1- Ask closed-ended questions.
Asking visitors questions that have pre-determined answers is a form of testing and can discourage participation by making visitors aware of what they do not know. It also can inhibit additional exploration, as it reinforces the erroneous notion that there is a correct way to view, interpret, or comprehend some thing, some place, or some event.
2- Teach using judgmental language.
Speaking about “likes,” “dislikes,” or “personal aesthetics or preferences” closes down consideration from a variety of perspectives, can put visitors on the defensive, and will reduce the value of appreciating subject matter that may not be to an individual’s personal liking.
3- Insist that visitors hold all questions until the end of your talk.
Sometimes, questions will come up that, until answered, make visitors unable to follow a lesson. Waiting to ask questions is problematic. Trying to remember questions can shift a person’s focus off the discussion. In addition, it may be difficult to remember relevant questions after waiting too long.
4- Criticize visitors’ responses, thoughts, questionsor observations.
As the institutional “authority,” any negative comments you make wiU discourage the group from feeling safe and reduce their willingness to interact with you. Docents should focus upon, and credit, the attempt made when visitors give voice to their thoughts. In addition, docents should ask questions that do not require corrective retorts.
5- Resist being flexible in your teaching.
Giving the same tour to all groups regardless of age, grade, level of previous exposure, etc. will ensure that your tour is either too challenging or too elementary for your group, and can turn visitors off. Similarly, refusing to shift your focus to accommodate group interests will make your tour less interesting while making you appear to be a rigid and less capable educator.
6- Use technical language or jargon.
The entire point of teaching is to communicate effectively. Using language that is either incomprehensible or irrelevant to learners may impress them with your knowledge, but will do little to further their knowledge.
7- Be overly concerned with behavioral issues.
While it is essential that visiting groups be considerate of others, stressing such things as order and control over educational issues such as involvement and exploration is a misplacement of emphasis. Keep in mind that the younger the students, the more verbal and kinetic participation they require for learning. (Need a reminder? Try visiting various grade levels in an elementary school.) And, with all groups, regardless of age, never lose sight of the fact that learning in museums, historic sites, zoos, gardens, parks, and aquariums should be fun as well as informative.
8- Tell visitors what they might otherwise discover on their own.
Involvement, exploration, and appreciation are fostered by active participation. Listening is usually a passive endeavor. Promote “ownership” of what is discovered by allowing visitors to learn rather than to merely receive the benefit of what you have learned.
“Eight Ways to DISCOURAGE Exploration and Appreciation,” The Docent Educator 13.1 (Autumn 2003): 4-5.