How to Teach Crafts

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You have your crafting skills, but if you want to teach crafts, you need to develop your teaching skills, too. Here's what you need to know to become an effective crafts teacher. 

Once you've thought through all of the considerations and decided on the type of project you want to teach, your next step is to structure your lesson.

If you haven't already thought through what and where you want to teach, the 5 part series on teaching crafts will help you.

First, you'll need to take a skill that you probably do automatically and think it through carefully to break it down into small, manageable, teachable steps.

Paint brushes covered in colorful paint with text overlay - Teaching Skills for Craft Artists. You know your craft; here's how to teach it.

This skill is central to good teaching, and it takes some practice.

If you've ever taught a child to tie his shoes, you'll understand exactly what I mean. You tie your shoes quickly and without even thinking about the steps involved. When you need to teach someone else, you first have to take a step back, think about all of the steps you take to get the beautiful bow, break them down into manageable pieces, and think about the clearest way to explain and demonstrate each step.

That's what you must do for the craft project you want to teach. Don't assume your students have any prior knowledge unless you know for sure that your class is intermediate or advanced.

Ask yourself, what is the first thing you need to know to start the project, and then what is the next thing, and the next thing. Go through this process step by step until you're through the whole project. As you carefully think through the project, write down all of the stages and do your best to estimate the time each stage will require.

Always Provide Handouts

Gwen Bortner, who teaches the fabulous course, How to Teach It on Craftsy, says you should always provide handouts for any class you teach. I agree with Gwen 100 percent.

Handouts provide students with a way to follow along, and they give students something to refer back to when the class is finished and they want to try using their new skills on their own. 

Handouts with thorough instructions also help to deepen the learning for your students. If all of the important ideas you teach are on the handout, students who are inclined to write everything down can relax a bit because they know everything is on the handout. That will free them up to focus on practising the hands-on skills you're teaching.

Natural note takers will still probably make notes, but it won't be so daunting if they already have a good handout.

Students who learn better by reading vs. listening will be able to follow along in your hand out, reading your notes as you speak, and they will be happy to have them.

While We're on the Subject of Learning Styles...

Be aware that everyone learns a bit differently, and it's important to take that into account when you teach. New teachers tend to teach using their own preferred learning style the most, but good teachers incorporate all kinds of ways to learn within a lesson.

Some of your students will learn best by doing, others by listening, some like to read instructions, some need to write everything down in detail, and others need to talk things through to really get it.

Be aware of including different types of learners as you teach. The idea of attending to several learning styles may sound daunting, but once you're aware of it, it's not too difficult.

Your class may include:

  • some time with you explaining things verbally
  • notes you write on a board or display on a large screen
  • written handouts
  • students taking their own notes
  • you demonstrating new techniques
  • lots of hands-on practice
  • opportunities for class discussion
  • one on one help from you

If your class includes all of those elements, you will have met the needs of many different types of learners.

Don't squash someone else's learning style!

On the surface, some learning preferences can make the student appear as though they are not paying attention. Good teachers learn to recognize different learning styles for what they are and get comfortable with them. 

For example, when I'm a student in a lecture-type class, I take copious notes, even when there are good handouts. I don't learn well by simply listening to someone talk, so I need to engage my mind by taking notes.

If a teacher is lecturing, and I'm looking directly at her and not taking notes, it may appear to the teacher that she has my full attention, but really, I'm not learning a thing. My mind is probably off in some dream world.

If I'm not making eye contact with a teacher, but I'm furiously taking notes, I'm eagerly taking in everything she's saying. The teacher may wish she could make eye contact with me, but if she's a good teacher, she'll realize that's my way of being fully engaged in her class.

Mastering the Art of Timing Your Class

Leaning how to time a class is a bit of an art. You get better at it with practice. Keep in mind, teaching a skill will take much longer than you think.

In her comprehensive guide to teaching craft classes, Gwen Bortner says it generally takes 3 times as long to teach something as it takes to do it on your own. If you can whip something up in 20 minutes, you should expect it to take an hour to each the same project.

Before you try your new class out on students who have paid to attend, particularly if you're new to teaching, practice your class on a few friends and family members. Your practice session will give you a real feel for how long it actually takes to get through your project. It will also show you if you've missed any important steps or if something just isn't working. 

Classes can vary, so don't assume the same class with different students will work out exactly the same timing-wise. However, if do a practice run, you can get a general feel for how long something should take.

Make note of the time at a variety of points in the class. This information will allow you to check time and keep on track whenever you're teaching. If you know you should be at a certain step 20 minutes into your two hour class, and you're now 30 minutes in and not finished, you know you need to find ways to step up your timing.

Tracking the timing of stages of the class will prevent you from being shocked when you reach the last 10 minutes of the class and you're nowhere near being finished. If you realize you're behind early on, you'll have time to make adjustments and get back on track.

If you have control of your teaching space, hang a clock at the back of the room. In the workshop room I used for five years, I had a clock hanging at the back of the room where I could see it, but students could not. It was easy for me to glance up at the clock and check my timing without students ever knowing I was doing it.

I always avoided glancing at my watch when I was teaching a workshop because looking at your watch is body language that can send a signal to others that you're not really engaged and interested in them. In a class setting, it can also remind students of the passage of time, and, for some people, it will pull them out of the flow of the class.

You need to keep track of time when you're teaching, but it's best to find a subtle way to do that whenever possible.

I also tend to over prepare any time I'm leading a new group because I hate to get stuck with time left over in a class and nothing to do. Once you're more experienced as a teacher, you'll be better at improvising in moments like these, but when you're new, it helps to have some extra material ready just in case.

Think about what you might add to the class if everyone, or most people finish early. It should be related to the class but not crucial if you don't get to it. Having that extra bit of preparation can save you if your class finishes surprisingly early.

LEarn More About How to Teach Your Craft

If you're serious about teaching your crafts, I'd encourage you to take Gwen Bortner's course, How to Teach It on Craftsy. It's jam-packed with excellent information - from class development, to promotion, to business management, to teaching skills - that will help you succeed every step of the way.

More Tips for Teaching Crafts

  • The Business of Teaching Crafts

    If you're teaching crafts to earn income, you'll need to think through all of the business and logistical issues around being a crafts instructor. Here's what you need to know about the business of teaching crafts.

  • Teach Art at Home or in your Community

    Want to teach art at home or in your community? Here's how to find the right venue to teach your craft and get started on your career as an art or craft instructor.

  • How to Be a Craft Teacher

    How to be a craft teacher in your community. How to get started teaching craft classes - what you need to plan, organize, and make happen before you teach your first class.

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