My First TCI Coaching Lesson Over Skype

Online TPRS/TCI blogs and websites are largely written by and for secondary teachers, so it has been brilliant discovering a forum on Ben Slavic’s website specifically for ‘elementary’ teachers. One of the contributors to this forum is Catharina, an early childhood French teacher who lives and teaches in the USA. Her knowledge and experience of teaching with comprehensible input (TCI) is impressive and I am truly fortunate that she is so willing to share and inspire particularly those of us just beginning our journey. My comments or questions about her posts are received so warmly and with each question/comment, I was further encouraged to ask again! Catharina is a guru in every sense of the word.

Shortly after my initial requests for further clarification on points that Catharina had raised on various threads, Ben asked everyone for details about the training members have had access to, I outlined how my training is limited to online blogs, his website and the moretprs listserve. This lead to the acknowledgement that those of us in countries where there is no training available are extremely isolated and disadvantaged. Those who have attended any TCI training speak highly of both the training and the presenters and most consider it absolutely essential to understanding the finer details of this pedagogy. Consequently I had been seriously wondering how I could get to the States for one of the major conferences. This is still a pipe dream but so far, it remains just that! One day…..

Taking up this point, Ben asked Catharina & myself if we’d be interested in trialling the concept of 1:1 online coaching! This would involve us each giving demonstrations of our lessons to each other as well as learning from any following discussions. Thus I would experience a TCI lesson given by a highly experienced practitioner of a language I do not speak as well as having the opportunity to demonstrate my understanding of TCI so far to gain valuable feedback on both the content and delivery of my lesson incorporating advice on how it could be improved. While the idea of demonstrating my embarrassingly basic grasp of TCI was nerve wracking, I was thrilled that Catharina happily agreed to be my coach and so it was with pleasure I also agreed to be involved.

The initial discussion happened just before Christmas; a short break for teachers in American schools but part of the larger summer break for Australian teachers. Once Catharina was ready, she emailed me and we arranged an initial Skype video call just to meet each other. This was brilliant. We were able to see each other for the first time and put a face to the online name!! We chatted about aspects of our teaching situations which will impact on our lessons, eg. class sizes, year levels, student ages, etc., Whereas I teach all the primary grades, Catharina teaches what we term, junior primary. My junior primary students have one weekly 50 minute lesson, whereas Catharina’s students have 2 weekly 30 minute lessons. We arranged the time & date for our initial coaching session in which I would teach my initial JP lesson to Catharina for the following day; 5:00pm Wednesday (USA) & 9:00am Thursday (Australia).

This initial contact has been so exciting. With the Australian school year just about to begin, 3 of us local primary Indonesian teachers (all equally keen to learn the skills of TCI) have been meeting weekly to share and plan for this. We are all at different stages of Ben’s book Stepping Stones to Stories thus each with different sections foremost in our memories! We all agree that our junior primary lessons are the ones that will be the most challenging and consequently have spent the majority of our meetings focused on this. We initially agreed to focus our very first lesson on ‘suka’ (likes) because we all love the circling with balls (CWB) lesson that Ben outlined in his book. However, later while mulling over this idea, I returned to Catharina’s post on Ben’s website about where to start with junior primary. Catharina firmly believes that it is best to begin with vocabulary useful for classroom organisation and instructions. As this is the part of the lesson I have the greatest difficulty staying in Indonesian and is language that is repeated in each and every lesson, I can truly appreciate the wisdom of this. So I wrote out a detailed lesson plan for “nama saya” (My name is) as an alternative and also to start thinking about the nuts and bolts of this lesson. My thinking behind this change was twofold. Firstly, I will need to introduce myself to the new receptions, who unless they have older siblings at the school, will find my name (Bu Cathy) unusual by comparison with other female school staff who mostly use “Mrs/Ms”. “Nama saya” is also a phrase which will come up frequently in future stories.

