Friday, January 6, 2012

Scheduling Creativity, Planning for Effort

One of the most rewarding things I did before leaving for winter break was to redo my course calendar for my clay classes.

This winter I teach 3 classes and several independent study students. For the first time at YVCC, I will be teaching hand-building on a different day than throwing (rather than stacking the classes and teaching smaller groups simultaneously). I have been using and revising the same calendar for several quarters, but the new schedule required me to make significant changes.

The schedule and time change and the split classes required me to rearrange the schedule. I also anticipated that, especially the hand-building class (which filled late), would have a significant number of students who are not college ready. My beginning clay classes have no prerequisites (whereas many lecture classes have a Math or English requirement to enroll). Obviously students don't have to be able to write well or calculate to learn pottery or hand-building techniques, but students who enter college at a low level sometimes also lack the expectation or experience of doing homework, planning their work or preparing for class. With this in mind, I adjusted my hand-building class to include more directed activities.

Instead of 3 building projects and a glazing project (like the throwing classes). I added an extra project to the hand-building schedule and adjusted the projects to each be a bit shorter.

When I was an undergraduate student, my beginning level projects were pretty flexible. I was expected to find a creative answer to the problem posed by the instructor. I was also expected to work hard and challenge myself within the project. The project was left open, in part, to allow for multiple interpretations on the theme. With hand-building classes at YVCC, I have discovered that setting up a relatively large flexible assignment works for some students but can leave some students floundering. Some students don't realize soon enough that a studio class requires a great deal of time. They think art is an "easy" class and don't plan time in the studio. They realize their mistake just before the due date and then try to rush the building. Sometimes their work collapses or has to be redone. They get frustrated and aren't happy in the class.

hand-building student working in clay studio
I find with clay classes that the best way to understand the drying process is to experience it. No matter how many times I say that work needs to be covered so it won't dry out, some students need to come in to find their half-finished work bone dry and impossible to complete.  No matter how many times I tell them to come into the studio to work on their project, students try to put it off until the last minute.

Really successful hand-building students are often the ones who enjoy being in the studio and therefore plan time to work outside of class. Their work is built up a little at a time and the deadline is easy for them to meet. These students are often content to work independently or take the initiative to ask me or ask classmates for help.

coil-built work by previous students who spend time in the studio outside of class 

One adjustment I made to the calendar this quarter was to include two deadlines already this week. Most students were able to get 4 pinch pots made by the end of Wednesday's class, but no one was finished with their three coil pieces by today. I don't think any of the students came in between Wednesday and Friday's class, but several were in this afternoon. Hopefully they all now have a better idea of the time required by the projects.

One additional variable for the students' success in my class is the size of the class itself. The hand-building classes here have suffered from being small and from being combined with throwing classes. I think the students sometimes feel like the hand-building class is a neglected step-sister of the primary class (the throwing classes are generally larger).

I anticipate that the sheer number of hand-building students in the studio will encourage more effort from a greater percentage of the students. They will see each other working and the idea of working, especially outside of class time, will be reinforced. I suspect they will also see students from other classes (beginning and intermediate wheel and independent study students) working in the studio at various times.

Today students looked at some "inspiration" images I brought in. They worked on their practice coil cylinders and had the opportunity to talk a little about what they might like to do for their "real" project next week. Monday I will give them a surface decoration demonstration and I will also require them to practice some of the techniques on their prepared pinch pots. Before they even begin their "real project" they will have had 3 things due and 3 days of class spent working on various techniques and projects.

texture tools to be demonstrated Monday

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