Sarafina Fiber Art

Sarafina Fiber Art

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Teaching Workshops Series 2: The Process



Everyone has their supplies, their thinking caps on, is on the same step, and their smiles in tact! A good start.

Preparation for your workshop is covered in "Teaching Workshops 1: The Nuts and Bolts."
Understanding the personalities that you will meet  is covered in "teaching Workshops Series 3: The People"

Workshop Components

There are several components in a Workshop; the space, the project, preparation, the supplies, the instructor, the participants.

I am lucky enough to now have a shop and workshop space.  We have plenty of room for up to 18 people, although we rarely do a class that size.  Before I had my shop, I traveled to a local yarn shop with the supplies I needed.  Sometimes, I have taught in a home, mine or others.    No matter your location, you will need adequate table space and chairs, a rest room, perhaps a kitchen or snack area, and possibly some other amenities like a deep sink or additional table.

Setting up is a big key in helping one to feel prepared for the people and the project.  No matter the class, make sure the tables are clean and set with the tools each person will need.  You may need to have a side table with additional materials depending on your project.  It feels best when this is done before people arrive.  If students arrive early, you can ask them to help!  : )

I go into detail about the instructor end of preparing your project in "Teaching Workshop Series 1: Nuts and Bolts."

TIP:  Try to avoid answering questions about the class before class had started.  It will drain your energy.  You can say something like, "That is an excellent question.  I will address it when everyone is here so all can hear the answer." You will most likely need to be working where everyone can see you and able to easily reach everyone when they need help.

The project should suit the time allowed, level, and number participants.

Once everyone has arrived, hopefully on time and ready to roll, you can begin! 

Getting Started

When everyone has arrived, I introduce myself and thank them for coming.  I also might explain the space and where everything is located in the space.  This sounds obvious, but it is an important step in getting everyone's attention and starting the class.  I will also explain without details how the class will progress and the tools that they have available to them.

Sometimes I have a multi-day workshop.  When several people are going to be spending the day together, it's nice to get to know one another. ( I also like to find out what each participant would like to learn and what their experience might be.)  My friend, Lee, uses a game: Each person says their name and describes themselves with an adjective that starts with the first letter or their name.  I might be Sara - Silly Sara.  Each person in turn has to repeat the names of the people before them and then their own.  Sometimes the nicknames would stick!  Just a fun way to break the ice and begin to know one another.

Explain the Materials

Understanding the materials, whether it is wool, paint, ceramics, leather, etc, participants might have better success if they understand the properties of their materials.  For example, in a painting class I explain how oils paints are thinned, how to hold, use, and clean a brush, and how to adjust the easel.  In a needle felting class, I explain how to pull roving, draft, hold the needles, stab into the felting surface, etc.  In a Nuno Felting Class, our instructor explains fiber properties and why some fibers felt and others do not.  General overviews of good practices and familiarity with the tools and materials.

Have a Variety of Way to Demonstrate

People learn in different ways so it is important to have more than one method of conveying an idea.  Demonstration is key of course.  Whether you are working step by step or demonstrating and then letting the participants have at it.

IMPORTANT:  Make sure everyone can see you.

Examples of a step through demonstration or actual finished projects can help people see where they are headed and what the end goal could be.  Be sure that these examples are indicative of the actual project and not some more elaborate or larger piece that will leave them mislead.

Showing all the pieces of the rabbit's head before they are attached

All the pieces come together.  Hopefully!

Following on the heals of demonstration, I might use and analogy.  Your bag of analogies will grow the more you teach.  You never know what analogy might click with what person so lay them on thick and plentiful!

I often have a dry erase board.  Sometimes a large illustration sinks in better than the previous methods.

Reference material is also important and often absolutely necessary.  Photographs of an animal, diagrams of a skeleton, inspirational images for colors or textures, can all help a person envision what they want to make.

Sometimes, no matter if all of these steps have been taken, someone will need me right next to them, one on one, for a certain step.  Perhaps he/she learns better with that kind of proximity and connection.  The instructor needs to find the line between helping that way but not being drained or stolen from the rest of the class.

Learn How to Keep the Class on Track 

The Instructor's job can be very difficult in terms of keeping the class on track.  I can become quite stern when I need everyone's attention.  Nothing exhausts me faster than answering the same question over again, especially right after I have gone to great lengths to explain, demonstrate, illustrate and analogize.   Participants become engrossed in their project, which is a good thing, but sometimes the instructor will need to get everyone's attention.  Do not speak until the tools are put down and eyes are on you.  There is no way a person can work and listen at the same time.

Another difficulty in keeping the class on track, is adjusting the pace to the variety of work speeds.  Some people will be fast and some will be slow.  Neither is a judgement of bad or good, it is just a difference.  The fast people might have to wait for others.  Usually they are okay with that, but I am always keeping an eye that they are not getting too frustrated. If the environment allows it, I might suggest they start a second project, or see if there is some detail they can refine as they wait.

The slow people need to be given time.  However, you can not let the entire workshop fall short because of the pace of one person.   Sometimes people are slow because they are over working.  That is an easy one to remedy.  I just ask them nicely to stop.  Sometimes people are slow for physical reasons; they may need a little more hands on help and I am happy to do that.  If they are slow due to lack of skills, I see that as my problem.  I always try to keep the skill level of the class on par; this sometimes mean telling someone that they are not ready for the workshop.  In the case that someone slipped through, I step in and help to assure that the rest of the class is not waiting.

Sometimes I give a time frame.  I say, "Okay, you have 5 more minutes to work on this step."  Doing this helps people gauge how long they should be spending on something and adjust their own timing.  

Be Aware of Too Many Options

Cater the number of options to the level of the participants.  In a beginner class, I will have everyone work with the same materials and work step by step.  They are generally there to learn something new, so adding a big bunch of choices for them can be overwhelming.

If a workshop if made for or full of intermediate or advances participants, then you can open up the bag of tricks a bit and let them explore their own avenues.

The biggest challenge of running a workshop is not letting it run you.

Another Artist's Input by Lee Charlton


I have been teaching my whole adult life.  First, in raising our three amazing children, second, during my 20 years as a paramedic and now, in my third career, as a fiber artist.  I can say that no matter what the subject matter, my goals has always to bring confidence to each person to pursue what interests them and to demonstrate critical thinking skills so they can succeed.  Yes, there are special skill sets one must learn about the subject matter at hand but without confidence and critical thinking skills, the student will not be successful.
The hard part of teaching is how to inspire confidence in the wide variety of personalities that walk in the door for class.  On my end I try to always be prepared, organized, confident in my outlook, and welcome each person whether it be as they walk in or after we are all seated and ready to start. 
Playing an icebreaker game (I usually play a name game) can put people at ease and create a feeling of community and mutual support for the duration of the class (and hopefully beyond).  Folks like to know what to expect so I also spend just a few moments in the beginning outlining the class and what we hope to accomplish.
The hardest part about teaching is accomplishing your goals while tailoring the material to several personality types and learning styles, letting the slower people have enough time to explore each task but not so much time that the fast ones in the class get bored.     
Calling people by name once in a while to check in on how they are doing, holding their piece (I am talking needle felting here) and taking a critical look see, complimenting and making a few suggestions always seems to make people happy.  Letting "neighbors" help "neighbors" also helps those that need an extra hand up in being successful.
I love the community that teaching a class creates and seeing people work together, compliment each other and be supportive pleases me.  We are all unique and have value and if I accomplish anything during a class it would be, if even only for the 4 hours were in class together, that everyone feels supported, worthy and valued.
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