Friday, February 20, 2009

"Tricks of the Trade"

I tend to be a little compulsive when it comes to organizing materials for a specific program - especially if it's the first time I've worked with a group of people. Obviously, I want to put my best foot forward. While I can't control all the things that might come up, the more organized I am before I walk through the door, the fewer the "glitches" are which seem to occur with any program.

So where do I start?

I begin with the web format I discussed in my previous posting. Once I have two or three ideas listed in each content/modality area which pertain to the topic, I look at the whole program to determine both the flow of the program and its integrity – does it fit together? Does it make sense? Have I included enough different angles or perspectives from which participants can approach the topic? Once I’m satisfied with the answers to these questions, in short order I

  • determine space needs within the facility limitations
  • pull together a draft agenda
  • prepare center signs: I like to use a specific graphic relating to each center, and (when possible) a different type face.

During this stage, the program is still pretty fluid. Facility limitations often cause ideas to be reworked or eliminated. It’s hard, for example, to do a relay race if there’s insufficient space! “Facilities” also includes equipment: do we have access to a DVD player, a microphone, a sink? If not, can we adapt the activity or do we need to come up with a substitute? Sometimes the absence of someone with a specific talent also results in reworking or eliminating certain activities. Oftentimes I can rework an activity so that specialists are not necessary – or if they are available, I’ll rework the activity to take advantage of their expertise.

After the brainstorming and dealing with the big questions, I look at each area in turn to decide what this specific center needs in order for these specific activities to work easily.

In the Israel Center of the Tu B’Shevat program I just facilitated, for example, I decided on two activities: Make-your-own Hebrew weather flashcards AND Learn about the Arava Institute

Both good ideas, yes?

Both had barriers to overcome:

Many adults in the community are not fluent in Hebrew; much of the Hebrew language instruction in the School is oral, not written. Barrier: few people knew the Hebrew for the weather words; few can read the Hebrew; and few can write the words on the index cards. Solution: Labels were used to make the flash cards. Each label had a Hebrew word, the transliteration, and the English meaning. A poster was prepared that showed the same information next to an illustration of the word. Participants were encouraged to select the words they wanted, attach the label to an index card, and illustrate the meaning of the word in a way that made sense to them.

Barrier: One of the teachers of older children suggested this activity would probably bore her students. Solution: She suggested they be encouraged to write brief stories for younger students, incorporating the Hebrew vocabulary appropriately.

Barrier: Given the short amount of time to prepare, we had difficulty obtaining written material about the Arava Institute (our fault – not theirs!). Solution: One of the teachers suggested using their website to convey information. Barrier: the program was held in a rented facility without internet access. Solution: Using the graphics and copy available from the website, we produced Powerpoint that we were able to run on a laptop.

[You'll notice, I hope, that at this stage we actually increased the number of activities from two to three to address the potentially "it's too easy/boring" reaction of older students. The teacher provided good feedback and being open to what she offered prevented problems down the road.]

Once we were able to find solutions to the barriers, we began to prepare the following:

  • A flyer that contained a list of activities participants could choose to engage in
  • A supplies list (index cards, labels, markers, writing paper, pens/pencils, poster, powerpoint, laptop, extension cord, and a tzedakah box – since the Arava Institute was the tzedakah beneficiary that morning).
  • Directions for the teacher who was stationed at the center

We decided who would be responsible for getting which supplies. I emailed the directions to the school director and asked her to forward them to her staff with a request for feedback. (At some of the centers, I prepared samples and step-by-step instructions for the teachers to follow.)

I repeated this process for each of the different centers, as well as for the take-home materials.

Once the draft schedule was approved and centers were assigned to each space, I printed the agenda, the evaluation forms (see my previous post), two posters containing the entire list of activities by center, and flyers to be placed outside each room so people would know they were in the right place. Using a different graphic and type face for each center was a visual aid that allowed people to find their destination quickly when it was time to change activities.

I had prepared a master list by center of all the supplies and materials needed. As I gathered them, they were placed in a large zipper storage bag (like Ziploc or Glad bags), with the center sign visible. After I bagged the material for each center, I crossed it off my master list, zipped the bag shut AND didn't open the bag again. (I've learned - the hard way - that this is the only way I can ensure that I don't remove something, forget to return it, and find myself without a critical piece when I get to the program site!)

I always plan to get there at least ten minutes before I can get in to set up. That gives me the opportunity to take a deep breath and R-E-L-A-X.

It's not possible to foresee every eventuality or avoid every crisis, but attention to the details in the planning goes a long way!

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