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Workshop design - How can I put it all together?
A teacher training workshop or workshop series is a complex cluster of features including event type and aims, people, place, time, content, materials, and process. When faced with such complexity, we naturally try to put a little order into it. And this is one of the most creative parts of a teacher educator’s job; the thinking and dreaming we do when we design a workshop or series of workshops. Planning will help us to feel confident and can ensure variety, balance and sparkle. The design needs to be flexible however, so that there is plenty of room for spontaneity and teacher intervention and expression too.
Behind our planning we will have, even unconsciously, a set of theories and beliefs about what there is for a teacher to learn and how they might learn it. Whether we realise it or not, this will inform our design, the selection and sequencing of the workshop content, our objectives, materials, roles and the individual tactics and activities we use in the training room.
Choosing a metaphor for an event can surface these theories and beliefs. Example workshop metaphors are: ‘the greenhouse’ (where young, tender, pre-service teachers can be supported), ‘the experimental lab’ (where people can try things out under controlled conditions), ‘the buffet’ (where people get tasty little appetisers/ideas for the classroom). Coming up with a metaphor can make clear a teacher educator’s assumptions, what participants can expect, and can ease the selection of content and ways of working.
Depending on the topic and the metaphor for the workshop, in it participants can be invited to demonstrate an activity, discuss, tell a story, copy and practice a micro-skill, experience a language learning activity in the role of language student and then comment, make resources, interview each other, or brainstorm ground rules for listening to each other. There are hundreds of possible activity types which can help us teacher educators avoid the deadly effect of talking at engaged professionals.
A possible workshop design
Here is one possible way of putting all these factors together or a one-off workshop. It uses the metaphor of a short story with a beginning, a middle and an end.
Once upon a time
Welcome all the main characters and to the space if it is unfamiliar.
Getting to know you activities depending on whether participants usually work together or not.
The workshop agenda previews what may be covered. Negotiations can govern which times are good for questions and comments. An early diagnostic activity can check to see if participants are roughly where you think they are in terms of the topic.
In a one-off event, you will have a block or two of content and related activities with occasional mini--breaks to recap, deal with queries, and check back to the agenda to see how things are going. As the metaphor here is a story, the content worked on could include working with critical incidents, case studies or teacher tales. Variety can be introduced to the blocks of content by asking different people to chair or lead at different times.
Slay the dragons
Find out as much as possible as you go along about the Ps’ needs and expectations so that you can make alterations to the agenda or adjust your plans if necessary. It is often the case that participants come who are not expected or that needs have changed since you were last in touch with participants.
Watch out for glazed expressions. Whatever you do, avoid having mini lectures (or maxi ones) in the sleepy spot after a lunch break.
Because you will have planned lots of interaction, be prepared to deal with unexpected issues that might crop up.
Have meaningful tasks up your sleeve to give to people who either finish activities early or arrive late.
Keep track of your timing to avoid using up coffee breaks. Change pace or cut or add activities accordingly.
Summarize / recap the content covered at the end of the session or, better, invite participants to do so and invite attendees to make final comments
Suggest / collect ideas for the next workshop
Ask participants to rate the workshop with an X along two scales (see below) according to whether they have found it interesting and/or valuable:
Was this workshop interesting?
Not really Somewhat ………………………X…………………Extremely
Was this workshop valuable?
Not really Somewhat ………………………………X……Extremely
Before they leave the room, participants can be asked to write down one way in which the workshop could be improved if it was run again and one way they would like to contribute to the next event.
Thank participants and guest workshop presenters, and helpers.
If appropriate, remind participants to get their certificates before they leave.
And they all lived happily ever after
Participants can be asked to try out an idea from the workshop and report back on what happened at a follow-up meeting. They can be invited to do some post reading, answer questions, write up a case study discussion, adapt some materials, write a letter to a colleague, draft an article for a teaching magazine, start a blog or journal or write an entry for one, watch a video or podcast, make a mind map of the workshop session, or do some research on an issue that has come up, ready for a follow up session.
As for us teacher educators, we can make notes in a journal after each workshop, record our thoughts on our session plan, noting any alterations made, ideas for another time.
We can think about the data gathered from the attendees' feedback, and look for any patterns that occur, drawing conclusions in order to improve future sessions.
Promote contact among the participants via discussion forums, blogs, e-mails, follow up sessions and so on.
Woodward, T (1991) Models and metaphors in language teacher training Cambridge University Press
Feher, J (2018) ‘The man, the boy and the donkey: Approaches to teacher training courses on creativity in the language classroom’ in The Teacher Trainer Vol 32 no 3 pp2-4 Pilgrims
Woodward, T (2004) Ways of working with teachers. TW Publications
Woodward, T, Graves, K and D, Freeman (2018) Teacher development over time, pp 182-186 and pp188-194. Routledge
About the author
Tessa Woodward is an ELT consultant, teacher, and teacher trainer. She has trained teachers in Japan, Switzerland, the UK, USA, and in many European countries. She is the founder editor of The Teacher Trainer journal (Pilgrims), Past President and International Ambassador of IATEFL and founded the IATEFL Special Interest Group for Teacher Trainers (now the SIG T Ed/TT). She is the author of many books and articles for language teachers and teacher trainers. Tessa is also the founder of The Fair List.
Read the other articles in this series