Technologically and linguistically adventurous EFL teacher, trainer, writer and manager

I found Lauren Perkins’ IATEFL 2019 talk incredibly useful, and it’s already inspired changes in the way I run workshops, something I’ll be blogging about soon. Before I shared what I’d done, I asked Lauren to write this post summarising her design principles for effective in-service workshops. Thanks for agreeing to do it Lauren!

At IATEFL Liverpool 2019, I delivered a session on ‘Designing Teacher Development Workshops’. The 45-minute workshop was designed in the same way that I would design any other workshop: following a set of key design principles and including some experiential learning activities, with the intention of practising what I was preaching.

Some background: The problem with workshops

When I first read Simon Borg’s blogpost on Workshops and Teacher Change in 2016, I had just spent the previous 4 years working as a teacher trainer on workshop-based teacher development courses in Thailand. Borg highlighted the “inherent limitations of workshops”: the assumption that by simply increasing teacher awareness and knowledge, teachers will change what they do in the classroom. He argued that such sessions rarely promote teacher change. After reflecting on my own workshops, I came to agree with him. This led me to read more about workshop design, with the aim of finding out how to make workshops more effective. I found that four principles emerged, which I then matched to different activities. When I design workshops now, I try to include at least one practical activity that follows each of the four principles. I’ll go into some of the ideas behind each of the four principles and then describe in more detail the practical activities related to each principle below, but first here is a summary:

Design principles Practical activities
1.    Draw on participants’ prior knowledge, experience and beliefs – Find Someone Who- Blind needs analysis

– Brainstorming

– Pair discussion

– Needs analysis survey

– KWL grid

2.    Provide opportunities for collaboration and dialogue – Discussion tasks

– Mind-mapping

– Jigsaws

3.    Include experiential learning and teaching practice – Microteaching

– Video observation

– Demonstration

– Loop input

4.    Promote reflection, contextualisation and follow-up – Reflection questions

– Action points

– Adaptation ideas

– Peer observations

Principle 1: Draw on participants’ prior knowledge, experience and beliefs

If a workshop is for in-service practising teachers, then all participants will come to the session with prior knowledge, experience and beliefs about teaching. As Borg stresses in his blogpost, it is important to recognise this existing knowledge and experience before teachers engage with new ideas. Participants are more likely to accept new teaching concepts if their prior knowledge and experience is acknowledged.

Depending on the context of the workshop (i.e. school, conference, training centre etc.), the trainer might not know anything about participants’ backgrounds. For example, as my workshop on ‘Designing Teacher Development Workshops’ was held at an international conference, I had no idea who would be attending, what they already knew about workshop design, or their experiences of delivering workshops. It was necessary, therefore, to find out this information at the beginning of the workshop. Here are some practical activity ideas for drawing on participants’ prior knowledge, experience and beliefs:

Find Someone Who

Create a short Find Someone Who activity that includes specific descriptions about participants’ experience, knowledge and beliefs related to the content of the workshop. Participants mingle and find someone who matches each description. For example, this is the worksheet I designed for my workshop:

has delivered a workshop to teachers before, knows what 'microteaching' is, knows what 'loop input' is, thinks that workshops impact what teachers do in the classroom

Blind needs analysis

Ask all participants to close their eyes at the beginning of the workshop. Ask them a couple of questions to find out their existing knowledge or experience. e.g. “Put your hand up if you have delivered a workshop before”, “Put your hand up if you know what microteaching is”. By making the needs analysis ‘blind’, participants will hopefully feel comfortable putting their hands up and you will be able to quickly find out more about their prior experience, knowledge and beliefs.

Brainstorming

Put participants into small groups and do a quick 3-minute brainstorm on everything they know about the topic of the workshop. For example, if the workshop topic is ‘Games for young learners’, ask groups to brainstorm games they already know.

Pair discussion

Give participants two or three questions about their prior knowledge, experience and beliefs to discuss in pairs. For example, if the workshop is on ‘Using songs in the classroom’, you could ask participants to discuss the following questions:

  • Have you ever used songs in the classroom? If so, when and how?
  • How do you think songs can be used for helping students learn English?

Needs analysis survey

Write 10 needs analysis questions on strips of paper and stick them on the wall around the room. e.g. ‘How long have you been teaching?’, ‘What do you find most difficult about teaching?’ etc. Participants walk around the room on their own, read the questions and think about their own answers. Ask each participant to take one question each (if there are more than 10 teachers then put them into pairs) and ask them to survey the whole group by asking each participant the same question and noting down their answers. Participants summarise the results visually (i.e. in a chart or graph) and display them for the whole group to see in a gallery walk.

KWL grid

At the beginning of a workshop, ask participants to create a grid with three columns: what they know (K), what they want to know (W), what they have learned (L). Participants complete the first two columns and then return to the third column at the end of the workshop. (Sandy gave me this idea – thanks Sandy!) [and I learnt it from a previous IATEFL, so thanks to whoever that was!]

Principle 2: Provide opportunities for collaboration and dialogue

Teachers will not only learn about teaching from the trainer, but also (perhaps even more so) from each other. By giving workshop participants the opportunity to discuss, question and share ideas with their peers, there will be more opportunities for them to learn from each other. There is always time in a workshop for a 5-minute discussion; at the beginning to share what they know, in the middle to check their understanding, or at the end to relate the topic to their own teaching context. After all, workshops should involve audience participation in order to distinguish them from talks and presentations. Here are some ideas for making workshops more collaborative.

