Saturday, December 18, 2010

a productive visit to the art museum


      A Museum docent is a title used in the United States for educators trained to further the public's understanding of the cultural and historical collections of the institution, including local and national museums, zoos, historical landmarks, and parks. In many cases, docents, in addition to their prescribed function as guides, also conduct research utilizing the institution's facilities. They are normally volunteers.
      Prospective docents generally undergo an intensive training process, at the expense of the educational institution, which teaches them good communicative and interpretive skills, as well as introduces them to the institution's collection and its historical significance. They are also provided with reading lists to add to the basic information provided during training, and must then "shadow" experienced docents as they give their tours before ultimately conducting a tour on their own. 
      Museum docents are not, however, trained art historians and should not be considered as such. What visitors should consider is that the docent is better equipped to draw students into discussion and guide them through the collection. But, a docent is not always well read or has not always studied with the intensity of a professional scholar. Docents also have their own opinions and sometimes are too prejudicial about the artworks they discuss. Be selective about who conducts tours for your classroom. Sometimes it is best to ask for transcripts of tours prior to your students participating in them. Teachers should tour a collection if possible, prior to their students' visit to the museum. I've listed below some important points to consider before taking your students on a museum field trip.
  1. Make sure the information being shared is age appropriate.
  2. Make sure the topic covered shares some relevant connection with the materials you will cover during class.
  3. Know when enough is enough! Some students are too young to stand and listen to a docent for long periods of time. Make sure the tour is not too long!
  4. Know where the toilets and water fountains are located. Take breaks often for young students.
  5. Have plenty of parent helpers to accompany students on your field trip.
  6. Give students partners or have some kind of a system planned out in order to keep track of who is where at all times.
  7. Make sure students are not hungry before your guided tour.
  8. Give a simple lesson plan about museums or art galleries a day or two prior to visiting the institution so that students will behave better and also know what they are looking at.
  9. Discuss and role play in advance the appropriate behavior you expect every student to demonstrate during their visit.
  10. Reassure students, parents, and helpers that a museum visit involves "the study" of multiple cultures and prepare them properly for this experience in advance. To study something or someone does not mean that you necessarily expect others to participate in activity that they are uncomfortable with. In order to study culture properly, students are made aware of the whats, whens, hows and wheres of people that may be different from themselves. However, this does not mean that they are expected to mirror and accept the values and practices of those cultures in order to make excellent grades. A professional art educator can help students make personal connections with artworks and artists without compromising the students' freedom to choose what they wish to believe. They can also teach art history and assess whether or not a student knows the facts without requiring those same students to be indoctrinated in beliefs that they do not agree with.

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