A reader asked the following:
As a fellow woodworking teacher, do you have any advice on walking the line between demanding "quality", instilling what quality is, and letting kids be happy with a mediocre project that they are proud of? As much as I'd like all of their projects to glimmer like jewels, sometimes they are less than stellar.Otto Salomon called what you are asking about "educational tact." How does a teacher know when a kid has done well enough? It is hard to know. As a professional, I know how high standards can go, but I also know that kids are not ready to do that level of work. A friend of mine, Glen had a dad who did woodworking and there was nothing Glen could do in the woodshop that met his father's high standards. And so, while Glen would have enjoyed woodworking and told me so, he knew he could never do it... His father had destroyed it for him. So it is important to not crush creative spirit. We don't start out doing quality work. But if we are exposed to it and receive encouragement toward it, it may come in time.
It helps when you have experience across a few grade levels. You see that the evolution in what a kid sees and is capable of doing takes place over time. Some are primarily visual, and some tactile or haptic. Each will be looking for different values in the work.
I had one student tell me, that's good enough, its for my mother... a very realistic assessment knowing that mothers will stoop pretty low in acceptance of things made by kids. But the question is interesting. Do you want to give your mother your best, or just what she will accept? So I asked the question but let the kid choose the answer. It wasn't what I would have preferred, but if I got him to think about then I did him a favor.
So, How do I answer such an interesting question? Always encourage to do better, but let the child decide when they have given it their best. If you have to give grades... I am thankful I do not... then make the rubric clear. Some points for enthusiastic participation, a component for measurable standards. Let the students know what those standards are. Some exercises are actually better at enabling students to succeed. Turning is interesting as students begin to assess each other's quality of work... Oooo! Feel how smooth this is...
Joe Barry sent the following via email and it makes sense and adds to the discussion:
I tried self rating with a finished example that I said was graded as an A. it didn't work. I thought about making additional models with flaws equal to a B, a c, etc.I had a pottery teacher who did his work in the same studio as the students. We were in awe of his creativity. His workmanship was an inspiration. My students know too little about the standards I set for my own work, except that they see it at various shows around town. As I mentioned to Joe, you can't push a rope. It is far better to lead by example.
Peer grading was an utter disaster.
What I finally did was always had a project I was working on at my bench and they could see what standard I held myself to. I asked them "If I did this would I be happy with it?" Not a perfect solution but, a workable one.