Monday, September 29, 2014

Do You Want to Become a Knitting Star?

Here's a little more from Josh Kaufman's book on learning fast, tweaked for knitting skill acquisition.

There's a pretty big gap between reading about how to do something and then actually doing it. I can read all the advice available on a particular topic but to truly understand the nuances of a motor skill I need to perform it, adjust, correct errors and practice to reach competency. 

Josh's principles for effective learning follow:

1) "Research, but not too much". I have a lot of reference books for knitting. When I need to check something I usually use two or three. I don't take the time to check every book I own. At a certain point reading about how to do something becomes redundant, you need to just do it.

2) "Jump in". Sometimes new things feel incomprehensible. I see this in classes with students often. They are afraid to pick up the needles and try something new. This is a good sign if you don't understand at all, it means you are about to learn a lot! Often you lack vocabulary and that is why you feel disoriented. Vocabulary becomes clearer once you get going. In my case Entrelac was a skill that wasn't easily conceptualized before I tried to knit it. Once I actually knit a sample under the instruction of a patient teacher I no longer had any issues understanding the written instructions. 

3) "Mental models and hooks". As you work through new skills you will acquire concepts that apply to help you learn. They are the labels and relationships. Think of the difficulty of remembering how to complete the knit stitch when you first learned. Insert the right hand needle from the front to the back through the loop on the left hand needle, wrap the yarn....that's a model. A hook will help you remember something by relating it to something else. Here's one for the directionality of decreases.

4) "Imagine the opposite". This is where you imagine everything that can go wrong. It helps you to avoid errors.

5) "Talk to practitioners". My students are way to hard on themselves. It is important to be realistic about what level a novice can work to. An experienced knitter can help you assess realistically how well you are doing. Stay focused and you will improve quickly.

6) "Eliminate distractions". All levels of knitters talk about the difference between easy TV knitting and focused knitting. If you are struggling, it's time to turn off the TV, the phone and find a place to be alone. You'll get "it" faster when you are focused.

7) "Spaced repetition". Moving memory from short term to long term storage takes repetition. You won't forget the first cast on you used when you learned to knit a few years ago, however I just had to go back to the reference source for a new one I learned recently and have used on only one project so far. Once I use it a few more times the movements will come back more easily to me. The image below is Edgar Dale's cone of learning, it gives percentage of learning loss over time based on your mode of learning.

8) "Scaffolds and checklists". Refer to lists of items of things you do everything you practice. Many are internalized so quickly, you may not realize you have a mental list. As an example, turn on your laptop, click on an icon, enter a password, open an application....Scaffolds refer to a list of the physical movements that lead into performance. They are used in sports and can provide a calming transition into becoming focused on your goal. When I start to knit, I adjust the lamp, get comfortable, sit up straight, and place my knitting so the yarn flows smoothly from the ball.

9) "Predictions and tests". Here I go again! Swatching. If you make and test predictions you will maximize understanding. Look at your work, what do you see? What do you already know? What could you do to improve performance? Test out your theory. When knitters started working cables without a cable needle they were challenging the way it was done in the past. I'm sure many found out quickly it works easily on sticky yarns but not on slippery yarns. However, under certain conditions it is a more efficient way to create cables.

10) "Honor your biology". I'm guilty of this one. I get caught up and forget to stop when I get tired, thirsty or hungry. There is some evidence that more than 90 minutes of focused attention becomes counter productive. Repetitive movements can cause injury. I try to do a quick hand stretch every 20 minutes when I'm knitting. There is also some science that shows sleep is especially beneficial for motor skill acquisition. So practice in the evening and consider evening classes. The sooner you sleep after practice the better it is for accelerated learning 

Part 1 is here.

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