The Language of Clay: Summary


Supervised by: Elle Simms, School of Art and Joe Hartley, PLANT NOMA

In this project, we will run community and school workshops which will use clay as a medium to support and develop language use and aid communication (working, for instance, with people with little or no English).  We will facilitate creative workshop sessions that will allow communication to take place between participants and facilitators through working with our hands and utilizing the materiality of clay processes. Clay has a language like all materials. A literal language associated with process, words which explain the ‘how to’, and also a visual and material language relating to the feel and experience of working with it. So our workshops will give participants an authentic reason to interact in English in ways which are more organic than an ‘English lesson’ – the clay itself also becomes a medium for communication. Our workshops will therefore aim to bridge language gaps and explore alternative methods of developing dialogue.

EdLab students will be central in the design and delivery of these workshops, and in better understanding the learning processes involved. You will work in collaboration with Elle Simms, a tutor from the School of Art, and Joe Hartley from PLANT NOMA, an open source community workshop environment in the heart of Manchester who are keen to run community and school workshops. Elle and Joe are both makers who explore how materials can act as a carrier for narratives and stories and we will be here to show you how to interrogate stuff. You will be getting hands on with clay to learn about these often subtle languages, responding to these experiences.

During this project, you will develop a deeper understanding of working with learners with English as an Additional Language (EAL). We will be looking at how language can be explored through the process of making, material exploration, and alternative ways to communicate and learn when participating in creative activities. You will explore language and innovative ways of learning through doing – drawing on theory and working in response to your own experiences in the workshops.

No knowledge of clay or ceramics is needed to be involved in this project. An openness to respond to findings and to try non-conventional methods will be encouraged.

If certain language within this project outline sounds alien, do not worry! We will be looking at how to unpick the language of clay and you will be introduced to clay as a material to work with. It is important to note that Elle is from an Art School background and you may find that the vocabulary used here differs due to different disciplines and specialisms. This is exciting and a great starting point for our creative project exploring language.



Farewell, And Thanks For All The Fish

This is a final well done message, and a reminder about submission requirements for assignments.

Full details of your assignments and how to submit are on your Moodle areas. But here are the key links so you have them all in one email.
–          And this is an exemplar.


Some (Further) Academic Context

Some research and reading points stolen from the Grimm and Co blog around play, literacy and learning. Could be useful?

Mobilise Grimm and Co.

Further Reading

At Grimm and Co we are advocates in Child-Led learning, we allow the students to take us where they want to go with their imagination and ideas, we don’t push our ideas onto them (other than creating the structure).

Here is some further reading on child led approaches.

Book – Child-Initiated Play and Learning: Planning for Possibilities in the Early Years Edited by Annie Wood


Play and Literacy in Early Childhood: Research From Multiple Perspectives

edited by Kathleen A.

Journal Article –

Journal article –;dn=021681536580007;res=IELNZC

 Awe and Wonder

Here are a few other projects that create that feeling of awe and wonder immersive aspect that we at Grimm and Co aspire to;

Task: Integrating Reading

Produce at least one blog post which responds to something from the texts shared above. Refer to the previous blog post for guidance on the way you…

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Conference 3 round up and assignment catch ups

Tutorials: I have slots for 1 to 1 tutorial support to talk about your assignment progress. Book a slot here:

Zine making session on Friday 4th May 10.30 – 3pm: We have talked about how you might document your project, some of you are interested in running with the Adobe Spark video while others were really keen to make a zine. If you’re not exactly sure what a Zine is, look online to see what you find. I am going to run a workshop in collaboration with my intern Sara on how to put your assignments together. Sara is a pro at making zines and has a Graphic Design background, so we will have lots of help from her. During this session I can also talk to you about the video, if you are choosing to use Adobe Spark. REMEMBER your assignment is a creative piece, if you have your own ideas about how you would like to document your work, then great! We can also work on this during the session.

For this support session we will need – a theme – your assignment planning document with a clear direction of your theme and focus for your work, your images either printed or accessible on a device that is connected to the internet, your research and specific findings that you have chosen to include in your assignment, maybe some quotes from readings or videos you have engaged with, your own text or a draft script for your video.

Below are images of example zines from conference 3.

IMG_1486.JPG IMG_1485.JPG IMG_1484.JPGIMG_1481.JPG IMG_1482.JPG

Below are images from Samrah’s Blog – notes taken while Samrah and Madiha talked through their assignment and aspirations for the next session with the refugee youth group.

img_2824 img_2825img_2826 img_2827

I thought I would round up some of the key points highlighted during our conversations at the last conference. Remember to go back over the research posts i have put on this blog and document your own research – Active learning, use of props or objects, playful learning, learning through making/doing, Reggio Amelia, developing language – 2 papers posted by Elle, research by Stephen Krashen, resources such as the cooking with clay resource. 



Post from Pier’s blog:

Read Pier’s post in response to the Integrated Reading task, some really interesting connections between our project and theory. Perhaps these could be utilised in the next stage of planning?

