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Writing and Teaching and Writing...

So I'm working on my handouts for October University in Atlantia, and I thought I'd be egotistic and throw out my writing process for anyone who's thought about teaching a class, or who teaches, but wants to know about how I write my handouts.

That made sense. 

Anyway, my philosophy about teaching in the SCA is that I've volunteered my services to take an hour (or three) of people's time, and I owe it to them to provide a full teaching service, as it were.  This includes a handout that will still make sense and still be useful six months later when the person has unearthed it from the bottom of their basket.  My handouts are an extension of my classes.

I feel very strongly about this, but even so, I'm always kicking myself two weeks before I teach, scanning the last of the pictures I need, and cataloguing the books I've used, and wondering why I didn't start sooner, since I put roughly 10 hours into the preparation of each class, sometimes more (especially if I'm giving out patterns as part of the handout). Fortunately, teaching three classes at a single University (as I am at this next one) allows me to consolidate my time scanning, etc., and I am not behind schedule right now.

(Hence this rather self-involved post.  I haz time!)

I really like making a full handout, because even though I load my classes onto my web site, I can't include all of the pictures I like to use.  In a handout, they fall under Fair Use, but on my web site, they're up there in all their permanent digital glory, and I need to get permissions to use them.  For museums, this isn't too hard, since I can usually link, but if the picture is from a book, I don't like posting lots of pictures, since that's stealing from the author.  Anyway, that's my personal thing; in handouts I like to use lots of pictures because they're cool.

So - pictures.  It's pretty easy to slap together a handout that consists of nothing but a couple of photocopied pages of pictures, but that only gets you so far.  I'm not knocking the teachers that do it, I'm just saying that a handout that's clearly arranged and informative will provide information for a lot longer.  When I write, my handout is a cross between a sales brochure (I'm selling you on why it's cool to care about this stuff), history lesson, and practical lesson.  It is a little more complicated than a high school essay, and less complicated than an academic thesis.  This keeps it not only accessible to everyone, but it means I don't kill myself writing a tome when I could be using those valuable hours to embroider.

I'm just sayin'.

So - I start by writing my outline, which is literally a list, with sub-lists, of everything I want to communicate, like so:

Left-Handed Widgets in 16th Century London
Intro - basic history
        - timeline of using widgets
        - overview of what I'm talking about
Part I - The Left-Handed Widget Trade
        - When widgets came to London
        - who made widgets?
        - who used widgets?  Why? 
        - the second-hand widget trade
Part II - Making Left Handed Widgets
        - materials you need
                    - widget carver
                    - hinges
                    - small, but bad-tempered hedgehog
                    - protective gloves
        - instructions for making your widget
                    - step 1 - pacify the hedgehog
                    - step 2 - carve the widget
                    - Step 3 - Profit!
Part III - Resources
         - where to buy widget supplies
         - what kind of band-aids you will need
         - bibliography
         - local hedgehog rescues

This outline is literally the class.  Once you have the outline planned, the writing becomes a lot easier, because you now know what you want to say, and where in your handout it will go.  Your handout also provides things that you don't need to put into your hour of teaching, like which books you used, and lists of resources.  It's there to remind your students of everything you said, and, in a pinch, can help you keep your class organized.  You know where you're going, the class can follow easily.

One of the pitfalls of handout writing is going off on tangents - you've got cool pictures you want to use, even if they're not entirely about your subject, or you get sidetracked into describing the Right-Handed Widget Wars of 1620 in Germany.  Stay on target!  Even though side information can be cool stuff, you don't want to overwhelm your class or your handout with too much random information. You'll get resentful that your handout is taking so long to write, you'll leave out some vital information, the hedgehog gets out of its cage, and all hell breaks loose.

No-one wants that to happen. 

Also, keep track of your pictures.  I always make sure I know which book they came from, so if, in the middle of writing, I need to find it again to check a piece of information (such as where the picture is to be found), it's easy to locate.  Nothing pisses me off more than wasting time searching through my books for a picture... I know what the book sort of looks like... did I put it back in a box?  Argh.  Your students really do want to know this stuff, and sometimes, you've unearthed exactly the picture they're looking for, and if they can't work out where you found it, they'll be sad.  Sad students are a bad thing.

