I had an idea of something to blog about today…but then I changed my mind. Instead, I thought I would share something with you all (y’all if I was writing this from back in Illinois!). So many times professionals, regardless of their field, give off an air of confidence, knowledge, and authority. As they should. But, that doesn’t mean that we don’t get a little nervous when we have to step out of our comfort zones and try something new…
Tomorrow I am giving my first ever tour to a school group. A group of high school students to be exact. Now, I have done frequent guided tours over my time here at CHS, both in exhibitions as well as behind the scenes. I have also helped out a few times with programs involving patrons of different ages…but always in situations where I just do what I am told.
The tours I am used to providing are, at their core, essentially animated lectures with lots of 3-D show and tell. They are not set up to be engaging in the “question and answer” sort of way…questions are always invited, but they come from the group, not from me…entirely different from the way our school programs run. But, tomorrow I am working with a group of high school fashion and design students. The program will more closely mirror our education programs than our tour programs. The students need to engage in their learning, ask questions, and look closely.
The program will start off with a tour through the clothing history of Connecticut as illustrated in our permanent Making Connecticut exhibition and our new Katharine Hepburn: Dressed for Stage and Screen exhibition. As we walk through the galleries, I will have to fight the urge to do what comes naturally to this non-teacher…pepper them with facts and information. Rather, I have been working with the Education Department to come up with open-ended questions to ask to get them to really SEE the items we are standing in front of in the cases. Instead of walking up to the case displaying an 1830s dress and undergarments and launching into a speech about what women wore, and why and how it is different from today, they will be asked questions that invite them to think for themselves what is going on with the garments. For instance, “What do you see that is different from what we wear today?” These types of questions are based on observations, and therefore do not have right and wrong answers. But their answers will then help us dive into more detail about the items and essentially arrive at the same information I would have presented to them in my usual manner of tours.
Open-ended questions are not something that come easily to all of us. I, for one, think I do a pretty amazing job at bringing conversations with people younger than myself, especially very young children, to a screeching halt. Asking questions that have “yes” and “no” answers has a way of doing that. Coming up with questions that do not have direct “yes” and “no” answers, or single word answers, is more difficult than it first appears.
There are also a myriad of little things that the educators in the Education Department do without even knowing it, that they have been kind enough to share. For example, how long do you wait after you ask a question before launching into the answer yourself? Answer…first, ask the same question in a different way and try to prod them along. If they don’t answer after being asked once or twice, just go with it…give them a good 15 seconds or so to answer, and then just tell them, or guide them more directly to an answer. Take our “What do you see that is different from what we wear today” question…another way to ask “Look at what you are wearing…does it look anything like this?” Still no response? How about reverting to the yes/no form just to get them out of their shells…ask if THEY would wear it today…if we’re talking about the 1830s undergarments, it’s likely a pretty easy answer!
Preparing for this program has given me a new found respect for our Education Department and what they do every day. it is much more difficult to truly engage an audience in a back and forth manner than it is to simply share your knowledge and love of a certain subject.
So, wish me luck! I think I’m just nervous enough to make this new challenge exciting! Just do me a favor…don’t tell any of the high schoolers I’m a little nervous…I hear they can sense fear!!!!! 🙂