Reflections on teaching basketry, April 19, 2012

As I have said in previous posts, I am an artist. I make and sell baskets under the business name Pícpic Tewlikítpe. The name is pronounced pits-PITS taw-lick-IT-puh and means “Cat in the Tree” in the language of the Nii Mii Puu. It was gifted to me by my tribal Elders.

I have been encouraged to teach for a number of years, now, but have been reluctant. I had taught culture classes before with Sharing Native American Culture, under the guidance of the Lead Educators. I gained some additional teaching skills through my Outdoor School experience as both a counselor and staff. I have shown my craft at a variety of events, and exhibited the process. I have even taught basketry on a one-on-one basis. You would think, with all this, I would be ready and prepared to teach an entire class on my own.

Boy was I wrong. Before, I always had someone to ask questions of, someone to go to if I was unsure, and someone with more skills to assist. Two Mondays ago I taught a basketry class on my own. I was the authority. I was the one with the most skills.

I learned as much as or more than I taught.

I started with fifteen students, about a third of which were middle school aged. We started the first class with making the bottoms of the baskets. Aside from complex patterns, it is the most difficult part of making a basket. It took the entire hour to assist those that stick with it make the it basket bottoms. Most of the youngsters lost interest or grew frustrated and stopped trying.

Lessons of the day: 1) Don’t start a short class from scratch. Consider starting with pre-made bottoms. 2) Bring a simpler alternate craft for the younger kids.

Last Monday I brought pre-made basket bottoms with me. This went so much better. The students (youngsters, teens, adults, and elders) were able to get a better hang of the twining motion, and seemed to enjoy themselves better. After just a few hiccups, the class ended smoothly and with smiles of success.

Lessons of the day: 1) You need to be able to swap perspective to teach. I had to flip my right-handed technique backwards and upside down to teach a few left-handed students. 2) The pre-made bottoms work better for short classes than starting from scratch. 3) students will move at different paces and skill levels. Be prepared to work with each individual at their level after giving the entire group instructions.

Next Monday I teach again. I will bring the pre-made bottoms again, and discuss pattern-making. We shall see what happens then.

For more information about my art, teaching, or schedule and event, please visit my website.

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About N B

Artist, critic, friend, and rambly-ponderer.
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