ETA 7 (2) pp. 111–125 Intellect Limited 2011
International Journal of Education through Art
Volume 7 Number 2
© 2011 Intellect Ltd Article. English language. doi: 10.1386/eta.7.2.111_1
SINIKKA HANNELE PÖLLÄNEN
University of Eastern Finland
Beyond craft and art:
A pedagogical model for
craft as self-expression
Craft as a school subject faces new challenges as the array of learning objectives
widens and the traditional distinctions between craft and art begins to blur. In
an effort to redefine the subject of craft, teachers can strengthen the relevance and
meaningfulness of craft education by contextualizing craft with different kinds of
pedagogical models. This article focuses on a pedagogical model that combines craft
and art education. This kind of approach includes not only the production of crafted
items, but also the demonstration of one’s skills, knowledge, thoughts, experiences,
perceptions and emotions – tasks traditionally reserved for artistic expression. At the
core of the learning task is the personal and active processing of a mental image or
association. Craft as a form of self-expression can be a way of learning sensitivity
towards different cultural or ecological phenomena, reflecting on culture and society,
and better understanding cultural differences. In this model, the relationship with
tradition is future oriented and renewable.
Since the foundation of the Finnish basic education system in 1866, craft has had
an established presence that has been separate from art. According to the founder
of the Finnish school system, Uno Cygnaeus, the main purpose in craft education
holistic craft process
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was to practice hand–eye coordination, as well as to develop a general aesthetic
sense. However, the inclusion of craft in the curriculum was mostly due to practical
reasons: it was important that people were able to prepare the tools and artefacts
needed in everyday life. After industrialization, craft teaching was rooted in learn-
ing the skills believed necessary for the success of a nation state (Garber 2002). In
today’s technologically advanced urban society, handicrafts are no longer valued
in the same way: the more our society has developed industrially and technologi-
cally, the less it relies upon crafts in everyday living. We can conclude that even
though there has always been a special place for craft as a school subject, it has, in
practice, not been seen as integral to our basic education.
Nowadays, craft is a combined compulsory subject for all pupils in the
national core curriculum for basic education (grades 1–9, ages 7–16) until the
seventh grade. In the eight and nine grade craft is optional. In the curric-
ulum, craft education is gender neutral: it comprises textiles (e.g. needle-
work, sewing, weaving, embroidery and fabric printing) and technical work
(e.g. wood, metal and electronics) for all pupils. From the fifth to the ninth
grade, pupils may be given the opportunity to concentrate on either textiles
or technical work. However, even in this case they must be provided with
contents from the non-chosen craft subject. Several teachers have indicated
that combining the crafts into one subject has resulted in the expectation that
the pupils must become competent in too many skills.
The present curriculum does not offer instructions for pedagogical models,
prepared handicrafts or the materials and techniques to be used. The objec-
tives are given at a general level and teachers have the freedom to choose
their means of pedagogy. One drawback of this openness has been the risk
of teachers trying to stick to the traditional implementation of craft education
through instructional strategies and the practicing of functional skills. These
kinds of strategies emphasize lower-order skills in the pupils, the teaching of
which does not rely on the teachers’ creative potential nor their expertise on
the subject matter (Sawyer 2004; Craft 2005). However, while the curriculum
is quite open, it outlines that teaching in craft education should strive towards
a holistic craft process from the very first grade (FNBE 2004). In a holistic craft
process, all the phases are conducted by the same person either on his or her
own or in a group. Holistic craft comprises all the phases of the craft process:
the maker is in charge of the ideas; the designing, the preparation and finally
the assessment of the artefact and the production process (see Pöllänen 2009).
In practice, this new concept of a holistic craft process has proven to be diffi-
cult to concretize. It has been concluded that teachers need direct guidance
with respect to appropriate pedagogical models (Reigeluth 1999).