So, in our first Skype coaching session, I taught this lesson (very woodenly, I confess) to Catharina who willingly responded when required. During my delivery, Catharina checked for pronunciation (speech was slightly distorted in transmission) which allowed me to slow down and find my place in my lesson plan. While I felt like a total goose, presenting a lesson to an adult instead of a room full of active 5, 6 or 7 year olds, it highlighted for me just how overwhelmed past reception students must have been in their initial lesson where so much vocabulary was introduced quickly in an unfamiliar classroom by an unfamiliar teacher. All students at my school attend 3 specialist classes, so the first week must be quite intimidating for them meeting 4 new teachers with their 4 totally different subject areas (PE, Performing Arts, Geography & Indonesian) and teaching styles! . Another realisation also hit me. I am used to junior primary students sitting and listening passively during lessons; participating only when they are invited to e.g. during songs or when asked to echo. Catharina though, participated fully in my lesson; stopping me when I went too fast, when I went out of bounds or when my speech was unclear. I found this both unnerving and exhilarating! A weird combination! Unnerving because it was so alien and exhilarating because I love the idea of students having the confidence to stop me when I am going too fast so that they don’t become overwhelmed.

After the lesson, Catharina kindly complimented me and then proceeded to read through her notes. Her feedback was encouraging, practical and genuine. I took copious notes and later rewrote the lesson plan thoroughly incorporating them all. Her ideas were all brilliant (who’s surprised about that?) and demonstrated her deep understanding and vast experience. The advice that came through loud and strong was that I need to incorporate many more repetitions of ‘nama saya’ into the lesson. Ideas she gave me on achieving this included:
1. clapping – clap hands twice and then thighs twice while saying nama saya (insert name of student in class)
2. when introducing monyet (my cuddly offsider), instead of introducing him outright, make a game of it. E.g. nama saya Big Bird? Nama saya Elmo? Nama saya Biu Cathy?
3. Have pictures of celebrities, staff and students and hold them up asking, Nama saya Billy? Nama saya Bu _______ (their teachers name).
4. A great adaption of one of Jim Tripp’s stories called, “Pleased To Meet You.” 2 people meet. The first (a celebrity well known to students) says; Nama saya Lady Gaga. Siapa nama? The second says: Nama saya Billy. The celebrity then says with an amazed voice: Billy? Billy from (dari) ________________ (insert town/suburb or school)? Astaga!! (OMG) autograph?? (holding out their hand & miming holding a pen) then faints!

Other suggestions Catharina shared include:
1. including yes/no in this lesson while simultaneously getting more nama saya reps by using the pictures (of staff, students etc,) again. They are all handed out to students and then ask a question about each one; nama sama Lady Gaga? If yes, it is put in the ya pile and if no put in the bukan pile. (As I am focusing on names initially, we decided it was best to start with bukan rather than tidak) Catharina also suggested using the Indonesian flag – with the colours of red and white for the ya and bukan pile.
2. watching the circling with names youtube video by Dianne Neubauer which not only demonstrates a beautiful introduction for students to their first ever language lesson but also a explanation circling with the vocabulary similar to that which I used.
3. keeping activities limited to 5 minute chunks to ensure the very young students (receptions) stay engaged and focused.
4. When singing the song, stretch out each of the words.
5. Start the next lesson with learning ‘Dimana’ and make that the first question word to focus upon. Do this by pretending that monyet is missing. Make it playful and visual. Look in cupboards, behind curtains, under chairs etc constantly asking, “Dimana monyet?” Then when he is found, scold him, growl at him and make it as entertaining as possible!
6. Constantly check that students understand. A good way is asking: bukan means what?
7. Ask students to translate what the teacher says. The teacher says a sentence/phrase in Indonesian and the students choral answer the translation.
8. Have 3 small colourful boxes with lids. Put a 1 on one, a 2 on another and a 3 on the last. Put something into them and then use them to ask yes/no questions. eg shake the box and ask, monyet?, Bobby?, Bu Cathy? staying inbounds.

All up, the session went for an hour but we did not stop sharing the entire time! Had I not had another meeting to get to, I’m sure we could have continued for a lot longer. It was brilliant. We have set a date for our next Skype session and this one will be even better as not only will I be joined by my 2 local colleagues, but we get to experience our first ever TCI lesson as students! Fittingly, it is set for the final day of the SA school holidays! What a way to celebrate the end of school holidays and prepare for using TCI in 2015!

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