After the refugee workshop at PLANT NOMA, I thought it could be a good idea to research alternative methods of learning in depth with the purpose of giving future workshops and drop-in sessions more direction. As mentioned in previous meetings, some well-known methods are active learning, object-based learning and project-based learning, which all centre on the students and the way in which they learn.

Active learning is defined as a process which focuses on how students learn and not what they learn. They are encouraged to think hard by teachers challenging their thinking. This means, students don’t merely receive information passively, but rather build knowledge in response opportunities provided by the teacher.

Active learning is based on the constructivism theory, which makes emphasis on the fact that learners construct and shape their own understanding.  Constructivism states that learning is a process of “making meaning.” Moreover, the theory of “social constructivism,” argues that learning happens mainly through social interaction with others.  In the context of learning English as a foreign or second language, engaging in conversation with others is a great way to help with a persons fluency and an opportunity to learn and assimilate new vocabulary.

Active learning links to other theories such as Rousseau’s idea that learning should be relevant and within a meaningful context. Therefore, we learn best when we can see the usefulness in what we learn and can connect it with the real world. I believe that, with the activities the group has proposed as part of The Language of Clay, the aim is to use active learning to inspire pupils to discover clay as a material and elicit a conversation while focusing in the context of culture.

One of the characteristics of active learning is to give more importance to the objective of a lesson than the task itself. Therefore, rather than focusing on selecting a certain activity for our workshops, we should clearly outline the outcomes we wish to achieve by the end of the lesson.

Object-based learning also centres on the student an sees objects as signifiers of deep learning;  multi-sensory “thinking” tools that can be interrogated to promote learning and engagement. The objective of an object based lesson is to interact with the tactile nature of the object and the associations and understanding that come from it. This way, objects stimulate the learner’s imagination and helps them apply their understanding to other context and problems. More specifically, students are asked to physically handle the objects and make observations about the form, find a meaning for it, compare it to others and discuss its function.

 In the case study ‘A Matter of Taste’, Dr. Kirsten Hardie asked a group of students specific questions about sketches, photographs and quotations found in a museum. The aim of this task was to  “develop knowledge and understanding of, and the ability to use, the language and approaches that are used to define, decode and decipher how we communicate and read and judge the visual across a variety of contexts.” Some of the questions were: what is its function, age and target audience? Who designed and manufactured it? Is it ergonomically designed? What does the object communicate and what values do you think it has? and Does it appeal to you? Does it not?  Students were encouraged to answer the object and interpret them: “interpretation is the process of constructing meaning. Interpretation is part of the process of understanding”.

Previously, we experienced object-based learning by the interrogation objects found in brook’s building clay room. Also, the activity “textures in clay” was a great opportunity for children to interrogate clay and be creative.  Several of us also proposed the activity of getting the students to feel the clay or other tools and interrogate them so as to elicit vocabulary and adjectives associated with touch.

Finally, Project Based Learning is a method in which knowledge and skills are gained by working for an extended period of time to investigate and respond to and authentic, complex question or challenge.

Some of the elements and goals of project-based learning are Key knowledge, understanding and success skills, which means the focus of the project is on the learning goals as well as skills such as critical thinking/problem solving, communication, collaboration, and self-management.

Challenging the problem or question is also crucial, as students are expected to answer at the appropriate level of the challenge. Another goal is “Sustained Inquire”, which encourages students to engage in an extended process of asking questions, finding resources and applying information. Reflection, public product and critique are other aspects of project-based learning.

I believe The Language of Clay in general is a way for us to explore project-based learning as we all working to respond to the complex challenge of using clay as a medium to support and develop language use and aid communication.






Some interesting updates on the BCB blog

The British Ceramics Biennial have been updating their learning blog with findings from the project ‘Clay Pit’. Can you find out more about this and consider how it relates to our own research?


The Clay Pit was an interactive, large-scale clay playground, installed as part of the British Ceramics Biennial. The Clay Pit was a place to play; a place for people to explore clay in it’s various states: liquid, wet, leather, hard, dry and fired. Using a person centred learning approach called Reggio Amelia, participants were invited to create anything that they liked, using as little or as much of the materials as they wished.

4000 participants visited the workshop space during the festival. Community and education groups, visitors and visiting artists used oversized clay tools, creative props and copious amounts of clay to let their imaginations run free.

The designers of the Clay Pit, Dena Bagi and Priska Falin are passionate about the use of clay, with its ability to stimulate learning, create unique tactile experiences and fire the visual senses and creativity.
The Clay Pit is supported by the Ceramics and its Dimensions project, which brings museums, universities and research institutes together to provide a view of ceramics past, present and future.

