Monday, February 02, 2009

TAM Docents: Inquiry can work with Adult Tours

Hello Docents-

I wanted to make you aware of a discussion taking place on a museum education blog that I subscribe to. Below are 3 blog submissions about involving adults in group tours by asking questions. I think that including questions in our tours is an important way to engage our visitors and a fun way to learn about them as well. For those of you who have attended VTS training, this could useful as a model of how to use inquiry to engage adults. The important thing is to involve our visitors in the tour by asking questions and engaging in dialogues versus monologues. If you feel like you would like more training or if you would like to discuss this further as a group, let me know and I could look into a workshop during one of our already scheduled training times. Your input is always appreciated.

Thanks to all of you who attended Saturday’s opening. The exhibition is great and I think that the opening was a booming success! If you had the opportunity to talk with any of the artists and you would like to share at Wednesday’s training, let me know and I will try to squeeze that in at the end of the Biennial walk-through before we head into Macaulay. If timing is too tight, we will save your anecdotes for the presentations that start February 23. I still haven’t heard from many of you regarding your artist choices so please submit those to me soon. I will also bring a sign-up sheet on Wednesday.

Thank you,



Jana Wennstrom
Volunteer Programs Coordinator
T: 253.272.4258 x3030



We train our docents to lead inquiry tours for all ages...even public adult tours.  This requires a lot of skill and commitment on the part of the docents, but it can really pay off.
I know we often have to convince our docents that adults can and will be engaged by questions, so I wanted to share this comment from a feedback form from a public tour here at the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University:
"I liked that the docent asked us questions about the art.  Prompted thought and was engaging."
I get one comment like this every other month or so, and it always gives me the warm-fuzzies.
Juline Chevalier
Curator of Education
Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University


I make it a point to let my audience know that it’s okay to ask questions at any point and that it’s okay to challenge what I have to say – sometimes it can get a bit rowdy, but I always feel much more engaged with my audience and as their peer. One of my goals is to eliminate the perceived hierarchy of me as the expert and they as the learners –Often my audience has a wealth of information and at times, questions I can’t answer! And, of course, I offer myself up at the end of the program/tour/lecture if anyone wants to continue the dialogue. Sometimes I ask questions, but I try to frame them so my audience does not feel tested or put on the spot…They’re usually posed as “What do you think…” or “How does this look to you…” (A common tactic, I’m sure). I’ve come to find that my most important role as an educator to adults is to stimulate thought and facilitate discussion, not treat them like pupils, and never assume they don’t know what I’m talking about!

Amanda Martin
Curator of Adult Programs

Fort Wayne Museum of Art

Our docents are also trained to do interactive tours.  We often use the same gallery interactives we would use with student tours - adults like to touch, too.  Our training is based on Howard Gardeners Multiple Intelligence/ Project MUSE ideas-- adults are as varied in how they learn as children.  Susan Baley at the Fred Jones Museum at the University of Oklahoma has put together a fantastic training program using these methods.

As the docents put together their highlights tours, they are required to include 3 possible interactive activities for adults.  This could be identification of elements of art, storytelling, compare and contrast, etc.

We have been getting more and more requests, especially from our seniors groups to include projects.  We have found that these have worked well and those who don't wish to participate sit with others and still visit about what is going on.   We have tied this to a program in "Mental Gymnastics" with our local Optimists Club.

Kathrine Schlageck

Beach Museum of Art, Kansas State University



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