Pandaji's Blog

Art, research, education

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Profile 3. Designing and planning learning activities and/or programmes of study, August 2010

Sharing my own passion and enthusiasm for ceramics so that students get enthused is the most rewarding part of my job; I love doing ceramics and I am a great advertisement for the subject.

The characteristics that demonstrate this passion are:

My extensive experience of teaching and ceramics gained from attending many courses across the globe, my ability to create a positive rapport with a wide range of people from diverse backgrounds, my clarity of speech and ability to explain ceramic process, my caring nature, humour and interest in people. This empathy is expressed by Egan as the, “ability to communicate to another that one can understand their feelings.” (Egan 1983)

Getting to know the students on a personal level and vice versa has meant that the mutual trust that has been built up amongst the students and myself has helped a great deal in their ability to approach me for feedback at this final stage of their course. A phenomenon that has been described by Brookfield (1995) alludes to the importance of the trust between tutor and student. The students, who previously did not ask for my opinion or help, now seek out my advice, not only about their ceramic work but also about their future. “Student cannot be expected to get on the inside of a discipline…unless the student has a firm sense of self.” (Barnett 2007)

By directing the way they experiment, perform tests, and try out techniques, the students gain self-esteem and trust in my knowledge, especially when they have instant feedback and encouragement. I have been trying this with a whole group and individually. Bryan and Clegg summarised this approach under five headings, one of which is:

Quantity and timing of feedback: “Sufficient feedback needs to be provided, both often enough and sufficiently quickly to be useful to students. …Helping students to understand and recognise quality.” (Bryan, C. and Clegg, K. 2006)

“Ultimately the fastest and most frequent feedback available is that provided by students to themselves from moment to moment as they study or write assignments in ‘learning conversations’,” (Gibbs. G and Simpson, C. 2004)

My plan for the future is to ask students if they understand the process of self-assessment.

My strengths in designing learning activities that enhance transformative learning are that I can help student understanding of how they learn by introducing or suggesting different ways of approaching the subject. I agree with Mc Gonigal. K. (1995) who describes some of the teaching strategies for transformative learning as a balance between support and challenge. Transformative learning theory (Mezirow, J. 1997) addresses this teaching strategy. The theory describes the conditions and processes necessary for students to make the most significant kind of knowledge transformation: paradigm shift, also know as perspective transformation. Mezirow, J. (1991, p. 167) describes perspective transformation as “…the process of becoming critically aware of how and why our assumptions have come to constrain the way we perceive, understand and feel about the world; changing these structures of habitual expectation to make possible an inclusive, discriminating and integrating perspective and finally making choices or otherwise acting upon these new understandings.” Or alternatively what Mike Wesch (2008) has called “anti-teaching,” in which the focus is not on providing answers to be memorized, but on “creating a learning environment more conducive to producing the types of questions that ask students to challenge their taken-for-granted assumptions and see their own underlying biases.”

In accordance with Dall ‘Alba (2005), I can now assess myself at the end of a workshop, and evaluate whether the planned learning outcomes have been achieved. By keeping a reflective journal, I can evaluate how to use this information to improve and enhance my own practice. A recent example of this, was observing the different approach that the tutor and I take when the students have very little time to produce the final exhibition work and I am still encouraging the tests, because I understand that the assessment will be constructively aligned and therefore a proportion of the marks will be given for process. (Biggs 1996)


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Profile 3. Teaching and/or supporting student learning, August 2010

“I never teach my students; I only attempt to provide the conditions in which they can learn”

“It is a miracle that curiosity survives formal education.”

“Imagination is more important than knowledge… “

–Albert Einstein

U.S. (German-born) physicist (1879-1955)

I would not go as far as to say I never teach my students, but creating the conditions for learning is also a major part of my job. (See 4. below.)

I try to encourage peer assisted learning amongst the students. In accordance with Phil Races’ presentation called Ripple (2004) and written up in Making Learning Happen, “consolidating what they have learned by putting them into a position of helping others gives students increased self-esteem and confidence in themselves.” (Race, P. 2005)

As Brookfield (1995) points out, “A teacher who encourages peer learning shows how important it is to trust other students.” My action research proposal begins to investigate the potential for formalising peer-assisted learning by using a chart designed to help students identify who has particular ceramic skills amongst them. These students need to have the confidence to sign up for a particular skill, thus agreeing to help others who will then seek them out for help with a specific skill or technique. I try to make sure that I then follow up with the students concerned to ensure both parties are satisfied that they can trust each other.

