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For the past 30 years, I've been teaching all skill levels of hand building and throwing for a community college art program that offers 0 credit ceramic courses through an Emeritus program that  teaches seniors focused on life long learning.   The students and I follow the college semester calendar where the class I teach meets once a week for 3 hours, for 16 weeks.  I'm teaching a beginning wheel throwing class with a starting enrollment of 30 students.   The studio only has 15 wheels, so I split the class time in half with two groups.  So actually a student only has about an hour and twenty minutes on the wheel.  We just finished the twelve week and because of attrition, I have about 20 students attending.  

I have a older male student that has been struggling trying to center his clay.  We  just completed the 12th week.   He's been absent 4 of the 12 times.  He has difficulty remembering and retaining information when I demonstrate and/or lecture about centering and throwing a simple cylinder.  He struggles to form a simple 2# ball of clay, right after I did a demo of how to cut out to form a ball of clay off of the 25# bag of clay.  He struggles to grasp the initial step of securing the clay on the bat before centering the clay.  Each student was given a handout that describes with notes and pictures hand positions on each step in the process of centering and throwing a basic 4"x4" cylinder.  He would sometimes use this handout to help him but would often times get confused on the steps shown and explained on the handout.  His initial problem was not using enough water to help his touching, sliding his hands when touching the clay.   I always would tell him to use a lot of water during the coning up and down step , even show him how much water to use by me scooping handfuls of water and pour it on his clay.  I would show him where his hand positions should be.  I would step away to help another student for a few minutes, but would come back to find him creating a mushed up mound of clay.  It's been the same result every time he would start on a new ball of clay.  Never remembering to add more water to center the clay.  I never see him taking any notes or even have a notebook.  I found myself spending more time helping this student, while two or three other beginning students wanting and waiting for my help.

He has not progressed, still repeating the same results prior to last week. I actually have given up on helping him because he never remembers and retains my information, either by my lecture or individual hands-on demonstration.  I even had two students try and help him with his centering and throwing.  They've said the same thing, he doesn't remember and keeps repeating the same mistakes.

He was absent the week before last and showed up this past week.  I left him to work out his centering on his own.  Well to my surprise, I saw him place a bone dry, oddly trimmed bowl on our studio drying shelves.  I approached him to ask him about the piece.  He said it was his first thrown piece.  I went over to where he was throwing where a female student sitting next to him who was trimming her own pieces.  I notice that the shapes she was trimming looked like a similar style to the piece that the male student placed on the drying shelves.  I asked her if he actually made the piece he said is his.  Her answer was she felt he needed to glaze a piece.  This was her answer, not answering my question.  

Okay, so this female student has put me in a challenging situation.  Will he remember where he placed this piece?   The next step relies on him being responsible to move the bone dry piece onto another shelf for bisque firing.  Will he remember to do this?  This next week,  I'm  emailing my students to view a required You tube video on beginning glaze application and take notes.  Will he remember and retain the video information?  I also include a glaze application demo and a handout covering the glaze app steps before any beginners apply glazes to their bisque ware.   Will he  remember all this? 

In my 30 years of teaching I've never had a student give another student their own work.  How should I address the female student in her giving him a piece of hers to glaze?

Frustrated Instructor welcome comments, recommendations and suggestions.

 

 

 

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Sounds like this gent is is the early stages of dementia.  As a daughter I have seen my mum change from being perfectly capable of doing all sorts of things, to now unable to do much by herself except eat and walk.

We have a lady in our pottery group who is in the very early stage of dementia.  She too doesn't remember what we tell her, but she comes every week, pays her subs, and gets pleasure from what she does do.

It's a really difficult one for you, but if he keeps coming, is paying his fees and the other students tolerate him or at least do not complain about him, I think you should not worry too much, and let him keep coming.  As for the pot made by the other student, if they are happy to pass one on to him, why not.  Your first sentence says "0 credit" and "teaches seniors focused on life long learning", so I assume this means it is not an exam course?

We all do things for different reasons, his may be just to fill his time, and he will never become a potter.  Maybe he will never be any better than he is today, but maybe his participating is therapy for him.

You ask "will he remember to move....."?  I think you already know the answer to that question, which means you or someone else will have to move it for him.  Does he have a partner or carer that could accompany him, and help him with such steps?

I see it is frustrating for you, it was for our class, as no-on told us to begin with that our lady had memory problems.  As soon as we were told by a friend of hers, we were able to accommodate her needs and to help her to enjoy her time in the class.

I hope you can keep him in the class, and also keep everyone else happy too.

