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Jessica Knapp

Teaching Ceramics to Adults

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The July/August 2012 issue of Pottery Making Illustrated includes an Instructors File article by Claire O'Connor on classroom strategies that work when teaching ceramics to adult students (post college). We want to extend the conversation beyond the magazine, so, if you're a teacher who works with adults, or you're an adult who is taking ceramics classes, please share your ideas on what has worked best for you when teaching/ learning about techniques, aesthetics, and how to convey your ideas in clay by posting them in this thread.

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I have two rules for my classes:

 

1. Be a good citizen of the studio. Read and follow all of the studio guidelines. They all exist for a reason.

 

2. Learn pottery at your own pace. Never compare yourself to another potter. Everyone here is at a different point along this road, and traveling at a different speed. It is not a race.

 

 

They know I expect them to be considerate towards each other, and not to be competitive with each other, and this creates a very supportive environment.

 

Mea

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I'm 46 and I'm currently in my second throwing class called "Learning to Throw" at Dunedin Fine Art Center (FL). As a student, I would appreciate more structure in the classes. It seems to be an anything goes as far as what you build or how you build it. I would appreciate more focus to get the skills needed and allowing creativity IN that process. It seems the creativity comes first and the skills may or may not follow. My issue is that the skills are needed in order to allow the creativity to really flow and be fully realized.

 

For example, I would like to focus a couple of sessions on just cups, then plates or bowls, etc. Demos of the tools used, amount of clay, pitfalls, etc. for each shape followed by supervised practive time for that shape. Everyone is working on different items in the class which means the instructor has zero focus and structure... I feel more that I'm paying for wheel rental with an occasional two second assist rather than a "class" that will give me a solid foundation for different shapes, tools and styles. I don't necessarily know the questions to ask and therefore without structure, am missing a lot of foundation information.

 

Just my opinion.....

 

 

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Scooby it sounds like you are ready for some college classes that are more structured, if you decide to go check into the program first and make sure it's what you want. The first throwing class I took you threw what the teacher wanted and then he would walk around and cut everything in half so you could see how you were doing and you could only glaze three small pieces for the semester. More advanced classes would have you work on platters and them move on to teapots ect. One throwing class we were given a picture of a piece, it's height and raw clay weight and you were to bring your best copy to the next class and it was recommended that you throw 15 to get a good selection. I hope this info helps. Denice

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I went "back" to college two years ago at the age of 43. Ceramics had always sounded fun to me, so I took a class and now I am HOOKED! My community college has an outstanding studio with a great teacher. I just finished my degree (which is NOT in Art) and my second Ceramics class and I missed it so much that I bought a wheel and a kiln.

 

My instructor used different teaching styles when dealing with different students. For us "older" folks, he was patient and less strict about our work, allowing us a little more freedom from the parameters of particular assignments if we asked for it. When I asked a question, he would give me as much or as little information on the topic as I wanted. He geared his teaching toward our individual goals. For example, he spent three weeks walking me through creating my own glaze. Now I know for a fact that he knew exactly the right recipe for the color that I wanted, but instead of just giving it to me, he helped me figure it out on my own through trail and error.

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It's all about the quality of the instructor.

 

Your experience mirrors ours, scoobie. We were just turned loose on the wheel and then given tips as we went along. I was fortunate that I (was told) have a knack for the wheel and was able to catch on fairly quickly...but other folks in the class struggled quite a bit with the lack of true direction and scant guidance given.

 

good luck...and have fun.

 

teardrop

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Scooby it sounds like you are ready for some college classes that are more structured, if you decide to go check into the program first and make sure it's what you want. The first throwing class I took you threw what the teacher wanted and then he would walk around and cut everything in half so you could see how you were doing and you could only glaze three small pieces for the semester. More advanced classes would have you work on platters and them move on to teapots ect. One throwing class we were given a picture of a piece, it's height and raw clay weight and you were to bring your best copy to the next class and it was recommended that you throw 15 to get a good selection. I hope this info helps. Denice

 

 

 

Denice, that sounds EXACTLY what I'm looking for! Will check into the local colleges for the fall term and hopefully find something better suited to my needs. :D

