What is Craftsmanship?

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What is craftsmanship? The Oxford Dictionary defines it as “a skill in a particular craft: I admire his engineering skills and craftsmanship; the quality of design and work shown in something made by hand; artistry: a piece of fine craftsmanship.”

"Craftsmanship" has appeared quite often during my recent professional reading binge. In one book, Leaving to Learn: How Out-of-School Learning Increases Student Engagement and Reduces Dropout Rates, the authors name the pursuit of craftsmanship “productive learning” and turn to Seymour Sarason for a definition:

“[Productive] Learning must be generative—engendering a desire to learn more, more deeply. Productive learning also requires rigorous student work that focuses on competence (i.e. performances that demonstrate knowledge, skills, and dispositions) and leads the learner to pursue CRAFTSMANSHIP, mastery, and artistry.” (Washor & Mojkowksi, 2013, p. 53; Sarason, 2004).

The authors then turn to social scientist Richard Sennett (The Craftsman, 2008) for his definition. Sennett says craftsmanship “brings together skills, commitment, and judgment in a unique way. It can exist in all manner of work, in processes as well as products—in a letter to the editor, a simulation, a dance, or a lab report.” (p. 68)

As I read on, I began to wonder how often students, or teachers for that matter, think about craftsmanship. And then I started thinking about our ever changing world and the need to help students embrace ambiguity, problem-solve, address problems that don’t have clear answers, be effective communicators, and be creative thinkers.

Are we doing enough of this deep developmental work in our classrooms? In what ways can we ensure that students are both academically prepared and also possess the important life and career skills needed to be successful at the level of true craftsmanship?

Thinking about Student C

Earlier this week, Ken Kay, formerly of the Partnership for 21st Century Skills and now with EdLeader 21, conducted a webinar for members of the Superintendent Leaders Network (facilitated by the Alabama Best Practices Center), inviting these system leaders to do some out-of-the-box thinking. As part of the webinar, Kay showed this slide (used with permission here) and asked superintendents which student they would want to graduate.   Screen Shot 2013-12-05 at 11.27.05 AM

Clearly, the Common Core will help us prepare more Student B's. But, perhaps we need to start thinking about a CCSS-plus approach if we want to ensure that we prepare more Student C’s as well. (When I think about Student C, I'm thinking "Craftsmanship.")

Dispositions for learning and success

We might ask ourselves: What student dispositions and behaviors are needed to pave the pathway for more Student C's? A new book by Arthur Costa (who with Robert Garmston created Cognitive Coaching) and Bena Kallick, Dispositions: Reframing Teaching and Learning, focuses on exactly that: How can we build the type of dispositions among students so they are both academically prepared and have important life and work skills that will enable their success?

The authors identify six key dispositions needed by students: 1) perseverance; 2) inhibition of impulse; 3) listening with understanding and empathy; 4) flexibility and open-mindedness; 5) awareness of their own thinking or metacognition; and 6) desire for CRAFTSMANSHIP, accuracy, and precision.

Costa and Kallick suggest that paying attention to the academic core as well as these dispositions can help develop the type of student that Ken Kay calls “Student C.” To demonstrate how this could be operationalized, the authors take one of the dispositions – perseverance – and suggest that students be asked this question: “What would we see or hear a person doing if they are persistent?”

To me, craftsmanship connotes taking pride in one's work. It means committing to do quality work and being thoughtful about the process from beginning to end. And, it means growth over time. Malcolm Gladwell has famously reminded us that experts develop their craft over thousands of hours.

Helping students develop the dispositions for learning — helping them grow the inner resources to persist in learning, even when it is hard, can lead to the type of craftsmanship that we all want and hope to see in every child.

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