When you are asked to give the last talk at a large mandatory national study-day which begins at two o’clock (right after school, for many teachers), you know your audience will be tired and disgruntled by the time it is your turn to speak. Particulary as your talk ends at 7:30 p.m.
How disgruntled is a matter of luck depending on how enganged teachers felt earlier and how many technical mishaps there were. You also know there will be a great deal of ongoing long-distance monitoring of children.
I read Tyson Seburn’s excellent post “The Thing with Interactive Conference Sessions” several times before my talk this week. I really agree with this post. My experience with “talk to your partner” at sessions has not been positive. Many of my colleagues report similair reactions. The trick I needed was to keep the teachers awake and engaged but to stay away from that pitfall. Particularly when a large audience in a large auditorium is involved.
Here are notes about what worked well and what didn’t:
* This is NOT the situation to go for a “No Tech Talk”. The fact that I began with suggestion for using a humorous clip from YouTube, and then, at intervals, explained how I use Word Clouds and Quizlet really grabbed attention.
* Eliciting sentences from the audience based on the activity we had done before did not work well. I only wanted 6 sentences to show “the Erasing Words Technique” but it seemed that paying attention (even asking questions!) was one thing, suggesting sentences was another. Too much interactivity at this hour, I guess. Actually, this was the “low” part of the talk as it calls for a white board, which collapsed before I approached it (I was grateful it didn’t fall on my head, to be honest. It was huge!). I had sentences prepared in advance and did it on the computer but it really doesn’t work as well. When you erase words on a white board the space remains there. Important. On the computer you have to create the space manually.
* Choosing unfamiliar sounding Japanese words to show a technique for using charts to learn vocabulary gave everyone a welcome humor break (I knew my audience spoke many languages, Japanese was a good choice). However, some teachers would not even make the effort of coloring in the relevant squares on their charts. And that was a pity because those who did felt the sense of satisfaction that I wanted to convey. It is simply not the same when you just look. I tried some active encouragement at this point but as one teacher replied “not at this hour”.
* But the best thing was sticking to practical tips that teachers could easily try in the classroom. That was the thing I got the most positive feedback about. Photocopying a simple Irregular Verbs in the Past Tense game ( a la “Snakes and Ladders) for them to take home went down very well. We may all be adults but having something to take home with you still feels as good as getting a “goody bag” at a birthday party.