Everyone has special gifts, talents or skills that just seem to come naturally to them. One of mine is the ability to know how to design a class. But even though it comes easily for me, I know others struggle to get through the process. Like most things, when you understand the steps, the task becomes easier.
Keep in mind, these steps are just for designing a class, developing the concept and getting ready for submission to a group or organization. Development of a class is yet a different thing and will be covered in a later post. But knowing how to design a class is the first task in getting someone to hire you to teach it, so it is a very critical element.
Start with the Subject
This is a general topic; it doesn’t have to be the most original idea in the world. In fact, it is usually better if it isn’t completely new and unknown, otherwise it is more difficult to explain and ultimately convince students to sign up. Thing to consider:
- The topic should be sufficiently broad so you are not hamstrung and the class will appeal to the widest range of students possible. But at the same time, keep it focused enough that folks know generally what to expect and are not disappointed that their interests were not covered.
- Always try to focus on aspects that you find interesting and exciting or have some passion for within the general topic. As an example – many of my classes, even in the creative arenas, focus on technical aspects because I am a technician.
- Teaching is also a great way to explore something for yourself. As you prepare to teach a subject, you will find yourself having to dig deeper into the topic. So a new class can be a great mechanism for helping you reach your own goals.
Narrow the Focus
Unless the your subject is extremely specific, you probably need to narrow your focus. If your subject is “cleaning the house” (something I personally know nothing about), try narrowing the focus to a single aspect, such as: floors, windows, difficult stains, the kitchen. You will often be surprised by how much information there is to share on a narrow focus once you begin to dig in.
Find the Keys
Even when the topic is sufficiently narrow, there are often multiple directions a class can take. At this point, brainstorming or mind-mapping can be very helpful. You want to try and peek down all of the possible paths to determine which one makes the most sense based on you (your interests, abilities and knowledge) and your students. This path will lead to the key elements of your class. The key elements are critical to the design:
- Limit the number of key elements. It is tempting to try and share everything you know, but that just isn’t practical and ultimately is a disservice to your students. The length of the class will be a factor in determining the right number, but 1 – 3 per hour of class is usually a good guideline.
- Think in terms of “keys” as related to outcomes. Focus on the critical aspects that will either make or break your students’ ability to achieve the desired result or learn the critical information.
- Be realistic about what you can communicate effectively given your time frame and environment. It is always better to have to supplement class with some “bonus” information than to run out of time.
Organize Your Thoughts
Prepare a basic outline with estimates of time for each point or major section. Keep in mind that the guideline for physical activities is it will take 3 times longer in a class situation than it does for you to accomplish the same thing at home. The outline process is also the point to determine what is the minimum level of knowledge or skill for a student in this class and what work, if any, should be completed prior to class.
Last but not least, write a description for the class. This will include a title, summary of what students should expect and any minimum level requirements and/or class pre-work. This is the marketing component of this process. Titles should be intriguing, but not so clever that they are confusing to most. Descriptions should be clear and focused on the students’ expected outcomes based on the key elements determined in the middle step. Be prepared – you may have to go back and tweak this several times before it is right.
And there you are, a new class designed and ready to be marketed in 5 straight-forward steps:
- Pick a subject
- Narrow the focus
- Determine the key elements
- Create an outline
- Write a description
[reminder]What step do you find to be the most difficult when designing a class?[/reminder]