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Engaging Long-Term Students?


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Hello all

 

My first post here and wondered if anyone has any advice. I began teaching ceramics at a local community art school class 6 months ago. 95% of my students have been coming for 7 plus years. During the last 6 months I have taught them many techniques, but uptake on these techniques ranges from 5 to 50%. The educational trust would like us to challenge the class more and turn it into a more progressive class, rather than club. I am quite new to teaching and wondered if anyone has any ideas on how to shake the classes up? They all work on their own projects and I circulate the class, and every 2/3 weeks introduce a new technique (so far - resist work, working with coloured slips, sgraffito, sprigging, use of oxides, underglazes, head and shoulders, female form, textures...). My feeling is I can't force the students to do something they don't want to do, as they pay for their classes. Does anyone have any advice on this situation or styles of teaching that would engage them more. I love teaching, but feel that I am at odds with what the school wants and what the students want. Can I do more? Many thanks

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I started out taking classes at a community art center run by the county, then taught classes at a private pottery center.  Regardless of how a class was advertised, beginning wheel, advanced wheel, etc., people signed up for classes when it was convenient and fit their schedule, or they liked a particular instructor.  My learning classes were about 60% repeat/40% new students.  Repeat students tended to work on their own -- basically, the rec center was their pottery studio.  Same as an instructor, many signed up to have access to the facility and a course was the most convenient way to get access.  Sometimes we learned new projects, oftentimes I helped them through their own projects. 

 

Changing the current class risks losing the core of students who will sign up to have studio access and who are not necessarily looking for weekly instruction.  Replacing that class with something new runs the risk of losing that income stream to the foundation.  Two options would be to offer a class at a different time that is structured more like the foundation wants but keep the current class to hold on to those who need that type of arrangement.  My guess is, over time, the new class will morph into the same routine as the current one.  The other option is to offer workshops or short sessions that focus on a technique, etc. 

 

This is really not up to you.  It is up to the foundation/school.

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this sounds like the typical kind of "classes" just as bruce has explained above.  you might have more success trying to convince the management that you are not a degree granting institution but more of a convenient source of artistic and or social gratification for the public.  not everyone wants to meet possible new friends at a local bar.   today's busy lives are so compartmentalized that there is hardly any place people can get together safely and share a common interest.

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I agree with the above posts ... but this comfortable niche group might also enjoy the possibility that the new teacher can shake things up a bit.

I would not interfere during every class, but there might be some excitement to an 'anything can happen' class every couple weeks. Challenge them to spend the first half hour of this class watching you demo a new technique then adapt it somehow in their work. Make a point of showing interest in those who do try and others might take up the challenge. This could also make the class a lot more fun for you.

If it falls flat let it go and ask your superiors if they want the income or the theory.

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Thanks all, you seem to echo my thoughts on the subject. I enjoy giving demonstrations, but a very small percentage use these in their work. Maybe it's a trickle effect, and their time will come. I think I will put together a questionnaire for the students and try and identify who wants to be 'progressive' and who are happy using the studio as a platform for their own work. That way I can plan accordingly to my audience. Thanks again for your comments.

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All you can do is expose them to different techniques. Its up to them when and how to use them.

When I was a student  in collageI was exposed to many ceramic techniques and over time I have used many but it took years.

Its like dictionary of experience that I draw on when needed.

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I think assignments with somewhat loose requirements work well. Specifically, a minimum height requirement gets students away from making little things. If you have critiques when the assignment is due, they will be done in some fashion. A starting point is a set of three related pieces with one more than 8" tall. Your role as a teacher is to have students make something they didn't know they could make themselves.

 

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I didn't (and really couldn't) start practicing some of the advanced things until a year or two after finishing classes. Also people are afraid of messing up in a group environment. This is the heart of the reason new things aren't tried. Making mistakes and pushing your own work too far (failing) while demonstrating can be good.

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My teaching experience was at the collegiate level to credit seeking students. Since it was primarily an elective, students took the class because they wanted to, not as the result of some requirements. The students, in persuit of a grade, completed projects and met requirements tossed at them.

 

I have been involved and observed many non-credit, community based pottery programs, too, and completely agree, they are a different animal. The vast majority of those in the classes were repeaters returning year after year to use the facilities as their studio, with much of the overhead and prep work (glazes, clay, firing) left to others. The financial expenses are underwritten to a great extent by the foundation or center offering the course making it very cost effective if one is willing to put up with working in this group environment. (Another post some day).

 

New members might come to each session, but seemed to struggle unless they had previous experience or could grab the instructors attention. Typically there would be a demo and new students would attempt repeating it, while the others in he class may or may not even watch, only to return to their work.

