly motivating for students,
resulting in total engagement, excitement, and eager participation (Campbell, 2016;
Espinoza, 2015). Blanton’s (2015) thesis concludes that students score TPRS higher on
all areas of motivation than the popular ‘Communicative Language Teaching’ approach.
Despite being critical of the ‘made-up’ stories themselves, he links students’ increased
intrinsic motivation to the autonomy afforded to them via the TPRS approach, offering
support to Perna’s (2007) findings that students enjoy and like the TPRS class more than
other language classes. While not specific studies on motivation itself, Beal (2011),
among others, posits TPRS’s ability to lower what Krashen and Terrell (1983) call the
‘affective filter’; the anxiety experienced in language learning that causes inhibition,
which is particularly prevalent among adolescents.
The active learning in TPRS appeals to learners, students report feeling validated and
included as they co-create the story with their teacher, the CI raises their perception of
competence and ‘TPRS is fun’ (Davidheiser, 2002). Dziedzic (2012) also found that the
‘affective filter’ is reduced thanks to the target language consistently being
comprehensible in TPRS. Many studies highlight its positive effect on student
engagement, autonomy, self-confidence, and enthusiasm for learning (e.g. Armstrong,
2008; Bustamante, 2009; Espinoza, 2015; Wenck, 2010). Foster (2011) highlights that
the approach emphasises the creativity of both teacher and students, making it
entertaining for everyone involved. ‘Having fun’ through stimulating, engaging activities
has also been found elsewhere in language learning research as an important driver of
motivation (Yurtseven et al., 2015).
While dissertations and theses are valuable sources of data, the lack of published,
empirical work around TPRS in peer-reviewed journals highlights the need for further
research. In addition, there is little qualitative research relating to TPRS and its role in L2
II L2 Motivation
Several seminal publications in the field offer a detailed overview of what L2 motivation
involves and how understanding of the construct has evolved (e.g. Csizér and Magid,
2014; Dörnyei and Ushioda, 2011; Ushioda, 2013). Nevertheless, its multifaceted nature
and wide range of variables has resulted in a surge of related research with little
congruity other than an acceptance that its conceptualisation is complex and fraught with
difficulty (Boo et al., 2015; Muñoz and Ramirez, 2015). Until recently, the principal
focus of L2 motivational studies has relied on theories developed within the field itself,
concentrating primarily on the internal traits of the learner (Dörnyei and Ushioda, 2011).
Relatively few empirical studies have investigated the role of the learning environment
and specific teaching approaches on student motivation.
Dörnyei and Csizér’s (1998) ‘Ten Commandments for Motivating [FL] Learners’,
highlights the importance of creating a pleasant, relaxed atmosphere in the classroom,
developing good relationships, increasing the learner’s self-confidence, making the
classes interesting, personalising the learning process and promoting learner autonomy.
In the sparse studies that attempt to add to this work by providing empirical data on the
effectiveness of such motivational strategies, the teacher and their teaching practices have
consistently been found to be highly influential (e.g. Cheng and Dörnyei 2007;
Guilloteaux and Dörnyei 2008; Moskovy et al., 2013).
Building specifically on Dörnyei and Csizér’s (1998) and Cheng and Dörnyei’s (2007)
research, Ruesch et al. (2012) reinforce the tenet that teachers and teaching practices that
emphasize the macro-strategies of rapport, positive classroom climate and engaging
tasks, will result in students who feel more motivated in the FL classroom. Language
teachers who provide stimulating and engaging tasks through a fun, supportive classroom
will lower language anxiety and influence the quality of FL student motivation (Oga-
Baldwin et al. 2017).
III Theoretical Framework
In their meta-analysis of L2 motivation, Boo et al. (2015) highlight the central role of
broader psychological theories of motivation in the field. SDT is one of seven theoretical
frameworks employed in their analysis but is still relatively under-researched (see Fig. 1).
Fig. 1. Overview of theoretical trends in L2 motivation research (Boo et al., 2015, p.154)
Ryan and Deci’s (2000) SDT postulates that satisfying the three basic psychological
needs of autonomy, competence and relatedness leads to enhanced IM and when thwarted
can result in diminished motivation. Autonomy is concerned with choice, opportunities
for self-direction and student ownership of their learning (Ryan and Deci, 2000).
