Tuesday, September 7, 2010

A Tale of Two Workshops

This past weekend, my daughters and I went on our annual three day trip to Camp Pollock in Sacramento, hosted by CIHA (California Indian Hobbyist Association). This is the annual Labor Day Pow Wow weekend, which consists of a number of activities for families and friends that attend each year. This event, and others like it, has been happening for over 40 years, and some of the attendees have been coming for that amount of time. We came for our first time in 2007, so we're definitely the new family :). It's a great event that has a number of activities that celebrate Native American culture, dance, music, and craft. It's the last part of that list that had me musing about this today.

There were two primary craft-related workshops held over the weekend. One was based on the art of finger-weaving, which is a technique where yarn is twisted together to make cool patterns, and another was based on beadwork, where the project was to create a medallion. I sat with my girls during the finger-weaving workshop, and I stepped in to help my girls with their projects. My youngest daughter was having trouble getting started, so I offered to help get it going for her, and after I had completed several rows, I decided I could show her what to do, but as I turned to show her, she wasn't interested any more (at least not right then). I kept hoping that I'd get a chance to have her pick up where I left off, but again, she had decided there were other things she wanted to do.

For the beading class, since there was a cost for the materials, and since two workshops conflicted, and both daughters couldn't be in two places at one time, I decided to shadow both sessions, take pictures, and just watch. Since I couldn't actually sit in on the beading class, I had to let my older daughter just do the best she could and see if she could pick up the ideas and apply them. At the end of the class, she showed me what she had started, and that she was having some trouble in an area. Having been fresh off my experience with my younger daughter, I decided to tell her what I thought she should do, but I didn't touch the project at all; she had to physically do what I was suggesting. The net result was that she got past her sticking point and for the past couple of nights, she's been working on her project and getting farther and farther each day.

This reminded me a bit of some of the things I've done with co-workers and other testers. How often do we decide that we want to be helpful, but end up getting in and doing for the other person what they need to do to learn? It's so easy and so much more efficient to just get in and explain what we are doing as we do it. The only problem with that approach is that, while we may be able to help explain something and get some work accomplished quickly, the person who most needs to develop that skill gets short changed in the process, and in some cases, they may not ever approach the issue with the correct understanding, if they approach the issue again at all (they may well leave that to the "expert"). In the second approach, when we explain just what is needed but push and encourage the person to figure it out on their own, there is both an increase in understanding and an increase in the interest and focus to learning the task or skill, which tends to see an upswing in the interest in doing that skill again.

This week, I will take some time and sit down with my younger daughter, set up the original project, and let her practice with it from the start, so that she gets the hang of it, and can complete it on her own, without my help. Yes, she may get frustrated, and yes, she may decide it's not something she wants to do again, but she will get the chance to do it on her own, learn from her mistakes, and get the chance to complete the project on her own terms… and who knows, maybe she'll want to do more of it once she really gets how it's done.

End Note: the book at the top of the post today, for those who are interested, was written by Scott Sutton, who puts on the beading workshops regularly at these events. His work is fantastic, and he's an excellent teacher as well, so hey, check out his work :).
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