How to Teach to Make Your Subject Easy to Learn

Peggy Farren 2014-09-12

When my friend first suggested that I start offering training at my studio, my immediate response was "No way! I'm not technical enough to teach". I have always struggled with the technical side of photography. None of it came easy to me. When I was working as a photography assistant, I took SO MANY classes and got so little out of them. I always thought it was me. But now, after running Understand Photography training center for almost five years, I realize that just because someone is a good photographer, doesn't make them a good instructor. I made the mistake that most beginning teachers made on my first class - I packed in too much information in too short a time. I started studying teaching techniques and asking for student feedback because I really wanted to be good. From the very start of Understand Photography, I hired other instructors to teach their unique skills. I sat in the back and asked all the "dumb" questions that I knew the students were thinking. Most new instructors go too quickly and teach too much. Here are some guidelines for instructors. These apply to seasoned as well as beginning teachers: 1. Less is better! My first class on DSLRs had me teaching exposure, white balance, metering modes, and more. That same class only teaches exposure now and it's our most popular class. It's a two hour class and everyone leaves knowing how to shoot in the manual setting and why. Instead of retaining 10% of what they learned, they retain 80% or more! 2. Repeat yourself many times. Try to come up with different ways to say the same things over and over and over again. Repetition drums the information into the student's brains. 3. Go slowly! Especially when teaching software. When you are about to click on something, circle it with the mouse many times, say out loud "I'm going to click here. Does everyone see this? Can you see where I am circling?". So many instructors just click, click, click. If the student is looking down at their screen at that fraction of a second when the instructor clicks, they'll miss that step. So EVERYTIME you click, you have to do this. 4. Get the students' attention - especially when teaching software. If the student is still working on the last thing you taught, they may not be paying complete attention. When I am teaching a live class, I call students by name when I see they are not paying attention. When teaching online, I also call them by name! I ask students to type something in to the comments section to make sure they are keeping up and paying attention. 5. Don't believe the students. Here is a question I often ask in class: "Does everyone get it?" And everyone says yes. In my hands-on classes, I go around and check each student's camera or computer to make sure. In our online classes, I ask the students to type the answer in the comments section. Peggy teaching at state convention
6. Assume they don't know the basics. Review instead. It never hurts to hear the basics over and over again. Whatever you do, please don't say "you all know what (insert subject here) is; right?" They will all say "right" whether they know or not. No one wants to feel stupid. 5. Sometimes you have to move on and leave one student behind. Occasionally you will have one student that just doesn't get it. You try your best to help them but you can't keep the entire class back. Some students don't do well in a group setting and really need private one on one instruction. 6. Don't teach shortcuts in software unless they are vital! With most Adobe products, the shortcuts are listed in the menus. So teach the students to find the shortcuts if they are using a process often. They need to know how to get to what they need to do. Shortcuts require memorization and when a student is first learning, that's just too much information for them to retain. 7. Keep the students engaged. We offer just a couple classes both online and at our studio that are lecture type of classes. Those are the toughest classes to teach as students get bored listening to me talk! Surprising since I am just so witty and entertaining! So for most of our classes, the students have their cameras in front of them or are following along on the computer if it's a software class. Try to think of ways to keep the students involved. When I teach my business of photography classes, I will have the students write down ways they can implement each idea into their own business. This keeps their brains stimulated and it always helps if they can apply an idea or technique to themselves. When Joe teaches his composition class, he'll have the students help him crop images to make the composition better. Handouts where the students fill in the blanks as we go along are another way to keep the students involved. The more engaged the students are, the more they will learn and enjoy the class! Hand out
8. Review, repeat and ask questions! Asking questions is the best way to keep the students engaged and thinking!! Examples: When teaching Photoshop or PS Elements for example, I'll open a new photo and say "What's the first thing we do?" and the class will answer "duplicate the layer". "When you choose a tool from the tool palette, what do you immediately do?" They answer; "Look at the secondary toolbar." When teaching exposure "What makes the blurry background?" They answer "wide aperture". 9. Ask for feedback from your students to continually improve. You can put together an evaluation form and hand it out at the end of each class. Or sometimes just ask one on one. You'll really learn a lot about how effective your teaching is. Sometimes the evaluations may hurt your feelings but it's worth it! 10. Know your limitations before deciding to teach. So many beginners want to teach too soon. They don't even know that they don't know much! Without experience, you cannot truly be a good teacher. For instance, I am learning nature photography right now. I have a LOT of photography knowledge and a LOT of experience with portrait, wedding and commercial photography. But very little nature photography experience. Every time I go out in nature, I learn that it's much tougher than it looks! There are nuances that you just don't know without enough experience. I'm super fortunate to have a great team of nature photographers as instructors at Understand Photography. So I continue to practice and take classes. I can write up a blog post about my experiences but I am not qualified to teach a class on bird photography! I do know my limitations! These tips will make you such a better instructor! We give these training tips to every new instructor at Understand Photography. I also sit in on the classes when someone new starts teaching with us. We want to be sure each student learns as much as possible at every single class. We've been lucky to have many loyal and repeat students because we really do "Simplify the Technical". I hope you'll join us for one of our hands-on classes, online courses or join us on a photography trip!! ~ Peggy Farren is the founder of Understand Photography training center. She has been a professional photographer for 16 years. You can check out here work here: www.naplesportraits.com.

Don't miss a thing.

Subscribe to our show!

Click to subscribe!
Close popup

Subscribe to our show!

By subscribing to our show, you will never miss out! We will notify you via email when a new podcast is posted.

Please Fill Out This Field

Like what you are reading?

Sign up for our newsletter!

Sign up now!
Close popup

Sign up for our newsletter

Your details are safe with us.

Please Fill Out This Field

Post Your Comment Below

What Camera Should I Buy?

One of the most often questions we receive is "What type of camera should I buy?" Of course a lot depends on your budget and what you want to do with the camera. Watch this short video for Peggy's recommendation.

Sign Up for Access
Close popup

Which camera should I buy?

Enter your contact information to watch this short video for Peggy's recommendation!

Please Fill Out This Field

Join the movement

About Peggy

Peggy Farren is an award winning, professional photographer, instructor, writer and speaker.

With over 17 years as a full-time professional photographer, Peggy offers photography training through her training center, “Understand Photography”.

Learn More

Essential Preparation Tips for Travel Photography

This free report will help you choose the right cameras, lenses and accessories for your travels. You'll need different equipment depending on where you are going, your finances, and the weight of the gear. We'll show you how to determine the best equipment for your needs. Also included is a comprehensive list on what you'll need, some things you may not have heard before but you'll be so glad we let you know!

Sign Up for More Information
Close popup

Essential Preparation Tips for Travel Photography

Many you've never heard before!

Please Fill Out This Field