Tuesday, March 26, 2013

What's the Worst that Could Happen?

We kind of sort of have an agreement in my district about which clay skills to introduce at different primary levels. In Kindergarten, I usually show the students how to form a slab and turn that into a "knee pot"- a shallow bowl that they can then decorate. (See it here: http://artteacheradventures.blogspot.com/2011/08/finished-clay-projects.html) Some of my Kindergarten students were in Art class last year as Kinder-prep students so they had already learned and made knee pots. In one class, there were 4 repeat students. I sat them all at a table, intending to show them all how to make a bowl from small balls of clay like in this adapted clay lesson. But then, I asked myself "Why?" If the students had already mastered the required skill for their grade level, why did they need to all make the same thing? I gave them choices: make another knee bowl, make the adapted project, or try their own thing. No surprise, they all chose to make their own sculpture ideas. I was nervous about their projects holding up, but thought "What's the worst that could happen?" I figured if their projects fell apart, at least they would still have had the experience of building and thinking about the process.
While the other students in the class worked contentedly making their knee bowls, I sat at the table with the students making their independent projects. Three of them fed off of each other and decided to make snow family portraits. I knew they hadn't learned how to properly attach clay pieces yet, so I watched to see what they would do. I asked them questions about how the pieces were attached. When they picked up their sculptures and their snowpeople's heads fell off, I was able to show them how to make attachments and check their work. The students haven't been back to class to paint yet, but so far they are still in one piece on the shelf. The fourth student decided to make a horse and rider, which you can see at the top of this post. She wanted the horse to have 3 feet on the ground with one leg lifted to take a step. I helped her figure out how to make the horse sturdier by adding a bit of thickness to the legs, but I was impressed at how much she figured out on her own.
Moral of the story: This has made me think even more about my teaching practices and efforts to incorporate more choice in the Art room. If I'll be required to cover certain clay skills at each level after we write our curriculum- no problem! If Kindergarten students have to make slabs and form into bowls, why couldn't they do that, prove it to me, then squish their clay back together and make something they choose? I can't see a problem with that... My goal is student choice within the "rules".


  1. Pretty cool. You said 'paint'; is this air-dry clay or will you be firing these?

    1. Yes, air dry clay. Unfortunately, elementary art doesn't have access to kilns. We usually just paint with tempera cakes.

  2. This approach sharpens their problem solving skills as well as their art skills. You are an excellent teacher :)

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