I am trying to use methods that enhance transformative learning like exposing students to disorientation and failure. (Taylor 1998) Moreover, I do not consciously set up students to fail, but if something does ‘fail,’ I find it useful and productive to discuss what is perceived as failure, because in an arts subject (as opposed to medicine for example), failure could be construed as a positive outcome. I help the student to learn from these “failures’” which I refer to as “kiln gifts.”

Learning can be the ability to know where to find knowledge. Different facets of this ability in the context of ceramics include:

  • Understanding the way to read a standardised glaze test;
  • Ability to imagine whether it would do justice to a particular piece;
  • Practising the application techniques in order to learn how it behaves on a specific piece or place.

“As we increasingly move toward an environment of instant and infinite information, it becomes less important for students to know, memorize, or recall information, and more important for them to be able to find, sort, analyze, share, discuss, critique, and create information. They need to move from being simply knowledgeable to being knowledge-able.” (Wesch, M. 2009) I agree with this statement because using the glaze test tiles resource or experimenting with glazes and discussing the results with peers demonstrates the move from knowledgeable to knowledge-able.

It is important to allow time for discussing test results or work in progress, either as a whole group or individually, and to encourage students to discuss their work with each other. This helps enhance self-esteem.

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Profile 3. Assessment and giving feedback to learners, August 2010

After reading Bryan and Clegg (2006), I understand that feedback is a key aspect of assessment, so my previous understanding that I had nothing to do with student assessment has now changed. Now I understand that assessment should enhance and enable self regulated learning and judgements. This is a switch from thinking it is only concerned with grades.

I am improving the formative feedback that I give to students, especially the ceramic students. This course has really helped my understanding of how much feedback to give students, and to help them understand that this feedback works in all directions. By this I mean that feedback between students is as important as feedback offered by myself, or the tutor or indeed the feedback the students give me.

An example that I cited in my reflective journal was when one of the students asked me if they would be taught how to pack a kiln on the BA course. My response was that she should ask the interview panel this question when they asked her if she had any questions for them. After the interview the student reported back to me that she had asked the question during interview and the panel had said what a good question it was.

The course has also enhanced my understanding of the formative feedback that one can give that really helps encourage student learning. As seen on a video by Dylan Williams, about formative assessment. (Williams, D. 2007) I agree that students can learn from this type of formative feedback. I also agree with Danvers (2003) when he states, “Arts subjects have to be assessed subjectively despite all attempt to the contrary and will continue to be a source of controversy.” Interestingly, the tutors who do the summative assessments have a very good track record of meeting the external assessors’ gradings.

I am still a Technician and therefore do not participate in summative assessment. However, my understanding of summative assessment and how it is carried out according to strict marking criteria has increased since being on the course. I plan to discuss with the Head of Area how I might get more involved in this aspect of teaching in future.

By ensuring that students receive quick and useful feedback from us and from each other, I am aware that the national student survey has some of the answers as to how well they perceive that assessment is fair and that they are being listened to, but actually in my own practice I think more could be done to find out locally by asking for student feedback about these processes. I have always encouraged students to fight for their rights, to become actively involved, and to be able to identify their student representative. The course has made me aware of how easy it is to evaluate in what appears to be a totally unscientific manner, yet be rewarded with some positive results.

An example of students needs being listened to and then acted on was when a student suggested that the glaze test tiles required a further number to indicate which page the recipe can be found in the recipe book. I did this and made sure everyone knew this by including the explanation on the template. I have since seen students using this method to find the recipe in the glaze book, thereby confirming their understanding of how to use the information. This number also appears on the bucket or container in which the glaze is stored.

“It is important to ensure that the students get feedback quickly enough while they still care about it, and for it to be useful in enhancing their learning.” (Gibbs, G. and Simpson, C . 2004)

I make sure that students get plenty of feedback so they can improve their next piece and I help them to assist each other in giving feedback, including peer assessment. I do this by emphasising the positive aspects of their work that could be used productively in their next piece. I explain why they have worked well and how to use this new knowledge to enhance their abilities. If the moment is right and the student can accept some constructive criticism, I may point out features of the work that should not be repeated or that could be improved. This communication promotes high expectations and articulates explicit goals that students can understand and orient themselves towards. This condition is drawn from Chickering, Z. F. and Gamson, A. W. (1991): “Good practice communicated high expectations.”

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Profile 3. Developing effective environments and student support and guidance, August 2010

The following resulted from what I have learned about asking for feedback from students and keeping a reflective diary on my teaching practice.

After I made a flow chart of the ceramic process, the students’ understanding of what is quite a complex process became clearer. I noticed that the conversations were changing from those based on minimal understanding to more complex enquiries. I would agree with Michael Wesch and his “anti teaching” when he says: “Good questions are the driving force of critical and creative thinking and therefore one of the best indicators of significant learning. Good questions are those that force students to challenge their taken-for- granted assumptions and see their own underlying biases.”