Discussion tasks

Ask participants to work in groups and complete simple tasks that promote discussion. For example, ask participants to rank or categorise ideas related to the workshop topic and discuss their opinions at the same time. e.g. ‘Rank the qualities of a teacher from most to least important’.

Mind-mapping

Put participants into small groups and ask them to create a mind-map of a topic. Give each participant a different role in the group to help with collaboration e.g. a ‘writer’, a ‘dictionary’, and a ‘designer’.

Jigsaws

Divide participants into groups and give each group a different text related to the workshop topic to read / summarise / brainstorm their own ideas. Regroup participants so that at least one participant from each original group is in a new group. In their new groups, participants take it in turns to share what they have read / summarised / brainstormed to other group members. [Here’s how to set up a jigsaw activity if you’re not sure how to do it.]

Principle 3: Include experiential learning and teaching practice

There are clear similarities between teacher-learners in the training room and learners in the classroom. As Tessa Woodward points out in her book Models and Metaphors in Language Teacher Training [Amazon affiliate link], teacher development activities should “capitalise on the parallels between trainees and students”. During workshops, we should let participants experience the same processes they are supposed to use in their own classrooms. This will make it more likely that they will transfer what they have learned from a training context to a teaching context.

Even if there isn’t enough time for teaching practice in a short 45-minute workshop, there should be time for a quick demonstration of a classroom activity related to the topic of the workshop. If you’ve ever been a participant in one of my workshops, you’ll know I’m a big fan of loop input activities. Although such activities in the training room can get a bit tiresome (and a bit too ‘meta’), some workshop topics just lend themselves to loop input. It would be a shame, for example, to deliver a workshop on Task-Based Learning without any tasks! Here are some practical ideas for including experiential learning and teaching practice in workshops:

Microteaching

Participants practise teaching in a roleplay-type activity in which some participants are teachers and some are students. For example, if the topic of the workshop is ‘Giving instructions’, participants could practise setting up an activity in groups of five: one participant is the ‘teacher’ and four participants are the ‘students’.

Video observation

Show participants a short video clip of a teacher in the classroom. For example, if the workshop is on ‘Storytelling’, ask participants to watch a video of a teacher telling a story in the classroom and make notes on the storytelling techniques he/she uses.

Demonstrations

Ask participants to pretend to be students and demonstrate an activity. For example, for a workshop on ‘Communicative activities’, you might want to demonstrate a ‘running dictation’ activity using texts that you would also use with a class of students.

Loop input

Participants do an activity in the same way as described in the ‘demonstration’ above, but with the content and the process aligned. For example, to make the ‘running dictation’ a loop input activity (rather than a demonstration), use texts that describe ‘how to do a running dictation activity’ instead of texts that you would use with a class of students. 

Principle 4: Promote reflection, contextualisation and follow-up

Another way to encourage participants to transfer ideas from the workshop to their own teaching context is to promote reflection and follow up. Workshops should help teachers to reflect on their practice and relate the content of the workshop to their own context. By including a follow-up activity for teachers to complete when they are back in their classrooms, we can encourage them to put ideas into practice. In this way, teachers are less likely to go back to their classrooms and forget everything that they have learned in the workshop. Here are some ways of promoting reflection and follow-up: 

Reflection questions

Give participants two or three questions to reflect on at the end of an activity or workshop. For example, after a ‘running dictation’ activity, write the following questions on the board:

  • Did you enjoy the activity? Why (not)?
  • Could you do this activity with your students?
  • How could you adapt this activity?

Action points

Ask participants to choose one activity from the workshop to try with their students when they go back to their classrooms. Ask them to specify which activity, how they will adapt it, when they will try it and who they will try it with.

Adaptation ideas

After each workshop activity, always ask participants to brainstorm how the activity can be adapted for their teaching context. For example, ask participants how to adapt the activity for large classes / low-level learners / different topics etc.

Peer observations

Encourage participants to set up a peer observation, ideally with a co-worker who also attended the workshop. Having someone else observe their teaching will make them more accountable for completing their action points and will encourage post-workshop reflection.

Reflection

To conclude the workshop on workshops, of course there had to be some reflection.

I asked the participants to think about their training contexts and discuss these questions:

  • Could you incorporate any of the practical ideas into your context?
  • How could you adapt these ideas for your training context?
  • Decide on one action point.

Thanks to everyone who came to my session. I would love to hear from you if you have tried out any of these practical ideas in your own workshops. If you have your own ideas on how to design effective workshops, please share them here.

References and further reading

Borg, S. 2016. ‘Workshops and Teacher Change’. Simon Borg’s blog. http://simon-borg.co.uk/workshops-and-teacher-change/

Graves, K. 2009. ‘The Curriculum of Second Language Teacher Education’ in Burns, A. and   Richards, J. (eds.) The Cambridge Guide to Second Language Teacher Education. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. [Amazon affiliate link]

Hayes, D. 1995. ‘In-service teacher development: some basic principles’. ELT Journal 49/3

Woodward, T. 1991. Models and Metaphors in Language Teacher Training: Loop Input and Other Strategies. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. [Amazon affiliate link]

Woodward, T. 2003. Loop input. ELT Journal 57/3. https://academic.oup.com/eltj/article-pdf/57/3/301/1187562/570301.pdf

Lauren Perkins is a freelance teacher trainer and materials writer, currently based in London. Most of her teaching and training experience has been in Thailand, but she has also worked with teachers in Myanmar, Indonesia, Palestine, Rwanda and Bangladesh. Her interests are in classroom interaction and materials-light teaching. Follow her on twitter @Lperkinselt.

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