Handmade Monday 84 – Excellence in Craft Teaching

Welcome to this week’s Handmade Monday – if you’d like to join in or read some of the other fantastic blogs written by some very talented people, then pop across to Handmade Harbour and join in the fun

This Saturday I went along to a workshop provided by Hampshire County Council for its craft tutors. I met some lovely ladies and it was a fantastic opportunity to network, listen and learn.

Being  the Learner

I went along fully expecting a day where we’d be demonstrating our teaching styles to each other and receiving feedback and pointers but was mystified by the instruction to bring a mirror! When I arrived  – a little late due to lack of street signs in Romsey and going to the wrong class room –  I was sent off to the Art Room. My heart immediately sank as I’d been begged on bended knee never to take an art exam when I was at school. Apparently my perceptual skills were and probably still are if I’m honest, not working well! I do find depth perception and drawing in 3D is really challenging, which is why I prefer knitting and crochet – I can actually see the work grow in 3 dimensions and understand it without having to look at a picture and interpret.

The next shock was that at the front stood an art tutor! As I’d taken my wheelchair I managed to successfully lurk at the back as I thought that would be safer and would be less likely to get me involved in doing anything too stressful – but I think she also had a psychic ability to spot the terrified and I soon realised I wasn’t going to get an easy ride – especially when she said we would be doing protraits!! I can still remember the humiliation I went through during my first half term at senior school when my attempt at a self portrait gave the class bullies the opportunity they needed to up their game, so my inner coward was definitely flapping by now!

But…. the tutor was amazing! She broke the work down into tiny, easy steps, explained it all very clearly and made sure we understood before putting pen to paper. She also gave us a huge sheet of paper and a thick marker pen to draw with and was really clear that we did not need to be accurate.  So I could actually approach the first drawing in a relaxed manner. We also had to try to use a continuous line meaning we couldn’t be over precise. The way she taught us meant that I lost my fear – it was ok to get it wrong and make mistakes. I also pretty rapidly realised I wasn’t the only person in the class out of their comfort zone and that no one was going to laugh at my efforts and that helped too! She was really clear about where on the face the features should go to achieve proportion and as well as explaining demonstrated and got us to look at how everyone in the class may have had different features, they were still placed in the same place. Another thing was that she put emphasis on the face being convex, something I’ve never really appreciated, hence all my face drawings tend to be of the flat, primary school variety!

Once we’d finished the first attempt we then spent time looking at the structure of the eye, nose and mouth and how to draw them well. Again things were explained and demonstrated and we got to have a go at drawing them in rough first. It was also interesting to hear what the more artistic tutors were saying about how using a chunky pen meant your hands were more relaxed and that it was easier to get the portrait to flow – again something I’d not really understood before but I could see it made sense from my own experimentation.When we’d spent some time looking at adding features we were challenged to repeat the portrait but this time imagine we were an ant. The ant was going to draw a map of the terrain it was crossing as we created our faces. Initially I wasn’t sure I could do this as I find precision really difficult in drawing but I persevered with it as I felt encouraged from my first attempt. I was actually really surprised at how much easier it was to create a portrait this way though. And how using the tutors tips for drawing eyes – heavy line at the top, soft at the bottom, avoid making them almond shapes and hanging the pupil from the top lid, made it come to life more. I know it still needs work but I feel much more confident when it comes to trying again. You can see some of my practice eyes just above her head.

We had a mini break and then moved on to the final part of the workshop – making a clay bust of ourself from the portraiture skills we’d learned – hence the mirror. My school career with clay was also a bit hit and miss but I do enjoy modelling with salt dough and plastecine so its not quite as scary – but I’d never made a bust. The closest I’d come was to make a “Beryl Cook” lady which exploded in the kiln and so never got finished. But again the tutor’s relaxed and calm approach removed much of my anxiety. I also have a good feel for the shape of the back of a head as I’m a well known baby cuddle snatcher so often have a little head resting in my hands. So I set to and with constructive feedback and suggestions from the tutor I sculpted the basic head, neck and shoulders from the clay and built up the back of the head. I needed a bit of help with shaping the face as that was hard to get my head round –  I could see it in the mirror but had forgotten the “convex” principle. However once it was explained I got going. And although I’m not 100% happy with my “neanderthal”  version of me, I ‘m happy that I had a go, that the others in the group and the tutor were positive about my efforts and that was great.

