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      Laura Berlage

      loom beading greenWhen it comes to hands-on creativity projects, I’ve always been a fast learner.  I had quite the reputation for it as a student, from very young all the way through graduate school.  I’d keenly observe a technique or concept, then run with it, often wanting to “stretch it until it breaks,” as I found I learned just as much about a technique when it stopped working as I did when it was within it’s comfy working zone.  I’ve found that this propensity has helped me be a better educator, as I can explain how a technique works, when it doesn’t, and why.

      As an educator, however, I’ve found that many of my students are not this way.  While my own teachers had to find ways to support my own unique mix of neirodiversity, as a teacher myself, I in turn must find creative ways to help the neurodiversity of my own study body.  It’s a challenge I find delicious!

      As a fast learner myself, I NEVER want to hold a student back or make them feel unspported as a fast learner.  On the other hand, I don’t want to leave the slow learner daunted and overwhelmed.  Fortunately, having the “many ways up the mountain” support materials approach makes handling this situation sooooooo much easier than might be possible in an in-person class.

      Here is the most golden phrase I’ve crafted to use when introducing multi-session classes to students:  “This course is self-pacing.  I’ll be working my demonstration piece at a moderate pace, but you now have access to ALL the tutorials and photo essay, so you can work along at whatever pace is comfortable for you.  If you steam ahead, you’re fully supported, so don’t let me hold you back.  If life gets in the way, don’t worry, those support materials will always be there, and you can circle back to concepts when you are ready to use them.”

      Feel free to use this concept if it’s helpful to you, crafted in your own words.

      Some mediums and projects will naturally give your fast learner plenty to do, while others may ask you to be a bit more creative.  For instance, I’ve found that fine point punch needle rug hooking, embroidery, and tapestry weaving offer plenty of homework to keep students busy.  Simpler mediums such as needle felting or loom beading can be finished quickly, leaving a fast student twidling their thumbs and wondering what to do next.

      For these “lightweight” courses, I’ll typically include enough materials to make 2 projects.  For needle felting, this could be momma and daddy cardinal, with the live class focusing on daddy cardinal.  The slower students will make one bird, while they can make the second one later, while the fast ones will get started or even complete 2 birds within the class.  For loom beading, I’ll include enough beads for 2 projects, one “primary” project that is the focus of the class and one “bonus” project.  In class, I also encourage students to see this as a way to make one peice for them and one for a friend or loved one, sharing their new experience.  This approach has worked wonders for keeping fast students engaged!

      For slow students, it’s important to keep celebrating the “wins” along the way and be encouraging.  These people often try to compare themselves to the fast students.  Instead, offer that everyone works at their own pace, and this is a beautiful thing too.  Appreciate their thoughtfulness and attention to detail–show them that their methodology is actually an alternate blessing, not a setback.  These folks can have a very noisy inner critic, so your encouragement is valuabele.

      Are these tips helpful?  What other ways might you creatively build classes that are fun and impactful for fast, slow, and intermediately paced learners?  I’m excited to hear your thoughts as well.

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