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I found a planter that I just love the shape of and I'm going to ask the instructor to walk/teach me thru throwing that particular shape. I'm hoping that if I ask, the instruction will be better. Wish me luck and I'm having fun, regardless. Who can't have fun mucking about in mud? LOL! :D

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The July/August 2012 issue of Pottery Making Illustrated includes an Instructors File article by Claire O'Connor on classroom strategies that work when teaching ceramics to adult students (post college). We want to extend the conversation beyond the magazine, so, if you're a teacher who works with adults, or you're an adult who is taking ceramics classes, please share your ideas on what has worked best for you when teaching/ learning about techniques, aesthetics, and how to convey your ideas in clay by posting them in this thread.

 

 

I used to run a Ceramics for Adults on Saturdays in the months of January and February. This really was not a class in that I did not have a series of set lessons. I would always start the first day with a 5X7 questionnaire card, asking basic contact info, experience levels, followed by questions about what they wanted to accomplish or do in the class. This always followed an introduction to the studio and equipment that included slab rollers, extruders, potters wheels, banding wheels etc. The first session I also introduced/demonstrated throwing a cylinder on the wheel. Following sessions would include construction with slabs, extrusion, and other coils where the demonstrations would include pieces they had mentioned in their questionnaires. The last session (6th) would be on glazing and they would glaze their pieces for glaze firings. They requested in the last years an extra day where they could see everyone's finished work. This class worked out very well, but in the end I guess you could call it an open studio. It earned enough money to help keep up equipment and add 4 wheels to the mix along with an extra extruder and several other pieces of furniture and tools.

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Learned tons last night at throwing class. A few others also had specific questions, so we had lots of demonstrations. Learned how to make a rolled rim and also about using sodium silicate and underglaze to create a "crackled" thrown piece. Such great info last night and a great evening! Now I just have to practice, practice, practice! biggrin.gif

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Learned tons last night at throwing class. A few others also had specific questions, so we had lots of demonstrations. Learned how to make a rolled rim and also about using sodium silicate and underglaze to create a "crackled" thrown piece. Such great info last night and a great evening! Now I just have to practice, practice, practice! biggrin.gif

 

 

Dear All,

 

When I started taking classes we began with the pinch pot and progressed to trying slabs and the wheel. After many classes I found I just like the open studio format. I liked to experiment on my own to see what the clay could do on my own in those three hours. I think adults will tell you what they need from the instructor. Most classes I have taken have had some demonstration time included. It was up to the student to decide if they wanted to try this or just continue with their own little projects. For me, I like the open studio concept. But this of course was after taking many instruction based classes and familiarity with the materials and technique of clay working (i.e., how to join seams, slipping and scoring, not making totally solid forms, proper glaze application, coiling near places of vulnerability, avoiding too much water on the form etc.). One class I really liked included an opportunity to try a variety of clays including stoneware, porcelain, and terra cotta. This provided great variety and an opportunity to really get to see how different clays do different things.

 

Nelly

 

Nelly

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Learned tons last night at throwing class. A few others also had specific questions, so we had lots of demonstrations. Learned how to make a rolled rim and also about using sodium silicate and underglaze to create a "crackled" thrown piece. Such great info last night and a great evening! Now I just have to practice, practice, practice! biggrin.gif

 

 

Dear All,

 

When I started taking classes we began with the pinch pot and progressed to trying slabs and the wheel. After many classes I found I just like the open studio format. I liked to experiment on my own to see what the clay could do on my own in those three hours. I think adults will tell you what they need from the instructor. Most classes I have taken have had some demonstration time included. It was up to the student to decide if they wanted to try this or just continue with their own little projects. For me, I like the open studio concept. But this of course was after taking many instruction based classes and familiarity with the materials and technique of clay working (i.e., how to join seams, slipping and scoring, not making totally solid forms, proper glaze application, coiling near places of vulnerability, avoiding too much water on the form etc.). One class I really liked included an opportunity to try a variety of clays including stoneware, porcelain, and terra cotta. This provided great variety and an opportunity to really get to see how different clays do different things.