Often the answer to a good question is irrelevant—the question is an insight in itself. The only answer to the best questions is another good question. And so the best questions send students on rich and meaningful lifelong quests, question after question after question.” (Wesch, M. 2008) I notice that the students who are truly learning are asking thoughtful questions.

One of the students I interviewed said she thought that being a student of ceramics helped one learn patience as the process was so lengthy and involves waiting for pieces to dry and for firings to happen. This is an unintended learning outcome that interestingly will only be included in her assessment if unintended outcomes have been given a special mention, yet patience is a great life learning skill.

This resonates with Richard Sennett…the craft of making physical things provides insight into the techniques of experience that can shape our dealings with others. Both the difficulties and the possibilities of making things well, apply to making human relationships.” (Sennett, R. 2008)

Making sure that the materials and equipment are clearly labelled, (including examples of glazes attached to buckets), has to be accompanied with explanations to students of the relevance of these details, as well as the careful handling, sustainability, cleaning, and health and safety aspects, when using ceramic materials.

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Profile 3. ‘How to’ guides on the blackboard and in the studio, August 2010

A recent addition to the how to guides is the one on “how to glaze.” I laminated it so that it can be taken to the workplace—usually by the sink—when glazing. I felt that this has been a success because I observed many students testing the thickness in the way the card instructed and then asking me if I thought it was the right thickness. Previously students would have had to wash off a glaze applied too thickly or thinly, thus wasting valuable resources.

One of the main points I have gained from attending the course is being more aware of student support available across the university for students’ issues or problems beyond my scope, and helping students to access these if they need to, via the university website.

Ceramics is a lengthy process with amounts of time waiting for clay to dry, which means it is a very good opportunity for getting to know the students and vice versa. The trust builds up by spending time together communicating what we mutually care about, that is, their learning experience within and beyond life at the college.

I am thinking more about the kinds of environments I can create for the use of the ever-decreasing time in the learning week and how to improve the support and guidance, particularly concerning cross-curricular use of clay. It was interesting to be at Camberwell and Chelsea Colleges recently to see how they have become what they call “resource based” rather than “subject based,” and to think about whether our idea to share cross curricular resources is heading in the same direction.

Thinking about how to create an environment in which students can realise their ideas, and in which students can be creative (not just the practical/physical environment), is a continuous challenge that we all face, despite the pressures of limited time.

How to increase cross-curricular use of clay was a concern of mine when I started the PG Cert. I mention this in my introductory profile. Currently I am assisting seven students who are using clay for final exhibition work, but none of them have used clay before. I am wondering if this is happening because the Head of Fine Art is encouraging it or whether it is just how it has happened this year, perhaps because I changed my work hours from Fridays to Thursdays.  The pedagogy I have learned has helped with this conundrum.  I try and ask myself action-research questions that will help me find out the answer. I have been encouraged to spend a whole term discussing such issues with my peer group, but I am concerned that the subject area makes a difference, so not all the theories can apply to us all. I would like (as I mention elsewhere) to find my community of practice amongst the four other ceramic technicians across the University of the Arts. Perhaps when the pressure of studying has passed, I will be able to start encouraging my colleagues to share ideas and possibly resources. I will email them and ask for their suggestions as to how we can begin to do this. My own idea would be to invite them to visit so we can discuss ideas over tea and cake.

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Profile 3. Integration of scholarship, research and professional activities with teaching and supporting learning, August 2010

I have contributed a video to the Process Arts website to accompany the ceramic spheres I built for Paul Lindley’s cube and sphere collection. Process Arts website inventor and colleague Chris Follows showed the video recently at the Cltad conference “Challenging the Curriculum” in Berlin, April 2010.

The PG Cert course has increased my understanding of pedagogy and my action research project, and it has made a significant contribution to the Foundation students’ understanding of ceramics and glazing in particular. (Helal, M. 2010) It has also been interesting to contribute to peer action research and discuss results with colleagues. The presentations of our action research proposal questions during our tutor group meetings helped me think deeply about what a colleague is doing and how practical that might be for their particular setting, and it encouraged all of us to give and receive constructive feedback. It highlighted the similarities between our researches, as the majority of proposals were all looking at ways to encourage more dialogue between students. Paolo Friere referred to this type of dialogic process that is at the heart of teaching. (Friere, P. 1994)

I feel that I have more confidence to encourage cross-curricular use of clay and I have seen an increase in the number of students from other departments using clay. Undertaking the PG Cert and meeting with colleagues in different disciplines has broadened my outlook, and as a direct result of my support and expertise helped students realise the potential for wider use of materials, and for integrating the use of clay. The final show has two multimedia pieces, including animation projected onto ceramic, and jewellery using combinations of metal, ceramic, glass, and found objects. It also includes figurative sculpture in a piece about anorexic pornography as a direct response to my support to non- ceramic students.

