Class 16: Practice!

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The Teen Docents took their tours for a test drive today, trying out their inquiry techniques on a group of their fellow students. In the moment captured in the above photograph, Francia has just asked, “What do you notice?” and is about to call on Laddy for a first observation. Notice how she has a smile on her face and how open and accessible her body language is. The students as a whole did a wonderful job embodying best practices for museum education.

The one aspect of their tours that they need to work on between now and their next meeting is really learning their content. While they won’t be lecturing at any point during their programs, it is important that they know and understand the background of the works they’ve chosen to discuss. It wasn’t until they were standing up in front of their peers, suddenly in a position of authority, that the students realized how much they still need to do in order to learn their facts!


Classes 14 and 15: Research

For the past two weeks, the Teen Docents have been working on organizing and researching their final tours, which they will present on April 9th. After deciding on a theme and three tour stops, they set to work finding information on the objects they’ll be presenting, using articles, books, the exhibition catalog and the wonderful resource, After so many weeks of active conversation, the move to reading, writing, and researching hasn’t been without challenges, but the students understand that it is important to have a solid foundation of facts before they can begin to lead the creative conversations they’re all looking forward to facilitating.

One of the students who will be doing a piece of writing for her final project has been reading, sketching, and brainstorming a work of fiction that might bring together a contemporary piece of fashion, a kimono wall-hanging, and a 19th century quilt. It will be exciting to see what she comes up with!

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At the end of their second research session, the students spent ten minutes on an energizing public speaking activity. All but two of them realized that they need to be louder when presenting to a group and will be working on projecting their voices!  

Class 13: Inquiry Workshop

Today, the students dove in to leading their first inquiry conversations around works of art:2014-03-04 17.20.32 2014-03-04 17.21.02 2014-03-04 17.21.11 2014-03-04 17.24.45At the start of class, the students recapped their visit to the Rubin Museum and discussed what they’d learned from the teens there in terms of best practices for giving tours. The conversation led directly into the concept of “inquiry”–engaging audiences with artwork by asking them open-ended questions to facilitate discussion. After thinking about it, the students realized that they learned best–in a museum or classroom setting–not when being lectured to but when their instructors asked them questions to help them figure out material for themselves. One of the students, Laddy, articulated one of the other benefits of the inquiry method in a great way. She said, “When a teacher is lecturing, they’re the only active ones. But by asking questions, everyone gets to be active and participate.”

After brainstorming more than thirty brilliant questions one might ask an audience about the painting “The Peaceable Kingdom” by Edward Hicks, organizing those questions into categories and discussing which questions one might ask at the beginning, middle and end of a conversation, Vivian volunteered to be the first student to test out her inquiry skills. She bravely stood up in front of her peers and asked one of the most important questions one can ask in a museum: “What do you see?”

Yasmin took over from there. She started out a little unsure but within moments was expertly gesturing around the painting, asking follow-up questions, and synthesizing students’ comments like a seasoned educator. Despite knowing nothing about the background or history behind the painting, she was able to lead the students to discover its meaning. (Although the students all quickly agreed that they’ll feel much more comfortable leading conversations when they’ve done some more serious research!)

From there, the students broke into two groups; Walid, Scarlet, Lia and Ana all had the chance to lead an inquiry conversation. All of the Teen Docents did an incredible job coming up with thoughtful, thought-provoking questions and, judging by all the laughter filling the galleries, had a great time doing it.

A Visit to the Rubin Museum of Art

Last Friday, the AFAM Teen Docent cohort set out on its first offsite excursion together! Bundled up in our winter coats, we headed downtown to West 17th Street to visit the Rubin Museum of Art, which celebrates the art and diverse cultures of Himalayan Asia. Our class was invited by the RMA Teen Guide Council to engage in a teen program summit. This exchange invites teens involved with both museums to share program experiences, discuss artworks on view in our respective spaces, and to think about gallery teaching strategies and techniques.

When we arrived, our group was warmly welcomed by the RMA teens, who took us into their classroom space for introductions and snacks—much appreciated at the end of a long school week! We then broke up into small groups and ventured into the museum galleries. One group learned about the Green Tara, a female Bodhisattva who is associated with enlightenment (a concept which was enthusiastically debated within our group!) We also got a chance to discuss one version of the Tibetan Wheel of Life, which illustrates the six realms of existence and their relationship to karma, which is often studied as part of Buddhist teachings. Our teen guide expertly facilitated conversation while referencing a color reproduction, so that the many, intricate details could be made out more clearly. By carefully studying the Tibetan Wheel of Life, students were able to question how an ancient religious tool has universal relevance today, regardless of one’s culture or belief system.


After our gallery tours and back in the classroom, the group spent some time reflecting and discussing questions such as, “what allows for meaningful conversation to happen around a work of art? how do we support one another in the process of leading tours? how do you select works of art that are most personally meaningful, and how does that impact discussion with your participants? what techniques work best to keep your participants engaged? as a tour leader, what are your objectives and priorities in leading a conversation around a work of art? how do you set the tone of discussion? how do you keep your confidence up, and nerves at bay?”

We all agreed that our guides had fantastic storytelling skills that really helped to share many of the artworks that had very specific symbolism and layered religious meaning that could be conveyed through narrative. A big thanks to the RMA Teen Guide Council for hosting such a productive exchange in their space! AFAM teens now have lots to consider as they begin designing their own tours.

We look forward to sharing the American Folk Art Museum with RMA teens in April!

Class 11: Theme Workshop

Today, the Teen Docents began to make their first concrete plans for their final tours, which are coming up on April 9th. The program instructor, Nicole, led them on a model tour like the ones they’ll give themselves– beginning with an introduction to the museum and the exhibition, then continuing with visits to three pairs of folk art objects and the fashion they inspired. She incorporated a small movement activity and two touch objects along the way.

The theme of the mock tour was “Materials” and the subtheme was “How did the folk art objects’ materials inspire fashion?” (The answer to that question, according to the students, was that the fashion designers responded to the symbolism of the artists’ materials more than to the actual materials themselves).

After seeing how a tour can be organized under a specific theme, the students were assigned groups for their final tours–they were split up into either pairs or trios–and worked together to brainstorm a list of themes and subthemes they might be interested in using themselves. Their ideas ranged from “Process” to “Harmony” to “Symmetry” to “Mood” and much more. They’re off to a great start!