How to pace your art classes

Planning your classes and workshops is always important. However, you should think about pacing as well as actual content. “Pacing” applies to you–your personal style of teaching–but also to your students. In fact, your students should be your first concern.

Divide the day into thirds, at least

I’ve always figured what we’d accomplish in the morning, then what can be done by mid-afternoon, and finally what will wind things down happily as students become tired at the end of the day.

Generally, I do most of my teaching in the morning while students can still absorb a lot of information. Immediately after lunch, I try to tackle questions, and improvise demos if students need a little extra help.

By mid-afternoon, it’s never wise to teach new information. At that point, I’m mostly a cheerleader to keep students from going too far with their work, and prevent them from quitting if the art isn’t turning out as they’d expected.

And, at lengthy events, I also consider where we are in the week.

The pace varies during multi-day events

On the first day, many students are easily distracted and new folks can be anxious about how these classes are run. It can take them until 3 p.m. to unwind enough to start doing what they’ll consider “good” work.

By contrast on the last day, I’ll need to explain things in more detail if it’s a new technique. Students are tired and a bit dazed at that point. And, by three in the afternoon, they’re looking for an excuse to go back to their room and catch a nap.

Permission helps

Especially on that last day, I’ll start my class by saying that nobody needs my permission to leave at any time, especially by mid- afternoon. They can leave for a cigarette, for some munchies, or even for a nap, and return to class later. Or, they can pack up early if they like.

Since I started making that announcement, people are vastly happier and actually tend to stay later. If they know that they can leave if they want to, they relax and aren’t so antsy by three or so.

But, by one or two in the afternoon on the last day, many students have already max’d on what they can learn.

If I am teaching more technique then, I’ll need to demo it at least twice–usually two different ways–with the second demo being very s-l-o-w for those who are truly exhausted, or have “information overload.”

Plan for a variable pace through the day and through the week. It’s better to plan hour-by-hour, than to simply “wing it” with a vague, general plan for the day.

No two teachers will use the same planning methods. Find what works best for you, and allows the most flexibility. When the students go home happy after one of your classes, you’ll feel amply rewarded for the extra preparation time.

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