Competence includes students’ perceptions about their capacity to achieve success, (Fried
and Konza, 2013) while relatedness refers to a sense of belonging, support and inclusion
in the classroom (Ryan and Deci, 2000).
Intrinsically motivated activities are associated with positive feelings of excitement,
engagement, aptitude and self-determination (Deci and Ryan, 1985). They are sought in
the absence of a reward contingency and people choose to freely participate in them out
of pure enjoyment and interest rather than due to any external forces. Extrinsic
motivation refers to motivational orientations that are driven by factors outside the
activity itself (Muñoz and Ramirez, 2015).
Whilst extrinsic forms of motivation can result in desirable outcomes, intrinsically
motivated students typically elicit higher levels of self-confidence, task persistence,
desire towards learning and sustained positive learning behaviours (Cerasoli and Ford
2014; Muñoz and Ramirez 2015; Niemiec and Ryan 2009). SDT asserts that one’s
position on the ‘extrinsic-intrinsic’ continuum (Ryan and Deci, 2000) is fluid and through
the process of ‘internalisation’, it is possible for students to move towards the most
autonomous form of motivation at the top of the scale which is purely intrinsic (Niemiec
and Ryan 2009). By utilising teaching approaches that satisfy SDT’s needs of
competence, relatedness and autonomy, educators can boost participation and
engagement, leading students to more intrinsically motivated behaviours (Cerasoli and
Ford 2014; Jang et al. 2016).
SDT is increasingly being selected by FL researchers over other theories as its three
psychological needs are deemed universal and consequently, applicable across cultures
and contexts (Kaplan and Madjar, 2017). The intrinsic and extrinsic subtypes of SDT are
increasingly being employed as a valid research tool for assessing L2 motivation (Noels
et al. 2003; Oga-Baldwin et al. 2017). Researchers, however, bemoan the lack of
empirical FL research, particularly qualitative, that explores the link between the
language teacher, and their approaches, and L2 motivation (Dörnyei 2003; Oga-Baldwin
et al. 2017). Sugita McEown and Takeuchi (2014) make a direct call for further research
using SDT as a framework to explore the relationship between language teachers’
motivational strategies and students’ L2 motivation.
Contrary to many other L2 motivation theories, SDT recognises that, within educational
settings, the catalyst for behaviour is often external to the individual (Ryan and Deci,
2000). SDT therefore enables exploration and analysis of FL teachers’ motivational
strategies and each student’s experience of them (Fried and Konza, 2013) and so provides
a useful theoretical framework and motivational lens, through which to explore both
students’ perceptions of TPRS, leading to the following research questions:
1. Do students perceive TPRS to be a motivating method for language learning?
2. To what extent does TPRS satisfy SDT’s basic psychological needs of autonomy,
relatedness and competence?
I Research Design
Given that the primary research aims were to explore students’ feelings and experiences,
a qualitative, ‘within-site’, single case study (Merriam, 2009) was selected, comprised of
students experiencing TPRS for the first time. The value of a qualitative, case study
approach when attempting to understand phenomena in education related to relationships
and social processes is widely recognised (Denscombe, 2014). Practical elements such as
time constraints, working conditions and availability led to a multi-method design with
triangulation achieved through semi-structured background group interviews (BGI)
followed by classroom observations (CO) and focus group interviews (FGI).
The research design was consistent with Millward’s (2012) position that in selecting
group data collection methods, it is important that participants have some common
characteristics and have something to say about the focus of the research. Group
interviewing has been noted as an effective method of data collection in education as
students challenge and extend each other’s ideas, resulting in a wider range of responses
than individual interviews (Gray, 2014). This is particularly evident when a group have
been working together or towards a common goal (Cohen et al, 2011).
The value of this study lies in the detailed insights about teaching through storytelling by
the subjects themselves which will be of interest to both in-service and pre-service FL
teachers working in similar international school settings.
II Context and Participants
The educational setting was an English-medium, international school, comprising
approximately 500 second level students in Switzerland. Students were generally willing
participants in the educational process. FL class sizes were usually between eight and 16
students. While this study was not consistent with the typical ‘Action Research Cycle’
(Denscombe, 2014), the researcher was also the teacher. At the beginning of the data
collection process, I had been at the school for one year but had only been teaching the
participants for four weeks. I was experienced with TPRS and had been using it
periodically in my practice for three years.
