Techniques for facilitating children’s learning in art museums: Suggesting

This is the second post in a series on techniques for facilitating children’s learning with and through art in museums. The first presented broader ideas and debates underpinning facilitated learning. Each post will include a description of a technique in addition to how and when it may be useful. These should not be seen as all-conclusive methods of teaching and learning but more as different options to experiment with. I see these posts as thinking snapshots and hope they might generate deeper consideration around how others understand and implement methods in their context. So, let’s hear it for….

Suggesting

To suggest something means to present an idea for consideration (Cambridge Dictionary online, 2017). Suggestions give children a choice as to how their learning path may proceed (Mac Naughton & Williams, 2009). Suggestions can be made verbally through language or non-verbally through actions such as selecting materials, the positioning of equipment or physical gestures. Like other facilitated learning techniques such as questioning, modelling and giving feedback, suggestions can encourage children to explore their learning processes in a new or deeper way, leading to more complex thinking over time.

Screen Shot 2017-07-11 at 9.49.50 am
Image one credit: Centro Internazionale Loris Malaguzzi

Suggesting differs from direct instruction in that it implies there are options. If a suggestion is being used, it is important to consider that a child may not want to act upon it. If a child does not have an option, for example if an artwork cannot be touched due to conservation requirements then direct instruction may be a more appropriate means of communicating information. This could also be accompanied by an explanation as to why there is no choice. For example, “we cannot touch this picture as we have special oils on our hands that are good for keeping our skin soft but if we touch the artwork these can damage it.” If this information was delivered as a suggestion such as “perhaps you could try not touching the artwork” it might be unclear and confusing as to what the child can and cannot do.

Screen Shot 2017-07-11 at 9.46.25 am
Image two credit: Centro Internazionale Loris Malaguzzi

Suggestions can also be made without human intervention. The selection and arrangement of artworks, materials, concepts and resources could propose particular ways of thinking and physically experiencing a gallery space. For example, the plastic cylinders in Image One (top) and the large paper sheets in Image Two (bottom) may prompt significantly different cognitive, social, emotional and aesthetic learning processes. The cylinders may provoke explorations around stacking, placing, dismantling, balancing, arrangement and construction. Alternatively, the large paper sheet may suggest gentle movements, swaying, rolling, folding, hiding and enveloping. These ways of experiencing art and gallery spaces may then catalyse or restrict particular meaning-making and thought processes. An immersive art installation such as Yayoi Kusama’s Obliteration Room could also make various suggestions towards people’s engagement that changes over time as the materials, spatial arrangement and meanings associated with the artwork also transform.

Extending upon this, here are some possibilities for how suggesting could be implemented in an art museum learning programme. Some of the questions have been adapted from Glenda Mac Naughton & Gillian Williams’ book ‘Teaching Young Children’ (2009):

Verbal

  • “You could have a go at… drawing the sculpture from different angles.
  • “This printing tool might work better if… you push harder on the handle so that the paint stamps onto the fabric.”
  • “Maybe you could… have a look at different artworks that are made out of clay… to think about how you could approach… making your vase using different sculptural techniques.”
  • “How about we see if we can find… some artworks that explore the concept of infinity.” 
  • “Perhaps you could think about how… this artwork relates to your experience of being in a family?”

Non-verbal

  • Using body language to demonstrate or model different behaviours or techniques.
  • Altering the aesthetic arrangement of a space so that it stimualtes the construction of new thought processes and relations. REmida centres often do this through presenting familiar recycled materials in unfamiliar ways.
  • Carefully considering the grouping of artworks, concepts and materials. What ways of thinking might a particular arrangement provoke?
  • Considering how the placement of things (artworks, materials, resources, furniture) allows for people to physically interact and move in a space.
  • If an artwork cannot be touched then consider putting a barrier around it or asking floor staff to politely let children know they they cannot touch it as they enter the space. This may fall under ‘direct instruction’ but I had to sneak it in somewhere (#1 pet peeve when it does not happen).

I would love to hear your insights and feedback on using suggestions to facilitate children’s learning in art museum. Coming up as an exciting sequel to ‘facilitation’ and ‘suggesting,’ the next post will discuss the technique of ‘questioning.’

References 

Cambridge Dictionary online, 2017. Cambridge Dictionary website. Cambridge University Press.

Mac Naughton, G & Williams, G 2009. Teaching young children: Choices in theory and practice. Second edition. Maidenhead: Open University Press.

 

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