Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Teaching Craft Classes

Teaching a new class is always a learning experience for me. The hardest part is remembering, often after the first unsuccessful attempt to explain something, everyone is at different places in their knowledge of craft techniques and, partially because of that, have different abilities to acquire new knowledge quickly. These classes are being offered on the premise that the students in the class will learn a technique more quickly by seeing how something is done rather than reading about it. I do, of course, have detailed class handouts with text and images that I ask the students to read over before we start - to prime the pump, so to speak - but sometimes it turns out the technique is so out of the experience of some students that none of it sinks in. This, in turn, makes the demonstration a more critical component of their learning process. There are some things, unfortunately, that are very difficult to show. Other things, so seemingly obvious to me - things I didn't anticipate having to explain, require backtracking and demonstration before we can move on to the main project. Strangely, my students always tell me they had a great class and learn a lot. But my experiences in my last two classes made me wonder whether they were just being kind.

I should first explain that I teach classes in a bead/accessory/clothing/gift store about an hour-and-a-half away from my home. I write up class proposals with a draft of the class instructions and submit them to the owner. The owner schedules the classes and purchases the materials I listed in the class proposal.

Two Saturdays ago I taught my first torch soldering class. (before this point I had primarily taught projects requiring a kiln). It went well - in that by the end of class everyone had successfully soldered some joints, most people finished their projects, and everyone reported learning a lot.

With soldering, it is crucial that the joints in question touch as completely as possible. This project required making our own rings out of copper. You wind the wire around a dowel, remove the coil, then cut the rings. Once you cut the rings the ends are a wire-width apart since they were once part of a coil. To close the gap you (just) need to grasp the ends and apply some pressure to the ends in the opposite directions.

While this may not be something that is common knowledge, it is perhaps the first thing that anyone making jewelry should learn. It turned out there were some students in the class that had never made any jewelry. After approximately fifteen minutes of unsuccessfully soldering joints the students asked for my help. Because they had been applying heat to the metal, it had expanded, and the joints were no longer anywhere in the vicinity of touching. This meant that making the ends touch required even more finesse than usual and required much more explanation than how to (simply) close a new jump ring. We got through the hurdle, but it made me stop and think about other basic techniques that were integral to the project that didn't even occur to me as necessary to explain.

Last night I was teaching a class on the Byzantine Weave.

This is another jump ring project. After my experience with the soldering class I felt compelled to explain closing and opening jump rings. The image above was, in fact, a part of the directions this time. Of course, this time everyone laughed that I felt I needed to explain that.

I am a licensed 5-12 Social Studies teacher and am a project away from completing my M.Ed. For all of my classwork (in which I did very well), I still feel like there are a million things to learn about teaching. Perhaps I'm worrying too much. The students do genuinely seem to enjoy the classes and come back for more. They leave with projects well-started, if not finished. Yet, they pay me to facilitate their learning of something new and I feel I owe it to them to make it as simple and painless as possible. Is that silly? Should I be able to anticipate their any learning need? Is it enough to provide basic information verbally? Should I have everything available on a handout? Should I have prerequisite skills in the class blurb, or rely on the staff registering students to gauge student readiness for the class?

Perhaps, in the end, lack of perfection as a craft teacher instills more confidence in the student's own lack of perfection in technique. If the teacher isn't perfect at everything, but can improve with practice and thought, maybe the student can do the same.

1 comment:

  1. So, I just stumbled on your blog when looking to rent some kiln time. I have just started lampworking and do not want to fork out the money to buy a kiln yet. Do you know of anyone that would be willing to rent out kiln time for my pathetic batches of glass beads? I am located in St Louis Park. Also am interested in finding out if you know of a Mpls area supplier for lampworking supplies? Last weekend I drove to Northfield to Glass Garden Beads.

    I'd love to take a class in jewelry making so I can work with the glaaa beads I have made.

    My e-mail is suejstu@earthlink.net