III Selection of participants
As a key objective was to collect data from students who had never previously been
taught with TPRS, a purposeful sampling strategy (Gray, 2014) was employed. First, I
confirmed that no other language teachers in the school had used TPRS in their previous
classes. As it is not a widely utilised teaching strategy, it was envisaged that students who
were new to the school would also be new to TPRS. This was not controlled for,
however, as it was felt that asking students about storytelling in advance may impact the
data collection phase. Students who met the following criteria were invited to participate:
1. In Year 10 (aged 14-15) and studying Spanish with the teacher-researcher.
2. Either new to the school or new to my classes.
Information was provided to all participants regarding the ethical standards, including
assurances of anonymity and confidentiality and respect for their right to withdraw at any
time. An ethical consent form and letter outlining the scope of the study and commitment
required were signed by all participants and their parents.
A focus group of 12 students, comprising six boys and six girls, was established. This
number was consistent with the conventional focus group size whilst also
accommodating the recommendation to over-recruit so as to allow for absentees
(Millward, 2012). All participants had vast prior experience of FL learning, with Spanish
being their third or fourth language.
IV Data Collection
A longitudinal approach to the data collection was employed in order to explore how
students felt about TPRS at the time it was being taught and whether these feelings
remained sometime after. A two-month timeframe was used as changes in students’
motivation, coming from a teacher's motivating style, tend to stabilise after this time
(Jang et al, 2016).
Stage 1: Semi-structured background group interviews (BGI)
Participants were first interviewed as a group before they had been in any TPRS classes
via two 30-minute semi-structured BGIs. The objectives were to develop an
understanding of how they conceptualised language learning and to detect examples from
previous FL classes in order to generate comparisons with TPRS in later interviews.
Participants were encouraged to talk about their personal histories with FL through open-
ended questioning, giving them freedom to elaborate on their feelings. This method was
also employed to develop my rapport with the participants and help them feel at ease so
as to elicit deeper responses in discussions (Cohen et al, 2011).
Stage 2: Classroom Observations (CO)
To study the behaviours and actions of the student participants, four 80-minute classes,
where the participants were being taught with TPRS for the first time, were video
recorded. The efficacy of CO in educational research is well documented, particularly
‘when studying small groups’ or ‘specific activities that lend themselves to being
observed’ (Cohen et al, 2011, p.456) and when combined with other qualitative methods
such as interviews (Denscombe, 2014). Video recorded CO enable the researcher to look
at behaviours that otherwise might have gone unnoticed (Cohen et al, 2011) and also help
to minimise partialness and reduce ‘selective recall and perception’ (Denscombe, 2014).
The CO took a ‘semi-structured observation’ (Gray, 2014) approach as I was looking for
general signs of visual engagement, motivation and enjoyment but was not noting each
behaviour quantitatively through a structured, systematic observation (Flick, 2009).
LeCompte and Preissle’s (1993) guidelines for observation of specific events provided a
framework for the CO.
Participants, who were mixed with other non-participant students who had been taught
previously with TPRS, were told the class was being recorded but no other details were
given. Although the impact the presence of a video camera can have on behaviours is
noted in the literature (Borg, 2006; Flick 2009), the advantage of allowing for cross
comparisons between what participants said in interviews and what they actually did
outweighed the potential weaknesses.
Stage 3: Semi-structured focus group interviews (FGI)
Two FGI took place after the participants had been taught using TPRS; the first, within
three days of the TPRS classes and the second, eight weeks later. The time elapsed
between the CO and first FGI was minimised so that feelings, perceptions and behaviours
were still fresh in the participants’ minds (Borg, 2006). The second FGI aimed to explore
whether the emotions associated with TPRS were maintained over time.
