I have cited the writings of Peter Dormer in many of my assignments, so I though he deserved a blog post of his own. He has written extensively on Craft; I remember studying his books as a Craft student. in his book, The Art of the Maker: Skill and its Meaning in Art, Craft and Design he writes a whole chapter on learning Craft – this has a renewed significance in the context of my teaching and the PGCHE. I would like to reflect on some of they key themes emerging from the literature.
One of the key themes emerging from his books are that to learn a Craft skill you must experience it, he suggests:
The constitutive rules of craft are only learned by actually doing the activity. Indeed they are the activity. This is the fundamental point about craft knowledge. You cannot understand it or know it until you can do it. Reading about it is not the same as understanding it. (1994: 42)
He continues to compare this idea to learning to drive. Reading the highway code does not mean you can drive a car, far from it – you need to practice driving with an instructor. This is similar to my approach to deigning and deliver teaching and learning activities. I try to include participatory elements that encourage students to engage with and experience the process – have a go so to speak. This is a similar principle to learning by doing or experiential learning (Kolb 1984). See this blog post for a bit more on Kolb.
Dormer suggests that, ‘seeing mistakes, gaining the ability to discriminate, is the key to becoming an expert’ (1994: 45). Another concept I try to instil into my students. As students progress through the degree course, they need to develop an eye for detail, demonstrate high production values and develop diagnostic skills to prepare them for life as a professional maker, when there is no-one to tell them if something is good enough or what went wrong.
Dormer also discusses the ideas of ‘rules’, ‘schema’ and ‘recipes’ that provide students with a foundation in a given skill. ‘Part of a teacher’s craft is knowledge of recipes and how to use them.’ (1994: 49). However, Dormer warns of ‘opting for a collection of tricks’ is suggests this approach limits creative expression. After all Dormer says:
Learning a skill is not a mechanical activity but an emotional as well as intellectual and physical process. (1994: 40)