Monthly Mentor

Natalie C. Jones (February)
Each month, a different member is the guest writer for the NAEA Monthly Mentor Blog. Natalie C. Jones is an artist, small business owner, and the director of education at the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture. She has 10 years of experience working as an art teacher and teaching artist throughout the east coast and the Midwest. Click "GO" to read her full bio.



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Friday 10.23.15

Case Study: Throwing Bowls with Visually Impaired and Blind Students

From: Susan Loesl, MA, ATR-BC

We have had some interesting insights working with our visually impaired and blind students throwing bowls on the potter’s wheel the past few weeks. Overall, almost all the students seemed to really enjoy using the wheel to make bowls, except for one. She is a student who is completely blind and was a bit tacitly defensive regarding this process of making a bowl. She told us that she preferred to actually paint the bowl over making one. When she was engaged in making a bowl with coils, she didn’t mind working with clay too much, and liked the bowls she created. Introducing her to the texture of the clay on the wheel- much softer and lots wetter, she didn’t like it, but tolerated the process for one bowl.

Other students who were significantly visually impaired and blind were eager to not only try working on the wheel, but were quite excited about the “messiness” of the clay and the sound of the wheel. One of our younger students liked adding water to the clay and feeling the water and clay spin around. She was able to salvage one bowl, as the other bowls pretty much deteriorated on the batts as she worked with too much water. We have two standard wheels, and one tabletop “Pocahontas Pottery Wheel” that we acquired at a rummage sale. It is a small, plastic, battery operated wheel that runs at the perfect speed to shape bowls for smaller students with smaller hands. We use it like a transitional wheel, with the students starting to learn the process on that one, and then moving to the regular one with assistance from my graduate art therapy intern. It has made a huge difference in building the students’ skill and understanding of the process of making a bowl on the wheel. One of the youngest male students likes throwing on the Pocahontas wheel better than “the big wheel”.  I wonder if he likes this small wheel better as he can more easily access it on the table, it is very loud (he says it sounds like a train), and he can be more independent on this wheel from a safety perspective with only one speed.

In order to help the students learn to use the potter’s wheel, we centered the clay on the batts for the students to let them get a sense of the spinning clay and how it can be shaped. We described the process and motored the students through the finger and hand movements on a non-spinning ball of clay before we demonstrated on the wheel how to pull up a bowl hand over hand- their hands over ours. When they were able to feel and partially see the first bowl, we set up another pre-centered batt and motored the students through the bowl created hand over hand, with their hands on the clay this time. It was an amazing process to watch the students’ progress through the process and have success with throwing a bowl on the potter’s wheel!
One of the girls with only peripheral vision is our star student on the wheel! She took to it immediately -almost intuitively knowing how to pull the walls of the bowls out- she can throw 2 bowls in 25 minutes! Her attention and focus to create the bowls is so exciting to watch. She has even started helping clean the wheel when we are finished throwing bowls for the day, and might be ready to learn how to center the clay. We have been preparing 8-10 batts with centered clay before each group, as that skill is quite challenging for even an experienced potter. This pre-centering has helped the students be more successful in making their bowls. As you will notice in the images, we were able to bisque fire our first 35 bowls.


The students were very excited to see, feel, and hear the newly fired bowls so that they could glaze them.  They are so eager to see how their bowls turn out with the glaze! We hope that the students will allow us to use the bowls for the Spring Fundraiser. I wouldn’t blame them if they wanted to keep them all!   

Monday 10.12.15

Special Education

From: Susan Loesl, MA, ATR-BC

In my role as an Adaptive Art Specialist, I often work not only with art educators to assist them in their particular classes, but I also work with special education teachers and specialists. I am presently working on a collaborative project with two teachers of the visually impaired, a mobility specialist and a physical therapist to create clay bowls with students with visual impairments. One of the teachers of the visually impaired contacted me in Spring 2015 regarding her donor acquisition of two potters wheels, 150 lbs of clay and 12 bats. She wanted to know if I would be interested in working with her and her elementary students who were visually impaired and blind to create clay bowls for a fundraiser in Spring 2015. She primarily wanted to create bowls only on the potter’s wheel, but I convinced her that we should first get the students comfortable with clay building, and then work toward creating on the wheels. My graduate art therapy intern was quite excited about the project as well, and it turned out that she was the most skilled on the wheel.  She was instrumental in considering how to best assist the students with visual impairments to understand the concepts of making a clay pot on a wheel. After practicing a bit on the wheel, we all concluded that starting with handbuilding would be the best way to start becoming familiar with clay. We wanted to see how the students would react to the clay in various stages, as at times, some students with visual impairments can be tactiley defensive about materials.  That was not an issue at all with these students!  Our first technique was coil building. The goals were not only to create pots, but to also build fine motor strength and dexterity by manipulating the clay - rolling, coiling, smoothing, pushing, and supporting with the opposite hand. (I was informed by a teacher of the visually impaired students that the students often need to work on their fine motor skills to better develop the skills they will need to read Braille and use Braille writers.) The second technique was rolled out slab over the back of a wooden bowl and textured with various tools. Interestingly, this was not the favorite bowl technique, and the students have requested that we not make any more that way!  We also used the coils to make “snail coils” that we pushed into the inside of the bowls, smoothed out with tools, and then the “snail coils” left a coiled design on the exterior of the bowls. Last week, after 3 weeks of other clay work, we started throwing clay bowls! I will share that experience in the next blog. 

1    2    3
         Coil Bowl                    Slab Bowl              First Set of Bowls

Thursday 10. 1.15

October Focus: Adaptive Art/Art Therapy

From: Susan Loesl, MA, ATR-BC

It is truly my pleasure to be the Monthly Mentor for October 2015. As an adaptive art specialist for the Milwaukee Public Schools for the past 26 years, I have had wonderful opportunities to create art side by side students with disabilities from early childhood through high school. My role is to work with art educators with students in self contained or inclusive settings who request my support--I do not have a home school, and last year went to 48 schools over the course of the school year. I see myself as a facilitator for students to access the art making process by adapting the tools, media, and techniques so that students can be as independently creative as possible. At times, this has meant creating in the moment...a hand grip from newspaper and masking tape for a too thin handle on a paintbrush or putting art materials on a Lazy Susan or cookie sheet for a student with boundary and organizational issues. Other times, such as earlier this week, I saw myself as a support staff discussing with an art educator how to adapt an urban landscape painting lesson for a class with 3 distinctly different levels of engagement. I was thrilled to see her excitement when she now couldn't wait to try the new lesson plans, as her initial contact with me was frustration in how to best reach ALL of her students. I hope to bring that excitement to you this month as we explore opportunities for engaging ALL the students in your art room.

In my work with students, I have "collected" many stories of challenges, successes, and unique happenings. I will also share those with you this month. We all have those art moments that have truly touched our lives and made us smile proudly to be art educators, as well as moments that are truly unique to the art room! I have a first grade student student who is visually impaired and each time he comes to the art room lately, he asks "what powers are we going to use today?" He at some point decided that the art tools such as scented markers and textured rolling pins are "his powers". It is really a unique perspective for such a young child, who is almost totally blind, to consider the art tools as powerful. To him, he "sees" the power he possesses to create what he wants as he can independently make choices with adapted art tools. He has become powerful in making art.

Engle bus
During this month, share your successes, offer support to other art educators for your experiences, and request suggestions about challenges you are facing in working with your students with disabilities in your art classes. I look forward to engaging in discussions that help you further your potential as a facilitator of art making for your students with disabilities.