Actually, I keep all my books out in a pile until the handout is done and printed.  It means the library is a bit messy for a bit, but it's better than screwing something up because I was too lazy to go unearth the book again.

So, that's my method.  It has quite a bit of madness in it, but it works.  Really, the most important thing for me is making a good outline - once I have that, the rest flies by, and I'm doing layout and final drafts before I know it.  Oh, that reminds me - I like the method of putting the pictures next to the relevant paragraph, but not everyone does.  As long as your students can tell which picture goes with what information (clues like "see fig.3" help), it's all good.


( 9 brains — Leave a chunk of brain! )
Sep. 23rd, 2011 02:50 am (UTC)
This post is so saved in my permanent collection-o-posts. Thank you.

(I am trying, right this minute, to put the finish on the 'this is what this is and how I did it' paper to go with an A&S entry, and that is my least favorite thing on the face of the earth to do. I'd rather be looking at the local hedgehog rescue web site.)
Sep. 23rd, 2011 02:57 am (UTC)
Little hedgehog noses!

I always think of documentation as 90% sales brochure, and 10% history. And then I write it like I'm writing a letter to a friend. I have no idea what judges think (and honestly, it so non-standardized, it's not funny), but it's the easiest way for me to write.
Sep. 23rd, 2011 11:47 am (UTC)
I always appreciate those teachers who go the extra mile and include answers to to the obvious newbie questions like
- Where to buy a bad-tempered hedgehog on the Web?
- What to do if all you can find is a small cheerful hedgehog?

Just my way of saying (Hee!) you rock. =D
Sep. 23rd, 2011 02:12 pm (UTC)

Now I know what's missing from my class outline for my upcoming class on Alchemy: Hedgehogs. I knew there was something vital that I was missing. Now to go look up the details of hedgehog husbandry in the Arabian Peninsula in the 12th and 13th centuries.

Because, what good is the Philosopher's stone without a grumpy hedgehog?
Sep. 23rd, 2011 11:21 pm (UTC)
And, should your hedgehog suffer an untimely demise, you can include a nice recipe for Hedgehogs Baked in Clay.
Sep. 24th, 2011 12:43 am (UTC)
Saw a hedgehog salt and pepper and thought of you :)
Sep. 29th, 2011 03:51 pm (UTC)
Yes, but don't forget to annotate where the photo came from!
Sep. 24th, 2011 04:50 pm (UTC)
When I'm writing a class handout, I try to make sure that it covers everything that I'd wanted to talk about, whether I get to actually talk about it or not. (I figure, in reality, people aren't going to commit every word I say to memory, or produce accurate sketches of slides & posters for their notes -- that, and I'm going to forget something, or get thrown off onto a wildly unrelated tangent -- but the handout has everything that I want to communicate to the students.)

Of course, these days, I'm more likely to just throw it onto a webpage rather than print handouts and teach in person -- which works pretty well, too, I guess. Reaches more people in more places, and they can audit the class at their leisure. ;-) (That, and I can revise the "handout" as I get more information, or as more resources come up. Can't do that with the paper handout quite so easily. But when I still had time to teach classes with nicely laid-out handouts, I'd usually produce a webbed version of the handout too, like this one from my class on German embroidered "klosterstickerei" wall hangings.)

Sep. 29th, 2011 03:57 pm (UTC)
I really like the idea of making the handout, itself, a complete lesson on left-handed widgets. I'm better at writing a comprehensive lesson than I am at talking efficiently. When I talk, I leave out steps or skip around. I'll remember three days later, "Oh crud, I forgot to tell the class that after you draw the seam lines, you have to add seam allowance to your pattern!" But if I send them home with a handout, I have confidence that the people who really care about the subject will eventually read the handout and get the major points.

Plus, if your handout can stand alone without the class, then after you have taught your class you can send a copy of your paper to your local SCA newsletter and that poor unappreciated Chronicler will be your friend for life. Bonus points!
( 9 brains — Leave a chunk of brain! )

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