This is a very delayed write-up of a Vocabulary Review workshop that I did at the ELTC last term. It’s taken me this long because I have been reflecting on and off since, and now finally feel ready to publish it! It’s a reflective post divided into ‘before’ and ‘after’ with the former focusing on my preparations and the latter focusing on what actually happened!
Tomorrow I am going to be running a workshop for my colleagues at the ELTC. The focus is vocabulary review activities. This year, so far, I have already done two other workshops for them: one on helping learners become more autonomous (part of the training day at the start of term) and one whose aim was to encourage reflection on career turning points and glean ideas for further developmental possibilities. I’ve also done a practical workshop on blogging (both with learners and as a means of professional development), at Leeds Beckett University, on the Multimedia and Independent Learning module, as well as an online session also about career turning points for the recent TD SIG web carnival. Coming up, as well as tomorrow’s session on Vocabulary Review, I have another session with Leeds Beckett University, this time online, about developing learner autonomy, a British Council webinar also about learner autonomy tools/tips and my IATEFL presentation in April, which will form part of a forum on listening and focuses on helping learners become more autonomous listeners in an EAP pre-sessional context.
The reason I mention all these commitments is that (not so coincidentally!) I have recently(ish) been reflecting on my short, mid-term and longer term goals, now that I have achieved the long-term goal that I set out with after I finished my CELTA, which was to gain some experience and then in due course work at Sheffield University. Of course I also squeezed in my M.A. in ELT and my Delta in the interim, which was handy and part of the plan for getting university work. Teacher training is one of my areas of interest, so it follows logically that, if one of my goals is to become a teacher trainer, doing as many workshops as I can, in various contexts, would be a useful way of gaining experience and working on my techniques for working with teachers rather than students. Initially, I started doing workshops as a means of developing myself as a teacher, and I will admit the main personal goal early on was survival. Happily, as you can tell since I am sitting here writing this, I achieved that! Since then, goals have included sharing what I’ve learnt through my experimentation, becoming more confident in my delivering, including more interaction in my sessions and so on.
This vocabulary workshop, however, is the first one I will do since reading “A Practical Introduction to Teacher Training in ELT” written John Hughes and published by Pavillion, borrowed from the ELTC’s library.
It is also the first workshop I have volunteered to do in response to topics requested by teachers via survey and shared with everybody by our professional development team. I did a workshop on Error Correction at IH Palermo, with the topic suggested by the DoS, as planning a workshop was one of the tasks for the Tutor in training certificate I did while at IH. It seemed logical that if I had to plan a workshop, I might as well deliver it! For that workshop, I had help from my DoS and from my ex-Delta module 1+2 tutor who shared some materials with me via email. I also had the memory of an error correction workshop I had done during Delta (hence contacting aforementioned tutor!), on which I based the workshop. Of course, this time, for the vocabulary workshop, I’ve done all the preparation unsupported, starting from scratch. I think I should do more sessions like these. I’ve already signed up to do one on pronunciation so hopefully I can use what I learn from doing this session in planning that one. I shall be team-teaching it with one of my colleagues, which also be interesting! 🙂
Hughes suggests thinking of a training session as a triangle shape, divided into three. The smallest part at the top of the triangle is “What?”, the next segment, which goes until half-way down the triangle is “Why?” and the rest of the triangle is “How?” So this is the structure I have applied to my vocabulary workshop. The “what” and “why” section will be taken care of via discussion of some quiz questions relating to the topic of vocabulary review (and by extension learning). The bulk of the session, the “how”, is going to be a game of bingo! I will ask groups to brainstorm a grid of 9 vocabulary review activities that they have used before and then I will share 9 activities of my own with them. I plan to do this by having them participate (briefly!) in each activity using Delta module 1-style terminology (particularly relating to Lexis) as the target vocabulary. If the activity corresponds with any on their grid (regardless of the name, as these activities tend to go by several names), then they get to tick it off and we’ll see if anyone gets Bingo! The remaining time will be used to allow groups to share any leftover activities on their grids. I have also prepared a handout summarising the activity procedures so that the teachers don’t need to make notes as well as participate.
I anticipate that timing is going to be tight, as I will only have an hour to play with. However, I recognise that we do not need to complete each activity, teachers just need to have a taster of it in order to make sense of how it works. As per the triangle, the “what” and “why” quiz should not take up too much time. If time does run out, then I’ll make a google doc and invite teachers to write a brief summary of the outstanding activities on their list. One of my goals is to maintain a good pace and really keep track of the timing. I suppose, in the circumstances, it is also going to be a good test of classroom management and instruction-giving! (The better these are, the better the timing will be!)
Well, the good news is that my colleagues responded positively to this workshop. I had 6 attendees and they all had plenty to contribute to the discussion element (!) as well as being willing to get involved in the game-playing element.
As I predicted, time WAS an issue. Or, was it less the timing that was an issue and more my confidence in managing the discussion element, which I allowed to take up too much time?They had a lot to say and I didn’t want to cut it too short! (Perhaps I should have had fewer discussion questions, though I think they were all useful…) Actually I just wish I had had a longer session to play with – in the event we started slightly late and some attendees had to leave early due to other commitments, and even that aside it wasn’t the longest time slot! That’s not an excuse though – I did know roughly how long I would have. Perhaps I should have included fewer activities to try out?
However, on the plus side, this time issue was mitigated by my carefully prepared hand-out which meant that although we couldn’t have a stab at playing all of the games, teachers did take away instructions for all of them so that content wasn’t lost. Perhaps it didn’t matter that there were left over activities. It just gave the teachers a greater take-away for future experimentation. Perhaps, then, what I needed to do was stop trying the activities at a given point when there was still enough time for a constructive closing. I think that is what really got lost, as we had to come to a halt rather abruptly as teachers had to leave to get to other things.
For me, another positive was that within the game playing, we were able to refer back to the discussion element and build on it. The games illustrated the points made through the discussion questions, making them that much clearer. I think this was important because it made the workshop more cohesive and less of a ‘discussion with a few activities tacked on’ which perhaps it was in danger of becoming, given its nature. It was intended to be a practical session, with lots of ideas for teachers to try out, rather than a theoretical session, but the discussion element allowed for the practical ideas to be rooted in theory. So even though my first thought at the end of the workshop was that I had let it go on for too long, I now feel that that wasn’t the issue, rather it was how I managed the remaining time.
I would say the main drawback was that although I identified time as a potential issue in my planning, and recognised that not every activity needed to be completed, I didn’t recognise that the teachers didn’t actually even need to do every activity, thanks to the hand-out I had prepared, and therefore wasn’t prepared in the session to stop going through my set of activities in time for a strong closing. This is something that will definitely be a consideration in future workshops.
At the end of the session, I felt disappointed that it hadn’t gone quite as I might have liked it to, but on reflection I think it had a lot of positives and, importantly, I learnt some useful things from how it did go:
- hand-outs are really useful!
- make a decision with regards to how long an activity should run for and be firmer in bringing it to a close, if needs be. (Alternatively, if it needs to go on longer than planned, revise plans for the timings for the rest of the session!)
- recognise when all the material is not going to be got through and ensure that there is nevertheless time for a suitable closing element to wrap everything up
- in planning, if there is clearly too much material, either cut it down or ensure that nothing will be lost from the session if all the material isn’t covered. (In other words plan so that no core material will be lost)
I think that’s a useful set of points for me to consider next time I plan and deliver a workshop! So, all in all, it was a successful learning and developmental experience for me in my quest to become a teacher trainer at some point! I look forward to building on it. 🙂