I read the article “Pedagogical Techniques for Being a More Effective Teacher,” which appeared in the previous issue of The Decent Educator, (Autumn 1999) the night before I had my first fall children’s tour with third and fourth graders. The teachers wanted a highlights tour of the museum so I had assumed it would be the easiest type of tour and that I’d cover my favorite subjects — in other words, “no sweat.” But, after reading your excellent article, I realized that I was taking my first assignment too lackadaisically and that the kids deserved better.
While you didn’t reveal new techniques for me, you reminded me of all the great ideas of teaching that I carelessly let fade to the obscure periphery as I settled into a routine job. Thanks for the jolt! You reminded me of the affection I hold for the subject matter and my job. You also reminded me to communication wonder, while delighting in and showing respect for our visitors.
I planned the lesson as if it were my first time and expended the perspiration this first tour demanded. Since these young visitors were probably coming to a museum for the first time, I chose as my objective “to provide tools to make their art museum visit ftin and exciting.” I would divide the tour into three groups of five each and allot the tools for each. One group would have colored construction paper to match with the colors in the objects. Where colors didn’t match, we would open a conversation about the emotional response to color. The second group would be given a pencil and folded index paper (stiff enough to draw on) to find and draw shapes they saw in the works. The third group would bring their own tools: their senses. These youngsters would teU me their five senses, and then how they could imagine using them at each object.
Even the five adult escorts and the teacher would get into the act. I would have the taller of them find and read things too high for the rest of us. At other times they would find things (when I requested them to do so) that the kids couldn’t distinguish.
I went down to Birmingham Museum of Art an hour before the tour to be sure aU of my museum objects were on display and changed a few choices for balance. I wanted contrasts between contemporary and classical painting and sculpture. I changed more en route because of time restraints and because the children wanted to include one object they found.
Well, I had a great problem. There was so much excitement that it was difficult at times to control the chaos, but the adults were a great help — they didn’t interfere but kept the noise level under a roar. Thank heavens there were no nearby tours.
Then, I evaluated. The results of my evaluation were:
- Next time, I will have the entire tour group work with the same tools at the same time.
- Fifteen kids and five or six adults in a tour is too large a group to have the amount of participation that I like. Ten kids is better.
- I accomplished my objective: To provide tools to make each art museum visit fun and exciting. I knew I had achieved the objective because in this tour the students demonstrated their fun and excitement. By “tools” in the objective, I’m not speaking of pencils and paper, but the sharpened senses — to see how colors and shapes are used in the works and how the senses can be activated. I realize learning requires reinforcement and I hope the teacher provides it. To that end, I sent a follow-up note to the teacher.
Thanks for reminding me of a better way to have one of my very best tours.
Bud Johnson, decent, Birmingham Museum of Art, Birmingham, Alabama
Johnson, Bud. “It Works for Me…Sharing successful techniques, thoughts, and ideas.,” The Docent Educator 9.2 (Winter 1999-2000): 9.