Teaching Students What They Want to Learn

I was the crochet teacher at a gorgeous yarn studio in Portland, OR called Knit/Purl, and I had what I believed was the best teaching situation, for the teacher and the student. I offered semi-private classes that are student-driven by allowing students to pick any project they want. Because of this, students are more devoted to learning crochet and to finishing the projects they chose.

Typically, there are fewer crochet classes offered at yarn stores than there are knitting classes. Many of my students are knitters, but they found a particular project that encouraged them to learn to crochet. Even if the student wanted to learn to crochet for its own sake, often he or she has particular types of projects in mind. It is important to consider the reason a student wanted to learn in the first place – the inspiration of a certain project – in order to make him or her feel more invested. Crochet is a hobby, and learning it should be as enjoyable as possible. It is easier to keep the classes fun and interesting if students are making exactly what they want to make.

There are two options for teaching a student-driven class. With their chosen project as a goal, students could learn by working samples of basic stitches, instead of working an entire beginner project. Then, student and teacher could work through the chosen project together, the teacher embellishing the student’s knowledge with specific lessons as the project is completed. The other option is to simply dive right into the project, having the student learn as necessary while the project is being completed. Even if a student picked a difficult first project, it is still possible to work in this manner. Both of these methods require a lot of contact and focus between the student and the teacher, but the payoff is worth it. This may feel project-oriented instead of learning-oriented, but really there are two goals: the project and learning to crochet. The one is the product of the other.

Teaching smaller classes can be compared to the “open classroom” style that was popular in elementary schools in the 70s. With a few students in one semi-private class, all working on their own projects, students will learn not just the skills involved in their own projects, but they will pick up skills from the other students’ projects. This can also inspire students to take future classes, in order to work on the skills that they saw their classmates learning.

A particular benefit to teaching semi-private classes of this type is the effective use of time. Every class has pauses when the students have learned a concept and are practicing it and working on their projects. In a student-driven class, this time is filled and utilized efficiently. The teacher starts a student moving forward on his or her project and can then move onto the next student, periodically checking back in with the other crocheters. This will also eliminate the feeling of being watched that a student may have in a more private class.

Although I prefer the student-driven, semi-private class style, it is understandable why most teachers pick a common project to teach to a large group of students. It standardizes the class and gives the teacher more control over the teaching environment: what skills need to be taught, what supplies the students need, what questions the students may have. Also, it makes good fiscal sense, for both the teacher and the yarn store that is sponsoring the class. A large group of students each paying to be taught the same thing maximizes the amount of money that can be made from a class and minimizes the amount of teaching time that the yarn store must pay. This method of teaching is very important and beneficial. But, it is also viable to support a student-driven class, even with the smaller class size, as higher fees can be charged because of the semi-private nature of the class. The students will also benefit from paying the higher fees, as they will have more individualized attention.

An idea that fuses both styles of teaching is to pick a particular type of project (e.g., hat, scarf, mittens) and have the student choose whether he or she wants to work from a teacher-selected pattern or bring in a pattern of his or her own, as long as it is the same type and difficulty level as the rest of the class. Many of the skills required for the patterns would overlap, and it would take into account the different tastes of the students. I have never tried this type of class, but I believe it could be a very successful option for teachers and yarn stores.

I truly enjoy teaching students in a smaller, more individualized setting. I see so many finished projects and happy students that I have a section on my website that features student projects. They really do take what they have learned from that chosen project and use it successfully in future projects. It is incredibly satisfying to be able to tell your students that, together, you are going to work on their inspiration and to then see that inspiration come to life.