This Week in the Classroom: Quality from a Student

Finished only one true project this week in the shop.  Instead of trying to complete projects with the students, I slowed down and tried to focus on the journey, and focus on quality.  What does it look like in my shop, and do I  facilitate it, or do my students discover it for themselves?  What does that excellence look like?  What qualities does it have so I can hopefully repeat it, scale it and explain it?

First – basic skills.  I had two demonstrations of excellent basic skills.  This happened early Monday morning, a harbinger of things

A square cut – that’s all.  My student and I chucked this into the vise, put a line around it with pencil and I told him to keep it to the right.  And keep that line he did – all the way to the end of the cut when he got a little excited and veered right.  I had to put the home-made framing square to see the results – he got pretty close to square, and kept within a 1/8th of the line throughout the cut.  This is quality.  And since I, the teacher, had to set this cut up to be so successful, I know it’s quality teaching too.

When a student gets more independent, that line seems to get blurrier and blurrier – just how much error is a result of bad teaching or the result of lack of practice or lack of skill/coordination?  When a a top student can produce this by hand:

What do I say to the student who’s heart makes for a poetic treatise on the misshapen and pitiful creature that love is in this modern world?  Did I fail to set that student up the same way this student was set up?  Or is it lack of practice?  Lack of practice for the particular student?  Wrong technique taught to the student?  I’m not looking for a specific answer for this problem.  I’m thinking in more general terms:  this piece is an obvious A, but what does a C look like?  Are letter grades even necessary?

In completed projects, the game is even more confusing.  The shop refurbished two stools this week.  The second looked like this:

Which is pretty cute, but on a scale of 1 to simple, this project is dead simple.  Attach seat from broken chair to bottom of other broken chair.  The execution here works, but if a student did this (I used it as a skill builder, not a design/make project) I wouldn’t give more than a B because of the difficulty.  A simple project that deserves an A should look like this:

Meaning the project have style, precision and expands a students skill set.  This clock is simply a block of wood with a movement attached.  Attaching the movement correctly took some very, very accurate and precise fitting.  The student learned to use a chisel, a very sharp chisel (nearly taking chunks out of my watchful face every three seconds, he needs more practice).  The final product is a A for appearance, C on complexity and A for the “execution”, or how well he did in shop (I don’t often give grades, this is more for me to know if a project is a successful learning tools).  What do I put on the paper at the end of the day?

I’m going to return to this idea:  what is quality in the woodshop?  I will not re-read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance although the main character suffers a nervous breakdown in Montana grappling with that question.  I’m just going to think on it in the shop next week –

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