Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Tech Tip Tuesday

Sort of strange Tech Tip Tuesday, as the "tech tip" is about teaching.

The most important thing that you can do as an instructor is to realize that all students are different.  They come with different life experiences, preconceived notions, and abilities.  My students have had various degrees of woodworking experience from rank beginner to professional cabinet-maker.   Some have better visualization skills and some have better dexterity than others.  I'm always a little apprehensive during the first weeks of class as I'm trying to figure out what is unique to each of the students, learn names and instruct the class.

I've learned that people learn things differently from one another.  Some folks learn better by hearing about something. Some learn by watching the task being done  or seeing pictures of the process.  Some learn by doing the task hands-on.  Some need a bit of all three.  You need to know how that student "operates" to be able to best instruct them.

As a teacher, you will also need to recognize that you don't know everything.   It would be pretty arrogant to assume that you did as nobody really does - even the experts.  Sometimes you have to say, "I don't know", "Let me think about it" or "Let me do a bit of research".  It's more important to find the right answer than to worry about looking stupid and giving and off the cuff answer that isn't right.

The first year I taught I was pretty nervous as I really had no idea how well or badly certain things would go.  I had some teaching experience from college and summer camp work, so I understood how to organize and teach a class and I knew my subject matter, but I still had a bunch of questions running around my head about how things would work.   It gets better with time.  The more you teach a subject, the smoother it gets - the first year will not be as smooth, but as time goes on, the benefit of experience is nothing to sneeze at.

I learn more from my students than they do from me and I think most good teachers recognize this.  What I mean here is that I learn things to teach my students two ways.  The first way is by watching the types of mistakes they make and try to tailor my instruction  for the future to avoid these mistakes.  As there are probably an infinite variety of mistakes out there, I figure I'll learn a great deal. The second way I learn from students is that they bring different experiences to the class from the outside world. Often by the questions they ask and methods they suggest we all learn something new - even if it's not to do something that way.

You have to keep yourself focused on the goals at hand - in my class, we build sawhorses and strongbacks, but the goal of the class is to learn to build boats.  Are the strongbacks integral to that process?  Yes - so we go over that in class in pretty good detail.  Are the sawhorses?  Well, not really, so that becomes a group project that is more focused on "production" - knocking the work out - than the lessons of building a sawhorse.

Another basic rule of teaching comes from the Silver Fox:

"Tell 'em what you're gonna tell 'em.  Tell 'em.  Tell 'em what you told 'em."  Pretty simple - you can't expect students to get things the first time.  They will learn best by hearing, seeing, or doing something repeatedly.  This is how they gain experience.

One last thing.  Have patience.  Lots of patience.

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