Over the course of a term, Bow Arts artist Isabel Castro Jung spent one afternoon every week making coil and slab pots with a small class of KS5 students from Phoenix School in Bow, a well-established special school for children and young people with autism.
Discovering the medium of clay in incremental, experimental and exploratory steps, students were exposed to new materials, tools and resources, often with surprising results. By the end of term, students had made several pieces each, which went on to be painted with slip, glazed and fired.
"I think it was a really productive and great time with my students. They were very engaged, and it has helped me to find out more about the preferences of my students and the kind of sensory activities that they like doing" - Class teacher
Isabel structured her teaching around promoting the skills and processes pupils need to perform activities on their own and become generally more independent. Once pupils knew what was required to set up, how to use the tools and manipulate the clay, and how to clear away afterwards and preserve leftover clay for next time, they were encouraged to take the initiative themselves rather than wait for direction.
One of the advantages of working with the same group for a sustained period was that Isabel had the space to get to know each individual and employ effective strategies to connect with each personality. This meant taking time to watch and learn what students liked to do, especially with their hands – a vital form of communication in a largely non-verbal class.
"The whole time I am observing, I am watching a student’s hands to see what they like doing, because all of the information I gather helps me to think how I might channel these behaviours and movements into a piece. If I see someone who likes cutting, I might give them stencils; if I see them enjoying the repetition of rolling coils, I will give them something to do with those coils.
It was also really interesting to see the reactions of the group after their fired pieces were returned to them. They had only known them as soft and fragile, and now they are exploring them again and it’s a whole new conversation. It’s lovely for me to watch that happening." - Isabel Castro Jung, Lead Artist
The wonderful outcomes of this project will be sold by the students at Phoenix’s termly ‘Enterprise Fayre’, echoing the process of a professional artist and promoting the value of the young people's work.