Edited by Chilly
typo

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If you can, try to gently find out if he has always been this way or if his current behaviour is something new.  He might be missing classes for not a good reason, like getting lost, and there could be real safety aspects that are occurring outside of your class that need addressing for his own well being.  If he doesn't have someone looking out for him, you might be it and may need to follow through if needed. I realize that this is not in your job description and is not your usual role.  

Re your classroom issue, I've a close relative who has worked with individuals with similar challenges and he indicated that there are many reasons why someone may be presenting the way your student is.  He suggests trying immediate visuals as cues that are right in front of him - in his line of sight (e.g. simple diagrams) as cues, referring to class notes seems to be too much for him.  In the grand scheme of things success for him in your class may be that he is coming to a warm and welcoming class that he feels part of.   Your class might be one of the few positive things he has in his life at this moment.  

The other student who gave him the pot is just being compassionate.  Since this is a non-credit class I wouldn't be too concerned with a fellow student helping him out. In an ideal world there would be teacher aides or volunteers to help in situations like this but I know that is unlikely to happen.

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8 minutes ago, Chilly said:

Sounds like this gent is is the early stages of dementia.  As a daughter I have seen my mum change from being perfectly capable of doing all sorts of things, to now unable to do much by herself except eat and walk.

We have a lady in our pottery group who is in the very early stage of dementia.  She too doesn't remember what we tell her, but she comes every week, pays her subs, and get pleasure from what she does do.

It's a really difficult one for you, but if he keeps coming, is paying his fees and the other students tolerate him or at least do not complain about him, I think you should not worry too much, and let him keep coming.  As for the pot made by the other student, if they are happy to pass one on to him, why not.  Your first sentence says "0 credit" and "teaches seniors focused on life long learning", so I assume this means it is not an exam course?

We all do things for different reasons, his may be just to fill his time, and he will never become a potter.  Maybe he will never be any better than he is today, but maybe his participating is therapy for him.

You ask "will he remember to move....."?  I think you already know the answer to that question, which means you or someone else will have to move it for him.  Does he have a partner or carer that could accompany him, and help him with such steps?

I see it is frustrating for you, it was for our class, as no-on told us to begin with that our lady had memory problems.  As soon as we were told by a friend of hers, we were able to accommodate her needs and to help her to enjoy her time in the class.

I hope you can keep him in the class, and also keep everyone else happy too.

To Chilly,

Thank you for your suggestions and comments.  I mentioned that I teach for a community college and within the privacy rules and guidelines, a student is not required to or does not have to declare their disability to their instructor.  So I'm left to guess if he has a disability.  He enrolled in the class with no friends accompanying him.  The college does have a office that addresses student with disabilities, but the student has to initiate to make contact if one needs certain accommodations.

There was a sad moment in the last class meeting.  He is meticulous in cleaning the splash pan and wheel which I complimented him on, but had after washing the two part splash pan, he approaches the wheel to attach it back (it's a Brent electric wheel), he stood in front of the wheel trying to put the splash pan back.  After trying twice to mount the pan back, I asked him what was he trying to do?  He then realizes that the wheel that he was standing in front of had already had a attached  splash pan.  He was trying to attach the pan on the wrong wheel. 

I have no plans in dropping him out of the class.  I know the female student had good intentions and felt sorry for him. 

We fire to cone 10 where we primarily apply glaze by dipping and pouring glaze.  I will have to pay more one-on-one attention on how he applies glaze without leaving him to do it independently on his own, otherwise, there may be problems with glaze prepping and applying too much glaze on his piece. 

Do you think it's fair to the rest of the beginning students to provide more time in instructing a student without knowing the student's specific disability?

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34 minutes ago, scottiebie said:

To Chilly,

Thank you for your suggestions and comments.  I mentioned that I teach for a community college and within the privacy rules and guidelines, a student is not required to or does not have to declare their disability to their instructor.  So I'm left to guess if he has a disability.  He enrolled in the class with no friends accompanying him.  The college does have a office that addresses student with disabilities, but the student has to initiate to make contact if one needs certain accommodations.

There was a sad moment in the last class meeting.  He is meticulous in cleaning the splash pan and wheel which I complimented him on, but had after washing the two part splash pan, he approaches the wheel to attach it back (it's a Brent electric wheel), he stood in front of the wheel trying to put the splash pan back.  After trying twice to mount the pan back, I asked him what was he trying to do?  He then realizes that the wheel that he was standing in front of had already had a attached  splash pan.  He was trying to attach the pan on the wrong wheel. 

