Before coming to IU, I worked at a not-for-profit community arts center. The center ran on a shoestring budget supplemented by grants that focused on serving people in the community who had physical, mental, or financial issues that might normally stop them from enrolling in an art class. Through this work, I came to realize the immense value that art can have for people from all walks of life, and how arts organizations can benefit their surrounding communities.
I also realized that there is no better way to learn something than to teach it to others.
This spring, six years later — as a graduate student and instructor in the ceramics program in IU’s School of Fine Arts — I thought back to that experience, and to how good it felt to serve the community and feel that I was making a positive impact on the place I lived and worked. I had the idea that I ought to set up a free ceramics class in the Bloomington community that my “Ceramics I” students would design and teach as their final project. They would learn the material better and serve a need in the community.
I started by reaching out to Nicole Schonemann, director of the service learning program in IU’s Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning. I also contacted Jocelyn Bowie, who is on the board at Bloomington Clay Studio, who in turn contacted Big Brothers Big Sisters, and before long I had a studio to host the class and students to take it.
Now, my own students needed to get to work designing the class sessions for their new students.
My students were in charge of every aspect of teaching the class. They were required to design the project, prepare the tools and the clay, give a demonstration, and assist the students from Big Brothers Big Sisters. They were divided into three teaching teams, and the project had three main steps.
Step one was to submit a project proposal, where they detailed what they would teach, what tools were needed, and what the role of each group member would be.
Step two was a mock demo, where each team got up in front of the class and presented their kid-friendly lesson. Our class had a lot of fun with this step, because I encouraged the other teams to pretend to be kids in the audience, and ask kid questions and make kid comments, just to see how the teachers would handle it. A faculty member walking by the classroom later commented on the amount of laughter and general silliness coming out of the room: “What was so funny in your class today?”
The final step was for them to go out and teach the actual classes.
I was very proud of how the IU students handled themselves. They were well-prepared, professional, and had their material down pat. They handled the children’s questions and technical issues well, and everyone was involved — no sitting on the sidelines.
After the classes, in addition to positive feedback from Bloomington Clay Studio and Big Brothers Big Sisters, my own students told me how much they realized they had learned in the course of the semester. Their young students were making the same mistakes with the clay that they themselves had made, not too long ago.
But this time, they were the ones with all the answers.