Monday, September 7, 2009

A perfect workshop

What makes a perfect workshop?  I’ve been trying to figure it out because I’d surely like to be able to teach it!
Looking back over workshops I’ve taken, I’ve drawn up a list of good and bad – but I’d really like to hear from everyone about their experiences and their list of ingredients you want, and those you don’t!

Ingredients I want:
1. Content:  I definitely want to go away feeling that I know something new.
2. Inspiration: I want to leave filled with new ideas and energy to get to work.
3. Time to experiment and feedback: I do like to have time to explore the new ideas/techniques/processes etc in the classroom with instant advice and/or feedback available.
4. Demos: I love seeing the teacher actually doing something.
5. Structure: I like a timetable for the duration of the workshop with a clear list of everything we’ll cover.
6. General discussion:  there’s so much to be learned from other people in the class that a discussion time that everyone can share in (not just private little groups) is invaluable.
7. Question and answer:  I do like the teacher to be very open about their subject and willing to answer questions;  you feel really awkward if they respond “oh that’s something I’ll never reveal”. People with secrets should not live in glass houses!  I want a teacher whose brains I can pick!
8. Humour: there should always be some humour!
9.  A wider view:  I like a teacher who can relate what we’re working on to the wider world of art, and who can give references, or names of artists to look up.  People who can’t see beyond their own sewing machine are so limited.  I need a frame of reference and context for what I’m learning.
10.  I don’t need to make a finished piece – I know that some workshop organizations like the students to have something  to “show” at the end of the workshop, but I find I never do my best work when in a group of people, so ideas, samples and good beginnings and lots of notes and things to follow up on are what works best for me.

What I don’t like:
1.  I dislike a teacher who wastes my time with pointless exercises – in the worst class I ever took (at a prestigious quilt conference I may add), the teacher began with a much duplicated  handout listing 24 Art 101 exercises in drawing and paper collage which took all week.  In a machine quilting class, the teacher had us draw out and attempt to stitch traditional quilting patterns that were completely unsuitable to machine stitching. 
2. I don’t like being given “rules” with no reason for the rules. I always want to know why!
3.  I dislike not having any feedback from the teacher – if I attempt something new, I want to know how well I’ve done it, I don’t want vacuous smiles and simpering glazed eye reassurance!  Give me feedback I can get my teeth into!
4.  I want the teacher to be present all the time during class hours, and not locked into a corner with his/her cronies and groupies.
5.  I don’t like a teacher who insists I do something (not related to the class material) his/her way without giving me a good reason why.
6.  I don’t like a teacher who is unprepared, scattered and unsure of his/her knowledge.
7.  I don’t like to have a long and expensive supply list and we never get to use the items on it, but I also don’t like having to buy something from the teacher – I like the option of being able to get it elsewhere for myself.
8.  I once went to a workshop where there were 6 tables for the students and 6 tables where the teacher laid out the merchandise she had for sale  - I felt like I’d paid to shop!!
0. I hate being pressured to produce something so that the organization can advertise – I want to work at my own pace and determine what I want to do in the workshop.

so…let me know what your perfect workshop would look like! 

And, if you have been, thanks for reading!  Elizabeth


Terry said...

I want a teacher who is articulate and mentally organized. Worst class I ever took was from a wonderful artist who could not form a cohesive sentence. She'd forget vital steps in a process, then try to backtrack and then jump forward. Had us all thoroughly confused. Being a terrific artist does not necessarily make one a good teacher!

Ruth said...

I'm in agreement with your points. I don't like a "project" class. I would rather learn techniques or about design so that I can apply it to my own work instead of copying someone else's work. I enjoyed a class where we made samples and then made a notebook with the samples and the explanations of how to do the technique alongside. It gives me a resource to go back to if I have forgotten how we did a technique.

Beverly said...

I'd agree with all your points, especially the one about not doing the best work in a group setting- because I don't. I don't want to do a project, I'd rather practice whatever it is we're learning then take it home and work from there. And critique that tells me what works and what doesn't.

Deb said...

I'll tell everyone right out here in public that I have taken the perfect workshop, taught by Elizabeth Barton.

Time has passed and memory has shriveled but I do recall that it was to be an introduction to art quilting for people familiar with traditional quilting. Elizabeth acknowledged that I already had my feet on the art path and let me roll along on my own. It was the first time I had every worked on a vertical design wall- one revelation among many. It was the perfect week for me and the main reason that I have been reluctant to commit time and money to any other teacher and place since.

Lynn Weathers said...

I also prefer technique workshops. I like for the teacher to share what things she has tried with the technique, both things that worked and things that didn't, ideally with samples of both successes and failures.

Frances Arnold said...

I think that my worst class was an "ADVANCED" Machine Quilting class where the teacher had NO idea what level her students were at. She started at basics and spent hours just talking. Maybe you remember it too....I think that you finally pulled out a practice piece and started quilting quietly in the corner while she droned on!!!

Mary Ann said...

The worst is a class where you do one exercise and the teacher judges your work on that one piece. Run real fast from that kind of teacher!

Nola G said...

I agree totally with every one of your points. I had a recent experience with #8. The teacher supplied everything needed for a very small and reasonable cost. Sounded great, but we arrived to find tables laden with her merchandise which, of course, everyone bought so they could do more at home. She did a 15 minute demo of her (very simple) technique and we spent the next 6 hours just practising what we had been shown. Could easily have been a 1 or 2 hour class. Boring.

Kay said...

I think you covered it! I feel fortunate because I've never had a class as bad as some of the examples given!

Jackie said...

Excellent lists--I'd like feedback and the reason why, so I can learn. I asked a teacher a question why she did a procedure one way instead of another and she replied, "Because that's the way I do it!!!" not helpful at all and I really felt put down for even asking. I paid a bunch of money for that privilege, like you said, glass houses.

Alison said...

For longer workshops, I always welcome a requirement that students do some pre-homework/research and I also welcome some sort of opportunity (a deadline, particularly) for follow-up sharing of work resulting from the workshop.
Thank you for your wonderful blog

magsramsay said...

I agree with many of the points already raised. In addition what I've enjoyed in a couple of recent workshops is an hours stitching with nobody talking and in another, an individual focused tutorial away from the main classroom.
You haven't made any mention yet about the effect of other students - how the tutor deals with those that try to hog all the attention can make a huge difference.
Not in the quilt world but at work I recently had to cope with someone who was asking questions continually all through my presentation. It was so difficult to remain focused and not get distracted

Susan Turney said...

I recently took a machine-quilting workshop. The teacher was great and she had lots of examples of her work but nothing really clicked until she sat down at the machine and started actually quilting. THEN, I got it! I wish she could have done much more demo-ing!

Nina-Marie said...

I like a teacher who obviously is happy to be there. Once I had a teacher who said that she'd rather be home with her dogs and you could tell! I don't like to sit too long in a class, but would rather have breaks of activity. I like to learn about a teacher's quilt/art journey. I like a teacher who wants to know about my quilt/art journey. (Neither needs to be a long saga!) I like a supply list that you can easily understand and buy/find. And most importantly, I like to work hard and learn.

Linda said...

So many good points, but picking up on the 'one hour's silent stitching' (I was there it was wonderful!) and 'I like to work hard and learn' I'd summarise these two points as having the opportunity to focus. I don't expect to have a finished project but I do like to come away with a better understanding of a process.

Exuberant Color said...

I agree with almost all of what you listed. I would only add that I don't like a teacher who stops to teach a beginner how to do something (when it wasn't a beginning class) instead of what she advertised the class to be about. Everyone else sits there and waits and never gets what they paid for.