I have no plans in dropping him out of the class.  I know the female student had good intentions and felt sorry for him. 

We fire to cone 10 where we primarily apply glaze by dipping and pouring glaze.  I will have to pay more one-on-one attention on how he applies glaze without leaving him to do it independently on his own, otherwise, there may be problems with glaze prepping and applying too much glaze on his piece. 

Do you think it's fair to the rest of the beginning students to provide more time in instructing a student without knowing the student's specific disability?

Is he constantly requesting your help? If not I think it's fine to prioritize other students.  If he is, he could just be lonely and this is a way to get attention.  I have an older widower in my cul-de-sac who will sometimes invent problems that are simple to fix in order to spend time with me or other neighbors.  I entertain his requests because he's a really nice guy, but if I am busy I will let him know that I will help if I have time after I take care of my other stuff and he's fine with it.

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The giving of the pot is a non-issue in my book. If she wants to give him a pot, then she can. No harm done.

I have had students with similar issues, some from the beginnings of Alzheimers, and one with a head injury that dramatically affected her short term memory. Wheel throwing involves a lot of steps and a lot of repetition, and can be very difficult for those students. It can also be very difficult for the teacher if the students are monopolizing their time. Give your student as much time as you can without it impeding your ability to help the others, but don't feel obligated to sit next to the gentleman and walk him through every step of the process every day. Find that balance.

One thing that may help is having him break down the process into smaller groupings and see if he can handle that. For instance, cone up and down, then have you check on it before moving on to the next steps. It gives you a few minutes to help others, and gives him only two things to focus on- up then down. If you find that he can't remember the hand positions when you walk away, then that's a bigger problem. If that's the case, then he may simply not be able to learn to throw in that classroom setting. Can he hand build in the class, or is it for throwing only? Maybe talk to him about trying hand building instead. You shouldn't directly ask him about his health, but you could see if he wants to try some other clay working techniques that he might be more successful at. I've currently got a senior student who handbuilds because he just couldn't handle throwing, even though he's sharp as a tack. It was just too physical for him. And that may be part of the problem with your guy, too. Handbuilding is a simpler process, with much fewer steps, and it's very repetitive- roll the coil, attach the coil, roil the coil, attach the coil. I once had a student with early onset Alzheimer's who did quite well with that.

Ultimately, take note of whether or not he's enjoying himself. My student with memory loss had a really hard time at the wheel, but she didn't care because she really enjoyed her time with the other students. And we loved having here there, too, so everyone helped out when they could.

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20 minutes ago, neilestrick said:

The giving of the pot is a non-issue in my book. If she wants to give him a pot, then she can. No harm done.

I have had students with similar issues, some from the beginnings of Alzheimers, and one with a head injury that dramatically affected her short term memory. Wheel throwing involves a lot of steps and a lot of repetition, and can be very difficult for those students. It can also be very difficult for the teacher if the students are monopolizing their time. Give your student as much time as you can without it impeding your ability to help the others, but don't feel obligated to sit next to the gentleman and walk him through every step of the process every day. Find that balance.

One thing that may help is having him break down the process into smaller groupings and see if he can handle that. For instance, cone up and down, then have you check on it before moving on to the next steps. It gives you a few minutes to help others, and gives him only two things to focus on- up then down. If you find that he can't remember the hand positions when you walk away, then that's a bigger problem. If that's the case, then he may simply not be able to learn to throw in that classroom setting. Can he hand build in the class, or is it for throwing only? Maybe talk to him about trying hand building instead. You shouldn't directly ask him about his health, but you could see if he wants to try some other clay working techniques that he might be more successful at. I've currently got a senior student who handbuilds because he just couldn't handle throwing, even though he's sharp as a tack. It was just too physical for him. And that may be part of the problem with your guy, too. Handbuilding is a simpler process, with much fewer steps, and it's very repetitive- roll the coil, attach the coil, roil the coil, attach the coil. I once had a student with early onset Alzheimer's who did quite well with that.

Ultimately, take note of whether or not he's enjoying himself. My student with memory loss had a really hard time at the wheel, but she didn't care because she really enjoyed her time with the other students. And we loved having here there, too, so everyone helped out when they could.

Hello Neil Estrick,

Thank you for your thoughts and recommendations. 

