Five hundred centuries ago, learning took place in an entirely different setting than it does today. Students of an activity or craft very often learned by cultural experience; they served as apprentices from a very early age to learn by watching, doing, imitating, working. The contemporary teacher may find this longused, historical model of teaching very effective: the mastercraftsman, acting as role model, teaches and explains his art in a “do as I do” fashion to his apprentices. In my eight years of teaching art, I have always found my most successful lessons were those in which I did the actual project in front of my class. My students enjoy watching me work and benefit from seeing the actual steps unfold.
This way of teaching need not be limited to just the art room; learning by doing has application to many areas of knowledge. Formalized learning (that is, reading and analysis) can be very demanding; experiential learning can help balance “book” lessons by activity and involvement. Exposure to “hands on work” has value and benefit as well because it stimulates student interest and inquiry at times when formalized learning may overload the student’s capacity to “take in” knowledge. I find actual experience valuable for a number of reasons. First, as a result of their observing me work, students very naturally ask probing questions; through our question and answer exchanges, they develop greater understanding of the activity. Second, my working seems to have a contagious effect; for students are always eager to watch some actual activity, then try it themselves. Thirdly, by seeing that I can produce as well as explain art work, I am firmly establishing my credibility, a step which results in my receiving more respect and developing better rapport. Students learn by imitation and therefore it is important for teachers to establish their personal credibility and set forth quality examples. To summarize, the imitation of steps, the questioning, the verbal exchange of opinions and ideas are all crucial to the learning process and cannot be captured with just book learning alone.
In my art classes, the guild can become both a subject of study itself as well as a model for learning and producing art. As I introduce the concept of the guild, I will teach my students about its origins, history, purpose, and its vocabulary. From that start we will move into creating the guild experience, in which students will create by stimulation, encouragement, and interaction. The project which will create this experience will be the construction and decoration of the great hall in an English country house or castle. To accomplish this task, I will divide the class into the various guilds which would have done the actual work. The objective of this lesson is to have students: 1) experience learning by doing; 2) to experience the pride in creation of doing substantial quality work; and 3) develop a greater awareness, understanding and appreciation for the artisans and their crafts and for the business concepts, ideas and practices that they established. By sharing information which I have compiled about the structure and function of the English guild, I hope to offer to teachers methods or ideas which can lead to meaningful learning experiences.