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a bit more about beginning class standards (sort of long)

updated fri 31 jan 97


Erin Hayes on sun 5 jan 97

Thanks to all who have sent their comments to me about the post I sent a
couple of days ago.

I wanted to clarify a bit to get some more ideas from the group. I did not
mean to suggest that I ask for 13 pieces period no matter what they look
like. And 13 is a minimum, most end up with 20-25. I imagine that they
produce on average about 30-35 pots over the course of the 8-9 weeks they
actually get to throw during the quarter. At the due date for each
assignment (cylinders, forms with handles, bowls, etc.), I sit down
individually with each student and discuss why some of their pots are good
and some are not so good and how to improve them.

This is done at least once a week. They can schedule outside sessions with
me to practice with supervision, too. If they produce aberrant pots that
really don't show the skill level they have reached, I encourage them to slop
them. They talk with me about these pots and learn from what they did, so I
don't see any reason to keep them and fire them unless they use them for
glaze testing (and they have that option always).

One of the things which drove me most crazy in grad school was firing
everything that was made, no matter how poorly constructed or thrown.
Frequently these pots would be left at the end of school and we would make
many dumpster runs to get rid of all of it. Once the student and I have
discussed the work, if it isn't all that great, why keep it? I figure that
it teaches them to let go of their work and make it less precious. And it is
rare that they *want* to keep the less successful pots once they develop a
sense of what is a really good pot and what isn't.

Of course they are not producing consistently magnificent examples of
functional pottery by then end of that 10th week. I don't expect them to.
But they do exceptionally well, I think, for such a short time. But it is
tough, as we all know, to get the studio time in that makes the finesse

I don't want any of you to think I flog my students like galley slaves. They
have fun in class and frequently end up hanging around in the studio even if
they aren't working on their projects. But I frequently ask more of them
than they (at first) think they can deliver, and they find that they *can* do
it, even though it is hard. It is rare indeed that a student doesn't pass
unless they give up. I work hard to intercept that, but it does happen.

I know we all have differing philosophies about most of our classroom
practices, and so it should be. I am intersted in any more comments you all
have about what your general standards are ( or even grading practices). I
am anxious to get a better idea of what is the "norm."

Thanks again,


Evan Dresel on mon 6 jan 97

One thing that I think should be considered, is that there is more to
the process than forming the clay. I think its kind of sad to see
students struggle to finaly get an ok piece and then really screw up
the glazing. One of the good things about my community college experience
was that the kilns were relatively small and fired early enough in the
semester that the students could learn from the process. Much better than
ye old state university where all your pots seemed to end up in one kiln
load. I think there can be a lot learned from a crummy pot.
I think it is best to judge the student's work as a whole. If someone
makes a bazillion mediocre pots, then at least they can show they worked at
it. If someone spends an inordinate amount of time on some handbuilt project
then maybe that one piece really means something. But if the students seem
to want to just sit on their thumbs then by all means encourage them by
setting down clear requirements. For what it's worth, I can't think of a
semester that I ended up with 13 pieces worth keeping. Good thing I was

-- Evan Dresel on tue 7 jan 97


Your philosophy sounds good to me. What I remember most about my first year
ceramics class was the challenge that was given to each of us by our
professor. Robert (Irish) Flynn. The first project after the basics ( clay
mixing, wedging, drying procedures, storing rules, ect) was to build a 18"
free standing piece, using what ever method we wanted. There would be no
guidance but we were allowed to read our text books and to seek help from
fellow students. You should have seen the interest that was generated.
Everyone had their idea of how to proceed and no one really knew what they
were doing.

We learned more in the three weeks that we worked on this project. All
pieces were displayed and discussed at the end of the project. The only
criteria was. "did we try". We found that there were many approaches to
building clay objects. We found that clay was not easy to deal with. We found
a challenge. We also found a class that was unified in doing a good job.
If I recall correctly, most of the first year students went on to Major in
clay and to take the Honors program as well.

It was a great time.

Terrance F. Lazaroff
St Hubert, Quebec, Canada!!!!!