I thought that before I started the PG Cert, my twenty years of teaching experience must count for something, but as Richardson points out, “There is, in fact, little evidence that teachers’ conceptions of teaching really do develop with increasing teaching experience.” (Norton, Richardson, Hartley, Newstead, & Mayes, 2005) I found myself asking colleagues whether they have done PG Cert because it immediately means that they know certain pedagogical theories and have the language to discuss various learning and teaching theories.

Richardson (2005) explains, “teachers who hold a student-centred and learning-orientated conception of teaching are more likely to adopt a student- focused approach to teaching. So, if institutions of higher education want their teachers to adopt a more student-focused approach to teaching, they need to ensure that their teachers hold a commensurate conception of teaching – and a brief training course will not be sufficient to achieve this.”

It is inspiring to have a common ground of pedagogical knowledge so that one can discuss one’s own understanding of the theory with colleagues who might have different interpretations. I wanted to find people to discuss the theories in the context of ceramics. Discussions with my own work colleagues currently doing PG Cert and those colleagues who are doing it this coming year have been mostly enjoyable and definitely stimulating. Finding my community of practice amongst the university is discussed more thoroughly below. A weakness I am aware of, is that I prefer the intuitive and practical side of teaching rather than the documenting and theorising of the processes.

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Profile 3. Evaluation of practice and continuing professional development, August 2010

Writing a reflective journal for the duration of this course has given me new perspectives on my work and myself. The infinite variety of possibilities for using ceramics, demonstrated by the imagination of the students makes a continually challenging and interesting workplace. “Reflective practice is a “sorting out/clarifying process.” (Moon, J. 2004)

Wondering about a particular problem or situation has become less haphazard and more to do with discussion and asking for feedback from students and colleagues. Doing an action research project has helped me understand how I can evaluate my own practice using the Jean Mc Niff method. I plan to continue the dialogue using my blog. (Helal, M., Helal, D. 2010) Sharing my thoughts and information with others will enable the dialogue to continue after the course has finished.

I am trying to use methods that enhance transformative learning like disorientating and failure by encouraging the students to experiment with a variety of approaches to the same subject. An outcome of this practice is that students have told me that they are making decisions based on learning from their own mistakes, demonstrated by this quote from my action research questionnaire: “Being able to try and experiment something out for myself really helped me to learn by trial and error.” And another: “It was nice to be able to learn from my own mistakes and get some really interesting results.”

Many ceramic techniques require a one-to-one style of teaching e.g. throwing, whereas glazing and doing glaze tests can be taught to a group. One of my strengths is knowing when to teach individually, and when to widen the teaching to a group. The ceramics tutor hours have been reduced to one day a week. For part of the day we discuss each student and their work, and where she expects the work to be in the following week. Occasionally we openly discuss our different approaches to the same problem. In this way we demonstrate and model our disagreements publicly to encourage critical debate amongst the students.

The technical team at Wimbledon Foundation has always promoted a sharing of skills. With the term times changing and a shorter academic year, the possibility to find a time for sharing skills will diminish, which will have a detrimental effect on the students. In the past, this skills sharing has helped me make interesting charts and learning resources for the ceramic studio. It has also helped all of us gain confidence in areas other than our own for example, glass cutting and carpentry.

Peer observation is the hardest of all the tasks we have been asked to perform, especially if one practices with colleagues that one is working with all the time. Asking for feedback from colleagues has always been my practice, but now I know that this helps me consolidate my own learning. I hope I will continue to use this method of learning once the PG Cert year is completed.

I have also learned that giving feedback to colleagues can be extremely difficult, especially if it includes constructive criticism. This is one of my weaknesses that I would like to spend more time addressing in the future.

I would very much like to find ceramic technician colleagues who would be willing to discuss teaching and learning issues after the PG Cert course has finished. I discovered the ceramic technician at Chelsea also did this course last year. I arranged a meeting and exchange visit, with full support from my line-manager.

(Community of practice Lave, J. and Wenger, E. 1991)

My continuing professional development future is uncertain, especially with the recent government cuts to further education and the announcement by the rector that the three colleges, Camberwell Chelsea and Wimbledon will have a combined Foundation Diploma course as of 2011. Nevertheless, I intend to use the skills I have learnt on the PG Cert course in all of my future teaching.