During the festival, I was one of the artists working on the Clay Pit.
Participants of all ages, backgrounds and abilities constructed, played, explored and manipulated the material in many different ways. Each of their pieces, were individual in process and unique in appearance. People joined, printed, stamped, built, shaped, modelled and painted with the various states of clay to create some fantastic work. They used the tools provided as well as their hands to create sculptures inspired by foliage, architecture and heritage. Participants created portraits, they made drawings using the liquid clay and built structures using fired ceramics, and created pots inspired by visits to local factories. Visitors combined the various states of clay to create work that had no boundaries. None of the work created was fired, this approach allowed space for freedom with the material. The Clay Pit encouraged communal hands-on play, exploration and construction.

The work created, connected participants to self, community and place. The way people experienced clay whilst meeting new people was wonderful to see. One participant said “I found it really difficult at first, but I worked with the people around me to figure it out! The different states of clay interested me. The clay is tactile and inviting!” Others spoke of their former connection to the potteries industry and how the skills they learned, automatically came back to them when touching clay again.

A local schoolteacher said, “I am surprised at the versatility of clay. I am very interested in how clay can be used in the curriculum for storytelling with clay and setting up landscapes for language!” We saw many visitors come with families, working together as a team! “My Dad created the bricks, and I built the structure!” said one youngster. Some participants took some clay home with them so that they could continue making. It was clear to me that every single person who experienced the Clay Pit found inspiration in some way, whether that was the comfort in working with their family and friends, or discovering clay for the first time as a new material, even though it is so close to our local heritage.

Liquid, wet, leather hard, dry and fired clay was laid out in large scale trenches, inviting participants to help themselves to as much of the material as they wanted. This was an exciting way for participants to have complete control over what they would create from the start, and how they would create it. Participants described the quality and texture of the materials ‘relaxing’, ‘therapeutic’ and ‘calming’. Partakers were surprised at the variance in the different states of the clay. “I found the clay really cold and squishy. I enjoyed the liquid clay as it was useful, yet fun at the same time!” said one younger participant. The slip was “messy and fun!” said another “I got really excited because I didn’t know what was going to happen! The wet clay is the most exciting to me.”

It was interesting to see the contrasting approaches from different age groups. Younger participants seemed much freer in their composition, some just playing for hours. “My son spent three hours in the clay pit. I have never seen him so engaged with a material.” said one parent.

It seemed that older participants were initially unsure of what to create; the free approach can be daunting, yet the outcomes were very interesting. Some participants used previous experiences of clay to help them create. “This experience has got me back in to working with clay.” said a local artist who visited the pit. “I love the free approach, it really is a fantastic way of exploring the material. My approach is really organic. I like going with the flow, and this is really therapeutic. A great way to be free!”

The Clay Pit has been an incredible and invaluable experience for me, as an artist. Seeing the participants enjoying the material that I work with was really inspiring, and has given me a better insight into the importance of projects like this. The drop-in approach has meant that more people could enjoy working with the clay, especially as the workshop space was free, and open all day and every day through the festival.
I saw a wide range of approaches to participants working in the clay pit and was surprised at how experimental people could be with very little instruction or guidance. Also, I saw many people unleash their creativity and imagination whilst making. I saw families connect through working together, and friendships form in communities. I am looking forward to seeing how the project develops in the future.

EdLab Conference #3

EdLab Conference 24th March – 10am to 3pm
Agenda for Conference #3

10.00 Introductory Lecture: Assessment Orientations (Mark Peace and Mick Chesterman) Lecture Theatre 3

In this introductory session, we will revisit the assessment principles and requirement for the unit, and give some guidance on the kinds of forms that assessments can take.

11.00 Assignment Workshops

You will then move into your project teams, to begin to interrogate the substance, focus and form your assessment submissions will take. We want this session to give you space to actually get stuff done – so please bring along a device, and anticipate making a dent in working on your submission. Groups will report to the following rooms:

Elizabeth Gaskell’s House – BR 2.15 with John Lean
Early Years Explorers – BR 2.10 with Sean Mitchell
Environmental Play – BR 2.19 with Rachel Summerscales
The Language of Clay – BR 2.16 with Elle Simms
The Oubliette – BR 2.17 with Mark Peace
Mobilise Grimm and Co – BR 2.17 with Lauren Ash
The Game Makers – BR 2.18 with Mick Chesterman

In addition, we put on an additional workshop in BR 2.18 for students who have not engaged well enough in the process so far to feel confident in producing their assignments. It is important that you have identified yourselves to Mick Chesterman (m .chesterman @ ahead of the day.

13.00 Project Team Meetings / Working Lunch

The final hour of the day will be given over to project teams to continue any final development work on their planned outreach activity. Bring a packed lunch so that you can continue to work through this hour!

14.00 Ad Hoc Tutorials / Focused Session for the Students ‘Catching Up’ – 2.18/2.17

The remaining hour will be given over to allow further one-to-one support for students who need it, and for students ‘catching up’ with Mick to continue their development work.

If you do not need extra support, at this point, you are free to work independently on your assignment either in the spaces we have booked, or elsewhere.

15.00 END