Sunday, August 12, 2012

The Fine Art of Teaching Crafters

Earlier today I taught a class in Zentangle at a local scrapbook store. I was a bit trepidatious about the class because they'd invited another teacher some months ago, and she had not been very well received. Of course, the class went fine. We had a great time, and many of my students are off to a fine start in this new hobby.
Relazing after teaching my Zentangle class.

Last week I did a post for Elizabeth Spann Craig's excellent blog "Mystery Writing is Murder." I wrote about how to put more emotion in your writing. One of the commenters said, I love how you have broken down your tips into manageable, understandable steps."

That got me thinking: Why is it that some people can teach and some can't?

To me, the essence of teaching is breaking material down into discrete, manageable steps--and then give examples, using as many different explanations as possible.

When my mother taught ballet to small children, she would use chalk to draw a big circle on the floor of her dance studio. In the center of the circle, she drew fish. To teach youngsters to execute a "grand jete" (great leap), she would say, "Jump over the puddle and don't let the fishies bite your toes." It never failed to work.

Often, people who know a skill very well don't stop to break it down. They fail to realize the singular, separate steps one must take to get from A to Z. So here's my quickie guide to teaching:

TASK ONE: Create a learning environment (

1. Bring as many visual aids as possible.
2. Keep the project simple at the start. Progress to more difficult projects as you go.
3. Create a comfortable relaxed environment where students feel free to both  fail--and learn!
4. Limit the options and you limit the mistakes a student can make.
5. Be incredibly available and approachable so students can ask questions.
6. Watch your students carefully and if you see a puzzled look, investigate!
7. Praise students liberally.
8. Rephrase information in as many ways as possible.
9. Realize that you will have visual, auditory and kinesthetic learners and offer help for each.
10. NEVER, ever call negative attention to a student's efforts.

TASK TWO: Break down the process

1. Pretend you are explaining the task to a Martian. Get that detailed!
2. Create and define a vocabulary as you go along.
3. "Watch" yourself do the task and then list the steps.
4. Share tips, those shortcuts you personally have used.
5. Show the process in its various stages of completion.
6. Think through the ways a person could interpret your directions wrong--and head off those mistakes.
7. Offer a handout to accompany your class.

I know that some of you have also taught writing and crafts. What have you learned about teaching?


Jennwhite said...

This is all great advice. I'm a teaching artist, and I find often that people who do something well can no longer find the discrete steps to make it happen. When I write Photoshop tutorials I try not to assume anything - not that people know where the tool I'm referring to is, that they know how to close it, or even what it looks like. I write all that in to my tutorials for which I am regularly thanked.

The only other bit of advice I'd add to what you said is TRY IT. Follow your own directions and see if it works. Then get someone who's never done it to try it. (My poor kids run when they hear, "honey, come here and try something!")Almost every time I find I'd skipped something that makes a difference!

Jennwhite said...

Great post! All good advice! I work as a teaching artist as well as a museum educator, and I often see people who do something really well just can't see the detail in it any more.

The only thing I'd add to your advice is to TRY IT! Do it yourself, following your own written instructions or notes, and see if you missed anything. Get someone else who's never done it to try it too. I do this for every project and use the results as samples for the class.

Joanna Campbell Slan said...

Jenn, I want to know where to get those Photoshop tutorials! I need them!

Joanna Campbell Slan said...

And that's great advice about "try it."

Linda O. Johnston said...

Very enlightening post, Joanna. I sometimes teach writing and will have to add some of your ideas to my preparations!

Joanna Campbell Slan said...

Linda, I'm pretty confident you know all this already!