In a gallery where a number of portraits and genre scenes can be viewed, I instruct students to choose a painting in which the focus is a person or persons. I hand each student a sheet of paper entitled. “I Have a Story to Tell.” The sheet has a space for the name of the painting and the artist. Then, it asks “If this person or persons could tell you something, what would he/she/they tell you?” The sheet leaves a large space for the student to write an answer. Farther down the sheet of paper, another question asks. “With this information, would you change the title of the painting? If so, what is the new title?”
(I have chaperones hand out pencils, and I instruct students where they can write. Clipboards are ideal for this purpose.)
Initially, I used this activity with 7th – 9th graders; I wondered how they would respond and was delighted to find them eager participants. I watched to see which students were choosing the same paintings because even though one might not share directly, he/she might participate in the discussion of the painting being shared by a classmate. I also watched to see how people were progressing, and reminded students that we would be coming together in a few minutes. For any who finished quickly, I suggested looking quietly at other paintings in the gallery. When we reconvene, I ask if anyone would like to begin. There are always students who do. This initial participation leads to further discussions and others revealing their thoughts.
A number of my fellow docents have used this activity and it was equally successful for 4lh graders through seniors in high school. Responses varied from thoughtful to funny, but in each case contributed to the tour.
Karen Jones, Docent, Seattle Art Museum, Seattle, Washington
Jones, Karen “It Works for Me Docents share techniques and ideas they find successful,” The Docent Educator 1.1, (Autumn 1991): 12.