I've led workshops since about 1990. I teach workshops on storytelling, puppetry, story stretches and songs, story games, and writing. My goals are to give the participants specific tools they can take home and put into use immediately, and for us all to have fun.
In the past couple of years, I've been an old dog learning new tricks. I'm learning a new way to teach, one I chafed against at the beginning (thanks, Anthea, for pushing me!). In the past, my method was to give workshop participants tons of information, exercises, games. Throw everything at them and see what sticks.
It isn't that this didn't succeed. My evaluations were usually positive. Here's a comment from a librarian in Colorado:
I came from Grand Junction which is 250 miles from Denver. But I am so glad I did. I would drive it again in a heartbeat to attend one of your workshops!! It was a WONDERFUL learning experience for me and I really appreciated all of your creative ideas.
And another from Kansas:
I believe this is the most overwhelmingly positive response we've had for Summer Reading Workshop in the thirteen years I've been here! In addition to what they wrote on their evaluation forms, many of the workshop participants commented to me how much they enjoyed it and how useful they found it.
Now, though, I keep wondering how much better those workshops might have been if I'd known what I now know.
Last week I gave what may have been my best workshop ever, Hands on, hands in: learning about lifecycles through storytelling and puppetry as part of the USD 497/Lied Center of Kansas Teachers' Summer Workshops. I used the techniques I learned from the Lied.Art.Teach Kennedy Center workshops for artists and what I learned from The Music Teaching Artist's Bible.
I began planning months ago. Instead of choosing a million activities and pieces of information, I narrowed it down to a few specific points.
- introduce the teachers to the method and information I used with the 2nd graders last fall,
- connect to the topic of lifecycles,
- teach puppet and storytelling techniques,
- include a segment on the Wakarusa Wetlands given by Sandy Sanders and Alison Reber, who organized the Wetlands Learners Project.
I created a detailed outline, which I then fleshed out. For once, in the workshop I stuck with the outline. This is huge--my default has always been to give myself a very general plan and then fly by the seat of my pants.
I began with a brief introduction. Then I split the group into four groups for a short brainstorming session. I asked the teachers to write anything they could think of about lifecycles on big sheets of paper, which we then read aloud and hung around the room.
After this, I demonstrated the residency presentation. This led naturally to the section with Sandy and Alison. Then it was time for a break.
After the break, I taught basic puppet techniques. We played with practice puppets. Then I revealed a huge pile of puppets, up until then hidden under a cloth, and invited the teachers to choose one. This was a hands-on (and hands-in) exercise in how to create a character. More games, more laughter, and everybody was ready for a short break.
After the break, we went back to the lists the teachers had made in the beginning. I suggested that they choose another puppet and in small groups, create a story with the puppets.
The teachers blew me away with their brilliance! Keep in mind that by the time we got to this point, it was late afternoon on a beautiful summer day. Each group created a cohesive story about a lifecycle that was both interesting and fun. I'll never think of the word "metamorphosis" without hearing it as a rap!
One of the things I've learned is allow sufficient time for reflections and questions. The teachers had a lot to offer, so building time in for that was key. They taught each other (and me) well.
So what made this successful? Here are my guesses:
- Being specific about what I was teaching,
- Creating a strong outline (and following it),
- Choosing only a few points and activities,
- Keeping the lecture aspect to a minimum and audience participation to a maximum,
- Allowing the teachers to offer what they know already and to ask questions
- Remembering what Eric Booth says: 80% of what you teach is who you are.
What else do you think makes a good workshop?
P.S. The photos are from a workshop I gave in Sao Paulo last October at St. Francis School, not from last week's workshop.