After working with students visiting the museum:
“The experience of working with the VTS method was a positive challenge for me as a museum educator. This method expands the space given to the students to just look and engage with the piece without the filter of information. It also gave them the opportunity to direct their own conversation and bring up ideas which wouldn’t have come up via the direction of an advanced organizer. Particularly for ESL students the paraphrasing seems like a great tool for vocabulary building and comprehension skills development. The lack of contextual information also resulted in more dialogue between students, as they contradicted and supported each other’s interpretations and conclusions.
On the other hand, there were points in the conversation which felt like missed opportunities for expanding the students historical and artistic knowledge. At times a more specific follow up question or a bit of contextual information could have been used as a departure point for making more personal connections to the work and exercising informed critical thinking. The contribution to the conversation by someone who’s been studying the work and had developed a personal relationship to the pieces discussed is often a great way to transmit enthusiasm and curiosity, which isn’t possible when one has to remain a blank slate.
The students however seemed to have enjoyed their visit. They were extremely engaged in the conversation and were sharp and clear in their observations. The idea of having them direct their own VTS discussion at the end of the tour was great! The few groups I shadowed were doing an amazing job and definitely not intimidated to engage with different kinds of works on their own.”
Because the group was so young (recent high school graduates and young adults trying to get into college), the dynamic was a bit different. They were very talkative and wanted to know a lot of information about the pieces. While some were quieter than others, many of them were eager to speak. Because they were so inquisitive, however, they also tended to stray away from the group and want to explore on their own. This was nice to see, but proved to be a little difficult for the sake of the conversation and the purposes of learning new language skills. Perhaps allowing the students time to look through the galleries before starting, or assuring them that they will have time to explore at the end so that they remain engaged with the group. One of the highlights for me was seeing the students open up during the last painting of a landscape. They were drawing connections between that piece and the mood created in the first piece we looked at. It was a really nice moment and one that was unexpected.