The meaning of craft has undergone many social and cultural changes in
Finland. These changes have raised questions about how important it is to
maintain separate distinctions between textiles, technical work and art; and how
important it is to maintain an educational basis in practising functional skills,
instead of teaching reflection and interpretation of culture, historical understand-
ing, and future orientations; and how important it is to understand the human
developmental values in learning those subjects (Garber 2002). Simultaneously,
the learning objectives of the entire basic education system have been chal-
lenged, even all over the world. Teachers are encouraged to provide more
participatory learning tasks, as well as to include the pupils’ own thoughts,
ideas, emotions and sensations into the learning process while contextualizing
them with a facilitative approach towards teaching (Paris and Winograd 2001;
Sawyer 2004). Bereiter and Scardamalia (2003) remind us that teachers have to
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Beyond craft and art
extend teaching and learning in order to prepare more diverse pupils for the
challenges of working life and life beyond school. Pupils have to be prepared
for life-long learning and the production of creative innovations in areas that
presently may not even exist. Teaching should aim at generic skills, like think-
ing skills, communication skills, and information processing skills, collaboration
and participation and so on. To deliver sustainable communities, pupils need
these generic skills, behaviours and knowledge to accompany their expertise.
While the strong tradition of handicraft education in general educa-
tion is being reassessed, Mason et al. (1998), Garber (2002) and Karppinen
(2008) state that there is a need for discussion about the appropriate teach-
ing methods. The traditional individualistic (Garber 2002) and skill-based and
end-product-based (Karppinen 2008) training and evaluation has not been
perceived as meaningful. Positive experiences in craft education have been
fulfilling and empowering, but experiences of failure have simultaneously
weakened the pupils’ self-esteem (Kokko 2006).
In June 2010, an expert group installed by the Ministry of Education left
their proposal for the distribution of lesson hours and the general national
objectives for the new basic education act to be implemented in the national
core curriculum for 2020 in Finland. According to this proposal, the distinct
subject areas are organized into six multidisciplinary groups. In this proposal,
visual art and craft, music education and drama are grouped together under
just one multidisciplinary group named ‘Art and craft’ but they still are their
own subject areas. They can be organized traditionally, but they can also be
integrated together or thematized. In this situation, one way to strengthen the
relevance and meaningfulness of craft education can be achieved by contex-
tualizing crafts with different kinds of pedagogical models. In this article,
the focus is on a pedagogical model that can combine craft education and
art education to achieve those challenges confronting the school system and
craft education. To achieve such a model, this article first elaborates upon the
vanishing distinction between craft and art as the theoretical background for
the pedagogical model. After this, a model for craft as self-expression and its
pedagogical possibilities are elaborated upon and illustrated with examples.
THE DISTINCTION BETWEEN CRAFT AND ART AS A BASIS
FOR TRADITIONAL CURRICULA
Traditionally, there has been a distinction in Finland between the spheres of
art and craft. This has been reflected in the curriculum both in subject divi-
sion between craft and art, as well as in the pedagogical aims targeted by each
subject. In practice, this has meant that craft education has mainly aimed at
practicing functional skills (Karppinen 2008).
In many countries, craft and art have not been separated as in Finland.
Ihatsu (2002) has compared American, British and Finnish crafts by locat-
ing them in relation to tradition, avant-garde movements, art and design
(Figure 1). She found that their place in this sphere was different: Finnish craft
was the closest to design and traditional craftsmanship, while American craft
focused towards art and the avant-garde, instead. The same phenomenon can
be seen in craft teaching materials in the Finnish virtual craft place Käspaikka
(http://www.kaspaikka.fi/engl/index.html). These materials represent craft–art
only minimally; most of the learning materials deal with craft as a product or
product making, as a skill or as a technique (Kröger 2003). Although, Finnish
design has usually been highly appreciated, it has occupied quite a minimal
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sphere in crafts in basic education. Craft education, in general, would benefit
from inspirations of the avant-garde movements and aesthetic expression.
Throughout the 20th century, distinctions between art, fine art, craft, craft–
art and design have been a topic of discussion. Markowitz (1994) assesses
that art has had a positive evaluative connotation that craft lacks. Fine art has
been defined as non-functional (i.e. expressive, communicative, innovative,
unique) and craft as functional (Fariello and Owen 2005). Markowitz (1994)
argues that these distinctions are problematic, since art and craft are similar in
important ways but also somehow different. She asks if there is a need for two
different terms while these concepts are usually grouped together.
