Methods of Training – Twilight sessions
These are a well-established mechanisms of staff development across subject and policy areas. In a 6 month ‘test’ period we have undertaken twilight sessions in 8 different primary schools with 5 of those schools asking for a follow up session.
Typically, the session will start at about 3.45 – 4.00pm and finish between 5.30 and 6.00 averaging 2 hours with a 15 minute coffee break. The session may be voluntary, open to any teacher or teaching assistant that wants to attend or part of a mandatory programme of staff meetings and events.
It is difficult to generalise the format because in each case the ‘brief’ from the head teacher or head of IT will be slightly different. However, all our twilight sessions have a certain pattern.
Firstly, twilight sessions are often a harassed head teacher’s way of introducing teachers and TA to the new curriculum for IT / Digital Competence Framework. It is basically a scattergun approach. All staff need to know the basics and a short, sharp twilight session for everyone seems a good idea to set the ball rolling. There are many advantages. In two hours the trainer can keep teachers’ attention and ‘entertain’ them at the end of the working day by using a wide range of equipment and materials demonstrating the use of IT across the curriculum and with different ages. It is easy to build in practical activities and ideas that will stimulate their imagination. Two hours is not a long period to concentrate and, given that they will all have done a day’s work beforehand, works well as a time slot. To that extent, twilight sessions are ideal for awareness raising, introducing teachers to practical activities and providing a measure of reassurance that they will be able to cope with the new requirements.
However, there are serious disadvantages to this model. It is expensive – in a primary school there are rarely more than 12 people in a group. Although the session might only be 2 hours, the set-up and packing up if the trainer is using a lot of practical activities can easily take another 1 ½ hours plus travel time. It is also an awkward time to combine with other activities – we have found that delivering a twilight session means leaving the office, on average, at 2 – 2.30 which means that no other activities are possible after lunch. Half a day of trainer time – excluding preparation – to train 12 people for less than 2 hours is not cost effective.
There are other problems with twilight sessions. In two hours it is possible to engage staff and give them a flavour of what is expected. The evaluation sheets show that staff enjoy the sessions and they are motivated to get started. However, it is difficult to do more than provide a ‘snap shot’, which is a good starter but which needs rapid follow up. It is almost impossible in 2 hours to consider in any detail progression or integration with thematic work. The other operational problem is that if there is a second twilight session organised, it is always a problem guaranteeing the same staff will be there. Finally, it requires a fairly experienced trainer as if staff are sampling maybe 6 or 8 different activities, it means the trainer needs to be confident in planning and delivering a wide range of content, using very different technologies.
Nevertheless, it is a useful model. On the whole, teachers are quite prepared to stay for twilight sessions as long as they are not too frequent and the more senior staff prefer them.