 

Bring in a "Presenter" or hold a "Workshop" and these same students sign up and sit with pen in hand taking notes, photographing the workshop, asking questions even if it is just to show they know something. If a new tool is demonstrated by the visiting artist, you can be sure they will be buying them, too. This is the mindset you need to capture. Let them know that next week you'll be showing them this or that. Make it sound exciting. Hopefully they will look forward to it or even suggest some things they would like to be shown. Surveying the group is a great idea.

 

Perhaps, being new will allow you to instill curiosity in the students with talent and curiosity. I think Marc C summed it up pretty well when he described providing the dictionary of experiences from which one might draw on when needed. I think that is the reason I enjoy reading this forum, as well.

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I don't have much experience with this, but maybe you could ask each student to set forth in writing some goals for the course which including trying something new, pushing their skills, stepping out of comfort zone. Our studio has a class on pushing your limits which includes throwing bigger, faster, unfamiliar shapes or whatever.  Then have follow up on how its worked out.  gl rakuku

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I'm not an educator but reading this from the POV of someone in the clsss I think these are all such good suggestions.

 

My first exposure to clay was working with a friend in her studio. She was about 18 months in herself so she had plenty to teach me but we learned together too. That experience has been so valuable to me.

 

I agree about allowing them to see failure. I learned so much from her failed glazes exploded pots and experiments gone wrong! Try something new yourself and let them help YOU figure it out if it goes wrong. Lol

 

What if you allowed the students to choose from a list of techniques for their favorite and take turns assisting you in a workshop on that technique?

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I can't tell where you are but I would like to add to all the above suggestions. What type of kilns do you have. Could you offer some kiln building or pit firing opportunities. Is your foundation wealthy enough to fund building a new kiln?

Are you near places like Red Lodge or Archie Bray or Port Chester, the Work House in Va., Paducah, KY, or a University with a Grad. program where there are many people who could come visit and offer a slide show or demo.Are you near museums with collection? I think more exposure beyond the class room and discussion as a group might expand ideas.Or send them on an internet search for historic developments in clay. Push them out of their comfort zone gently, but try to arouse their curiosity beyond their immediate base.

I had a catalog in my classroom of unique cooking utensils from around the world including many types pots. Challenge them to create something in a type of communal event..like a pot luck with the pot.

 

 

Marcia

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If I were closer to Asheville, this is the type of course as a long-time potter I would love to take:

 

http://ncclayclub.blogspot.com/2016/02/masters-of-mountains-series-at-odyssey.html

 

Maybe ask some of the long-time potters in your class if they would like to present a lesson/technique to the class - - maybe every other week feature someone. 

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Wow, thanks so much for all of your input. I have been thinking and reading the above to try and create a formula that will engage and encourage. It goes a little like this:

 

1. I have put a questionnaire together, with a section of skills/techniques they would like to learn/expand on. I will take these suggestions and make a program for each term, which is tapping into new skills (2 techniques per term).

2. One class of every term (10 week classes), I will set a ceramic lesson, that I would like everyone to participate in. It's emphasis on stretching the clay's possibilities and pushing idea boundaries, and leaving that 'preciousness' that some students have behind. And as said above being open to failure, as 'failure' can open whole new ideas and possibilities.

3. Ask students to bring in a curiosity/picture/vessel that could provide inspiration for the class.  

4. Once a term ask all students to bring in an image, colour or sketch to create a 'mood board' which the class could draw inspiration from. A lot of students are a little adverse to sketchbooks/notebooks. So I hope this will make them see the benefit of collating ideas.

 

That's as far as I have got, but would appreciate your thoughts on that as a raw basis for a term's work. Again many thanks

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I'm a member and sometime instructor at a community based studio that offers classes and memberships. Most of our classes are typical wheel throwing or hand building, with a combination of beginners and advanced students, but recently we have been offering new classes to keep our members and students interested and excited. We asked them what kinds of classes they'd like to see. For example, we recently offered Throwing Bigger, and we have offered classes that specialized in glazing techniques. Next quarter there will be a class to introduce surface decorating techniques to our beginning and intermediate students.

The plan will be to cover a specific technique each week and have the students work on a specific project. (The class will cover and practice things like underglaze painting, resists, sgraffito, sprigging, stamps, slip trailing, etc. So, for example, students will be asked to bring a piece of leather hard greenware one week and will learn sgraffito techniques. They can complete a project or just practice the technique on a slab. One week they will learn chattering and each person will practice this on a piece of theirs. It's a lot more structured than most classes, but the descriptiion and syllabus are clear, so I assume that only those who like working this way will sign up.

Way on the other side of the spectrum, we have a class which no longer even has an instructor. It started out as a class for a group of friends, and each person worked on whatever they wanted to work on, with minimal help from an instructor. After awhile it became obvious that this class is more of an open studio time and social time and the class was changed to reflect the needs of the group and the instructor was dropped.

So, I guess my advice is to offer a range of classes. I think your questionnaire is a good idea. You might also consider feedback sheets at the end of each term so that you learn what the students liked and didn't like about the class.

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