 

Nelly

 

Nelly

 

 

That happens with a lot of people. When I first started the Adult class I did extensive demonstrations, and everyone enjoyed them, but often I would have folks that had taken the class before, so my demonstrations changed in content and length. Some Saturdays I did not demo, just let them work, and if someone wanted something different would call a mini demo by telling the group what we were doing and inviting them to stay if interested. We went through so many different throwing techniques, and handbuilding projects over the years it is impossible to remember them all!

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I have taught pottery for almost 5 years now at a local art center. Hand-building and wheel throwingI started teaching when I was 23 so the adult classes were always intimidating. It didn't help that I look(ed) much younger laugh.gif

So when structuring the class and writing up the syllabus I created the class that I would have wanted when first began. Our terms are broken up into 10 week sessions (2 hrs once a week) so like many of the other responses here I asked what the students goals were the first day and always adjust accordingly.

 

 

90% of the time the first 2 weeks I cover basic techniques - wedging, scoring, pinch pots, slabs, coils, etc and do wheel demos.

I (try) to incorporate as many techniques into 2 or 3 loosely structured projects to let students understand what clay allows and what it doesn't - this also helps get the ball rolling

one of my favorite projects is a "monster pot" that starts as a pinch pot and uses coils/slabs/slip trailing.

 

 

After that I have the students bring in drawings or picture cutout of things they are interested in and build from there

- I do the same thing as Pres and when showing a technique let everyone know so if they are interested they can watch.

 

 

I keep a binder of projects (some are actual tutorials/instructions most are pictures of pottery) for students to browse if they are uninspired or want to try something different.

 

Most of my student have had little experience with clay and I encourage the hell out of them.

Some want tangible objects to take home while others are fine with only learning the process. I encourage quality over quantity but allow the student standards to dictate this (this is the hardest to stick with since I am a throw it out person)

 

When I have more experienced potters I like to push them and often give them homework - look this or that artist/technique up and give much more extensive critiques.

 

I encourage all my students to watch me load the kiln and give them a taste the non building aspect of ceramics as well.

My husband recently built me a stovepipe barrel kiln so i am sure my students will be over at my house soon learning with me about that!

 

The classes are never more than 6 students so I have the luxury of adjusting to the students.

 

 

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I only just began pottery a year ago. A friend and I, both total beginners who had never used clay before, decided to take a class at a local school.

 

I have a BA in graphic design but took numerous studio classes in many different areas of art - a requirement in my college before even getting on a computer. My friend had only taken one college level studio class before.

 

I loved the more "open studio" feel of the class. Just getting the clay into my hands had me excited. Knowing that it was more a open studio class, I ran home to do my own research. The next week of class I had billion questions for my teacher. She patiently answered all my questions, gave me some pointers once I told her what I wanted to accomplish, and then left me to it. It became self appointed homework every week to do research as to what I wanted to try to do the next week. Then I would go in, ask questions, and try it out.

 

I really love that kind of class structure. I love being left alone to make my own mistakes. I feel like I learned more that way. If I have a question or just want general information I know to be pro-active and just ask. I look at the year I've spent with clay, and I feel all the more accomplished having had bumbled my way through 'on my own.' Maybe in the future I'd like to take a more structured class, but for now I like that my love affair with clay is one where I'm 100% in the driver's seat. My teacher is awesome and her knowledge is expansive, but I like that she's "hands off" until I ask.

 

That being said, my friend HATED the class. She was waiting for the 'demonstrations with assigned projects' type of class. Once the class was over, she dropped it and has put clay on her "not for me list."

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I only just began pottery a year ago. A friend and I, both total beginners who had never used clay before, decided to take a class at a local school.

 

I have a BA in graphic design but took numerous studio classes in many different areas of art - a requirement in my college before even getting on a computer. My friend had only taken one college level studio class before.

 

I loved the more "open studio" feel of the class. Just getting the clay into my hands had me excited. Knowing that it was more a open studio class, I ran home to do my own research. The next week of class I had billion questions for my teacher. She patiently answered all my questions, gave me some pointers once I told her what I wanted to accomplish, and then left me to it. It became self appointed homework every week to do research as to what I wanted to try to do the next week. Then I would go in, ask questions, and try it out.

