Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Sometimes This is What It Looks Like

Sometimes this is what it looks like when you're a junior high knitting teacher.

I must have seven or eight of these globs of tangled yarn at home waiting for my time and attention.

When I first signed up to teach this class I had no idea that I would spend HOURS untangling yarn.
I have learned (and learned well) that the average 7th or 8th grader does not untangle yarn. They do not have the patience and perserverance to attack a knot from the inside and carefully follow strands of yarn that seem promising to lead to untangledness. They are, however, in giving me the mass of knot, following the golden rule of my knitting class: WE DO NOT CUT YARN! I learned (the hard way) that as soon as a knot develops in class, the junior high knitter's fingers begin to twitch for the scissors and want to make the knot go away fast. "However," I say, "we, being in a public school, are on a yarn budget, and cannot throw yarn away!" All knots must come undone. Which means, of course, that I will do it. I do have, now after several weeks, a couple of devoted knot undoers, and this makes me happy.

Aside from knots, this is also what it looks like in knitting class. Once the students complete their finger knitting (which takes one or two days), they start on needles. I cast on 14 stitches for each of them with a worsted weight acrylic yarn of their choice. Most of the yarn we use was my mother-in-law's leftover from maybe the 70's???? It's a good beginners yarn. We start with the knit stitch and the little poem that goes with it:

"In through the front door,
Around the back,
Peek through the window,
And off jumps Jack."

I attempt to teach each one a sort of Continental/English method of holding and wrapping with their left hand. This was all very weird to me since I have been knitting for 15 years with my left hand, as I am left-handed. I realized, though, that it would have been nice to just learn right-handed the first time around so that pattern reading would not require brain acrobatics. I promptly forced myself to learn to knit right-handed in the weeks prior to working with the kids. And I also force all left-handers to knit right-handed. I'm sure they'll thank me later. That being said, since I am not with each student each minute of the class, they all seem to come up with their own weird way of holding/wrapping yarn--only the weirdest of which I correct.

With their first 14 stitches, they work on the garter stitch for several rows...until they seem to have it. I try to enforce that 14 stitches must remain 14 stitches, but I think one student made it up to about 43. It looked like a thong. We revisit the poem every so often reinforcing that Jack must jump OFF and not ON to the other needle. Some students become very upset with Jack and come close to cursing him for being the culprit of so many added stitches.

From there they move on to purling. This is the point when Jack is not the subject of curses, but the purl stitch itself. I was tickled one day when the 8th grade teachers told me that my students would show up to class not with their usual gossip and complaints of the day but with comments like, "I've got the knitting down, but I can't stand this PURLING!" If only they could hear themselves.

When purls are executed beautifully and the students see their ability to stockinette, they begin to build confidence and develop their fondness for knitting.

Then we start ribbing.

This seems to be the crucial act that separates those who "get it" from those who do not. It tells me if they have ANY idea what the difference is between the two stitches. I haven't figured out a better way of saying "the knit looks like a V and the purl looks like a bump (!!!!!!!)."

Oh well, they all seem to eventually get it and they end up making something that looks like this.
And it's nice.

Then, finally, sometimes THIS is what it looks like when you're a junior high knitting teacher.

He finished it today.

I'm so proud!

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Aaaaahhh Finger Knitting

This week begins the second quarter of the school year and an almost all new crop of newbie knitters. I have a few returnees who will be great helpers with all the newcomers and I’m looking forward to seeing what they can do beyond the beginning projects. But interestingly enough, from the 21 second quarter knitters, 12 of them are boys!!! I love it. Boys in knitting class make for a very nice balance to the what is usually an all female atmosphere. They bring a sense of humor and a calmness. They deal with knitting frustration in a more relaxed “Oh well it’s no big deal,” manner. Whereas girls are more likely to see themselves (and dramatically act it out) as total failures when they drop a stitch. I’m excited to work with a more-boys-than-girls class this quarter to see how they influence the classroom climate. I’ll also be challenged to find projects to inspire them...scarves and purses abound in project books and my boys do not get excited about such patterns.

The first project I do with my students is finger knitting on four fingers. Students choose yarn from the class stash that is either bulky weight or they choose two skeins of worsted weight. As I’d never finger knitted before teaching this class, I found some great directions in an article from Throughout the class session I repeat, “Behind, in front, around, behind, in front, around…” Finger knitting is a great way to explain and demonstrate to beginners what knitting really is. How you take some yarn and make it into a fabric by making loops and connecting those loops with new loops. I often refer back to it when we move to needles as they take one loop off a needle over the top of another. It seems to work for most.

And, believe it or not, it quickly separates the fast learners from the not-so-fast learners. I’ve seen some very strange looking fabrics coming off fingers when the directions aren’t followed. While some students are still figuring out how to wrap the yarn for the first time around their fingers, others already have a scarf in the making. While some students are eager to bind off their four stitches and jump to needles, others beg to continue finger knitting for days/weeks on end.

But, regardless the speed they learn to knit, with confidence I told them all today, “You will all be knitters.”

And they will.

Get ready. Here come more junior high knitters.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

I Would Do it for Free

Before I ever set foot in a junior high school classroom, I pretty much thought anyone who chooses to teach junior high is a little strange to begin with and spending too much time with 12 and 13 year olds only magnifies those...uh...interesting personality traits. To be honest, I was slightly afraid of the Junior High child. People in that age group have such an unpredictable way at going through life. One never knows what will be blurted from the mouth of a junior higher. We all went through that awkward time in life, some more gracefully than others, and can remember the "weirdness" that took over our personalities for awhile. I've never sought out to revisit that particular time in my life and didn't really want to be reminded of it by seeing too many junior highers at once and certainly not on a regular basis.

That being said, I'll admit I was a little excited about teaching a knitting much that I didn't quite stop to think that I would be stepping into the world of Junior Highers.

I've taught the Knitting class for two quarters now. I see junior highers every day (the class count averages between 16-18). As with most situations in life, my fears of what it would be like were much worse than reality. I was pleasantly surprised to find that most of the time the students are actually quite nice, somewhat intelligent, occasionally really mature, and on most days charming and endearing.

After the first few weeks of teaching the class, I was amazed at how much fun it was to teach knitting to junior highers. I would talk about it every day at home to my husband. "This student said this," or "so-n-so learned how to purl," etc. It seemed I should not be having so much fun at work, after all work is supposed to be work. But it was all my husband could bear when I announced one evening that this job is so fun that I WOULD DO IT FOR FREE!!!

Since then, it has been the question in our home,regarding any task or job that one might do, "Would you do it for free?" My 12 year old son is in search of finding that magical job that my husband would do for free. Frankly I would wish that everyone (especially those I love and hold dear to my heart) could find that great job in life that is so fulfilling and fun, that they would gladly do it, just because it's great.

I love knitting and I find an immense amount of satisfaction in passing on the talent and skill to another, especially a young person.

Especially a junior higher.