FGI hold a ‘well recognised status’ within the qualitative research paradigm (Morgan,
1998) and their use in educational research is growing (Cohen et al, 2011; Millward
2012). The interaction process in FGI stimulates memories and debate meaning they
often generate a more in-depth understanding of an issue through natural conversation
and discussion when the group dynamic is skilfully managed (Wilkinson, 2003). Despite
an unavoidable ‘interviewer effect’ (Denscombe, 2014), as the participant’s teacher I was
able to leverage the strong positive relationships I had with the participants to cultivate
rich discussion among the group. A progressive focusing approach was utilised where
initial questions were very broad, asking about general feelings related to learning with
storytelling. As participants began to feel more at ease, the questioning became gradually
more focussed towards SDT’s psychological needs but without using the actual words
‘competence’, ‘relatedness’ or ‘autonomy’.
Although Millward (2012, p.416) posits that FGI are ‘not suitable to the formal testing of
hypotheses’, Stanton et al. (1993) successfully used ‘protection motivation theory’ to
frame a group discussion with adolescents about sexual risk, while Fried and Konza
(2013) used FGI to study engagement in schools through an SDT lens. Indeed, employing
theory as the focusing vehicle in FGI has been found to be highly effective (Stanton et al.,
V Data Analysis
BGI, FGI and CO were analysed following Braun and Clarke’s (2006) six-phase thematic
analysis; including transcription, coding and collating data into themes. The participants’
conceptualisations of language learning in general (from the BGI data), their stated
feelings and experiences about TPRS (from the FGI data) and their classroom
interactions and behaviours (from the CO data) were compared for validity and
trustworthiness (Lincoln & Guba, 1985). Given that this study took a theory-driven
approach (Gray, 2014), the starting point was coding for the psychological needs of
autonomy, relatedness and competence in SDT. The data chunks associated with these
three themes were then recoded for the specific research questions of this study using a
theoretical thematic analysis approach (Braun & Clarke, 2006).
Using a specific theory, however, can be problematic when the researcher drives the
conversation towards constructs from the model, thus inhibiting other avenues of
discussion around the topic (Gray, 2014). In recognising that all qualitative research and
analysis requires some degree of interpretation and subjectivity (Cohen et al, 2011; Gray,
2014), I acknowledged my ‘active’ position (Braun & Clarke, 2006) in the research
process, comprehending that whilst other themes might surface, they could not merely
‘emerge’ by themselves.
IV Results and Findings
SDT now provides a theoretical framework and motivational lens to analyse the findings.
Firstly, students’ conceptualisation of language learning provides a background for
examination of their feelings and motivations regarding TPRS. Findings are then
presented according to SDT’s needs of competence, autonomy and relatedness. Fictitious
names are employed to denote the students’ responses.
1. Do students perceive TPRS to be a motivating method for language learning?
2. To what extent does TPRS satisfy SDT’s basic psychological needs of autonomy,
relatedness and competence?
I Students’ conceptualisations of FL learning
Importance of speaking
FL were principally perceived as a mechanism which ‘granted communication’ (Kevin,
BGI1) and this in itself was a motivating factor to learn them (Amy; Kevin, FGI2; Prue,
BGI1). While students acknowledged the various forms of communication, the verbal
element was widely considered as the most important among the group. For Amy, ‘the
goal of a language is to be understood by different people who speak’ it (FGI2), while for
Derek, ‘the most important part’ was ‘actually speaking it’ (BGI2). If Kevin were a FL
teacher, he ‘would do more speaking exercises’ as ‘you don't have to be able to write it to
be able to communicate’ (FGI2). Students also aligned their competence in FL with their
Gwen: If you’re able to speak it, you’re able to do much more; the
vocabulary which you've learned from speaking, you’ll be able to use it [in
Orla: Some of my friends [have] been learning Spanish for four years and
they know all the grammar. But I notice that I can speak just as good
Spanish as them in actual conversations. (FGI2)
Participants felt ‘the most important thing [in a FL class] is just to have fun’ (Steven,
BGI2) as ‘you can learn through it and it helps you stay engaged and not lose your focus’
(Aidan, BGI2) or ‘get bored’ (Arthur, BGI2). ‘Fun’ activities were mainly those that were
‘active’ and involved lots of speaking (BGI1, BGI2).