 

I really love that kind of class structure. I love being left alone to make my own mistakes. I feel like I learned more that way. If I have a question or just want general information I know to be pro-active and just ask. I look at the year I've spent with clay, and I feel all the more accomplished having had bumbled my way through 'on my own.' Maybe in the future I'd like to take a more structured class, but for now I like that my love affair with clay is one where I'm 100% in the driver's seat. My teacher is awesome and her knowledge is expansive, but I like that she's "hands off" until I ask.

 

That being said, my friend HATED the class. She was waiting for the 'demonstrations with assigned projects' type of class. Once the class was over, she dropped it and has put clay on her "not for me list."

 

 

Most self motivated adults will opt for the open studio format, it helps if they have some craft or art background for a sense of design. So many times in grade school and HS the motivation falls on the teacher, and much of today's electronic fuzz make them more difficult to focus on a demonstration. The use of smart boards with multiple presentation formats at hand of the teacher does help. However, in a classroom whether 1-12 or adult, a good teacher with a strong background in the media is going to do the most good, and only this type of teacher can run an open studio with success. Bless yourself for having the type of teacher that can handle your questions and let you thirst for more. Teaching adults left me feeling drained-drained of my ideas, my knowledge, skills and techniques, what a wonderful feeling to go to bed with every night-made for a great nights sleep.

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Hi, this is my first post so please bear with me...

 

I have been asked to run a one-day workshop and a 4 wk x 2.5hrs short course as introductions to pottery / ceramics. My initial reaction (apart from running) is to introduce the 3 main methods of construction (pinch, coil and slab) and have resist options, stamps, cutting tools etc to hand - along with primary colour underglazes and one or two slips.

 

As I am forever experimenting and pushing my boundaries - I'm got to reign it back here as the time is so short and I'm to supply materials and firings.

 

I will fire and clear glaze pieces where necessary but I am looking at ways - like burnishing, where the clay can speak for itself.

 

I am wondering whether anyone could offer a word of advice for handling such courses...

 

I really like the posts here and feel this is just the tip of the iceberg!

 

Anna

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Hi, this is my first post so please bear with me...

 

I have been asked to run a one-day workshop and a 4 wk x 2.5hrs short course as introductions to pottery / ceramics. My initial reaction (apart from running) is to introduce the 3 main methods of construction (pinch, coil and slab) and have resist options, stamps, cutting tools etc to hand - along with primary colour underglazes and one or two slips.

 

As I am forever experimenting and pushing my boundaries - I'm got to reign it back here as the time is so short and I'm to supply materials and firings.

 

I will fire and clear glaze pieces where necessary but I am looking at ways - like burnishing, where the clay can speak for itself.

 

I am wondering whether anyone could offer a word of advice for handling such courses...

 

I really like the posts here and feel this is just the tip of the iceberg!

 

Anna

 

 

Assuming that you are going to work with adults, Anna, I would not cut the possibilities too short. In my experience with adults-they want to suck you dry. They like to have a lot of options, like to learn as much as they can, and usually are not afraid to ask. Have stamping and texturing tools handy, wooden ribs to use for pattern and texture, discuss what happens to glaze over texture, and the use of oxides to enhance texture. Talk about the use of resist materials on bare clay, and on fired clay before glazing. Give them options to choose from. Working with the 3 you have listed will be fine for the intro course, but you can discuss other forms of construction for their enrichment.

 

Good luck-have lots of fun!

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In China, schools open classes for ceramic major, we have throwing lesson, mold making lesson, painting lesson, ceramic history lesson, 3d max lesson, photoshop lesson etc.. And other techniques that they didn't teach us depends our self-study and practising.

