Sunday, August 10, 2008

Knitting and Goals

Or How I Don't Work

I’m a knitter and, when I get the chance, I like to hang out with other knitters. Overall, knitters have two ways we approach our work.

There are the knitters who are project oriented. The ones who ask, “When are you going to finish that?” or “How long did that take you?” These are the people who know the techniques to speed up their knitting so they can finish one project and move on to the next. And they always seem to know what they’re going to work on next.

Then there are the process knitters. The people who will work on something for a while, just enjoying the process of creation. They experiment with techniques for the effects they have. They have more works-in-progress than planned projects, because if something looks interesting then they should try it out now.

I’m a process knitter. Currently there are two major projects I’ve almost completed, but finishing--joining pieces, weaving in loose ends of yarn, blocking a project to define it’s final shape--bores me. Completing the project isn’t enough motivation for me. I want to be able to really experience it. When winter comes and I’m ready to wear that wool sweater, I’ll find the time to finish it. I’ll block my shawl soon, but there’s no way I’m wearing it mid-summer.

As such, I hate being pushed to give an end-date for a project. My senior year of high school, I worked on a sweater jacket.* As the bag carrying the sweater became fuller, the question, “When will you be done?” came more and more frequently.

My answer? “By the time I graduate...
...from college.” **

I have a similar attitude toward goals outside of knitting. I understand that some people need them. I hear that they help you more if you define them specifically. But they feel more constraining to me.

It’s a bit of a lie to say I don’t have goals. I do.***

I just don’t like spelling them out. (Despite my tendency to plan ahead. And my apparent tendency to make other people spell out their goals.) I don’t like sharing them. (Despite my frequent conversations with friends.) I don’t respond well to people asking me how I’m doing with them. (Though it doesn’t stop me from inquiring on how other people are doing.)

I don’t know. Maybe my GPA would have been .15 points higher, if I had more explicit goals and found some extra drive during my worst college classes, but I still wouldn’t have graduated summa. Maybe that sweater jacket would have finished 8 months earlier, but I wouldn’t have worn it any more. The fact is, I’m perfectly happy being a process person.

But, I face a dilemma at school. The beginning of the school year is ripe with goalsetting. I’m told I should do it, but it just seems so forced. I believe in the end-product, but the process fails at motivating me. Student goal-sheets never did anything for me as a student. How do I convince students of their benefits when they’re not something I get genuinely excited about?

Because most people aren’t process knitters, I understand that setting goals is a useful skill for most people. In a region where kindergardeners give you a blank stare when asked “What do you want to be when you grow up?” and high schoolers think it’s okay to tell their teacher that they’ll sell drugs, I do believe it’s crucial to create visions, to repeatedly go through the process of defining action plans and following them to an endpoint.

But I haven’t found an overall method that’s comfortable for me. I didn’t have much buy-in with my pep talks and personal conversations last year, perhaps because they felt trite even to me. I’m realizing I need to try something else.

How do you bring goals to the classroom? What do you set for students? What do you have students define for themselves? How do you motivate anyone to set honest goals, and not follow my habit of filling in the answers I expect people want to hear?


*I was, and often still am, that girl who knit during class. It helps me concentrate.

**I had the pieces completed and pinned together by the time I graduated high school. A friend convinced me to sew them together in the fall of my first year at college.

*** A personal goal for this school year is to take the pictures necessary to create a calendar of hay--because my phrase last year was that I was living in said calendar. But I classify it as a project rather than a goal.


H. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
H. said...

After reading this post twice I guess I should have something to add, but I don't. Not very good at goal-setting either, and also no fervent believer in grand goals. Just enjoyed this entry a lot, and that's all.

Sarah Cannon said...

Thanks H.

The reflection process of this post helped me think about how I approach projects in a constructive way that differs from the methods I see taught. I'm not any closer to figuring out how to teach them, but it's reassuring that I'm not the only one who struggles with this.

Anonymous said...

Are your students process learners? Can you build motivation by encouraging them to be?

Or: in what sense do you have goals for your knitting? Clearly not "finish this" goals, but "get comfortable with this technique" or "listen to these lectures" goals? If you broaden your idea of appropriate goals, will you buy in more? Will your students?

I've never been quite sure what category of knitter I fall into, here. I'm pretty bad at binaries in general, though. I get very hung up on the parts of them that don't make sense for me.

Sarah Cannon said...

Andryl I'm not sure how much my students are process learners or not. Mentally, in the course of writing this post, I've reframed my struggle as how to teach the skill of being a process person.