Previous FL learning
Despite this broad consensus on the importance of speaking, the participants reported
very few verbal activities in their prior FL classes. When asked to describe a ‘typical FL
lesson’, Prue’s immediate thought was a ‘fill in the blanks’ written exercise (BGI1). This
sentiment was echoed by others whose previous FL learning comprised ‘tons of papers’
and conjugation exercises (Aidan, BGI2), or ‘lists of vocabulary, quizzes and writing’
(Sara, BGI2). Although they were viewed as useful (Kevin; Derek; Sara, BGI2), writing
exercises were widely remembered in a negative light due to their passive, individual
nature which was in direct conflict with the students’ conceptualisation of FL as
something that had to be spoken. Derek, for example, conveyed his discontent with
‘worksheet stuff’ because ‘everyone just sits down at their desk and writes’ (BGI2). Amy
remembered trying to finish a particular worksheet as ‘just so painful’ (BGI2). For some,
this emphasis on texts rather than speaking directly impacted their motivation:
Orla: It got really boring and you really didn't care anymore, you'd just
write down the notes […] you'd stop engaging (BGI2).
The only previous FL speaking practice activities that were mentioned were reading
written work aloud in class (Sara, BGI2) or ‘discuss with your partner’ (Orla, FGI1)
exercises. Indeed, Matt stated that ‘you start by speaking mostly in your mother tongue’
(BGI1) which Prue felt was because ‘people who had never spoken it before wouldn't
understand’ (BGI1). This importance of comprehension in FL surfaced frequently in the
II Experiences of TPRS through an SDT lens
The students’ self-reported experience with TPRS was overwhelmingly positive and the
method was widely acclaimed by all participants. Their feelings of satisfaction were also
maintained eight weeks after its use (FGI2). Utterances in the FGIs were backed up by
the CO data that showed visible signs of excitement, enjoyment and engagement as the
storytelling unfolded. The inter-connectedness of SDT’s three psychological needs
became immediately apparent as students repeatedly emphasised how the perceived
satisfaction of one need would simultaneously impact positively upon the others.
A highly motivating factor of TPRS in the students’ eyes was the ability to ‘contribute
any idea’ and ‘it'll make this story’ (Kevin, FGI2). The fact that TPRS stories were
‘asked’ rather than told and students could ‘steer the learning’ (Gwen, FGI2) and ‘effect
what would happen next’ (Prue, FGI2) made it highly autonomous and was
acknowledged positively multiple times by the participants (FGI1; FGI2).
The students highlighted how TPRS allowed them to include vocabulary they were
knowledgeable about (Prue, FGI2), hence increasing their feelings of competence and
indicating the aforementioned inter-connectedness of the three SDT needs. For others, the
autonomy to lead the story produced heightened feelings of spontaneous satisfaction that
we associate with intrinsic motivation: ‘when you give an idea and it gets accepted you
feel really good’ (Donna, FGI2), while others also ‘felt better’ when they could ‘add to
the class’ (Prue, FGI1). When asked if it ‘felt good’ to create the story together there was
such a positive reaction that individual student voices could not be determined. One
student announced ‘it felt amazing’ while another proclaimed ‘Yes! That was me, that
was me!’ and another even ‘dabbed’ (a movement with the arms used frequently by
teenagers to show satisfaction) (FGI1).
The constructive sense of autonomy arising from TPRS was also manifested through the
students’ comparisons to prior, negative FL learning experiences. In traditional FL
classes, students felt there was ‘nothing they could do to change anything’ (Prue, FGI2).
Orla echoed this sentiment, reporting ‘feeling motivated’ in the TPRS class as ‘you're
more involved and more in control of your own learning’ (FGI1).
Kevin: In traditional methods you feel like you're just another brick in the
wall because you do the exact same thing as everybody else, whereas if
you contribute your own ideas you feel unique (FGI2).
This ability to ‘control where it was going’ (Prue, FGI1) resulted in students reporting
feelings of excited anticipation, interest and engagement as in the stories ‘you never
really know what will happen next’ (Amy, FGI2):
Prue: You come into this class and you're on the edge of your seat already
and it's like, 'Oh goodness, what's going to happen now?' and it just gets
you in anticipation before the class just to see how it's going to play out
As Matt recognised, ‘whoever had the craziest and the most creative idea’ would be
accepted as ‘that's the one’ by the teacher (FGI1). The bizarre and strange ‘plot twists’
meant that ‘everyone was really into what's happening’ and this led to perceived learning
occurring (Amy, FGI2).
