Monday, November 18, 2013

Teaching Cultural Diversity through Functional Pottery

Green Diamond Butter Dish by bohlsmargaret

The world over, one thing all people all have in common is the use of functional ware for cooking and serving their cultural cuisine.  The creativity and uniqueness found in such pottery is inspiring, and it is a perfect avenue by which to introduce student potters to a variety of cultures. 

By studying and imitating ware designs from around the world, students can get a muddy, hands-on lesson in cultural diversity.

Functional Pottery and Cultural Diversity

The world over, no matter the culture, one thing people all have in common is the use of functional ware for cooking and serving the food produced and available in that part of the world. The types of foods and recipes served dictate the uses and designs of the wares. Additionally, pottery from around the world is created using native clays, glazes, decorations, and techniques; all the more potential variety for students to research, practice, share, and study.

Learning Objectives in Butter Dishes

The study of butter and the butter dish might be a good starting point for students studying cultural diversity through the creation of functional pottery. Students can determine if butter is used in a culture, or why it may or may not be found on many tables. Students can study cultural design patterns and techniques for types of butter dishes, and they can design their own dishes based on whether or not people from the culture use melted butter, soft butter, hard butter, whipped butter, liquid butter, butter substitutes, large lumps of butter, or butter molded into particular shapes. Students can infer knowledge about the culture by studying the forms and functions of its pottery.

By combining cultural research and technique, teachers can meet any number of learning objectives or course goals from all levels of Bloom's Taxonomy.  For example, students can be asked to sequence the steps required to center a lump of clay on the wheel, summarize their current knowledge of butter dishes or particular cultures, safely use a slab roller in the creation of a butter dish, differentiate between types of butter dishes and their uses or places of origin, produce an imitation of a style of butter dish, and evaluate the functionality of their own finished products.

Pedagogical Requirements

In order to meet the stated learning objectives of the class or unit, teachers must determine the skill levels of their classes, the number of times the classes will meet, and any firing or equipment restrictions the students might encounter along the way. Some requirements for the assignment, however, should include research, planning, the creation of prototypes or test tiles for glazes, and the completion of a finished product per type of butter dish and cultures studied. Requirements that tie the project together can include student presentations, research papers, or a school-wide display of the artwork with statements by the students that include the cultural information, sketches of various designs, or any type of specialized display.

Regardless of where students may live, or where they might come from, the study of functional wares from all over the world can benefit their understanding of other cultures. With careful planning, teachers can use the study of functional pottery to meet cultural diversity learning objectives.


The Online Teacher Resource. (n.d.). Blooms Taxonomy Verbs. Retrieved from

Copyright Amy Lynn Hess. Contact the author to obtain permission for republication.
Originally published September 28, 2011. 

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