 

From my point of view, you can divide class in several parts: throwing part, carving, painting, glazing, firing..etc. But including demonstrating part, after each part, you leave some time for they to practise and create, and after the whole process is done, you let them to put their works in the kiln and learning firing at the same time. :)

 

 

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I wrote the article cited above (Teaching Pottery To Adults) for Pottery Making Illustrated and am happy to see that so many responded with their own experiences, and observations on being a student or instructor. Unfortunately, DUH, though I was aware there would be a discussion offered on the website and forum, I only checked once during the beginning and then completely forgot until today. I really enjoyed the many posts. I especially relished observations of students and their many and varied responses. It is so clear from their posts (and sorry I am patting myself on the back right now) that my point in the article is confirmed. Teachers have to have strong skills but equally important is the ability and willingness to learn from the students. They are the experts on their their particular inclinations, and the unique experiences that shape their pottery progress. I can see from the many posts that there is a lot of that happening in many of the situations described in the many posts. As many of you know (and this is also cited in the posts) there is no one prescription for all situations. Good techniques in one situation won't work at all in another or when used by another person.

For this reason, I like to ask questions than to give answers.

Thanks for all your responses. Great stuff.

Claire O'Connor

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I wrote the article cited above (Teaching Pottery To Adults) for Pottery Making Illustrated and am happy to see that so many responded with their own experiences, and observations on being a student or instructor. Unfortunately, DUH, though I was aware there would be a discussion offered on the website and forum, I only checked once during the beginning and then completely forgot until today. I really enjoyed the many posts. I especially relished observations of students and their many and varied responses. It is so clear from their posts (and sorry I am patting myself on the back right now) that my point in the article is confirmed. Teachers have to have strong skills but equally important is the ability and willingness to learn from the students. They are the experts on their their particular inclinations, and the unique experiences that shape their pottery progress. I can see from the many posts that there is a lot of that happening in many of the situations described in the many posts. As many of you know (and this is also cited in the posts) there is no one prescription for all situations. Good techniques in one situation won't work at all in another or when used by another person.

For this reason, I like to ask questions than to give answers.

Thanks for all your responses. Great stuff.

Claire O'Connor

 

 

A good teacher, trained as one or not, is one who constantly seeks knowledge and solutions to the problems of their students. If the knowledge or the solutions come from the student, bravo. Often with adults this happens, as they know where they want to go or what they want to make and have researched in that direction. Now putting that knowledge together with skills, that is often the place of a teacher well grounded in the medium.

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Can anyone speak to the difference when giving private lessons?

 

I have been giving private classes (an hour and a half) once a week for quite a few weeks now (for adults). My teaching experience is minimal, as I had one other student for a few weeks (who was keen and enthusiastic), and now this student for several weeks. As she is the only student, and paying more for private classes, I try to let her lead the direction of the class. I know my throwing, and other techniques, so I thought it would be great. But her attitude is defeatist, and her patience is... low. She points to my own work in the studio and says that she wants to make that. Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but I'm having a hard time getting her to think for herself. And unfortunately, I can't hide everything I've ever made in the studio.

 

Any suggestions for building her confidence in this environment? I think her self-esteem is very low, and I feel a little bit more like a psychologist than a pottery teacher, at the end of the class! I think she might benefit from a little more structured teacher-student relationship, but I find this hard to maintain in a one-on-one situation. Any advice would be appreciated!

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Can anyone speak to the difference when giving private lessons?

 

I have been giving private classes (an hour and a half) once a week for quite a few weeks now (for adults). My teaching experience is minimal, as I had one other student for a few weeks (who was keen and enthusiastic), and now this student for several weeks. As she is the only student, and paying more for private classes, I try to let her lead the direction of the class. I know my throwing, and other techniques, so I thought it would be great. But her attitude is defeatist, and her patience is... low. She points to my own work in the studio and says that she wants to make that. Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but I'm having a hard time getting her to think for herself. And unfortunately, I can't hide everything I've ever made in the studio.

 

Any suggestions for building her confidence in this environment? I think her self-esteem is very low, and I feel a little bit more like a psychologist than a pottery teacher, at the end of the class! I think she might benefit from a little more structured teacher-student relationship, but I find this hard to maintain in a one-on-one situation. Any advice would be appreciated!

