Author Blog

Arresting the decline of craftsmanship

Bill Lucas shares recent research into the pedagogy of craftsmanship

Craftsmanship is in decline today for a number of reasons. We live in a throwaway world where being good enough has replaced doing your best, where hands are mainly used only to type on keyboards rather than make things, and where multi-tasking and short-termism are the name of the game. In schools these societal forces are further accentuated. There are pressures on time within some qualifications lessening opportunities for practical craftsmanship. And, importantly, there is insufficient understanding about the pedagogies and cultures likely to cultivate craftsmanship.
As one of the 7Cs we advocate in Educating Ruby, craftsmanship has received less attention in the education press than attributes such as grit, resilience and creativity. Partly for this reason we have recently at the Centre for Real-World Learning published A practical guide to craftsmanship.Drawing on interviews with expert practitioners and on evidence from many decades it offers practical advice to leaders and teachers, especially those working in colleges.
Unsurprisingly we found that craftspeople do things differently. They are passionate. They go the extra mile. They are highly attentive and often self-absorbed. They notice things more precisely than others, set demanding personal goals are reflective and particularly enjoy giving and receiving feedback. Three things emerged clearly from our research:
1. You can learn to be a craftsman or craftswoman.
2. It’s about ‘becoming’ as well as doing.
3. The culture of organisations really matters.
Clearly it is only worth trying to teach students to develop the habits of craftsmanship if it is technically possible! Good news. Our research shows that it is indeed possible to acquire the necessary attitudes and skills. Best pedagogies require learners to focus on how they use their efforts, to watch their language (‘I can’t yet do this’ rather than ‘I can’t do it’) and to remain optimistic (seeing setbacks as something over which they have control). Students need to learn to concentrate, focus and practise, all the while tracking the development of their own expertise.
We sometimes forget that part and parcel of true education is the sense in which learners are learning to become, to acquire an identity associated with the activity or subject they are undertaking – being, for example, an artist or a scientist or a writer. This calls for real-world experiences, authentic assessment, an openness to change and regular opportunities to be alongside people for who are experts in the field.
Context and culture matter hugely. Craftsman-like behaviours are promoted when teachers (and parents) model their commitment to excellence and when ‘second best’ or ‘good enough’ are never tolerated. Such teachers value effort. They see making ‘mistakes’ (proto-types, drafts) as at least as valuable as outstanding end-products. Learners need to be surrounded by positive role models. At every stage they need to see the value of group critique and the benefits of sharing work-in-progress.
If you want to see into the mind of a real craftsman then turn to pages 9-11 of A practical guide tocraftsmanship and see what Jason Holt has to say…