Ever hear a “boom” in the kiln? Or stress about the seams of a slab project pulling apart? Did a student forget to score that pig nose onto their piggy bank? Oh boy, what a unit. Ceramics can always be a frustrating experience in the classroom when it is at its’ introductory stages. If students have no history of use with clay, accidents are bound to happen. I am, of course, a little OCD and crazily organized. Because of this I have mastered how to work around those chaotic moments some of us find in teaching clay.
I’ll premise with stating that about 95% of my students have never worked with clay. Those that have are a small percentage of students who attended a private K-6 environment in town. Because of this, we really have to start at the beginning. I set aside about 15 school days to work with clay but only 2/3rds of that time is actually hand-building. The first few are spent learning various things regarding ceramics.
First, we begin with a reading and questions. This is something more typical of high school level art classes anymore but because I also spend my class times trying to prepare them for high school as well, I have tried to include things like this. It also helps me bring a reading and writing element into their course. The Reading Questions – Ceramics is a hybrid of what I learned in college and what I’ve read through various sources. I keep it straight forward – I’ve found that if I fluff the writing up too much, students miss the main points. The questions reflect the reading, in order, and ask the essential questions – what is clay? what are its’ uses? what techniques can you use with clay? how can you tell if clay is too dry or moist? what is a kiln? There, of course, are more questions but you can click the above link to find out more.
I have found this reading to be helpful in the next few days because students have a general idea of what is going on and can be prompted during other stages to supply the necessary information. When students return we walk through a Ceramics Powerpoint that covers the basic history of ceramics, an outline of techniques and steps, as well as examples of previous student projects that show creativity and basic requirements.
I then have a demonstration of all the techniques, the concept of scoring and slipping, wrapping the clay up, wedging…the basics yet also the information that is important to keep in mind otherwise there can be disastrous consequences in the kiln. The demonstration does not continue without instruction from students. They must walk me through each process (with prompting) so that I know they understand. Then comes the Quiz…and boy do 8th grade art students struggle with this concept but the once the quiz they begins they realize that it’s not to challenge them but to review the information that will be needed when they are working. Concepts of everything needed to work with clay is included. Rarely does anyone get less than a 90% score after the first attempt. I allow oral 2nd Chances to discuss on a deeper level “why” certain things must be remembered.
Getting the clay and beginning their work comes next…and I promise that if you take the necessary steps to ensure they know what they are doing…this part is a breeze! I truly get to work with the students who need 1:1 attention and help push the students’ creativity because they aren’t constantly asking what they have to do or remember. The first few days involve a few reminders but by the end of the third day in hand-building, I’m pushing creativity and craftsmanship – not stressing about air bubbles, seams, or anything like that. Since I began implementing this routine, I have had no kiln accidents and I’ve fired my kiln at least 25 times since. A couple cracks from students being reckless during the bone-dry stage, but no “booms”.
I can assure you, it would be impossible to be *this* extensive with some younger levels but this presents a perfect mix of expectations at my level and preparation for higher levels.