Postmodernism has questioned the hierarchical view of art as low and
high art (Ketovuori 2007), as well as the difference and hierarchy between
fine art and craft (Ihatsu 2006). Today, works that appear to ‘cross over’ from
mainstream art to an amorphous and pluralistic aesthetic milieu have come
to the fore. Contemporary art includes different kinds of art, with different
kinds of styles, audiences and ways of understanding art. Shusterman (2000)
sees that art is everywhere, not only in museums or galleries. Postmodern
art, for example, is a part of everyday life and culture-mixing genres (Paatela-
Nieminen 2008) and, on the other hand, artists with a background in crafts
have moved away from functional works (Ihatsu 2006). They have increasingly
incorporated contemporary art practices into their work, including installation,
performance and collaborative or participatory elements and events (Fariello
and Owen 2005). In crafts, new forms of expression have become parallel to
traditional techniques and materials; any kind of material can be used, and
the products of amateurs and experts are presented side by side in the craft
shops (Ihatsu 2006). While the hierarchical view of art is being questioned, the
role of the artist and the audience has also changed. This means that art is not
addressed only to the experts but to various audiences (Ketovuori 2007).
Figure 1: The place of Finnish craft (Ihatsu 2002).
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Beyond craft and art
The ideas of art have affected how art has been taught at schools and how
relevant art education has been in education. Thus, while postmodernism has
questioned the hierarchical views of art and craft, and amateurs and experts
outside the school system, the distinction at school has remained in practice.
The overemphasizing of technical skills has both hidden the artistic genres in art
(Downing 2005) and the artistic side of craft (Karppinen 2008). ‘Solitary work’
and instructional strategies has hidden the ‘socially shared work’ and acting as
participant and expert (Karppinen 2008). The new proposal for a new national
core curriculum as ‘Art and craft’ is more interrelated with activity, performance
and agency in its educational basis than art and craft have been in their tradi-
tional implementation. All in all, Downing (2005) insists that teachers have the
possibility to influence how art education is implemented at school. Therefore,
it is necessary to consider which kinds of pedagogical means and contents for
art and craft are now ideal for attaining the objectives relevant to contemporary
education. In this article, the main idea is to explore ways teachers can strengthen
the relevance of art education in craft, and, at the same time strengthen the
meaningfulness of craft education by contextualizing the learning.
THE PEDAGOGICAL MODEL OF CRAFT AS SELF-EXPRESSION
Craft as self-expression is a pedagogical model that combines craft education
and art education. It is based on the concepts of a holistic craft process (see
Pöllänen 2009) and self-expression in the sense of the expression of one’s
inner-self in words, music, painting and so on (see Green 2007). The artefact
thus produced can be defined as craft–art (Karppinen 2008) or some kind of
avant-garde craft (Ihatsu 2002). Craft–art can be a process or product of delib-
erately arranged elements. It can connote a sense of trained ability or mastery
of a medium. This kind of craft is an act of expression not only through the
production of crafted items, but first and foremost it is self-expression by
demonstration of one’s skills, knowledge, thoughts, experiences, perceptions
and emotions (Karppinen 2008) (Figure 2). It supports the ability to creatively
express an innate aspect of one’s psyche (McWilliam and Dawson 2008).
Figure 2: ‘Flower power’, fifth-graders’ crocheting at the teacher-training school in
Savonlinna. Photo Sinikka Pöllänen.
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In this kind of self-expressive process, children can reconstruct the day-to-
day details of their lives and thus better come to terms with its demands and
situations (cf. Kellman 1995). Satisfaction from accomplishing something
successfully supports the individual’s sense of uniqueness, as it strengthens
the pupil’s identity as an independent actor and creates a positive self-image.
Self-expressive tasks that call for insight into different life situations and
cultures create a better understanding of the variety of different cultures and
human experiences. Finally, as a consequence of an improved self-esteem,
craft as self-expression can increase the joy of living.
Craft as self-expression can find its subject from everyday living and forms
of cultures, for instance, tradition, the future, traditional or contemporary art,
paintings, drawings, sculpture, popular art, music, films, stories, nature, created
heritage, field-trips, advertisements or memories (Figure 3). The process can
take advantage of visual, verbal and auditory elements, so that different memo-
ries, smells, tastes, images, sounds, colours, light, objects, shapes, and rough
and soft textures can be significant impulses (Kojonkoski-Rännäli 2006). Just
one example of the use of textile materials and techniques in craft–art is Anne
Wilson’s collages on canvas (see http://patriciawilsonstudio.blogspot.com/).