At the end of the session I spoke to the tutor about how much difference she’d made to me confidence wise with putting pen to paper and how school had written me off artistically many years ago and she was really pleased with the feedback.

Reflect and Set Goals

After lunch we had a reflective session looking at what we’d learned, what was expected of tutors in terms of excellence and shared examples from practice about what works, what doesn’t and the challenges we face when expecting to teach at a certain level only to find those booked are either more advanced or complete beginners for example. We then chose 6 things we would do to improve our practice:

Being a learner in a subject I found challenging really made me think and I realised just how far out of their comfort zone students are. I’ve also realised that for the low cost classes I run, I might need to do some more work gaining people’s confidence before offering a course, perhaps doing something less formal like a have a go day, so they can see its not like school!

My key aim was: Giving the group the skills they need to explore their creativity.

I work and plan lessons  to create a relaxed atmosphere where its ok to make mistakes – its actually part of the class plan, spotting and crorecting errors as its a good learning point for everyone. I also think its essential that people work at their own pace, so I’ll move on those with a bit of experience and spend a bit more time initially with those needing a little more help. I want people to come away from a lesson inspired to practice at home and want to experiment and move on.

The ideas I picked up that I thought might help with this are:

1. Always have spare materials and an extension activity, plus a beginners pack with me, just in case

2. Use a variety of suggestions to raise learners’ aspirations – internet, books, photo’s, trips, visits, exhibitions

3. Learning from Mistakes – put a bit more emphasis on this as the end of the first lesson – that homework doesn’t have to be perfect, that we need people to show their mistakes so we can all learn from them

4. Experimental Working – have the courage to set up a free form class – encourage learners to take inspiration from their surroundings, use different materials and unleash their creativity

5. Use Group Feedback – at the end of the session encourage learners to review their own work and each others in a constructive, positive way. Get them thinking about what they’re making, understanding structure, form and colour

6. Personalise their work – this is something I’m trying this term, using sessions 3 -6 for learners to work on their own pieces instead of following a group pattern. Sharing the new skjills they’re learning with each other and inspiring each other to try new things, but in a safe place, following some basic guidance about choosing a first pattern.

20 thoughts on “Handmade Monday 84 – Excellence in Craft Teaching

  1. This is very interesting Bev as after over 12 years of teaching sewing, I am experiencing lots of issues around keeping the class interesting and moving students on to further learning so the class doesn’t just become a social circle. Your list of ideas is very useful. Thank you!

  2. A really interesting post! One of the things I always did as a teacher of entry-level English and maths was to create an atmosphere where it’s OK to make mistakes (and that making mistakes shows you’re challenging yourself and learning!) – sometimes people are so afraid of making a mistake it actually holds them back from even trying. Most of it stems from school days, sadly.

    I love that you’ve put your work on here – it shows a really good level of confidence which is amazing after the feelings you described!

    Oh, and art was one of my best subjects, but I can totally empathise as I was pretty useless at music (so bad I used to hide in the toilets instead of going to music lessons!).

    • Thanks Wendy, I really appreciate the feedback. I think schools need to really think about what they say to kids as I meet many adults in similar situations to those the people you teach have experienced and building their confidence is often the hardest part of teaching them, as they’re waiting for critiscism

  3. What a really interesting way of doing this course. I have been on literacy courses where you have to try to learn to read a made up alphabet which is the same principle. It sounds as if you had an enjoyable and very useful day.

  4. I applaud you, it’s really hard to go into a ‘classroom’ and be faced with a ‘less than enjoyable’ situation only to find that you enjoyed it in the end.:)
    I think it’s great to learn new things, learn from mistakes, have fun and enjoy the experience.

    Jan x

  5. A really interesting post, I’m another who was written off in school art classes – I’m sure that was the failure of the teaching method (don’t actually remember being taught anything!).
    It’s great to come to some of these things later in life when, perhaps a little less worried about the results, you can discover that ‘art’ can be learnt even if you’ll never be a genius!

  6. Pingback: Handmade Monday 103 – Experimenting with Free Form « bitsandbobscrafts

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