Tuesday, October 06, 2009

witness to learning

My 10th, 11th and 12 grade students are working with some spalted maple boards that I supplied for them to make furniture. I give a demonstration of a furniture making technique. They go after their boards with enthusiasm. They may or may not end up with anything notable from their efforts. Usually at the senior high level, woodworking students would work from plans and preset materials lists. In this case, they are learning from their own efforts. Plans are adjusted as reality sets in. Bradley wanted to turn a part on the lathe, and Meghan had drawn a sketch of a dog on her board and wondered if she could carve. So Luke inspired by Bradley and Asia inspired by Meghan also began turning and carving.

In the class I witness a variety of things going on. One fits a Dewey term, "flexible purposing" which Elliot Eisner describes thus: "... flexible purposing pertains to the improvisational side of intelligences as it is employed in the arts. The intelligence I speak of its the ability to shift direction, even to redefine one's aims when better options emerge in the course of one's work."

Another thing I've observed is the kids are learning from their own direct experience, but also learning from each other. That sets up a dynamic in which they encourage each other's experimentation and growth.

I am intrigued by another of Elliot Eisner's observations particularly because it aligns with observations by Otto Salomon and early sloyd practitioners.
"... learning is seldom significant when it is limited to a onetime affair. The teacher who gives students clay one week, watercolors the next, wire for sculpture the third week, and linoleum printmaking the next, all in the name of providing a rich art curriculum, does those students no favor. What are needed are sequential opportunities to work on problems with one material, time to get a feel for that material, and time to learn how to cope with problems engendered by the materials so that mastery is secured."
This project will be put aside for a time following next week so that students can work on projectile launchers for study of physics and then will be picked up as time allows through the course of the year. You can be assured we will return again and again to working with wood.


  1. Anonymous5:37 PM

    Yes! Your students are learning much more than in any structured curriculum that doesn't let them experiment and learn from each other.


  2. Huh... You have a point regarding switching mediums. I'll keep that in mind when planning my art curriculum!

  3. I think the point is that depth should be considered if we want our children to know the process of developing skill and what it feels like to develop mastery.

    Elliot Eisner makes a comparison between school activities and a kid trying out for little league. The kid in little league baseball devotes a lot of time to practice, and she knows that without the practice she won't make the team.