Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Feared Classroom Workshop

The most feared task of writing consultants: the classroom presentation. Perhaps it is the boredom expressed in every student’s face when you pull up a presentation on editing. It could also be the blank stares you receive when you ask for feedback on which form of punctuation is better. Either way, classroom presentations are one of the most challenging aspects of working as a writing consultant. It doesn’t help that the presentations can usually be characterized as the following: boring, long, and containing grammatical terms that even you have never seen.

After performing a series of less-than-exciting workshops, I (along with another tutor) was assigned the daunting task of revamping our writing center’s entire collection of classroom workshops. This ranged from grammar to editing to correspondence. It was not an easy task: the layouts had to be exciting enough to interest students yet professional enough that people would take us seriously. There needed to be visuals and pictures to hold people’s attention, but the pictures needed to be relevant to the information (if anyone knows of a good picture to describe the difference between colon and semicolon, let me know!). However, after spending a summer redesigning and working with presentations, I came away with useful knowledge on how to create and present a workshop in the least boring manner possible.

1. Never write too much on the slides. People hardly like to read term papers, and I can guarantee nobody wants to read one when it is projected on a screen. Instead, put keywords that can trigger your memory to discuss important topics. Students should learn from YOU talking- not from reading the slides only.

2. Use pictures. As corny as it may be, simple photographs help retain information through association. Do not use busy photos- it will take away from the information. But if you are discussing the etiquette of email, a simple picture of keyboard will help emphasize your ideas that you are trying to portray.

3. Pick a layout- AND STICK TO IT. One of the most important ideas I grasped was the importance of staying consistent. Our old classroom workshops all had different layouts and designs, and it made it hard to present from one workshop to another. Pick one design, and use it in every classroom workshop. This builds recognition of your writing center and makes it easier on consultants giving the workshops because they will be familiar with the general layout.

4. Familiarize yourself with the material. It might seem obvious, but it really is a Rookie mistake to go into a workshop thinking you know all the material, and realize you are clueless. If you do not know at least a little about what you are presenting, the audience will pick up on this, and probably not listen to most of your presentation. Review the workshop the day before at least, and you will feel much more confident about actually giving the presentation.

5. Be confident. You work at the writing center for a reason, and it’s not just because you have read the Harry Potter series ten times (wait...is that just me?). It is okay to not always have the answers—what is more important is to have the ability to lead students in the right direction to find their own answers.

Classroom workshops are not the end-all-be-all of your writing center existence. They should not be the most feared aspect of your job (that is reserved for the 200 page thesis in nuclear engineering), but instead, should be another way for you to assist students in their writing knowledge. As long as you understand what you are talking about and what you are doing, classroom presentations are just an easier way to reach more people in need of help.