Amy: I don't know what's going to happen but I know I'm going to learn
something from it and it's going to be a lot of fun (FGI2).
The interplay between SDT’s needs was again evidenced as the autonomous, student-
directed nature of the stories was highlighted as a key factor in their ability to recall the
language structures. This resulted in raised feelings of competence, suggesting a positive
link between autonomy and cognitive processing.
Gwen: If you're able to control where it goes you'll remember things
Aidan: Since you’re creating the story you are remembering what you
create and if it's created for you, you might not necessarily remember
In addition, students reported that the compelling, unexpected element of TPRS made the
classes fun, pleasurable and enjoyable, which in turn, positively impacted their perceived
Amy: You learn very quickly and very easily because of how
entertaining it is (FGI1).
Matt: It’s easier to learn when you're entertained and having a good time.
When we have super-weird stories that go off on random tangents then it
keeps you entertained and keeps you listening. (FGI1).
Since TPRS is based on the CI model, the idea that the captivating nature of the stories
kept students engaged and ‘listening’ is highly relevant. Moreover, other students argued
that ‘if you're more entertained’ you ‘feel more eager to participate’, thus also increasing
language output (Prue, FGI1).
Throughout the data, a key success factor of TPRS for the students was the fact ‘it was
different from other classes’ (Arthur, FGI2). TPRS was perceived as highly motivating
due to its novel and compelling nature, arising principally from the students own ideas
and autonomy during story creation.
Students recurrently stated that storytelling was ‘useful’ and ‘helpful’ for their learning
(Prue, Aidan, FGI1; FGI2). TPRS was reported as ‘way more effective’ (Matt, FGI1)
than other methods and ‘better than just sitting down learning vocabulary’ (Diana, FGI1),
as it greatly improved their competence ‘for speaking’ (Prue, FGI1).
Matt: Since the story helps the most with speaking [...] you learn more
about how you would actually use it in real life. (FGI1)
As students’ conceptualised FL as something that is ‘spoken’, TPRS immediately met
their need of ‘competence’ as it encouraged lots of oral utterances as a group. Since their
previous, grammar-based FL classes focussed on writing, this increase of verbal activity
in the classroom led students to feel their proficiency was now higher in Spanish.
Amy: My French is really bad and I've learned French more than
Spanish. I believe that through storytelling I improved a lot (FGI1)
Nevertheless, some contradictions emerged in their view of speaking versus writing
activities. While storytelling augmented students’ perceived oral competence, Prue
highlighted that you couldn’t ‘just run classes on stories because there are other things
that you won't pick up’ (FGI1). This suggested that while the prominence given to
speaking in TPRS was a distinct advantage, its resultant lack of emphasis on writing was
perceived as a shortcoming given that this is how some of the participants conceptualised
‘real’ or ‘serious’ learning at their age.
The participants also made frequent cases for the stories being easy to remember (Gwen;
Aidan, FGI1; Steven, FGI2). The increase in their ability to recall information imbued a
heightened sense of perceived competence. The stories ‘helped memorise what we were
going to say’ (Donna, FGI1). The inter-connectedness of the three SDT needs was again
apparent as students reported that it ‘felt amazing’ (FGI1) when their individual ideas
were inserted into the story. The fact that ‘everyone likes contributing’ (Steven, FGI2) to
the stories meant ‘your vocabulary gets really rich’ (Prue, FGI2), suggesting that the
autonomous nature of the stories resulted in increased feelings of personal ability. This
led to classes the students felt were fun, interesting, engaging but that you ‘learn
something from it as well’ (Steven; Amy, FGI2).
This was in contrast to their previous FL classes, when students reported a lack of
comprehension causing them to feel ‘terrified’ and ‘really scared’ (Arthur,
BGI1), ‘excluded’ (Orla, BGI1), ‘stupid’ (Aidan, BGI2) and ‘intimidated’ (Donna,
BGI1). Others explained they would ‘just nod’ as ‘it seemed like everybody else
understood’ except you (Derek; Aidan, BGI2). This lack of comprehension led to feelings
of low competence and had a direct impact on motivation resulting in a sense of apathy
and dislike for the subject:
Matt: Once that happens enough you're just like, 'I don't care about this
class anymore. I don't learn here’ (BGI2).
