On Saturday, I went to another ELT conference here in the Czech Republic. I saw two outstanding plenary speeches and attended three workshops, of which I probably liked most the one done by Hana Babincova.
Now I wonder why this particular experience was so refreshing. In other words, what are the essential ingredients of a successful workshop? I’ve decided to write this up partly because I think it will help me improve my regular teaching. Here are some of my insights:
When I entered the room about ten minutes before the workshop started, the windows were wide open and it was freezing in there. Having spotted the attendees’ desperate expressions, Hana quickly explained that she had opened the windows to let some fresh air in (I sometimes use this euphemism to actually say ‘Sorry but it was terribly smelly in here’). 🙂 Anyway, this was a good move I think since later on, it didn’t get stuffy but pleasantly warm.
Hana had prepared some of the board work in advance so upon entering the room we could easily predict what the workshop was going to be about. In more sophisticated words, we could already activate our schemata. However, I later realized that she hadn’t given it all away, which was clever of her.
I was particularly pleased by the seating arrangement Hana had chosen – two desks pressed together for us to sit in groups of four, i.e. two pairs facing each other. Thus I had plenty of space for myself (unlike during the previous workshop when we were sitting in a horseshoe arrangement without desks and as it was quite a small room, I was literally squeezed between two other participants).
The number of the attendees was reasonable; I don’t feel very comfortable when the room is crammed as I tend to feel claustrophobic. However, a small number of participants would make me feel uncomfortable as well, probably because I’d fear that the group dynamic may suffer a bit.
The topic of Hana’s workshop was Flash Fiction, which is virtually my cup of tea. During the hands-on activities, I was cooperating with two other ladies, both of whom were very friendly and communicative. Having enthusiastic people around is another aspect which makes any workshop a successful event. Sadly, this is something beyond the presenter’s control so I can say I was lucky.
The content of the workshop was engaging plus the timing of the activities was perfect; we had plenty of time to complete all the assigned tasks (which is not always the case). Hana was patiently eliciting ideas and we ended up sharing some truly original interpretations. There are no wrong answers is a strategy I like.
Apart from the presenter (or teacher) being well-prepared, intuitive and spontaneous, I think there are other little ingredients which can positively affect the quality of an event, such as a suitable time of the day, the quality of the previous workshop (class), i.e. how high (or low?) the metaphorical bar is, how enthusiastic the participants (students) are, etc.
All in all, throughout this workshop, I didn’t feel the need to look at my watch and when it was over, I caught myself disappointed by the fact that time had flown so quickly. 🙂