Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Sharing our knowledge and skills.

This week I completed my first year of teaching in the adult education sector.  Previously I had taught workshops for the Wildlife Trust, also for adults, but never formally in an education setting such as Peter Symonds College in Winchester.

Teaching in a setting such as this can be different in various ways - more paperwork and admin, working as part of a team, the opportunity to seek advice from your peers, regular teaching hours and the major difference for me, was teaching a course.

Even though I have familiar faces that re-visit my all day workshops, sometimes there are long gaps between seeing the students, and it can be harder to grasp the progress that they have made.

The Botanical Art Course at Peter Symonds started last September and each term lasts 10 weeks, with each session lasting just 2 hours.  The main concern that I had was that once the course had started, I wanted to make sure that any new students that joined us as the year progressed, were not made to feel that they were catching up or left behind because others had started before them.  This was something that I experienced many years ago when I used to attend painting classes at a local college.

The solution to this was to treat each term as an individual course, covering the same subjects for the first few weeks each term.  This started with working in graphite pencil and practising forms of shading and representing tone, leading to drawing leaves and then gradually moving on to colour-mixing/colour theory.  Additional subjects such as, drawing flower forms; fruit, nuts and seeds; twigs; painting yellow and white flowers; illustrating fungi; expanding our colour palette, can be taught throughout the year and some of these can be used on a seasonal basis.

Existing students tend not to become bored repeating the same subjects at the beginning of each term, as they are glad of the re-cap and very often the actual subject matter is changed each term.  So the subject matter for tonal shading using graphite pencils may be using leaves one term, and pears the next term.  I think those students that have completed the whole year will agree that in each term there are different challenges to overcome.

It also has to be appreciated that for some students this is the only time that they have to draw and paint.  It may give them the chance to escape from their everyday routine and meet other like-minded people.

The one thing that I hadn't appreciated enough, until this last year, was that everybody has their own learning style - meaning individuals learn differently. Therefore it is important to vary the approaches to teaching the subject.  My students all agree that they value the demonstration that I do at the beginning of each session on that week's subject, and of course the one-to-one time as well, but this is not the end of it and these approaches do not suit everybody.

Some years ago when I was in early years education, I came across this saying:

If a child cannot learn the way we teach,
maybe we should teach the way they learn
This saying, although now applied to teaching adults, has taken on new dimensions to me.  I try hard to vary the teaching approaches throughout each term.  These can include quizzes, step-by-step pictorial handouts, step-by-step You tube videos,  giving students the opportunity to demonstrate or describe something they are knowledgeable of, providing a resource table and also opportunities for question and answer sessions.
Enough of what I think, here are some examples from the artwork completed by the students on the Botanical Art Course this last year.  Some of them are completely new to drawing and painting, whilst others are now returning to it after a long break.
At the end of the session this last week, we were all looking at the artwork and giving feedback to each other.  One of my students said I sounded like a proud mother ! 
That is what I am - PROUD - that they have all worked so hard and perservered to produce such wonderful results !
For me it has been an immensely rewarding year - thank you to everyone !




  1. Hi Sarah, great to hear that you have had such a fabulous year of teaching. Really wonderful to see the progress of your students and how you have developed your teaching style. Well done and keep up the good work.

  2. Sarah, this is such an interesting post. I bet that you are an inspiring and generous teacher. Your students' work is wonderful. Well done!


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