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An introductory course in ceramic education.

The Art Department at the University of South Carolina offers a five-week summer course entitled Ceramic Education. The goal of this course is to improve ceramic instruction for students in elementary and secondary schools. In order to meet this goal, present and prospective art educators are introduced to a studio-based sequential teaching approach, philosophy, current issues, history and educational research relating to ceramic education.

The students who participate in this class include full-time teachers (K-12) seeking master's degrees or hours toward recertification, undergraduate and graduate students in art education, and an occasional art major. This course provides a first-time experience in working with clay for about half the students.

Teaching approach

The sequence of learning in this course is one that can be used in the classroom. It begins with a pretest-type assignment that simply asks students to make a pot. Instruction refers only to thickness, wetness and welding of clay. When used in the classroom, this assignment gives teachers an initial means of assessing students' skills, and generally produces the basic forming methods of pinching, coiling and slab making. The students exhibiting these techniques are asked to explain how their pieces are constructed. The same forming techniques revealed by the pretest and introduced by the class are then demonstrated formally by the instructor without reference to form or subject matter. During the class, assignments are given according to the number of pieces to be produced and height or size requirements for particular techniques.

Students discuss the similarities and differences between vessels and sculpture and learn that the same forming techniques used to make vessels can be used to make sculptural forms. We also discuss texture, surface treatments, stamps, drawing, addition, subtraction, size and scale, proportion, the anthropomorphic nature of form, and cliched imagery. Students apply techniques of their own choice of subject matter, content and composition. It is hoped that this suggested teaching approach teaches teachers how to teach, not what to teach.

The students also learn to make clay and glazes and to fire kilns. We discuss firing temperatures and techniques that can be used in the classrooms. Students are exposed to pit firings, raku firings and salt firings. Most of the work is fired at cone 9 in a reduction atmosphere.

Philosophy, ceramic history and educational approaches

In an effort to broaden the students' views of ceramic education beyond their making vessels and sculpture, seminars are conducted during the last five meetings on topics that include philosophy and aesthetics in ceramics, contemporary concerns in general art education that might affect instruction in the ceramic arts, and the use of ceramic history.

Discussion notes that by looking at ceramics throughout history we can see an unlimited variety of ideas that authenticate human life, action and existence in the world. However, because of the highly personal nature and specific character of existence over time, pots are far more than they can ever appear to be as concepts in an academic analysis of ceramic history.

During seminars, discipline-based art education is discussed in regard to the use of exemplary works of art for study. Students in a discipline-based approach might view slides of ceramic pieces prior to production, and participate in discussions about technical, critical and cultural concerns.

The study of historical images and forms in this class is withheld until after students begin the developing and making. So not only do students realize that historical images are valuable at varied instructional points in time, but they also see that ceramic history needs more lengthy and in-depth study.

Ceramic research

Four ceramic education research studies are examined during the seminars to expose students to the educational value and practical classroom application of research.

Brown (1984) found that children's untutored modeled human figures changed between the ages of three and eleven, with the major change occurring between three and six years, and that figure work among all students lagged behind drawing skills. This study points out that starting at an early age, students should have more frequent experiences with clay. If this occurred, their claywork would probably be of equal quality to their drawing.

Douglas and Schwartz (1967) found that guided inquiry (questions leading to discussion) motivated preschool children's interest in and involvement with clay. A classroom teacher was coached about art concepts and used five questions to guide students' discussion about ceramic objects. In a verbalization period, students used technical terms such as dig, flatten, pat, pound, pull, pinch, roll, rob, smooth, squish, twist and wet. For the teachers, it is most important to see that knowledge of art concepts and sound questioning procedures may produce technical information and stimulate students' interest in working with clay.

Grossman (1979) discovered instruction in clay modeling (fifteen clay forming lessons not relating to the human form) does contribute to the development and representational quality in modeled human figures for four-year old children. She found no evidence to support cross-media transfer of learning from clay to drawing. Very simply, technical instruction does increase the quality of clay products and does not have to be specific as to subject matter or content to do so.

Brewer (1989) reported results that indicate exposure to exemplary historical sculptural and ceramic pieces, coupled with critical discussion (as presented in discipline-based art education) does not necessarily affect the overall quality of ceramic products for fifth-grade students and may have no more or less effect on students' learning in art than technical instruction or a child-centered approach in ceramic education. It was found that the group that viewed ceramic works produced 36% wider variety of ceramic shapes and 43% of the sculpture used bases and vertical postures in the modeled human figures (unpredicted intervening variables). What this may suggest for teachers is that although they may show exemplary works and set up structures, specific objectives and content for student learning, all this may differ from what the students glean and select. Students may select, use, learn and incorporate much broader, personally sequential, and concrete information into thought and art.


This introductory course in ceramic education seeks to give present and future teachers the curriculum components necessary to develop a personal teaching approach that would improve ceramic instruction in public schools. This begins with a studio assessment of student technical knowledge, uses that knowledge as an instructional tool, and then formally introduces technical information that could be applied, as students choose, to subject matter, content and composition. The presented philosophy suggests a need for a more in-depth study of ceramic history. Educational research points out the value of in creased exposure and technical instruction, the importance of guided discussion, and a suggestion as to what and how students learn from the study of ceramic history and ceramic objects. The components of this teaching approach in ceramic education could be transferred and applied to curriculum development in general art education.


Brewer, T. (1989) "An examination of two approaches to ceramic instruction in elementary education." Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Florida State University.

Brown, E. (1984) "Developmental characteristics of clay figures made by children: 1970-1981." Studies in Art Education, 26(1), 56-60.

Douglas, N., & Schwartz, J. (1967) "Increasing awareness of art ideas of young children through guided experience with ceramics." Studies in Art Education, 8, 2-9.

Grossman, E. (1980) "Effects of instructional experience in clay modeling skills on modeled human figures represented in school children." Studies in Art Education, 22(1), 52-59.

Dr. Thomas M. Brewer is a visiting assistant professor at the art department of the University of South Carolina, Columbia, South Carolina.
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Title Annotation:Focus: Curriculum Profile
Author:Brewer, Thomas M.
Publication:School Arts
Date:Jan 1, 1991
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