Author's note: This article was originally written in 2014. Since then I've started a project called "Dev Mastery" dedicated to helping developers write better code and advance their careers. If you or someone you know is just starting out, I highly recommend my free eBook; The Practical Guide to Becoming a Professional Web Developer. Enjoy the article!
Today, the web is everywhere. It touches everyone. Today, the web is easy and frictionless and powerful beyond what I ever imagined it would be when I wrote my first line of HTML back in 1994. I expected that this would mean the concepts we would be covering would be intuitive to these students; that it would all come as second nature to them. I was naïve and foolish.
I commend Ladies Learning Code on the mentor model of the workshop, being able to provide personalized coaching to small groups of students at a time ensured that no one was left behind. I was able to bring my group up to speed during the breaks and throughout the exercises and I think they ended up getting a lot of value out of the experience. Also, in fairness to the instructor, he paused often to ask for feedback from the room and make sure the students were engaged and did a good job getting through a metric ton of material in a very short amount of time. He also worked very well with the mentors and was quick to course correct if someone asked a question or spoke up to clarify a particular point he may have been glossing over for time.
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Insights for Teachers
1. Assume Nothing
Challenge yourself to explain, in simple terms, those concepts that you take for granted and that are the foundation for your understanding of the subject matter.
2. Read the Room Early and Often
Take a moment up front to figure out where your audience is at in terms of knowledge, experience, and expectations. Check back in with them frequently to make sure you’re bringing everyone along with you.
3. Connect Your Lessons to Something Practical and Useful
Find a way to tie the concepts and material you are teaching to real-world, practical scenarios that will resonate with your students.
4. Repeat, Repeat, Repeat
Repetition is key. Repetition is key. It’s important to say the same things over and over again. It’s also nice to change the way you say those things so that people who don’t understand it one way, have a chance to understand it another way. Also, did I mention you should repeat things?
5. Tell, Show, Try
First, explain the concept. Then, show an example of the concept. And finally, let the students try out the concept for themselves through exercises.
6. Embrace Mistakes
See students’ (or even your own) mistakes as an opportunity to gain more insight into the subject matter. Give people room to make a mistake and follow it up with a discussion about what the mistake tells us about the subject matter and how it works.
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Insights for Students
If you’re a first-time student, here are some tips that may help you get the most out of your experience:
1. You Won’t Learn Everything in a Day
No matter how good the workshop is and no matter what the brochure says, it’s impossible to master a subject in a single day. Embrace this truth and understand that today is the first step in a long journey.
2. Ask Questions
This is probably a cliché by now, but it’s true; there’s no such thing as a dumb question. If you’re not sure about something, ask.
3. Be Patient and Keep an Open Mind
It may not always be obvious at first how the subject matter is connected to the outcome you’re trying to achieve by learning it. Especially with something like programming, you have to be patient and get through the fundamentals before you will begin to see the value. Trust your instructor.
4. Practice, Practice, Practice
Strive to use what you’ve learned early and often. The more you put newfound knowledge into practice, the more likely it is to stick.
5. Listen, Read, Engage
Pay close attention to the instructor. Don’t just skim, but actually read the materials being presented and give any excersices or hands-on activities your full, undivided attention.
6. Embrace Mistakes
Mistakes are an opportunity to gain more insight into the subject matter. They are a sign that you’re really trying. Give yourself room to make a mistake and follow it up with a discussion with your instructor that reveals what went wrong and why.
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While I’ve taught tech before, this was my first time mentoring at Ladies Learning Code. I thoroughly enjoyed it. As a business owner who hires and works with coders, I am happy to help grow the local talent pool. As the father of a young girl, I am thrilled to contribute to a world of expanded opportunities and diversity for all.
For the record: At the time of this writing, I am not affiliated with Ladies Learning Code in any official or unofficial capacity. I’ve volunteered only once to date and the opinions expressed in this article are mine and mine alone.
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