What Is My Instructional Style?
I was recently asked how I teach–what my “style” is–and I really had to think about it. Teaching has always come naturally to me, so it took a while to be able articulate how I do things. Here’s what I figured out…
I think good instruction starts with three things:
- Telling the student what you’re going to show them
- This includes explaining what the thing you’re showing is useful for and/or why they’re learning it.
- Showing the student how to do what you’re teaching them to do
- This includes showing the thing step-by-step SLOWLY, giving examples of other ways they might be able to do it, explaining which method is typically least frictional/tricky, and answering any questions they have about what they’re seeing.
- Walking the student through trying the thing on their own
- This includes reminding them of the steps and LETTING THEM TRY IT before I start making suggestions (being silent and watching).
If a learner gets stuck, I do not correct. I affirm the work they’ve done so far and point out what might have tripped them up. This feedback should always be focused on the thing, not the learner. Doing new things always takes a few tries.
I am on my student’s timeline, not the other way around. I am perfectly willing to repeat the same instructions, using a variety of different methods, until a learner is comfortable with a particular technique.
I usually ask learners to do it again until it’s close to accurate, and then have them do it once more. I reinforce success each time. This is when you’ll hear me say, “How does it look?” or “Now admire your work.”
Never expect perfection. None of us is perfect, so your work will never be perfect, but it will always be yours.
In general, here are some thoughts I have about teaching and learning:
Anyone and everyone can learn. There’s no such thing as too old or too young as a learner, no matter what the subject matter is. There IS such a thing as too lazy or don’t want to as an instructor. (WARNING: serious opinions with a capital “O” ahead.) I have zero tolerance for so-called teachers/instructors/educators who classify entire age groups by saying things like, “I can’t handle kids” or “I have no patience with teenagers” or “adult just don’t learn as fast” or other such things. Those types of folks won’t find a place with me. However, I could probably teach them a thing or two…
I encourage appreciation for the process. Especially with sewing, 90% of the work does not involve stitching, so learners need to understand that every tiny thing they do before and after they stitch is part of sewing. The same goes for acting, singing or dancing, sports, etc., where 90% of the work does not involve performance—it involves ongoing rehearsals, exercises, repetition, preparation, internal work.
Patience is not a virtue, it’s a requirement. If you cannot be patient with someone who is doing something for the first time or relearning something they knew how to do as a child, you need to find a different vocation. And I will never apologize for that statement.
Above all else, I find joy in my students’ journeys and discoveries. I see things through their eyes. I listen and learn and absorb, because they can teach me as much as I can teach them. They are a gift that should never be squandered. My students make me better—better as a human, better at what I do as a maker, better as a teacher, better at being open-minded and curious…if I die tomorrow, I know this: I have made some small difference in the world because of and for my students. It’s not everything, but it’s certainly something.