Table of Contents

Click here to read how this program,
Learning to Throw,
was produced.

Learning New Skills - Marvin Bartel

Learning from a self instructional program like this has its limits, but it can do a few things quite well (see "Learning from this Program" below). This way of learning is not a good way to develop creativity, but being better at a skill can make it easier to express something creative with your skill. 

Watching an expert allows learning by imitation and this does not make one creative either. However, an expert might inspire creativity if the expert obviously values and practices creativity.  Watching an expert can be a great way to learn, but it also has limits. 

The expert may give too much material too fast.  Many learners miss much of it. It requires more concentration and focus than we are capable of. 

In many cases the expert leaves out important explanations during the demonstration.  Some things are overlooked because of forgetfulness.  Other things are assumed to be obvious (but a beginner misses them).  Finally, experts do things by habits they learned long ago and they themselves are unaware of some of the techniques they are using.  Even the best expert demonstration of a complex technique can not include everything needed to master the skill.

Some experts are very entertaining. Learners forget to pay attention to details because they are simply enjoying the humor and being impressed by a virtuoso show. 

Some experts are too boring or they go on too long.  Learner's minds wander.  Learners fail to stay alert.

Using a book, a video, or an interactive learning help such as this, can supplement and review what an expert shows. The computer is patient. It doesn't rush on to the next step until you are ready. If the learner is distracted or thinking about something else momentarily, it is easy to go back over an item. When you get tired, you can stop and continue when you are refreshed. When a teacher repeats a lesson you already learned, you can't stop the teacher. Somebody else in the class might need the lesson. If you find information in this program that you already know about, you can skip to something else. Computer assisted learning can fill learning gaps. 

After using this program, go to the potter's wheel the first chance you get. Try to practice at least one new thing in a deliberate way. Once you have mastered new things, make note of things that still seem difficult. You may be able to find a section in this program that speaks to your difficulty. 

A Chinese proverb says: "Tell me and I forget. Show me and I remember. Have me do it and I understand."

Falling is part of learning to ski. Getting back up is the other part. If repeated practice at the wheel and this computer program does not help you with a problem, definitely ask an expert to watch you work through the difficult passage at the potter's wheel. Chances are, an expert will immediately see ways you can modify your technique and get better outcomes.

There is no substitute for hands-on practice.
While doing hands-on practice, learning can be extrinsic as well as intrinsic.  At first, when leaning a new thing, deliberate thinking and concentration is required.  This is HARD practice.  This is very extrinsic (coming from external sources).  When you simply repeat things you can already do, you are doing intrinsic practice.  Your body's skills are being refined. Your brain is extending to the tips of your fingers and learning to respond appropriately without thinking.

Whether you are learning the violin, tennis, or pottery, if you alternate between hard and easy practice, it will get easier. It is a great way to develop skill.

Thoughtless intrinsic EASY practice allows hands and other body parts to "think for themselves".  They become automated.  They learn how to effortlessly respond to every common event in the routine of the skill.  Easy practice makes us better at things we already know, but it does not teach new skills. 

During easy practice we can learn to be more expressive because we do not have to think about what is being rehearsed. The brain can can involve higher thinking and feeling modes during easy practice.  This works because we are no longer using all our conscious effort just to achieve the task. Artists who are also experts are more creative because all their energy and innovative effort can concentrate on expressive and creative efforts.

News skills require hard practice. Hard practice tries new techniques, new moves, harder pieces, bigger things, and things that have never before been accomplished. Hard practice includes risks and failures. Hard practice is falling down and getting back up again. Successful hard practice often includes knowing where to go or who to go to when help is needed. Hard practice is trying something new and more difficult.

Learning from mistakes is hard practice, but learning from mistakes is an excellent way to grow. When a mistake happens, don't try harder - try it differently. Creative artists value mistakes because mistakes suggest new ideas. Physical geniuses, (people with expert skills) admit their mistakes and use them to focus their remedial practice sessions. Good learners do not make the same mistake twice.

Expertise comes from the good habit of regular practice time.  Routine warm-ups are helpful to set the mood.  Avoid distracting environments. 

Music, if carefully selected, often can facilitate learning.  Music, if it is poorly selected, can result in more mistakes because it distracts us from the task.  Individuals differ.  Come to the task well rested.  Expect to leave the task tired, but fulfilled. 

Be alert to how long you can work productively.  Concentration times vary.  During a periods of creative flow, hours pass without notice.  During periods of drudgery, minutes refuses to move.  When you can't concentrate, do something totally different.  Come back refreshed at a better time, but come back very soon.  Nothing is learned from good intentions alone. 


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all content copyright Marvin Bartel - 2000
Goshen College Ceramics Students may print a copy of any or all pages for their own use.
Please send questions, comments, and suggestions. Contact Marvin Bartel