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Teaching A Beginning Throwing Class w/ Mixed Skill Levels

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I'm teaching a wheel throwing class, titled "Beginning Ceramics-Wheel" consisting of senior adults.  It's a "zero" unit class at a junior college and is repeatable open enrollment which means students can repeat the class over and over.  Because of the repeatable enrollment policy and only 16 Brent wheels (2 of the 16 have extended legs for standing) and 3 Aspire table top wheels, how would I kept everyone happy with a class of 25 and approximately there's about 13 brand new beginning students,  5second semester and 7 multiple semester, experienced (advanced skill level) students.  Over the years, I've had to divide the class into to groups.  The second semester and advanced/experienced students on the wheel would take a wheel first hour and the beginners scheduled for the second hour.  I would do a demo on what the experienced students should be throwing and after the demo would lecture on what is ceramics , clay, firing are all about.  This would be my schedule for the past years. and looking to change it up.  Anyone have any suggestions of changing how to approach a mixed experienced level throwing group of students?

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This sort of thing seems to rest on exactly how high you want to push the standards. Often when dealing with Seniors, it is about results. You have not mentioned anything about the curriculum, the hours for the class, how often it will meet, or the possibilities of open studio for non class practice.

I have worked a lot with Seniors and non degree adults in the Saturday morning classes I started teaching in the late 90's. I was a HS teacher with budgetary problems that I solved by teaching the Saturday Winter Cabin Buster class for adults within the district staff. That expanded to area adults wishing to get out for a 3 hr class in ceramics. . . mostly to have fun. However, being a teacher it was about teaching technique, aesthetics and studio processes. But above all about having fun. I started each class with a demonstration of either handbuilt or wheel throwing processes. On the wheel I taught that there were 3 basic forms: cylinder, bowl and plate from which all others were created. We covered wedging techniques, handbuilding with pinch pot, coil, slab and extrusion. Including handbuilding allowed for more use of the time, and allowed them to explore other methods of forming. The last week of regular class was all glazing, with the glazes mixed up, demo of dipping, pouring, and other techniques as question and need presented itself. The class only lasted 6 weeks, but people returned nearly every year for another 6 weeks. My budget supply problems were solved, and we were able to purchase more wheels until we had 6 in the room. I recently was in the ceramics classroom at that HS to help with the adult class that has about 8 to 14 adults and 6-8 HS students that serve as assistants and sometimes work on their own stuff. It is basically a guided open studio which is where it had evolved in my later years there. 

My point here is that in order to give more specific input we would need more information on the time frames, both in each day, week, and semester. It would also be helpful to know if you are interested in expanding the class to include some handbuilding or would only want to hold things to the wheel. I believe handbuilding opens up much more creativity and greater understanding of clay especially when dealing with combined forms of wheel thrown and handbuilt hybids,




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My opinion, grouping is the way to go*. Set those with some experience on "guided practice" tasks - things they can do mostly right without direct supervision - whilst you work with the beginners. My opinion, about twenty minutes is a good interval; set your beginners on guided practice and move to the next group. Repeat, repeat, where you are actively teaching most of the time, but not all the time, for there has to be some casual mixed in.

I've found twenty minutes is about right for everyone, kindergarten through graduate school. Change instructor led or assigned activity every twenty minutes or so.
Independant practice being the exception, of course, when the student is driving, they decide.

Some class sessions (assuming 120 minutes), you might have four groups you work with, leaving forty minutes for everyone activities.
You might have three, four, or more different activities happening at the same time.

Interesting that there's nineteen wheels and twenty-five students!
Several weeks into the semester, perhaps there's no one having to wait for a turn on a wheel?

Naturally, the beginners would require more guidance, still, nice to give each student some attention.

Mixed groups can be wonderful!
The experienced students can see where they once were, the beginners see where they might go...

Any road, I'd think the first session begins with clearly defined expectations of safety and clean-up, how work is evaluated and grades are assigned, and getting along stuff, like store your stuff responsibly, don't handle others' work, etc.
The more specific the objectives, the better, my opinion**.
However, as an Art class, there's un-measurables, which have to be ok.