In the school context, a common stimulating theme can assist to create
associations and to shape ideas. In this way, pupils have the opportunity to
focus on and elaborate upon the theme that acts as a basis for individual
or group schemas in guiding the craft process. In this process, the retrieval
of information can also consist of experiments, or it is possible to discuss
together with the pupils the potential of craft to express and articulate a certain
emotion to others. According to Hasio (2010), reciprocal conversations about
art and craft can encourage cross-cultural connections and build relationships.
If craft education at school is intended to act as learning-to-be (Brown 2006),
this means learning in collaborative action. Thus, the shared theme would
Figure 3: Nature inspired wall hanging. Photo Sinikka Pöllänen.
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Beyond craft and art
Figure 4: Sixth-graders’ rigid heddle woven with candy papers as craft–art at the
teacher-training school in Savonlinna. Photo Sinikka Pöllänen.
offer a chance to go into detail on a shared topic and to guide the learning
in this direction. At the core of the learning task is the personal and active
processing of a mental image or association. Associated activities support the
self-expressive process (Green 2007).
In this pedagogical model, assessment is based on the process of self-
expression, as well as creativity. The reflection focuses on learning from the craft
process, self-orientation and working, and also on the experiences and emotions
that are meaningful to the learner. Scaffolding and facilitating with means of
specialized instructional supports and articulation should support artistic self-
expression, introspection and reflection, which help children to find an individual
and balanced relationship between the outer world and the inner world of the
self (Karppinen 2008). For pupils, this kind of process can be just one step
towards tying intellectual, imaginative, emotional and social dimensions together
in creating new narratives of themselves (Beattie 2007). The produced craft–art
item can be assessed by the measures of technical skill or craftsmanship, but
first and foremost by originality, experimentation or risk taking, composition, the
principles of design and the elements of art (Dorn et al. 2004) (Figure 4). Because
avant-garde contains mainly experimental and barrier-breaking manual work,
the creativity and self-expressiveness can be the main element of evaluation,
instead of skills and end products (see Garber 2002; Karppinen 2008).
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Craft as self-expression is brought about through the pupils’ own, active
self-expressive process in which the teacher only acts in an assisting and
facilitating role. For teaching, this means, for instance, that the teacher pays
special attention to the creation of an open and supportive atmosphere. The
task of the teacher is to guide the assessment and reflection towards the
different phases of the holistic craft process (Pöllänen 2009). Self-expression,
as a contextual way of teaching, directs the teacher to support the pupils’ self-
EXAMPLES OF THE PEDAGOGICAL MODEL OF CRAFT AS
Since craft as self-expression is a holistic process that aims to increase the
individual’s understanding of oneself and external phenomena, it can be
used as a means for achieving various types of learning objectives. In the
pedagogical model of craft as self-expression laid out in this article, the focus
of craft education is not restricted to functional aims and skill-oriented craft
but reaches beyond, to generic skills and understanding, to complement
traditional craft skills. In this model, teachers can accelerate the pupils’ self-
expressive process by using different kinds of methods.
As touch and body are always present in craft, teachers can benefit from
intercorporeality (see Springgay 2003), the interrelation between the physical
body and materials, by remaking or refashioning. Thus, craft as self-expression
can be a model of intercorporeality that examines ways in which knowing and
being are informed through generative understandings of touch, fantasy and
performance that allow for tactile and felt knowledges (Springgay 2003). This
can happen through masking and clothing to reveal one’s multiple selves but
it can also be embedded in the narrative of a live action role-play (Figure 5).
Figure 5: A live action role-play theme guiding the craft process. Photo Outi Sipilä.
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Beyond craft and art
Craft–art becomes a synthesis of imagined and material experiences, where
evocations of touch, warmth and smell are possible (e.g. felting). According to
Springgay (2003), the intercorporeal relationship means that tactile materials
do not merely represent physicality, but rather embody it by allowing a sense
of the materials and tools as a controlled extension of the body. The main
point is to experience with one’s fingers as much as with one’s eyes and
mind, leading to a knowledge that is tactile and felt. Communication with
materials and other people provides a stage for action and makes moments
of self-expression possible (cf. Shusterman 2000). Expressing and articulating
thoughts by concrete action and through an artefact creates a natural way to
explore one ’s self and to share experiences through social interaction.