On the contrary, TPRS’s goal of 100% comprehension meant ‘you do understand it
better’ (Gwen, FGI2) thus raising their feelings of proficiency. The fact that the stories
were so well understood resulted in their ‘affective filter’ being decreased, engendering
feelings of personal capability and motivation.
With TPRS, the group dynamic, or relatedness, involved in the story creation meant no-
one feared doing it ‘wrong’ as ‘everybody was making mistakes and participating’
(Donna, FGI2). It erased their anxiety of ‘saying the wrong thing’ (Steven, FGI2), thus
raising students’ confidence by reducing their ‘affective filter’, which resulted in
perceived higher states of competence.
The interplay between needs was again evident as the fact that ‘everyone contributes’
(Steven, Aidan; FGI1), meant participants felt ‘they'll be heard so their confidence will
really be built’ (Kevin, FGI1). Students compared this to traditional FL classes which
were ‘completely silent’, maintaining a feeling of fear as you felt ‘like if you raise your
hand you're going to draw attention from everyone’ and ‘if no-one else asks then
everyone else understands’ (Prue, FGI2). This idea that asking a question equated to a
lack of ability was in direct contrast to the open, discursive nature of TPRS classes where
students’ perceived competence was augmented thanks to the safe, contributory group
environment it created.
The students felt the vibrant nature of an entire class co-creating a story together also
fostered a sense of relatedness, both to their classmates and their teacher (FGI1, FGI2).
The use of words such as ‘everyone’, ‘together’ and ‘everybody’ were employed
repeatedly throughout the data. Once students had experienced TPRS, the ‘one-on-one’
question and answer method in a traditional, ‘quiet’, FL class was perceived as ‘not as
engaging’ (Orla, FGI2).
The fact that the stories were ‘very extroverted’ meant ‘everybody will feel included’
(Kevin, FGI1) and ‘everybody gets to participate’ (Donna, FGI1). By acting out roles and
actively constructing the plot together with the teacher, the students’ ‘affective filter’ was
reduced, growing their togetherness and imbuing a sense of inclusion. It allowed students
to ‘be silly’ as everyone was ‘so energetic’ and contributing ideas, meaning ‘you don’t
get judged’ because you are ‘doing it as a group’ (Prue, FGI2). This increased enthusiasm
that TPRS generated helped to cultivate relationships within the group.
Orla: When you're more motivated and excited, you tend to listen to
people more so everybody builds connections (FGI1).
The inter-connectedness of SDT’s needs was again apparent as participants felt that the
opportunity to co-create the stories with the teacher built connections leading to a
heightened sense of perceived togetherness.
Aidan: [Storytelling] is less scary because everybody is sharing their
ideas and modifying them to form the story so everybody is a part of the
Kevin: Every little bit was made by somebody and it was a course of
events that was made with the class. I think that's a motivator (FGI2).
This was evidenced throughout the data with students frequently highlighting that
‘everyone participating towards the creation of the story’ (Orla, FGI1) produced a feeling
of cohesion and belonging as ‘everyone was laughing and ‘really into it’ (Amy, FGI1).
Others recounted that ‘in storytelling’, everyone was ‘so open and talkative’ (Prue,
FGI2), which ’makes you more motivated and more eager to learn’ (Orla, FGI1). The
reported feelings of comfort, energy and enthusiasm in the TPRS classroom, were also
clearly evident in the CO data, with all students contributing and showing visible signs of
engagement and enjoyment as the story unfolded.
The fact that TPRS also allowed students to develop a strong bond and relationship with
their teacher was reported as a highly motivating factor. The teacher was seen as the
person who ultimately ‘kept the ideas going’ through questioning and maintained interest
with ‘completely random’ twists to the story (Amy, FGI1). Indeed, in the BGIs,
participants highlighted that by being ‘personable’ (Aidan; Arthur, BGI2), ‘enthusiastic’
(Amy; Derek, BGI2) or simply by being ‘themselves’ (Kevin, BGI2), FL teachers could
inspire and motivate their students. TPRS allowed these traits of the teacher’s personality
to come through and this impacted on students’ motivation: ‘The teacher has to be into it
as well because if you're not having fun then neither am I’ (Matt, FGI1). An example of a
previous motivating teacher was provided as someone who ‘told stories about himself’
(Arthur, BGI2), suggesting how stories were perceived as both motivating and
relationship building between students and teachers before they had ever even
V Discussion and Reflection
While it is problematic to assume direct cause and effect relationships, the findings are
consistent with SDT’s theoretical prediction that increased perceptions of ability,
freedom of choice and belonging are linked to more self-determined forms of motivation.