Back to safety, I don't get how these things are assumed:
Always take your foot off and away from the pedal before standing up.
Shut the wheel off before stepping away, every time.
Never, ever, reach down past the wheel's edge into the pan whilst the wheel is moving, not ever.
Always set tools down such that the sharp bits aren't facing up.
How to (and how not to) work with sharp tools (including that metal rib!) such that they aren't driven into one's self or someone else.
Don't eat glaze.
Don't make dust inside.

*Planning the groupings, their activities, and the transitions can take time and effort.
It does take time and effort.
I coached swimming for over twenty years. My opinion, there should be something different happening in each lane, most of the time, where I'm working directly with a lane or two, most of the time, whilst the other lanes are doing "guided practice" - stuff they know how to do, mostly right, and don't need my direct supervision/teaching to do.
I needed detailed notes to plan: what each swimmer could repeat for each stroke and distance; what specific skills needed work for each swimmer, each stroke; what skills were fully mastered; what each swimmer liked best, et cetera.
The kids see that they are getting individualized programming, that there's something for Them every session; sometimes working on their favorite thing, sometimes working on their weakest skill. They can make the interval in their lane, and if not, they're moved to a better fit.
One doesn't get more attention because they are gifted. One gets attention because they show up and participate. The more you show up, the more attention you get.
I see most programs have the coach/coaches standing around on the deck while all their swimmers are doing the same thing! They aren't teaching, they're not engaged. The sets are typically designed for the star, and the rest hang on the best they can. There are "bad" habits repeated, over and over without intervention.

How I do go on!

**Specific! Wedge two pounds of clay such that the bubbles are squeezed out and the clay is homogenous enough to easily center in less than a minute (where the clay starts with bubbles in it and a bit dry on one side), for example.
Throw a uniform (top edge is uniform height within a millimeter, wall is uniform thickness within a millimeter) cylinder 200mm tall, 75mm wide, where the walls are five mm thick, for example...

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Thank you to Pres & Hulk,

Here's more specs of the class - the course description is focused to teach beginning throwing on the potter's wheel, meets 16 weeks a semester, once a week, for 2 hours & 50 minutes (subtract 20 minutes for clean up time),  19 wheels - 25 students, no open extra studio hours outside of class time (we use an off-site studio venue which has strict time liability policy).  I'm offered a contract to teach the class, with the specs., no say in scheduling hours and meeting times

Edited by scottiebie
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Sounds like to me that you would be able to work well with 3 groups(8,8,&9), using two groups on the wheel at a time in possibly 20 to 30 minutes including rough cleanup. Rotate the groups around so that everyone gets equal time in a session. Time off from session should be used for wedging, cleaning tools, and later for trimming using the wheels that are left over from the groups throwing. You should even set up a time maybe mid class for relative demonstrations on techniques learned, and problems you notice, chicken winging, hand positions when centering and pulling, trimming, handles etc., You should also make certain to have a cut off date for wet work, and glaze work in order to get everything fired by the last class date.

My beginners class required that we throw a 9" cylinder with 3# of clay. Not a difficult task, but one that required throwing skills well into the beginner level. Nothing was allowed to be kept until we had the cylinder completed!  I spent most of my summer semester throwing and scrapping even after the 9" cylinder, the las week of wet work I kept everything I threw, trimmed them and put handles on those that needed it . . . .9 pieces for the summer semester.




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My first throwing class we were only allowed to keep three pieces for grading purposes.   It was that way until I was in advance throwing,  mostly the class threw and cut.   We also had to mix clay,  help load kilns and clean.   All of the pottery classes were full and the department was overwhelmed with clay needing to be made and glazed pots sitting everywhere waiting to be fired.  Denice

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On 2/14/2023 at 8:09 PM, scottiebie said:

the course description is focused to teach beginning throwing on the potter's wheel

If it's a throwing class, why are they taking more students than wheels? The mixed levels is not a problem at all. Every class I've ever taken or taught  has been mixed levels. I think it's great, because the advanced students pass a lot of knowledge down to the beginners. But for the class to really work well you need everyone to have a wheel.

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On 2/14/2023 at 9:09 PM, scottiebie said:

19 wheels - 25 students

Well, clearly a schedule can be worked out, but to me, the whole thing about inadequate wheels is just wrong, wrong, wrong. However the college tries to justify cheating the students like that, and regardless of whether students are paying or getting credit. It's just plain wrong. I can't even fathom walking into a wheel-throwing class and students not having full access to a wheel--whether I was the student or the teacher!  Maybe it's time to make some noise!

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