Collaborative sharing could very well be the best way to excite a new teacher or rejuvenate the veteran educator about classroom curriculum, coaching and practice or rehearsal strategies. Haven’t we all wondered what other instructors are doing in their classroom or what successful techniques they are using in coaching their squad? This also can provide a unique structure to ignite your conference programming.
Several years ago, at the statewide summer coaching conference in Texas, our state association brainstormed ideas for a climactic ending to the speech and debate programming on the final day of the conference. The idea developed: What better approach than to allow teachers themselves to share their best ideas in a creative atmosphere?
Using the National Communication Association’s popular convention session model, we designed our own G.I.F.T.S. (Great Ideas for Teaching Speech) session. It has been an annual affair ever since, and the most popular of the sessions we host at the two-day conference.
The most important details of the G.I.F.T.S. session are personnel and facility. First, secure five to six creative and energetic instructors. Invite them to select a favorite lesson they love to teach and to search through their repertoire of classroom activities to develop an objective for the feature lesson. Then, ask them to share the activity with other educators who are looking for fresh ideas.
The physical site is another important consideration. For this workshop session, secure a large room. We use an auditorium with a capacity of 450, but it could work successfully in a smaller facility, depending on the number of attendees. In advance, prepare poster-size numbers to hang around the room in separate locations to designate six stations.
Each of the presenters selects a station. As participants arrive, they also are asked to select a station, suggesting the audience be equally divided. The workshop begins by introducing each presenter, which includes a brief biography and his or her curriculum expertise. The audience then has 10 minutes to spend with each presenter at his or her numbered station. During that time, the presenter will share his or her featured classroom activity and provide a copy of the lesson and activity. An electronic version is also placed in the conference document depository for retrieval at the end of the conference. After 10 minutes, a bell will ring to alert the audience to carousel to the next number, station and presenter for an additional sharing moment.
The atmosphere is electrified as the small groups rotate around the room. The workshop is loud since all six presenters talk at once (and often as fast as they can in order to get the details of the lesson and activity covered in the allotted time). It is exciting because the audience is listening intently and kinesthetically participating as they move around the room from station to station.
During the 60-minute period, participants receive six new lesson activities to take back to their own classroom. They are energized and focused!
The success of this carousel G.I.F.T.S. session is threefold: there is opportunity for networking because of close contact with the presenter and with the small group that unites for the activity, as well as immediate question-answer feedback from audience to speaker.
Secondly, the unique approach provides a chance to include young professionals who may have never been a featured conference speaker before. They are more amiable to present a mini-workshop in a less intimidating atmosphere. This is a plus for the teacher but also for the conference host as new faces can be introduced in the conference lineup.
Lastly and perhaps most important, multiple great ideas can be covered in a brief amount of time – something that could not possibly be covered independently in a crowded conference schedule.
G.I.F.T.S. is fun and active. It is a highlight of our conference every year. Collaborative sharing can excite new teachers, rejuvenate veterans to return to the classroom and their coaching duties with creative experiences to impart to students, and has potential to end well-planned conferences with valuable, lasting impact.
Jana Riggins has served as the State Speech & Debate Director for the Texas University Interscholastic League since 1997. She also was president of the Texas Speech Communication Association, planning the statewide speech convention.