My student seems to enjoy his time at the wheel.   I think he has short term memory.  I'll show him how to form a ball of clay to place on the bat before securing it to the bat.  He can't form a decent ball of clay.  The clay looks like a fingerprinted textured mound of clay.  He can't get to the centering - coning up and down step because he really struggles in remembering how to secure the clay ball on the bat, right after I show him each step on how it is done.  On occasion when  he is successful securing the ball on the bat, I'll watch him, probably showing him too much to think and do.  His hands seem to choke the clay and without any water which leads to a twisted off centered course mound of clay.  It's the same result every time when he preps his clay ready for his centering attempts.  I find myself reminding him all the time, sometimes physically showing him to correct what he's doing.  I think he gets confused and maybe overwhelming because of the multiple tasks in centering, sometimes the steps of opening the ball, setting the bottom diameter, hands positions when pulling the wall and changing wheel speeds while centering and throwing simultaneously.

My students have a "wet work" deadline in two weeks which is only two more class sessions.  I usually offer hand building as another option for those  students that can't center and throw, but he believes he's slowly progressing and doing okay on the wheel.  I will try to  teach him to make a  couple of pinch pots with his finger texture and/or add coils for texture.  Maybe he'll be successful and enjoy making a hand built pot.  

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7 hours ago, Min said:

there could be real safety aspects that are occurring outside of your class that need addressing for his own well being.  If he doesn't have someone looking out for him, you might be it and may need to follow through if needed.

To me, safety is a potential concern.  I would first visit the Office of Disability Assistance or whatever it is called and request some guidance. Document this vist and the response.  This man's deficits are more than minor memory problems; address potential problems (and solutions) within the administrative mechanisms & CYA

(An aside: a  student known to me had undisclosed disabilities and was bullied out of a for-credit degree program,  while no one bothered to have even a subtle conversation or try to help when it was clear that help was needed. After the student attempted suicide, in despair at flunking out, I  asked the instructor why he permitted this treatment. He said "I don't want people like that in my classes." Following multiple lawsuits, from other situations where instructors were misinformed about the HIPPA and ADA laws regarding broaching the subject of possible disability, the institution now has a fine program to legally identify and reasonably accomodate impaired students...including seniors with early dementia in course they may audit.)

 

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It is lovely that the female student gave the fellow something to glaze. 

Maybe you could announce that you would like everyone to have at least three things (or whatever) to glaze and that you would like everyone who doesn't yet have three, or anyone else who is interested, to join you at  your table to learn to make a hand built bowl or tray or whatever you prefer.

When they have made a couple of things they can get back to the wheel.

This way your student who won't learn to throw this session can participate all the way through without other students having to make it happen for him.

 

Edited by Gabby

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I would be very relaxed about this student interaction.  Progress is an individual matter, and relative to the individual themselves.   We all progress in our own ways, and according to our own capacities.

More advanced students helping less advanced students is positive, unless this is for a serious grade or something.   Ultimately, fellow travellers helping each other on the journey is a beautiful thing.   Treasure it like gold. 

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reading this has upset me very much.   it is obvious to me and to the other responders that the male student cannot possibly do what you expect from him.   stop expecting so much.   are you fined  for not having a student progress?   is your credibility as a teacher assaulted by the failure of one non credit student?   do you have no compassion at all?   i think the problem is yours and you just want that student gone from your classroom.

do you object to people being charitable?   the female knows compassion and charity.   try looking both of them up in a dictionary!

Edited by oldlady
correct

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1 hour ago, oldlady said:

reading this has upset me very much.   it is obvious to me and to the other responders that the male student cannot possibly do what you expect from him.   stop expecting so much.   are you fined  for not having a student progress?   is your credibility as a teacher assaulted by the failure of one non credit student?   do you have no compassion at all?   i think the problem is yours and you just want that student gone from your classroom.

do you object to people being charitable?   the female knows compassion and charity.   try looking both of them up in a dictionary!

I didn't read it that way at all. I see a level of frustration that he's not experienced before, and he's concerned about how to proceed. It can be difficult to find that balance between helping one student succeed while not hindering the progress of the other students. He's also in a difficult position where he may need to address the problems directly while not infringing on the student's right to privacy. He did reach out to us for advice, after all.

I like Lee's suggestion of going to the appropriate office at your school and getting advice from them. It could be that this gentleman has no support system. Does he ever talk about family, kids, wife, etc?

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I'd thank her for her kindness and compassion in a private setting.  And ask her to please refer any student to you. So you can best assess and help your student. 

As for the older gentleman,  I would maybe spend a little private time with him. Have a warm talk and see where his mind is. Talk with his family. He might have some memory loss, as someone mentioned,  but a little kind help on his project, couldn't hurt. Your class could be the last good thought he remembers. 

