The key to a successful learning experience is deep, lasting learning - the sort of knowledge that comes from discovery. With this in mind, I've been exploring new ideas for introducing content in my classroom. This week I planned and taught what I'm calling an Exploration in my Art 1 class with the idea of creating the right conditions for students to build understanding through discovery and collaboration.
What that sort of assignment was missing, I realized, was an opportunity for students to work independently. Instead of being challenged to understand how clay works well enough to plan and create using their own ideas, they were following the steps I taught them.
What was needed was an opportunity to experiment, to discover, to learn first hand how the process works.
After thinking, researching, talking to colleagues and being inspired by Jean and Liz's TAB in the Single Media Classroom presentation at NAEA, I developed a plan. I decided to have students create slab sculptures, which is limited enough to teach the whole group new skills and process together, but open enough to require the independent planning and research that will elicit lasting understanding.
The first day of learning started with two centers. At the first I placed clay in four different stages - slip, plastic, leather hard and bone dry. Kids at this center were asked to compare and contrast the different stages, then work to write a description of each stage. Next, students moved to the second center, where I showed them how to roll a slab with plastic clay and add texture. Then I talked about templates, and showed the group how to use one to cut a leather hard slab to form a bowl. Students spent the remaining time rolling slabs and experimenting with textures.
These two centers worked well together to build knowledge. Students learned a lot by touching and talking about the stages of clay at the first center. This knowledge absolutely helped them understand the process I taught at the second center, where understand the stages of clay was essential information. My kids asked thoughtful questions about process the next day when my colleague's students brought in ceramic boxes they created and shared them with my class. These experience were a good foundation for next week's challenge: researching and designing a template then creating an original slab sculpture.
Thanks to Kim, Jean and Liz for help and inspiration.
I'm an high school art teacher who's really interested in student choice and creating opportunities for self expression. I'm also a writer for The Art of Education and co-author of The Open Art Room.