Deborah Moebes is back with Part Three in her Be a Better Craft Teacher series! Whether you’re thinking of teaching a class one day or you’ve been teaching for years, this series will inform your efforts and improve the experience for everyone. The series runs each Tuesday and follows the full teaching process, from the preparation stage through reflection on what works and how to improve. Deborah is from Whipstitch and has years of experience teaching sewing both online and in-person. Learn more about Deborah and the series in the Be a Better Craft Teacher introduction and don’t miss the rest of the posts in the series (links below).
- Series Introduction
- Be a Better Craft Teacher Part I: Know Your Stuff
- Be a Better Craft Teacher Part II: Know Your Student
Now that you understand the needs of your community, and you know who the students are who will come through your class, it’s time to begin planning the content. The most important aspect of content planning involves not the content, though, but rather the objective. Classes built starting with what projects you’ll be doing tend to go off the rails whereas classes built with solid objectives will guide you all the way through.
An objective in a craft class is just what it sounds like: the goal you have for your students when they’re done. These should be specific, measurable goals for your students that are met between when they enter your class and when they leave. Imagine it like a tower of building blocks, where the top-most block is your desire to see your students learn more about themselves and connect with others through craft; that goal might not get met today, but we want what we do today to lead each student closer to that lofty objective. The smaller, supporting blocks all come from the goals and objectives you set in each of your classes, and they’re the pathway to much bigger stuff.
Let’s pretend you’re planning a class on Beginning Macrame. (I know, enough with the macramé, but still…) You’ll want to have two things for your class: an umbrella goal that covers the entire class (like a mission statement for the course), and smaller lesson objectives that are accomplished one-by-one as the class progresses. The larger goal creates a framework for the class as you develop it, and the smaller goals give you a scope and sequence as you move through. Let’s break that down a bit, shall we?
Your framework will be something general. Ask yourself: knowing that my community wants to learn macramé (which you learned when you analyzed their needs), and knowing that my students will be adults with no experience in macramé (which you learned when you analyzed your students), then what is my ONE primary goal for this class? Likely it will be something along the lines of “Students will develop a basic understanding of macramé and be able to complete three key knots using macramé techniques.” (I should point out that I do not, in fact, macramé and as a result these examples are fairly vague; I’m hoping that’s a good thing, since what I really want is for you to take these general ideas and apply them to your own class.)
There are two really KEY terms in this mission statement. One, it begins with a strong and specific verb (develop) and two, it spells out what students will “be able to” accomplish by the end. We want to set goals for your class that are SPECIFIC and MEASURABLE. Something you can really sink your teeth into and know when you’ve hit the mark. Having those elements will make the next step– setting your smaller learning objectives– much easier.
For specific verbs, work to nail down something active. Using verbs like “understand” or “know” or “be familiar with” is very passive, and doesn’t encourage students to engage in the class, to get excited about it and to see where their own input will help move their knowledge forward. Look for verbs that ask something of the student, like “manipulate” or “operate” or “differentiate.” For more examples, see this list from Stanford University or this one from the University of Wisconsin. See how the words themselves are putting the effort in the hands of your students? The way you structure your written goals will shape how you think about the class you’re teaching. This, in turn, shapes the way you approach your students and what you create with them in the classroom. Just a simple change in language can catapult your student to become an active participant; your class isn’t about handing over knowledge from on high, it’s about putting power in the hands of someone else through craft. And it’s awesome.
Smaller Learning Objectives
For the second part, the smaller learning objectives, we’re still working to be specific and measurable, but at a scale suitable to accomplishing projects and tasks during your time together. If your larger objective— your umbrella goal— defines what you want students to know when they leave class, then these smaller objectives determine what they should be able to do, on their own, in an unsupervised setting once the workshop is complete. One of the chief things that I have heard over the years from folks wanting to sew is that they have sewn previously (with a mom or an aunt or a friend) but that as soon as that individual was no longer there for each step of the project, they felt lost and had no confidence in their own abilities. A class should, at a very minimum, allow students to leave with the confidence that they can duplicate their efforts when they are all by themselves. You’ll determine what those skills will be by creating a SCOPE and SEQUENCE for the class.
SCOPE is the range of skills the class will include. Your task, as the leader, is to determine just exactly how much ground to cover and how much time that will take. If this is a beginning macramé class, do you want to cover just the bare basics? Or do you want to send your students home with homework and have them come back in a week to see how much of it stuck? Do you want to do a quick-and-dirty pass, or do you want the class to be a self-contained introduction that will equip them to do macramé on their own, even if they never take another class? That’s your scope— how much content your class will include. Remember, you might realize as you’re sitting down and thinking this through that what you thought was one class is really two, or vice versa; that’s totally cool, and is part of the planning process. The whole reason we’re doing this is to make sure there’s a place for every skill, and that every skill is taught in the right place.
SEQUENCE is the order of operations that you’ll use to cover the content included in your scope. Do like Julie Andrews says: start at the very beginning and move on from there. This is where the structure of your class develops, and if you drop the ball here, it’s where folks really start to notice. I hear far too many stories— from teachers and students both— where an instructor realizes halfway through the class that they skipped an essential step in the construction of the garment because they didn’t plan ahead. I’m not talking about a time when they had a rough day and spaced out… I mean they never really thought it through and failed to even tell students they would need a particular supply in order to get the job done. Your class won’t be like that because you’ll plan ahead and make it very clear exactly what the objectives are and from there, determine how they’ll be met.
When writing these smaller learning objectives and planning your projects, keep that specific and measurable rule in mind. Build statements like, “Students will master control of the macramé cord by creating a simple knotted coaster” and “Students will explore embellishments in macramé as they craft a hanging potted plant holder to include wooden beads.” Objectives don’t have to take the fun out of the class. Heck, I once wrote objectives for a student trip to New York City that were works of art, but that still let the kids see all the stuff they wanted (like eating lunch in Chinatown, watching street performers in Battery Park and visiting the largest Tower Records in the U.S.), all while meeting real and measurable learning goals. The purpose of goals is to make your planning laser-focused so that every minute you spend with your students is aimed at making their experience and results the very best they can be. They will thank you for it, and the time you spend teaching will be vastly more rewarding.
The last step of this planning process is the part that a lot of folks skip to right away: what you’ll actually be DOING in the class. We as teachers feel a lot of pressure to come up with Really Cool Projects thinking that the better the project, the more students will be attracted to our classes. When folks sign up for a macramé class they expect to be making some macramé, right? As tempting as it is to do, it’s best to avoid starting with the project and building your class from there; it skips all the thinking through of planning for the community and the student, developing the goals for your class. And it tends to lead to a class built around a project that doesn’t tackle basic skills, purposeful crafting or really understand what the class itself is even all about. Each project in your class should be goal-oriented— no filler or fluff, just projects that will encourage your students at their challenge level to master the next skill on the list, allowing them to develop and grow as they craft. All thanks to your class.
In the next installment of this series, we’ll spend some time unpacking HOW you’ll do all these things, and what format your lessons might take once you’ve spelled out your objectives.