Edited by Mark (Marko) Madrazo
Spelling.

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Ya know other potters here might hate this suggestion but there are often physical reasons that centering is a problem. Me I have a screw in my shoulder and repetitive centering, particularly larger pieces,  is an issue. For a class that regularly has older students there could be potentially a one or two folks in every class that has some type of issue . I added a centering tool:

https://www.strongarmpotterytools.com/shop/

to my wheel and it is a necessity for throwing sessions beyond a few pots. I can center just fine and always do the first few pots without the arm to make sure I don't lose the ability but I switch over after a few pots and my shoulder now never has any issues where before this addition I had to wonder if I could even continue pottery without risking serious injury to my shoulder. 

In addition to the person like this gentlemen who still continues to come even though he can't make it past centering, there may be others who simply drop out feeling helpless to go any further in pottery. Maybe outfitting a couple of wheels with something similar will allow someone to continue forward. They swing out of the way so certainly do not need to be used so it does not take any wheels out of use and it's a shame for someone to miss out on all the other thrills of pottery because they can't get past this part either due to lack of being able to do it or because of a phy issue making it not possible. I know from experience that many folks as they advance in age just will absolutely refuse to acknowledge a limitation at all. Watching my mom age, a lady who ran large county wide departments of hundreds of personnel and extremely bright and fit, struggles with many everyday phy and mental things in life now, I see her flash that inner pride and need to be independent and capable. Anything we can do to help them means so much in their daily struggle to remain relevant and happy.

Good luck, hope it all works out!    

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23 hours ago, Stephen said:

Ya know other potters here might hate this suggestion but there are often physical reasons that centering is a problem. Me I have a screw in my shoulder and repetitive centering, particularly larger pieces,  is an issue. For a class that regularly has older students there could be potentially a one or two folks in every class that has some type of issue . I added a centering tool:

https://www.strongarmpotterytools.com/shop/

to my wheel and it is a necessity for throwing sessions beyond a few pots. I can center just fine and always do the first few pots without the arm to make sure I don't lose the ability but I switch over after a few pots and my shoulder now never has any issues where before this addition I had to wonder if I could even continue pottery without risking serious injury to my shoulder. 

In addition to the person like this gentlemen who still continues to come even though he can't make it past centering, there may be others who simply drop out feeling helpless to go any further in pottery. Maybe outfitting a couple of wheels with something similar will allow someone to continue forward. They swing out of the way so certainly do not need to be used so it does not take any wheels out of use and it's a shame for someone to miss out on all the other thrills of pottery because they can't get past this part either due to lack of being able to do it or because of a phy issue making it not possible. I know from experience that many folks as they advance in age just will absolutely refuse to acknowledge a limitation at all. Watching my mom age, a lady who ran large county wide departments of hundreds of personnel and extremely bright and fit, struggles with many everyday phy and mental things in life now, I see her flash that inner pride and need to be independent and capable. Anything we can do to help them means so much in their daily struggle to remain relevant and happy.

Good luck, hope it all works out!    

Thank you Stephen for your recommendation for the strong arm tool.  This is a great option for some of my senior community students.  You are right in pointing out there are students that  struggle, eventually quit and drop out of the class because they can't get pass manually centering a ball of clay.   Some of my past students have told me because of an  old injury to either their shoulder, elbow and/or wrist that centering aggravates these body parts, so they try but eventually drop the class.  I'll pass on the link to the other ceramic instructors and program supervisor to get their feedback and possibly purchase one or two strong arm tools for our studio.  Thanks again.

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As I read the initial post, I can understand your frustration.  I also caught myself hoping he wasn't still driving.

This is a challenging situation, especially considering how large your class is and the disproportionate needs of this student.  Is there any way to appeal to the administration to provide some additional classroom support (whether as a reasonable accommodation for this student or for preserving the experience of your class as a whole)?  If there are no $ for a paid classroom assistant, any way to bring in a volunteer with some pottery experience to help out?

You are to be admired for trying to create an acceptable situation for all of your students.  This may require you to let go of normal expectations of individual progress for  this student and come up with creative strategies that allow him to experience that week's lesson.  This could mean having an extra leatherhard piece for him to use when trimming, or some bisque pieces available for glazing.  What's the harm as long as he finds the class worthwhile and isn't overly disruptive?

Above all, remind yourself and encourage others to be kind (like the female student who gave him a bowl).  Sadly, these situations tend to take care of themselves as he will forget to sign up for the next class or become too disabled to participate.  

-SD

 

 

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