The findings are also consistent with Noels et al. (2003)’s contention that in the FL
classroom a lack of autonomy and perceived low competence are indicative of higher
levels of apathy and ‘amotivation’ towards L2 learning.
The results reported here support various studies (Fried and Konza, 2013; Muñoz and
Ramirez, 2015, Ryan and Deci, 2000) that highlight the interdependency and
connectedness between SDT’s three basic needs. According to the students, TPRS
instantaneously satisfied all three of SDT’s needs and by doing so each need positively
impacted the others. The autonomy the stories provided imbued student ownership over
their learning while simultaneously increasing their competence as their ideas were
selected and inserted into the plot. This building of a story together then fostered a sense
of belonging and cohesion both to their classmates and the teacher, thus satisfying all of
SDT’s basic needs.
This study is the first to apply SDT to TPRS and one of very few that looks at the
motivational impact of the approach rather than its achievement outcomes. It provides
strong support for Krashen’s (2011) argument that stories should be ‘compelling’ and fun
in order to maximise student engagement, allowing students to acquire language with
little conscious effort. It also sustains Ryan and Deci’s (2000) contention that within an
SDT framework, activities that have the appeal of novelty, challenge and interest foster
the greatest intrinsic motivation.
By exploring the under-researched method of TPRS through the students’ eyes, this paper
makes a timely contribution to the L2 motivation field and broadens the limited current
literature around the use of SDT within the FL classroom. This study replicates Niemiec
and Ryan’s (2009) conclusion that teachers and tasks that are perceived as satisfying the
basic psychological needs of autonomy, relatedness and competence, allow intrinsic
motivation to flourish.
An implication for future research is the importance attributed to the teacher by students.
This study adds to the emerging body of recent research contending that teachers and
their pedagogical strategies play a significant role in developing more intrinsically
motivated students (Cheng and Dörnyei, 2007; Guilloteaux and Dörnyei, 2008; Moskovy
et al, 2013). By meeting SDT’s psychological needs, TPRS has been shown here to
develop students’ intrinsic motivation. However, its success is dependent on the teacher’s
delivery, as TPRS really allows for the teacher’s own personality to come through.
This analysis aligns broadly with Muñoz and Ramirez (2015) who found that teachers’
potential to cultivate motivation is principally centred on relatedness, and without strong
teacher-student relationships, even the most motivational strategies will not promote
intrinsic motivation. In order for TPRS to be a success it must be embodied within a
motivating style, as perceived by the students. It is recommended that teachers stay true
to their own, innate personality, be that more introvert or extrovert, when delivering a
TPRS story as this has been shown to be perceived as ‘motivating’ by building strong
bonds with the students. While SDT’s need of ‘relatedness’ allows for the importance of
each individual teacher’s personality, when using the theory in a FL context it falls short
as it does not account adequately for the crucial element of the teacher in the field.
Although self-determination motivation is an individual-centred process (Ryan and Deci,
2000), this study suggests that its development depends on supportive social conditions,
as provided by the teacher in this context.
The implications of this study are significant, particularly for those teachers working in
similar international school contexts, and with teaching styles conducive to TPRS. While
the findings presented here suggest that students’ perceptions of TPRS were
overwhelmingly positive, cultivating feelings of ability, inclusion and contentment, they
also highlight the need for further research around the role of the teacher and the requisite
training needed to make TPRS a success. Additional longitudinal studies, carried out in
diverse educational contexts, focusing on TPRS and its ability to sustain motivation for
language learning over time are also required.
The data were reported to the same teacher who was delivering the classes. While I
emphasised the importance of total honesty and explained to the students that their
responses would be anonymous, attempting to account for the undoubted power
differential that existed, it is inevitable that some answers may have been impacted.
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