 

 

You say she's been your student for several weeks but that's only several hours of class time if you only meet 1.5 hrs/week. She has just enough time to forget most of what she has learned by the next class. Copying is one way people learn. Since you don't have any pictures in your profile gallery, I don't know if your pots are worth copying or not, but there is nothing wrong with a beginning potter copying other potters. If she is intelligent and creative she will only use that as a way to grow and find her own way with clay. If she's not then who cares? Surely you aren't worried about people mistaking her pots for yours! Look at the stuff that comes out of Steven Hill workshops. Almost everyone tries to make Steven Hill pots. I assume he doesn't discourage it. After all, they are there to learn his techniques--not only throwing but using slip, spraying his glazes, and once-firing. But, no one who knows anything about pottery would ever mistake anything that comes out of those workshops for a Steven Hill pot.

 

Jim

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Can anyone speak to the difference when giving private lessons?

 

I have been giving private classes (an hour and a half) once a week for quite a few weeks now (for adults). My teaching experience is minimal, as I had one other student for a few weeks (who was keen and enthusiastic), and now this student for several weeks. As she is the only student, and paying more for private classes, I try to let her lead the direction of the class. I know my throwing, and other techniques, so I thought it would be great. But her attitude is defeatist, and her patience is... low. She points to my own work in the studio and says that she wants to make that. Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but I'm having a hard time getting her to think for herself. And unfortunately, I can't hide everything I've ever made in the studio.

 

Any suggestions for building her confidence in this environment? I think her self-esteem is very low, and I feel a little bit more like a psychologist than a pottery teacher, at the end of the class! I think she might benefit from a little more structured teacher-student relationship, but I find this hard to maintain in a one-on-one situation. Any advice would be appreciated!

 

 

You say she's been your student for several weeks but that's only several hours of class time if you only meet 1.5 hrs/week. She has just enough time to forget most of what she has learned by the next class. Copying is one way people learn. Since you don't have any pictures in your profile gallery, I don't know if your pots are worth copying or not, but there is nothing wrong with a beginning potter copying other potters. If she is intelligent and creative she will only use that as a way to grow and find her own way with clay. If she's not then who cares? Surely you aren't worried about people mistaking her pots for yours! Look at the stuff that comes out of Steven Hill workshops. Almost everyone tries to make Steven Hill pots. I assume he doesn't discourage it. After all, they are there to learn his techniques--not only throwing but using slip, spraying his glazes, and once-firing. But, no one who knows anything about pottery would ever mistake anything that comes out of those workshops for a Steven Hill pot.

 

Jim

 

 

 

Perhaps I didn't explain myself very well. I'm not worried about her copying my work. I was hoping for suggestions on how to boost her confidence when her current skill-set doesn't allow her to make the things that she wants. Because there are no other students in the class, she doesn't get to see that everyone struggles at the start, that it takes tons and tons of practice, and I think she feels discouraged. I wondered if other teachers found a difference in a one-on-one teaching environment, because the student has only the teacher to compare themselves to (despite how many times you remind them that you've been doing it for years). And if this might affect your teaching style, or the type of projects that you did with the student.

 

 

But I think I've figured a few things out, just discussing it "out loud." Thanks.

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My first pottery class, at a local college, was terrible. The class I'm taking now is so much better. In the first class the teacher offered very little instruction and minimal demonstrations. The class I'm taking now, beginning throwing, the teacher has a set schedule. Starts with cylinders, next bowls, etc.. She does several demos in each class. She also repeats, repeats, repeats instructions. The class is all adult, many older. I for one need the repeated instructions. My throwing has improved immensely after just the first two classes. She also allows room for experimentation and creativity. But this is a teacher who can teach good basics. Others in the class must like her. Most of the students are repeats.

 

-chantay

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Happypots;

You have to make the class more structured. As the previous poster said, start with cylinders, then bowls etc. You don't mention whether this is a handbuilding class, or a throwing class.I always started my clay classes out with the basics-coil, pinch, slab. Then, if she gets frustrated on the wheel, she can go back to building by hand. Learning to throw is difficult, as you know. You make a good point about her being the only one in the class, so she doesn't see that others would feel just as frustrated.She cannot make your work until she learns the basics. Hang in there.

TJR.

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