For training to be effective, it should:
1. Provide information about what teachers are supposed to be doing, and
2. Provide teachers as realistic as possible a situation to do it in, while still making the situation safe and “scaffolded” (i.e., they don’t have to worry about managing behavior of 30 kids while trying out new techniques).

The trick is how to get 40 people to be able to practice, and practice well, while doing it more or less independently (as the presenter has only one body to move around the workshop)…

Enter the mobile classroom set. I’ve been using these for awhile now and I LOVE them. They fit in my suitcase (I measured first, for once!) and set up and pack away quickly. And they do their job really well!

TheĀ  sets I use in workshops each have a whiteboard with signs (question words and logical connectors), a full-size pointer, a marker and eraser, and a set of CircleUp! cards. Teachers work in groups, using the CircleUp cards to guide them in asking questions and incorporating skills, and are thus able to independently practice skills we have talked about (basic circling and TPRS skills like comprehension checks, three-fers, short-and-long, parking on the “no”, and so on). It’s a huge help when it’s one trainer or coach and dozens of participants.

Using this setup, teachers can really “put it all together”, although in miniature. They have students (the other teachers). They have a skills coach (the CircleUp! system does that). They have something to point to, and something to point to it with. Pretending to do these things is nice, but it isn’t the real thing.

The trainer or coach can easily circulate and offer help or support. I just display either a picture for PictureTalk, stills for MovieTalk, or story skeleton pieces or even sentences on the projector if there is one, or on handouts if there isn’t.

I was particularly impressed this past weekend with how effective this setup was in helping teachers to really make language comprehensible. I had groups working from items (chunks of language) and to get them going, at the beginning I also projected an image of what my whiteboard would look like (many new teachers believe wrongly that they should write the full sentence up, instead of just the individual things the students need to see). Being able to do all the steps and point effectively in a small group situation where there was no high-tech involved, we had zero-Chinese people actually following the “lesson” as Chinese teachers circled structures that would normally be done probably three-quarters of the way through the first year.