The teacher can use the intertextual method (Paatela-Nieminen 2008) to
facilitate pupils’ meaning-making and learning processes. The intertextual
method enables texts, understood as denoting both visual and verbal signs,
to be studied in relation to each other. The power of images today lies in their
relations with other texts. An example of the intertextual method applicable in
a school context could be studying, in some respect, interconnected artworks,
their themes, executions (such as colours, materials, etc.) through self-
produced craft works and thus create an intertextual dialogue between the
artworks and craft. According to Paatela-Nieminen (2008), the intertextual
method relates to postmodern principles, but it is also an open-ended medium
that can integrate different kinds of knowledge, meaning-making processes
and cultures, in order to reveal differences and pluralism regarding the target.
In craft, it helps to see beyond the traditional way of craft education, and it
‘knits’ the ideas into the wider fabric of contexts and cultures.
Craft as self-expression can enhance the sense of personal identity but it
also has a strong cultural and social dimension. This can be seen in the way
craft education is organized but also in the contents of craft education. Craft–
art can break boundaries as regards to folk art and high art, as well as various
social classes, races and historical eras (Ihatsu 2006). The need for communal-
ity, discussion and distribution of knowledge and experiences is manifested
in craft blogs and craft cafes. It is evident in the do-it-yourself culture, which
entails everybody’s right to create and make art (Figure 6). Collaboration,
appreciating another person’s point of view and other people in general
provides valuable guidance for self-expression and reflection, as they stimu-
late us to see things from new perspectives (Paris and Winograd 2001).
Craft as self-expression may also be implemented as a participatory
ecological art process that elevates consciousness and asks pupils to move out
of their customary patterns of thought and behaviour. Jointly made ecological
art pieces, like those made by Lynne Hull (http://www.eco-art.org/) involve
processes that will not leave pupils the same as they were before they began
the process together. Song (2009) argues that those who engage in this kind
of process, as a viewer-participant, will no longer be able to ignore the envi-
ronmental consequences of their own actions. It increases caring for others
and empathy (Hasio 2010). According to Upitis (2009), the artistic produc-
tion process and artistic sensibilities can awake changes in the participants’
awareness of the impact of one’s actions and practices in the context of the
larger community. Textile graffiti art in public places (Figure 7) is another way
to criticize some aspects of society and its way of living. Yet another example
of self-expression is tuning or art recycling, which can simultaneously entail
the reusing of a product (Figure 8) and the expression of a personal style or
demonstration. These examples show that craft as self-expression can be an
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Figure 7: Nälkä textile graffiti manifesting hunger. Photo Sinikka Pöllänen.
Figure 6: Kettle holders as craft–art by Laila Kemppinen. Photo Mikko Kemppinen.
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Beyond craft and art
activating pedagogical means that has elements that make participants rethink
issues: it calls for empathy, position-taking, and increases participation.
The role of art education in craft has been negotiated. As the distinctions have
blurred in many contexts, it prompts the need to re-evaluate the traditional
pedagogical choices and practices that still make the basis for curricula in
craft education and in contexts where craft materials and processes are used
as a part of art programmes in general. The educational challenges in the
school system and also in craft education have been calling for more human
values, including aesthetical values (Paris and Winograd 2001; Sawyer 2004;
Craft as self-expression is one example of how we can answer future chal-
lenges, by contextualizing craft education. This kind of craft can enhance
creativity, emotional development, self-confidence and generic skills (see
Bereiter and Scardamalia 2003), which can be recontextualized in a new
way outside the original learning context. These kinds of contextualized and
actionable learning are aspects of learning-to-be (Brown 2006) and learning
by doing (Lombardi and Oblinger 2007). Deleuze (2000) argues that an active
and embodied experience is the only way for learners to be motivated and to
learn successfully. Craft as self-expression is based on social constructivism,
in which the account of learning and emotions stresses the context of every
Figure 8: ‘Brilliant waste’, a lamp made of computer hard drives by Johanna
Kallio. Photo Sinikka Pöllänen.
