I had intended that the results of my action research would be in the form of recorded discussions with participating students so that qualitative data could be gathered and I could use their quotes as evidence. This method was utilised by Alison Shreeve (2004). However, due to malfunctioning recording equipment, I had to transcribe what I could remember from the discussions. (see Appendix 4 ). I designed a twelve-question yes or no profile questionnaire and included one open question:-
“Please write about whether you found doing glaze tests and experiments helpful (or not), and if so, why?” (Appendix 6)
I have kept a reflective journal and visual diary of all the student ceramic projects and photographs of student tests and final pieces.
For the action research I wanted to make it easier and less time-consuming for the students’ decisions about glazing, and I wanted to know if students performing their own glaze tests in a standardised way would enhance their learning.
Standard test tiles
I made and hung some standardised glaze test tiles (see Plate 5) on the wall, so that they were highly visible. I then made a laminated template of the information on the test tile (appendix 1) and asked the students to do their tests in the same standardised way. I explained how these would be useful to future students. I gave individuals and small groups demonstrations of this standard glaze test. This included how to weigh and mix the glaze recipe and keep meticulous records of their own glaze recipes and tile labelling.
Occasionally, even after years of experience, if one is not familiar with a certain glaze one can still apply glaze too thickly or thinly. The application of glaze can be done in various ways, which include dipping, pouring, painting, and spraying. In my experience, this type of tacit knowledge is best conveyed individually or in small groups of 3-5 students. It allows time for students to ask questions and clarify their thinking.
Student 6 said:
“I prefer not to use glaze tests because it is time consuming.” I agree that the process can take time, but hopefully the rewards are worth it. If a glaze has not been used for a while, it may become thicker in the container as a result of evaporation or even become solid. Knowing how to mix glaze to the correct thickness before applying can affect the final look of a piece. Learning to judge the correct thickness (tacit knowledge) can only be acquired through the experience of mixing and applying glazes.
I encouraged tests by making blank ready-to-glaze tiles. Students were offered these for their own standardised glaze tests. I also made a laminated “how to glaze” guide (Appendix 2). I put several copies in the glaze cupboard so that students (in my absence) could access the steps for mixing and testing the thickness of a glaze before applying it to a piece of work or test tile. I encouraged students to use them, even if they thought they could remember the instructions.
If blank tiles were not available, I made it clear that certain pieces left by previous students could be used for testing by keeping these on a clearly labelled shelf. Student 5 used one of these as his test piece because it was made from the same type of clay that he was using in his final work.
Student 5 test pieces
When test results came out of the kiln, I spoke about the results with the student(s) concerned and any other interested students. This prompt feedback helps students realise the information gained from doing the tests and often promotes a decision about how to glaze work or further testing, if there is time.
For the recordings I used an ancient cassette recorder that had worked when I had tested it, but did not record a group discussion in a noisy studio. Worse still, I had not realised that it was malfunctioning and rerecorded a second discussion, which did not record. On the third attempt to record a group discussion using a computer, the original group who had more experience were not available.
The recorded discussion (Appendix 4) took place with a group of students who had not done any test tiles, but nevertheless through discussion produced another small change, in that I put up a skill-sharing chart (Appendix 3) to help students locate another student with the requisite skills if the tutor or myself were not available. I also encouraged the students I felt were competent at a particular technique—but who had not signed the chart—to sign up. I often asked one student to explain something to another student and I followed up with the people involved to ensure they were comfortable with their roles.
During the discussions I responded to student feedback about the accessibility of the recipe book and labelled the test tiles with the recipe book page number. I intend to arrange the tiles in the boxes in numerical order so that they clearly correspond to the page in the recipe book. The tiles are only an indication of the visual appearance of the glaze after firing. The effect can change for many reasons, for example, if applied by someone else in a different manner, or placed higher or lower during the kiln firing. The benefit of testing a glaze for oneself is to ensure it will work in the intended way.