Part 2: Teaching Adults by Deborah Burger
Deb is the author of Crochet 101, a book of crochet instruction for adults, and How to Make 100 Crochet Appliques, an intermediate to experienced level pattern collection. Her newest book, The Creative Kids' Photo Guide to Crochet, will be released in the spring of 2015. Like the previous two, it will be available at larger craftstores, in bookstores, and online at amazon.com and bn.com. You can find her in Ravelry, and on her website.
Teaching adults to crochet is different in some ways than teaching children as neurological and muscular maturity and function are not usually an issue. Adults tend to be more goal-oriented, with specific ideas of what type item want to learn to make. Adults have longer attention spans, and more ability to wait for the gratification of finishing a project. Adults are usually better at verbalizing their questions and frustrations, than children. Most adults have an unrealistic expectation that because they are competent in many areas of life, learning a new skill should be seamless-- they tend to be very hard on themselves and their learning process. Here, then, are a few principles that apply to teaching adults:
Living in an adult world with deadlines, production quotas, competition, and pressures, most adult students almost automatically place pressure on themselves to learn quickly, progress without setbacks, and "have something to show for their time." In other words, they mean to have something perfect finished pretty quickly!
The first step for most adults is to verbally give themselves permission to "be a beginner," to make "rookie mistakes," to fumble and feel clumsy as their hands, so competent in so many other areas, learn a completely new set of motions and sequence patterns. Most adult students benefit from being required to start each session with stretching and relaxing their fingers, wrists, arms, shoulders and neck. As their lessons can be much longer than children's, a "stretch break" is very helpful at regular intervals. Without regular breaks and guided stretching/relaxation, tension just mounts-- resulting in fatigue to these areas as well as eye strain and stress injuries to hands and wrists.
Without regular reminders that ALL beginners make mistakes and the goal is progress not perfection, many adults will frustrate themselves right out of any enjoyment and motivation to learn. Permission to BE a beginner is SO important, and must be repeated often.
Let the Student Lead
Most adults who want to learn to crochet have something in mind that they want to make. For even those who want to make lace doilies, starting with worsted yarn, a larger hook, and the knowledge that threadwork is the goal, will help both teacher and student to pace for the final outcome. "Working down to finer yarns" and the transition from the relative ease of tensioning yarn, to the more stringent tension requirements of thread will come with time and practice.
On the other hand, knowing that student really wants to make is afghans from square motifs will lead the lessons to focus on working in the round, rather than in rows, and learning some taller stitches before completing a whole project in single crochet! Adults not only have a goals, but they also have a good idea of how much time they can put into developing a hobby in their usual day or week. Some do well with weekly lessons or classes, others from a more intense experience that has lessons every day for just one week.
Finding a schedule that works for both student and teacher is essential.
During a lesson, after several demonstrations of a stitch or skill, and after the student has copied and repeated it several times, ask if he or she feels comfortable with going on, or needs to repeat that a few more times. Begin each lesson with asking what issues or questions the student has come up with since the last session together.
Use Specific Language
"It’s done like this," is much less helpful for adults than, "Control the loop on the hook with the tip of your index finger, Wrap the yarn from back to front, over the top and down over the front of the hook, or Make sure the hook comes under the yarn at the back of the work."
Try to avoid saying thingy, whatchamacallit, and other generalizations. This requires more focus from you, and a slower pace of speech.... which are both as helpful to your student as the specific words are. If you say, "Hold it tighter," your student doesn't know if you mean hold the yarn tighter, hold the hook tighter, or pull more tightly on the completed part of the work. "It" is too general. "Pull down a little on the completed work, to open up that loop on the hook," tells the student exactly where the extra tightness is needed, and why.
Encourage the Use of Quality Materials
Quality doesn't necessarily mean luxury, or the most expensive choice; but it rarely means the cheapest or handiest choice. Encourage students to use a yarn that feels good in their hands and is tightly spun with smooth-textured so that it's not a struggle to stitch. Yarn should be somewhat stretchy, light colored, worsted or bulky weight, and not too slick and slippery.
Likewise, the fact that a crochet hook was in the bottom of mother's sewing basket doesn't mean that it's an appropriate size, shape, or quality for learning! A new hook without barbs or worn finish will minimize frustration. Hook shape is a closely related issue. There are two basic types-- inline and tapered. Most crocheters will find that one or the other is consistently easier to work with, in their own hands. This does NOT mean that what works best for the teacher is the best for all students! I always encourage beginning adult students to try one of each hook shape in the same size for several rows of stitching; then they can decide which they prefer to purchase for themselves. I provide hooks of both types at the first couple of lessons so that the students can try them out and then make informed purchase of hooks they will enjoy using.
Offer Alternative Resources
Many adults are very motivated when they decide to learn something new, and are familiar with using YouTube and other internet sources. A valuable service you can offer them is a list of videos you have watched and checked for quality and accuracy. The same is true of printed or downloaded resources. With modern technology, anyone can publish anything on the internet, with no guarantee of accuracy, standard language, or usability. There are many wonderful and helpful websites, YouTube channels, and free patterns available; but beginners are not able to evaluate which ones are of high enough quality and accuracy to actually be helpful. There are some real "doozies" of inaccuracy floating around in cyber-space, and your students will thank you for giving them a list of the resources you have actually looked at and found to be clear and accurate.
Adults, like children, will benefit from keeping fun at the forefront of their learning experience. Whether I'm teaching college students, young mothers, senior citizens, or disabled adults, I find that my own sense of fun and adventure, the ability to laugh at myself and to focus on the moment at hand, frees my students to do their own best learning. They don't need me to be perfect, only to show them what I have learned, and point them toward their own next steps.
Whether you teach adults or children, or parents and children together, keep in mind that every student needs to have his or her human dignity protected-- from themselves most of all. Insecurities and self-doubt tend to leap to the foreground when people of any age are taking artistic risks, moving out of their familiar and comfortable routines-- and any learning of a new skill involves those things.
Discourage your students from comparing themselves to other students, or to their memories of crocheting relatives! Some will learn more quickly than others, but the story of the Hare and the Tortoise is as true today as it was in Aesop's. Some of your students will learn most from what you show or demonstrate to them; some from what you tell them as you demonstrate and they copy; some from experimenting with their own hands. Some will catch on to the lesson quickly and then perhaps forget once they get home. Others may seem to make no progress at all during the lesson, but find that in the privacy of their own time and space, what they’ve learned falls into place.
All of these are valid ways of learning, but your students will probably need you to remind them that their own pace and style are just fine for them. All of them will benefit from slow-paced demonstrations and from learning only one new thing at a time. All of them will benefit from patient cheerfulness on your part, and from honest praise when they do something right or remember something they've been commonly forgetting.
Affirmation of their progress is essential. It's also important that you, the teacher, not allow your own ego or need for success, to color your interactions with students. Whether you're teaching adults or children have fun and encourage your students to have fun.