This year is a year for change; one of those changes comes with the direction my ceramics unit. I have a previous post regarding how to successfully teach ceramics to 8th grade. This post gives you the how-to that I think is extremely beneficial when working with a majority of students who have absolutely no experience with clay. The first step is a reading I compile to help prepare the students for what will come; this is accompanied with a set of questions students will need to familiarize themselves with. The second step is a presentation involving an overview of ceramic history and an introduction to what they are going to be making. The third step involves planning out their ceramic projects and prior to giving them the clay, we walk through a demonstration together.
The last two years, I have let the kids experiment with slab, coil, and pinch pottery. Mostly because I was still developing my thoughts about which technique was most appropriate and honestly, it depended on the students. Because of my predecessor, students had the idea that I would be staying after school to not only complete their project, but help them copy logos and designs from other people and put them on pots larger than I’ve seen some college students. To each his own, but they quickly learned I would not be letting them get away with this. It was a challenge but by the end of my first year, most students didn’t even both asking me if I would do it and those that did would usually stumble by the end of the question. I am a firm believer in students learning; by the end of my 2nd year, it wasn’t but a distant memory most students chose to ignore because they were embracing their abilities. One problem I still ran into was the use of images students did not develop on their own. Their pots would always center around some common athletic team or concept they had seen before. It slowly drove me mad! I mean, understanding copyright is probably one of the most important things to include in your classroom and if you don’t touch on it now, you should.
Thus, I spent the summer researching different histories that would someway require that students use all three techniques within one project but not allow them to steal ideas – something they could create that was completely original. I fell across face jugs, or “ugly jugs”. I became fascinated and started connecting the cross curricular elements. Face jugs are connected to slavery in the 1800’s in which the vessels were created to hide liquids or scare away children and people getting too close. The faces had multiple expressions. 8th graders learn all about slavery in 8th grade and I thought it was a perfect connection to draw.
Without pottery wheels, the throw technique was out for students. But by getting creative and messing around, I gather that students could roll a slab out to cut a base from, roll coils to build the vessel up, and once it was a substantial height (with attention to time), students could add details using adapted pinch techniques. The first set of steps was finally completed today. They had done their reading, seen the historical presentation on Prezi, and walked through the demonstration with me. Student then had a chance to plan out some of their ideas. Only 1-2 students were aware that they weren’t going to be making what their brothers and sisters had with the previous teacher but most students were thrilled to come up with funky faces, ideas, and reason that their vessel was hiding or protecting something.
To help encourage their original ideas, students used a Ugly Jug Plan Sheet with prompts to sketch out ideas. Before I knew it students were coming up with off the wall ideas that I was thrilled about. These plan sheets are great because you can really talk to a student about realistic time constraints and what will work with the materials we have. It’s always helpful to remind students that their ideas can change but this helps us avoid having students get their clay and stare blankly with the constant mumble of “I have no idea what to do.”
The only thing standing between the students and their clay now is the Ceramics Quiz I give right after the weekend has passed. It’s not that I enjoy tests and quizzes (I hated them when I was a kid) but it’s important that the students are mentally prepared and reminded of all the important rules when working with these materials. If a student doesn’t succeed on the quiz, then I can meet with them and talk about what they are misunderstanding. I didn’t do this my first year and students always had questions. My second year, students had less questions and could typically answer them as soon as they asked them. Stay tuned for “part 2” of our 8th graders’ face jugs!