Back to the knitting to illustrate. I knit because I love the motion of the stitches. I get caught up in the rhythm of the pattern. I like the fact that it puts my fidgeting to good use. (Which could also be a characteristic of a product knitter--a term I only know because I google process knitter to try to answer your question.) I don't mind having to rip out a project--none of the "all that hard work" sighs. I don't need to work on something more difficult, so much as I ALWAYS need to have something on my needles. I keep a stash of cotton yarn so I can at least work on a wash cloth if I don't know what else to make. I like some variety in my projects, but mostly I just like the yarn and the needles in my hands.

Knitting is one realm where I can't think of a time where I've set goals. Sure, I've gotten into more difficult patterns, because something looks interesting so I tried it. I don't think I've doubted I could do something. Just a sense that I hadn't tried it yet. At most it's a goal of, "That looks fun. I want to try it."

I guess the idea (goal, even?) would be to present lessons so that kids think, "That looks fun. I want to try it." But then I'm leaving out the process of setting goals, etc., which I really do believe is important.

I like the idea of goals, just not having to do them myself? And so I circle back to the other struggle of, "How do I teach them?"


As to your knitting style, categorizing people is always dicey. (And binaries perhaps more so.) Categorizing numbers, a bit safer.

Anonymous said...

Working on studying for exams has been hard this summer, and thinking about this discussion I'm pretty sure it's because I'm not in it as a process learner most of the time. I have an idea of how to study, and I'm convinced that it's fun and interesting for maybe two hours, after which I get bored and struggle to keep myself going.

And I have goals! I know it matters that I learn this, I want to be able to do these problems, I want to know this stuff. But the goals aren't substituting for the enjoyment of the process.

Which is not to say you shouldn't work on goal-setting with your students. Just that I identify so much with the need to help them be in it for the process right now.

Capitola said...

Can you have a process-based presentation for their goal? Something that says "this is the path we are taking" You'll probably want to have a "this is where we are going" aspect to meet with the kids who are goal driven, but something that focuses more on the journey than the end might reach better. Because then why are you doing this? To get to the next step.

After-all education is life-long, never done. It too is a process, and goals are simply ways of marking our journey on it.

Sarah Cannon said...

Capitola I like that idea. Especially because I'm taking a pretty different path this year than I did last year. Doing more investigations than these students have ever done before. Focusing more on groupwork. I guess the class is becoming more and more process based. And I'm planned enough that I'll have a better sense of the process than I did last year.

I always hated it when teachers told us, "You better learn this skill now, because your teachers at the next level won't be as nice as I am." Honestly, my professors in college were less strict about clearing off the board we were taking notes from than my middle school teachers were. Yay for the journey of education indeed! Boo to just doing this so you can do what comes next.


And you, especially, need to look at my Flickr account to remember the life of hay you're missing this year. No replacements for the bald eagle perched on the bale, but fun times all the same. Less than a week in town and I've got a possible cover and three months.

Anne said...

I definitely don't think process oriented and goal oriented need to be mutually exclusive. I like both and I do both at different times and for different reasons in my life.

My writing goals this year for my students have A LOT more to do with process than they did last year. And especially students being able to articulate and reflect on their own writing process. On the other hand, it's try that writing is a process, not a finished product, but at some point you have to hit "publish post" and let it be finished. And at some point I have to set a deadline and make them turn in a finished paper.

On a crafting note- My mom is a quilter, but you would never know it by looking at her sewing corner, in fact you would probably have trouble identifying her sewing corner in our house because it's so clean and inconspicuous. She buys only the fabric necessary to make one quilt at a time and she always has a purpose in mind for her quilts- either who she will give it to or where it will be used in our house. She also teaches project management courses....see the connection?

I guess I'm some mix of process and product. I start lots of things, I finish a few. I don't take up quilting because I'm afraid I would collect fabric like I collect books :) But I also really like finishing and polishing things. Showing things off. I like the publishing part of writing. I like the hanging it on the wall part of quilting.

As with everything-- somewhere there is a balance.

Carol said...

When I read this, I responded "Wow!" That's really insightful as to your nature and how you work. Pretty good internal stuff going on here.

Your comments reminded me of a book Composing a Life by Mary Catherine Bateson that came out about 1990. In it, Bateson (an anthropologist whose mother was Margaret Mead) explores the lives of five "successful" women who "composed" their lives as they went, rather than setting a goal and achieving it. On that basis, she claims that women's journey's are different from men's. Furthermore, as I remember it, she says that the classic mythic pattern for men is Odysseus in the Iliad or the Knights of King Arthur's round table going on a quest. That doesn't generally work for women.

Basically, you live out the poster philosophy. "Life is a journey, not a destination."

My hunch is that goal-oriented culture is "Western" and that Native culture would more resonate with process. Not sure what to do with that, but just an idea.