Twice in two weeks I’ve had the chance to work with groups in a workshop situation. There’s nothing so unusual about that, but in both cases the workshops have been for unusually long sessions. Last week I worked with a group of twenty 12 year olds for a seven hour long art, language and creativity workshop (yes, with a couple of breaks!). Today I have had four hours with colleagues to try and use an afternoon to create new lesson material that combines lesson content and language learning challenges in imaginative ways.
The length of both workshop sessions are relatively unusual in educational contexts, where so much is cut up into small pieces to fit a timetable or simply to make sure all subjects get their allotted amount of time. Both children and staff are constantly switching, readjusting and having to start again. It is a system that generates a lot of wasted time and a great deal of disruption. Breaks are of course important to refresh and clear the mind a little, but the normal school day (or the average conference day for that matter) it does at times feel like overkill. These are the reasons why these more extended workshop sessions feel so different and offer other possibilities.
For the children last week we were able to extensively play a series of language games, combine them with practical art activities and written assignments. The pupils got completely involved and spent the day consistently speaking English (their second language) after only having had a couple of weeks of bilingual education. The workshop had something of a pressure cooker effect, intensive input, active involvement and language rich output. Yes, we were all exhausted at the end of the day, but there is nothing wrong with that once in a while!
Today’s workshop with colleagues was rather different. Four hours together essentially with the aim of producing teaching material that can be put into use in the forthcoming weeks and months. This too, like last week, required energy and focus. But the unusual difference today is that we have been able to have time to work together. The more usual format being a workshop that presents a collection of ideas, the workshop ends, everyone goes home and you may (or may not) get a chance to return to workshop content a few weeks later when you get a moment, and that moment is very unlikely to be with your colleagues. Again, as so often in education the the breaks and disruption get in the way and potentially constructive work is lost as a result.
Interestingly, the school where I teach, are currently looking at the merits of personalized learning. It is a bit too early to say whether this will ultimately help in this area. But it certainly will be interesting to see if it might be possible, in a readjusted school day, to see a timetable that might help in this area. Could it result in more scope for pupils to work on particular subjects in more extended ways when it is possible to do so and perhaps be a little the slaves to the school bell?