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learning activity and points to the interactions between cognitive, conative
and affective factors in pupils’ learning and problem solving. Thus, the learn-
ing process is a dynamic interaction between the context, task, other people
and learner. Upon encountering something new, pupils must first match the
task or problem with their previous ideas, experiences and skills. Collaboration
with the teacher and with other pupils with different skills and backgrounds
support the pupil’s developmental processes and abilities to reach a new level
of understanding (Johnson and Johnson 1999). As with most pedagogies based
on constructivism, the teacher’s role is to observe, assess, coach and facili-
tate the pupils’ resolutions, learning process, action and articulation (Jonassen
1998). To achieve this, teachers can apply various methods involving collabo-
ration or group work, for example anchored instruction, problem-based learn-
ing, critical exploration and so on (see Brownstein 2001; Duckworth 2006).
In this pedagogical model, learning refers to identity-forming activities,
thus it cannot happen in a classroom merely by following a strictly predefined
and traditionally organized course. Addison (2010) insists to construct learn-
ing environments from activities based on pupils’ lives in their and our world
as social and cultural practice. At the pupil’s level, contextualizing denotes
the process that takes place within the pupil during the learning process (van
Oers 1998). The challenge for teachers is to sustain a replicable pedagogical
environment for creative learning outcomes (McWilliam and Dawson 2008).
Craft as self-expression is a way of learning sensitivity towards differ-
ent cultural or ecological phenomena, reflecting on culture and society and
a way to better understanding and acceptance of cultural differences. Craft as
self-expression can develop cultural know-how. One of the aims is to acti-
vate children into being socially and culturally oriented and into creating new
cultures of their own (Karppinen 2008). In this model, the relationship with
tradition is future oriented and renewable – it follows new trends and seeks
influences from different cultures just like postmodern art does. Craft as self-
expression is brought about through the pupils’ own, active self-expressive
process, in which the teacher only acts in an assisting and facilitating role.
One of the aims in this process is to strengthen the pupils’ personal growth,
self-confidence and participation.
Craft as self-expression in the school context takes steps in the direction of
art and avant-garde (see Ihatsu 2002). It is not just about distinct subject areas,
techniques or aesthetics: it may include functions that are integral to being
human, transcend the individual or not fulfil a specific external purpose (see
Garber 2002). According to Elster (2001), learning through arts also increases
teachers’ confidence and creativeness to teach from an arts-infused perspec-
tive and in the first place it improves the pupils’ attitudes towards school and
school curricula. It helps teachers to rethink their means of pedagogy, break
down the distinct hierarchy of school subjects and reform school practices.
Craft as self-expression can be different kinds of craft-based representations
of how pupils perceive certain works of art and their atmosphere and message.
Partnership programmes between craft and artists, and arts organizations can
be a means of bringing the art into craft (Meban 2002), of extending pupils’
artistic work and of enhancing their thinking about art and craft–art (Savva
and Trimis 2005).
The themes in craft as self-expression may take personal or global, regional
or local issues into consideration. The outcome may relate to a certain time
and its phenomena, so that craft–art depicts a lived reality. In that sense,
while craft as self-expression raises the artistic side of crafts (Karppinen 2008),
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Beyond craft and art
binding culture and pupils together, at the same time, it provides pupils with
generic skills to face future challenges.
In order for craft education to meet the contemporary challenges of school
education, it should assume self-expressive learning objectives from art
education. However, as generic human skills take central place in learning,
it becomes more and more relevant to overcome traditional subject divisions,
by gathering learning objectives under common themes. This calls for new
pedagogical models for schoolwork. Craft as self-expression may be a way
to implement the new multidisciplinary ‘Art and craft’ into practice in basic
education in Finland. While the context and impetus for this article derives
from the Finnish educational system, in which craft enjoys its own distinct
subject area, these pedagogical implications may be applied to art education
general, when craft materials and processes are part of art programmes.
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Merriënboer (eds), Powerful Learning Environments: Unravelling Basic
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pp. 111–125, doi: 10.1386/eta.7.2.111_1
Sinikka Pöllänen is a Professor of Craft Science in craft teacher education
in University of Eastern Finland. Her major research areas include craft as a
substance of learning and teaching, craft and well-being and craft in special
Contact: School of Applied Educational Science and Teacher Education,
University of Eastern Finland, Finland.
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