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Creating Partnerships for Complex Learning: The Dynamics of an Interest-Based Apprenticeship in the Art of Sculpture

Curriculum Inquiry
Informa UK (Taylor & Francis)
Publication Date
  • Design


This is a story of 10 middle school students identified with learning disabilities who, along with their teacher, worked together in a human-form sculpture apprenticeship. Their participation was based on their expressed interests in art. Within the apprenticeship, designed and conducted as a studio art class and led by a professional sculptor, the apprentices confronted and solved a series of artistic problems as they each created two sculptures. Our study focuses on the apprentices and their mentor as they struggled to articulate and understand the multiple ways they made meaning of their apprenticeships, and how the experiences came to affect their lives. We wanted to know how the act of artistic engagement could, for example, lead an apprentice to “see different things . . . see people differently . . . feel stronger inside.” To this end, we have used the various texts of the participants to examine the meaning of genuine interest as revealed in their commitment to art. We look at the apprenticeship as creating a context for dialogue between co-participants—a dialogue that transcends the commonplace. We examine the place of art-centered experiences in learning and we explore learning within a context of enculturation. The shared apprenticeship experiences created a learning narrative about art, about themselves, and each other—learning that included both the communal and individual meaning-making voices. In the process of constructing meaning from their unique subjectivities, the student apprentices transformed their learning narratives from “disabled” to “abled,” becoming learners who were interested, engaged, and competent in their eyes and in the eyes of others. Our work suggests that interest-based learning that is guided by a talented, committed mentor can offer learning opportunities for middle schools students with specific learning disabilities not offered in conventional school contexts.

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