Monday, June 11, 2007

Developing pride through achievement.

One school I visit in Howick has its own kiln to fire students work.

Working to achieve ones 'personal best' is stated as one of the beliefs of many schools I visit. Certainly it is an important part of my own philosophy - 'to do fewer things well' so as to achieve work of depth, whether it is in art, maths, language or science.

All too often, in the rush to cover ( or 'deliver' ) the curriculum, many students do not get to 'feel' the success experienced when they do something that surprises them - something beyond what they imagined they could do.

And, all too often, the 'message' many students gain from their school experience is 'first finished is best'. They are encouraged to 'measure' their success by how quickly they complete their work, rather than by how thoughtful they were in doing it.

Teachers need to replace this self defeating idea with one that values doing things really well. If we want our students to develop a sense of personal quality, to value effort, perseverance, and learning through 'enlightened trial and error', we must introduce tasks to develop these traits, or 'habits of mind'.

We need to be clear that ideas of craftsmanship, and a sense of pride gained through real achievement, are important in all aspects of life

Exploring various artistic media is one way to develop this but all human activities provide the aesthetic satisfaction gained through doing a job well.

When students explore clay they first have to search for an idea they want to express.Then they have to explore what clay can and can't do in the process gaining specific skills. They have to work though trial and error, keeping what works, to eventually realise their final work of art - which may, or may not, resemble what they first envisaged in their imagination.

This process is a metaphor for life itself and, through such involvement, students sense what true learning is all about; that the 'messy' creative process mimics life itself!

Clay has more magic to offer. The work, when dry, is placed in kiln and emerges a different texture all together. The adding of glazes extends the process even further and, perhaps, is the most magic phase of all. The possibility to introduce some science into the experience is there for the taking - the change in the clay and the glazes and the measurement and effect of temperature. Some models will not make it through the firings but such disappointment is also part of life and the answer is to learn from the experience - life is aways 'next time'.

The teacher, as a skilled 'learning guide', is present at all stages helping students gain the skill in handling the clay and to develop their understanding of the process involved. He,or she,is continually entering into 'learning conversations' with the learners, providing guidance and assistance as required, all the time keeping in mind the need to protect each student's individuality and creativity.

Such teachers, in any area of the curriculum, are teaching students the real purpose of creation - to do ones personal best and to learn about themselves in the process.

And who know some might even turn out to be potters!


Anonymous said...

It is hard to develop ones 'personal best' when mediocre too often seems good enough. To achieve 'personal best' a person needs a coach, or mentor, who really understands what a top effort is and who has the skill to work along side you to help you achieve your current best
We are missing such people in our schools these days - once specialist advisers fulfilled that role and they were able to work with teachers to develop their understanding of quality process and product - in whatever learning area.

Bruce said...

'Doing fewer things well', is a simple but powerful idea. This is in contrast to a curriculum a 1000 miles long and an inch deep!

Knowing what a quality 'performance' is in any learning area most important otherwise you get mediocre results pretending to be qualily. The trouble with low expectatations is that people meet them no matter how many criteria you develop!