September 8, 2012

Learn to X Instruction Review: The Contents of a Good Instructional Guide

Before I start my commencement of posting reviews of knitting and crochet instructional guides, I first want to establish what I look for in such a guide.  After all, it wouldn't be fair to rag on a site I found, or a book used, without stating why I find it so bad.

So, without further ado, I present what a good knitting and/or crochet instructional guide should be.  A good guide:

1) Is clearly written and well organized.

Obviously, one person's opinion of 'clearly written' and 'well organized' will be different than someone else's.  However, truly horrible organization, out-of-order presentation, and incomprehensible  instructions should be pretty obvious as things you don't want your guide to be. A good guide doesn't take the learner forever to find basic information,  gives instructions in simple and concise language (and/or pictures when necessary), and is presented in an order that let's the student build on previous knowledge.

2)  Will at least name the style they are teaching, if not actually presenting the learner with more than one way of doing something.  

I get it, guide writers don't want to confuse people and have a writing deadline.  But I say by just telling people 'this is how you cast on, this is how you knit, this is how you crochet', guide writers are actually doing the learners a disservice.  First off, maybe the person reading the guide will hate the way you're teaching them, but would be more suited for an alternate method.  For example, maybe they're current crocheters learning how to knit, and would be more comfortable knitting Continental style instead of the English style.  If you start by reading some of these guides, you won't have a clue what I just meant by that last sentence, and that's bad. Learners like this, when attempting to use a guide that only presents one way, are more likely to get frustrated and give up.  They can't learn! they'll say, not realizing that there's more than one way to do it.

The other downside with this format is that while the learners may be fine with the one presented method in the beginning, they then may run into issues when they decide to branch out past the stockinette or garter stitch square. What if you need a different cast-on, or another way to start a crochet circle? Someone who was taught 'this is how you do x' is going to be confused when they run into a problem better served by a different method. Someone who at least was informed, if not shown, a different way will be more likely to look for and use the better way.

All in all, I think it's better for a guide to show at least two methods of doing something.  It gives the learner a choice and lets them feel out what is best for them.  If the guide doesn't show more than one method, at least it should tell the learner they're learning, say,  the knitted cast-on, and that this is only one of many ways of doing it.

3) Will present all the basic techniques needed to knit or crochet almost anything

Yes, us more experienced knitters know the beginner's going to be knitting a scarf, and gauge isn't crucial.  This doesn't excuse the guide writer of skipping any mention of gauge, even if it's after teaching the student how to knit a square.  A good guide will teach concepts like gauge from the start, as it'll save heartache when the beginner decides to move on.

4) All the information is correct.

This should be a given. No sympathy for incorrect statements.

Also related: If you teach to a pattern or provide beginner's patterns, make sure they don't have any mistakes in them. A intermediate crocheter like me will realize quickly that there's a mistake.  The beginner's just going to keep following your instructions blindly and will most likely blame the bad result on their inexperience. Mistakes in patterns is another topic, but just make double sure that a teaching pattern is correct.

I think this is the basis of a good learning guide for beginners.  For learning guides for more intermediate skills, I'll say that 1, 2, and 4 are all still relevant, though 2 a little less so (after all, for some of the more advanced techniques there is only one way to do it.  Also, at this point, if you're looking up more advanced techniques, you're going to know to search for another method if you don't like the one you found).  Intermediate guides tend to focus on one technique, and that's fine.  It doesn't excuse unclear explanations, bad websites, not naming the technique (unless you made it up, then say that), and in-factual information.  Now, onto the reviews!

PS: I apologize for the previous post that was here; I click the wrong button and accidentally published my draft.

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